By making a game that will appeal ‘to the fans’, developers often fall into the trap of alienating newcomers to a franchise. Dissidia Final Fantasy is a classic example, as although Square Enix has created a fantastic portable fighter, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of it if you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. The popular RPG franchise has been going for over 20 years, so it makes sense that Square has decided to make a tribute to those who are old enough to have grown up with the originals.
Take all of the heroes from the first ten games, mix them altogether and then pit them against the player’s favourite villains in an all out brawl. It’s simple, but answers most fanboy arguments that have circulated on forums for years; “Zidane was always tougher than Tidus!” or “Sephiroth is easily the best villain!” – Well now you can find out.
But can Square, world renowned for creating RPGs, pull of a fighting engine that’s both robust and enjoyable? Luckily yes, although it’s like nothing I’ve ever played before. You’re not fighting on a 2D plane like a traditional beat-em-up, nor are you putting in elaborate buttons combos from contemporary fighters like Soulcalibur or Tekken. Instead you’ll be roaming freely in large 3D environments, going one on one like a multiplayer version of Kingdom Hearts. Very simple and minimal controls send dazzling visual attacks toward your foe, creating a system that’s easy to pick up and a delight t watch.
In the world of Dissidia (voiced by the cheesiest narrator I’ve ever heard) the evil god Chaos controls the villains, waging war against the struggling heroes lead by Cosmos. They’ve apparently all been summoned to protect the outcome of their respective worlds, but this is never really explained or justified. It’s just an excuse to have them all in the same place, constantly bumping into each other and provoking spontaneous battles. Crystals are involved (when are crystals NOT involved in a Final Fantasy game?!) which each hero has to find after they’ve done a bit of soul searching and self discovery. They’ll voice their favourite one liners and have some friendly banter, but it’s all pretty silly and unmotivated. If you’re looking for a compelling storyline you’ll need to look at the classic RPG’s, because there certainly isn’t one here.
After a wealth of tutorials, you’ll be flung into a brawl and expected to fight. It can feel a little daunting at first, with a wealth of health bars, abilities, accessories, summons and armour to try and cope with. In its purest form the battle system boils down to Bravery Points and Hit Points. Attacks with the circle button will increase your Bravery, while lowering the Bravery of your opponent. The higher your Bravery, the more damage you’ll do when you attack your enemy with square, a HP attack. If your technique connects, your bravery will be brought back to its default level and the process starts again.
The system suits Final Fantasy pretty well, as you constantly play the cat and mouse game of trying to keep the stats in your favour. This is but the basic layer to Dissidia though; characters also have an EX gauge, which fills up gradually as you play. Once its full players can enter EX mode, boosting their stats considerably and opening up the potential to perform an EX Burst Attack (which is as badass as it sounds!)
Each character has a different play style to mimic the game they came from. Fans will lap up the familiar attacks and sounds, but the casual gamer will probably not even bat an eyelid. Which is Dissidia’s greatest downfall; apart from a few character profiles in the theatre tab, the game makes no effort to explain to newcomers who these heroes are. The amount of Easter eggs in this game are phenomenal, right down to the sprites and conversational style of the help menus. Every button you press will give you a nugget of Final Fantasy nostalgia, but this does nothing for the average player looking at their PSP screen in bewilderment. I absolutely adore the Chocobo system of collecting bonus items, but after showing my friend he simply looked at me blankly and asked what a Chocobo was.
The amount of time and polish put into this game will make you wonder how it all managed to fit on one UMD. There’s a replay editor, in-game calendar that rewards you depending on the day that you’re playing, museum filled with character profiles and sound bites, multiplayer mode and one of the largest customisation systems i’ve ever seen. You can literally create your perfect Final Fantasy hero. You could easily lose months just grinding all 10 heroes to their maximum level of 99.
If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, chances are you have this already. If not I highly recommend this massive, entertaining crossover that is bound to stay in your PSP for a very long time. If you’ve never played a game by Square, this could still be worth checking out as a rental, if only for the fighting system. Otherwise the game will wash over you, leaving you wondering what all the fuss was about. It might not be attracting new gamers, but Dissidia is certainly one for the fans.