There are few franchises that have cast a larger shadow over the history of console gaming than Final Fantasy, and the core series of role-playing games has been constantly tweaked and upgraded through the years to stay current. There have certainly been games that have strayed from the usual jRPG format – the classic strategy game series Final Fantasy Tactics, and more recently the RTS-like Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings for the Nintendo DS. But one of the most anticipated entries in the series is the fighting game called Dissidia Final Fantasy. Square Enix released a demo on the PSN Store, and more recently released the full game in UMD version only. I took a look at the game based on a copy provided by the publisher, so does it live up to the years of hype? Read on to find out!
Celebrating the 20th year of the renowned franchise, Dissidia Final Fantasy for PlayStation Portable brings together the largest collection of Final Fantasy characters ever in a fighting-styled game where players must choose their allegiance between good and evil, as they utilize the more than twenty playable characters available.
Players, prepare to profess your allegiance to either Cosmos or Chaos…Cosmos is the goddess of harmony, while Chaos is the god of discord. Reigning from distant realms, the two gods had gathered warriors from all lands to lead them in savage war. At one time Cosmos and Chaos were of equal in strength. It was believed that their conflict would last forever. However, the balance is now broken. Those who answered Chaos’ call created an inexhaustible force. And under vicious attack without relent, the warriors fighting for Cosmos started to fall one by one. The conflict that has continued for eons is now about to end in Chaos’ favor…The world has been torn asunder, sinking into a vortex of disorder. As for the few surviving warriors… their fates have yet to be determined.
Sometimes inertia gets the better of my wallet, and I’d say that was the case with Dissidia Final Fantasy.
What I mean is that after playing the demo for a while I was pretty sure I would get the retail game, but never get the real value out of it before trading / selling it off. That might sound harsh, but here is what I had gleaned from the demo and press: the ‘story mode’ would be thin and limited, the combat would be a sort of mish-mosh of fighting game mechanics and third person action-RPG fare, and that everything would be focused on delivering fan-service to hardcore Final Fantasy aficionados. Right or wrong, what I was hoping for – based on the fight / RPG focus and the inclusion of so many characters – was a sort of ‘Squeenix Super Smash Bros’ on PSP, and for me that is something the game failed to deliver.
That is pretty vague, and I’ll be more specific, but I also want to focus on the positive. Anyone looking for massive Final Fantasy fan service on many levels will be thrilled. You get loads of characters, tons of moves, and the top-notch production values we’d expect from Square Enix. As you play each character you really get the feeling of pulling them out of their classic games and dropping them into this modern setting, and get to enjoy controlling them much more directly than in the standard turn-based combat systems of Final Fantasy games.
But there were definitely things that I didn’t like. The first is the finicky camera. I wasn’t surprised to be battling it in this sort of game, but it felt like the developers did little to acknowledge that it was going to be an issue when players were flipping and flying and blasting each other all over every stage.
I wasn’t all that enamored of the core fighting engine, either. I haven’t played the Kingdom Hearts games, but remember thinking that all of the comparisons of Dissidia to the Kingdom Hearts games has slightly diminished my interest in the upcoming handheld release of that franchise. While I applaud what the developers tried to do, I didn’t find the hybrid of free-form combat and traditional fighting game to work all that well. I like third-person action games just fine, and they can offer a very visceral experience that also has loads of visual goodness due to the perspective. Fighting games are typically just bouts of raw intensity. My thought of Dissidia was that it would allow some sweeping scenes while delivering an intensity typical of a fighting game. What I found instead was that the controls were simplistic, the overloads worked but the requirements were often unnecessarily convoluted, and that landing huge hits on the open stage led to a dance of chasing the enemy around and, as you mentioned, evading each other’s attacks.
I do recognize that my perspective differs from many PSP owners as I’m not a huge Final Fantasy fan, only playing the handheld versions of the series, from I & II on the GBA through the recent re-release of VII on the PSN. So I’m not emotionally invested in the characters at all, which leads me to say that even worse than the stuff I just mentioned, the story, scripting and voice acting are just abysmal. Not average like the other things, but terrible. I gladly tossed away the music and turned the volume all the way down, but I was still stuck with the dialogue.
I seem to be known on several different sites as a sort of ‘load-time watchdog’. Bottom line is that I have limited opportunities for gaming and like to fill my extended periods with PC games, leaving DS and PSP games for short burst-mode gaming. I remember all too many games that would take ~30 seconds to wake up from sleep mode, over a minute to load a level, and so on … leaving less than half of a 15-minute session for actual gaming! So while the loads on Dissidia are not terrible, there are many 20-30 second gaps waiting for something to happen, so I loaded the maximum data-set to minimize the loading. It was interesting to me how quickly I have gone through 8GB with a few movies, some music, and several PSN games! But the load times definitely felt much shorter. I suppose I could have gone through each of the three settings and timed things quantitatively, but suffice to say – if you are bugged by waiting, do the data install at the maximum setting you can handle. One thing – it is slow, so don’t do this just before you want to play or when your battery is low.
The Final Fantasy games are famous for their beautiful music – heck, it goes beyond just Final Fantasy, as my younger son STILL has the soundtrack from Square Enix’s The World Ends With You on his iPod! So I won’t begin to criticize the themes – because in general the music is quite beautiful. But some other folks I’ve talked to have told me how entering a battle with a particular character and hearing a certain theme really triggered strong emotions within them. Not having an emotional tie to the games I don’t get that same evocative reaction, but since I get it from stuff like Jedi Knight 2, Gothic 2, and Divine Divinity I understand the power. I don’t know what is old and what is new, I just know that in general the music was excellent.
I mentioned the dialogue and voice acting as stuff that stuck in my craw. Since I don’t come from a console RPG background, all of these pre-battle taunts and post-battle cheers taht are so endemic to the Final Fantasy world have never really thrilled me – I typically mash buttons hoping to make it all go away as soon as possible. The DS games have been pretty forgiving about this, but Dissidia makes you wait through these pointless snippets entirely too long before getting back to the action. I know I can alter the voice and music separately, and probably should do that so I can enjoy the themes without listening to the dialog … but once again, that doesn’t stop me from having to deal with the dialogue itself. But as you mention, that really isn’t the focus … just one of those little things.
The reward system is the absolute pinnacle of the game for me. There was an article I read a while back about the brain’s dopamine reward system and how it plays into gaming (hint: if at 9PM you say ‘just 15 minutes’ and suddenly realize it is 2AM, your dopamine reward system has been successfully hijacked!). I was brought back to those thoughts with Dissidia. I mentioned inertia, and another inertial barrier for me is ‘UMD-removal’. I have no issue game-jumping on other systems, but the loading on the PSP tends to keep me on a single game at a time (wonder how that will work when I gt the PSP Go?). Soon after starting Dissidia, I also started Diagaea 2 (look for an upcoming review once I traverse the massive game!). Strategy RPG’s rank at the very top of my favorite games on the PSP, and the original Disgaea was excellent, so I was immediately hooked. But as you say, the reward system of Dissidia is so generous, so free flowing, so constantly dumping stuff on you that it has caused me to pop in just about every day even if I only have time for a single battle, just to get showered with experience and unlockables.
But I notice that it is easier and easier for me to not spend all that much time with Dissidia, because while I love the rewards, I still don’t love the combat system. I like third person combat, and I like isometric combat, but the core system – a semi-detached camera system with a third person perspective and no ability to fix a location of distance relative to your character … that I don’t like as much. I find that isometric games provide a strategic sense I never get here, and true third person games give you at once character immersion and full-body awareness. I was playing more last night (yeah, back for more rewards) and felt like this battle was more about running around than about fighting. I also completely agree that while the special moves for each character are different, it is merely something that plays out on screen – in Fate/Unlimited Codes, by contrast, each character really feels different in how you approach them.
I have mixed feelings about the game board system. I think it is a great idea and adds a nifty strategy-RPG feeling of making choices and picking your path along the way. But too often I felt like the foes I met on a given path would feel generic and get repetitive. Yet it never stopped me from progressing – and as I said I liked that I was offered choices, and of course I liked being copiously rewarded regardless of my choice! I guess in the end the choice between more or less content makes me favor this system – if nothing else it is a gauntlet thrown down so that new fight games have something to adopt and improve upon. Apparently I have mixed feelings about a lot of stuff in this game, but unlike you none of them are all that strong.
I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of infrastructure-more multiplayer. Dissidia seems like the sort of game that would be a dream to play against others. However, as seems to be ubiquitous with Japanese-produced PSP games, you only get an ad-hoc mode. I was also excited about the sleep-mode card exchange, but again taht is dependent on close proximity of sleeping PSP devices running the game, so I never got around to anything but standard single player gameplay. Have you tried using your PS3 to engage in any ‘party mode’ games with others over the internet or have other tales from multiplayer?
It is funny how my discussion has mirrored my feelings about the game – there are some things I am passionate about, but pretty quickly have lost interest. I like the rewards, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me playing for long.
For me it comes down to fan service vs. gameplay. Since I’m schooled in ancient PC gaming and not consoles, neither Super Smash Bros Melee nor Dissidia holds an inherent pull for me. Yet I still love playing SSBM with my kids, and even my wife gets involved as we have two-on-two matches with our kids. In contrast, while my kids have expressed interest in Dissidia, after watching me chase enemies around for a while, when their game time came available, there was always something else they’d rather play. I’m sure they’ll get around to it soon enough, but it just didn’t trigger that ‘rip it out of the package and play’ feeling they have gotten so many times before.
So there is something beyond just fan service needed for a game like this to succeed beyond just being ‘good’. Because it is a pretty good game … but I think that there were enough potential elements of greatness that it feels like a much greater disappointment than if it were a completely unknown quantity. Think about it for a second – if this was just a fighting-RPG hybrid with solid music, generous experience system, and an unknown brand, we’d be saying ‘while not a great game, I enjoyed it for a while and found it quite solid with some flaws’.
I think that is half the problem – they hit so nicely on all of the fan service items, even helping folks like me establish a personality link to a character like Tidus I’ve never seen since he hasn’t been on a handheld yet. But the actual game beyond that is fairly pedestrian, having a few interesting ideas in terms of the game board and reward system, but never rising to the level of being really an addictive experience. This is the sort of game that would garner attention regardless of season because of the Final Fantasy name, but due to coming just prior to the fall onslaught and the PSP release list that I’ll kindly describe as ‘thin’, it will get more attention – and sales – than it deserves.
My thought is this – if you think that the term ‘Final Fantasy fanboy’ describes you completely, chances are you will look past the flaws and enjoy the game enough to get value. If you like the Final Fantasy games but are unsure whether or not this is for you, check out the demo and realize that it really doesn’t get any better. Everyone else, don’t touch this game – there are too many better games coming this fall to bother with this average experience.
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
What I Like:
- Great characterizations
- Nice game board system between boss battles
- Gorgeous music
What Needs Improvement:
- Never a compelling experience
- Camera is a pain
- Battles too often turn into a tedious ‘evade & chase’
Originally reviewed for VGBlogger.com