Thursday, February 28, 2013

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (PSP)

The final review for this short month is another Better Late Than Never Review. It's Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, a game packed to the brim with content-- just what Final Fantasy fans ordered. How does it play? How is it overall? Let's find out with this review.

A Rapture for Final Fantasy Fans

The Final Fantasy franchise has seen better days to many fans. Final Fantasy XIII is seen as inferior to many mainline titles before it, and Final Fantasy XIV is seeing a relaunch because the original launch was so terrible. That said, the spin-offs the series have seen are anything but terrible. 2009's Dissidia Final Fantasy brought the franchise into uncharted territory, a three-dimensional arena fighter, quite unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Two years later and Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy launched on Sony's PlayStation Portable. Is the experience one of harmony or one of discord?

Chaos, the god of discord, and Cosmos, the goddess of harmony, are locked in an eternal conflict. To the victor goes the fate of the world. Fighting alongside each deity are familiar faces from the Final Fantasy franchise-- both heroes and villains. With little in the way of memories, the heroes, including the likes of Warrior of Light (FFI), Cecil Harvey (FFIV), Terra Branford (FFVI), Cloud Strife (FFVII), Squall Leonheart (FFVIII), Tidus (FFX), among many others, yearn to end the conflict and return to their home worlds. While the plot sounds interesting in theory, it amounts to little more than Final Fantasy fan-fiction, and a pretty poor one at that. You know when the newest element to the story is focused around an obnoxiously jaded Lightning, you are in for a disappointing and immensely groan-worthy story. The mode you'll be playing in the most is, in fact, the story, following along the plot of the game full of shallow conversations and dialogue.

The new members of the Dissidia roster star
in the all-new 012 Scenario.
The story of the game consists of switching off between the numerous Final Fantasy heroes of the series, scouring the traverseable world map for treasure chests and gates. These gates lead to grid-like dungeons where you enter battles. Dissidia 012 features three unique scenarios: the all-new 012, the returning 013 (which makes buying and playing the original Dissidia pretty much pointless), and the special open-world Scenario 000, which is pretty much the new content of the game's meat. Scenario 012 introduces new characters into Dissidia including Lightning (FFXIII), Vaan (FFXII), Laguna (FFVIII), Tifa (FFVII), and Kain (FFIV). The new characters are fun to play as, but their stories, too, do little to set itself apart from the fan fiction stigma the plot has.

A new feature of Dissidia 012 is 
this 3D world map.
That said, however, Dissidia 012 does a delightful job of keeping players invested via its gameplay, despite its plot and script problems. Battles are relatively set up the same way as in the original Dissidia. They are one-on-one skirmishes that take place in three-dimensional arenas. Fighters start with a set amount of Bravery, which gets increased after they hit a successful attack or combo. Meanwhile, a stage's Bravery also increases as attacks hit opponents. Think of a stage's Bravery like the pot in a poker game. It's essentially a tug-of-war match between the two fighters. When one player's Bravery goes up, the other player's goes down. If the player's opponent's Bravery hits zero, the player earns all of the stage's Bravery.

Final Fantasy V's hero and villain face off.
When an HP attack is unleashed and comes in contact with an opponent, their HP drops depending on how much Bravery the fighter who hit them had. For instance, if a fighter's Bravery was 2,314, and they hit their opponent who had 1,000 HP left with an HP attack, the fight would be over. It's not as complicated a system as it may seem, but like the game mechanics and controls themselves, there is quite a learning curve to be found.

Garland makes contact with Bartz.
And it's a home run!
Returning to battles in Dissidia 012 from the original game are summons and EX Mode. Each character in Dissidia 012 can have one summon equipped to them. Depending on the summon, it can be brought into battle when the fighter equipped with it calls on it, when a set condition is met, or to counter the attack of an opponent. They have a multitude of uses, such as increasing the wearer's Bravery and/or decreasing their opponent's Bravery. Summons need to be recharged for a given amount of battles after a few uses.

While Tifa's EX gauge is full...
Meanwhile, EX Mode is performed when your character's EX gauge is full. This mode enables helpful benefits such as HP regeneration, increased critical hit probability, and the ability to unleash an EX Burst, reminiscent of limit breaks in various Final Fantasy games. These EX Bursts are essentially quick-time events that when the correct prompts are performed accurately, deliver a powerful blow to an opponent's HP.

...She can let loose a wild EX Burst attack.
New to this sequel of Dissidia are assist attacks. When used strategically, a player can summon an ally into battle to help to assault an opponent or defend against an attack. They're also useful for stopping a foe in the midst of their EX Mode. Like regular attacks, there are two types of assist attacks: one that goes after Bravery and one that goes after HP.

Call in some backup for when times get tough.
By now you must be realizing how complex the fighting is in the Dissidia series. However, it is not without its own hindrances. One of the most notable problems regarding Dissidia 012 is one that was prominently featured in the original Dissidia a few years back, the abhorrent at times camera. While you're always able to lock onto your opponent, combat in close quarters can be quite troublesome as walls and ceilings block your viewpoint, setting you up for some frustrating combat. Another issue with the game that carries over from the first Dissidia is the various jumps in difficulty from one battle to another. In one battle you will easily take out the boss while another you will find yourself cursing the AI out, even on the easiest of difficulties.

Therein lies the biggest problem of all with Dissidia 012. As I alluded to earlier, the game's learning curve is relatively high, and it is one that will put off a lot of players who are too impatient to learn the intricacies of the game. After constantly losing, not knowing when to block, not knowing how to evade consistently well, and continuing to make little headway, I know I was very close to putting off the game entirely. However, I am very glad that I pushed onward.

Guarding and evading are just as 
important as hacking and slashing.
One reason for that I'm glad is that I would have missed a ton of goodies the game possesses. If you thought that Dissidia Final Fantasy was full of content, then prepare to be blown away by all of the options, modes, and unlockables Dissidia 012 has inside it. What makes the game so great is that you are constantly earning things, whether it's money to buy new equipment; PP to buy new content in the game like character costumes, player icons, and music; new accessories; new levels; new moves; or what have you, and constantly making progress.

Come up with your dream Final Fantasy 
match-ups in Dissidia 012.
Regardless of how corny the dialogue is or how shallow the characters are, the voice work makes it almost work. Big emphasis on almost. That said, with the material given the voice actors more than did their jobs well. On the music side, Takeharu Ishimoto (The World Ends With You) provides a myriad of rearrangements, giving numerous fabled Final Fantasy themes a new lease on life. While they are not the best rearrangements to grace a Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon wins that award), they are still great.

Graphically, Dissidia 012 is one of the best looking games on Sony's first portable hardware. Characters are highly detailed, battlefields are destructible and have grand effects tailored to them, and everything occurs with nary a drop in frame-rate. Regardless of whether you think the Final Fantasy franchise is going in the right direction or not, I think many of us can still agree that Square Enix knows how to present their games.

The cut-scenes are remarkably well done.
The actual script? Not so much.
Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy is pure joy in gaming form for Final Fantasy fans. Even if you're a casual fan like myself or perhaps have never touched a Final Fantasy title at all, there is still plenty to love about the game. There is an abundance of characters, equipment, summons, modes, unlockables, things to win, and things to gawk at and listen to making up the game. The learning curve will isolate a good number of players from the experience, but if you stick with Dissidia 012 and learn the ropes, you will find a piece of software in the PSP library that will deliver upwards of 100 hours of enjoyable content; just realize that the aforementioned experience is far from perfect.

[SPC Says: 8.75/10]

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