Review: Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy

Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy Review

A noteworthy movement of the PSP’s swan song.

Publisher: Square-Enix

PSP

Release Date: March 22, 2011

Players: 1-2

Rating: Teen

The PSP’s days are numbered. While a lot of handheld gamers are flocking to the recently released 3DS, people are quick to write off the PSP as yesteryears craze, thinking it has nothing left to offer. Although triple A PSP titles have been few and far in between, when they do show up, the competition can’t help but blush. Judging by the hundreds of hours I’ve put into the first Dissidia Final Fantasy, it’s clear that this game will always be known as one main reason that I own a PSP. When it comes to sequels to fighting games, the best solution to improving on a great formula is to simply add more of everything, and Dissidia 012 does just that.

The main storyline of Dissidia 012 is actually a prequel to the first game. Two gods, Cosmos and Chaos, are perpetually at war with one another. Dissidia 012’s name comes from the twelfth cycle in this war. To settle their eternal conflict, they summon various warriors to fight in a battle that seems to last forever. The premise is simple enough, but still succeeds at being more convoluted than the games it pays homage to. The disjointed narratives in each characters story offer a small piece in this puzzle of a plot, and the differing perspectives certainly keep things fresh. However, with the amount of fights between each plot point, it was a chore to bother keeping up with the story, other than the fact that there were good guys and bad. The true appeal to this game is seeing a representative from each Final Fantasy on the PSP screen. The huge roster doesn’t lend itself to much development, other than background information any Final Fantasy fan would already know about.

Square Enix has always known the importance of great visuals, and they definitely delivered in terms of eye candy. Every character and battlefield are faithfully recreated from their respective game and brought to life again here. Seeing characters from older Final Fantasies who used to be confined to crummy pixels and low quality sprites fully come alive on the PSP’s screen is also a treat. Watching the particle effects from every strike is stunning, as characters fly through the large creative arenas while engaged in combat.

Although this title sports the name Final Fantasy, Dissidia 012’s game play blends its familiar RPG elements in with a fighting system unique to any game out there. Characters have hit points which govern how much life they have, and bravery points. Bravery attacks are strikes that add to your own bravery and subtract from your opponent’s. HP attacks use the bravery you’ve built up to actually hurt your opponent. Are you the kind of player that builds up a large amount of bravery to knock out your enemy in one clean blow, or do you prefer to break them down piece by piece with a bunch of HP attacks throughout the match? With this concept, coming up with intricate strategies to take out your opponents ensure that fighting never gets boring, as the vast majority of your time will be spent playing will be in the battlefield anyway. Assists are an interesting addition to the battle system with Dissidia 012, and they’re similar to Marvel vs. Capcom’s assists. By dealing damage you build up a meter that allows you to call them out, either to bail you out from a beating or to set up a combo of your own. It would have been nice to see teams of characters fighting at once, but having guests momentarily jump in to pepper a few strikes before disappearing was nice.

While the core game play of Dissidia 012 is the same as its predecessor, this game really shines in the additions Square-Enix has made to the existing system. To break up the monotony of wandering a grid between battles, there is an actual world map to traverse. It’s nice to have the feeling that you’re actually exploring an expansive world to reach a new locale, rather than wondering how one scene takes place aboard the cart of a rushing train, and the next one occurs on the moon. Another noteworthy addition is the party system, where you can form teams of five of your favorite characters during the adventure. If you’re in the middle of a long dungeon and you get tired of playing as one character or if they die in battle, you can swap in another one on the fly. For those looking for even more juice to squeeze from this fruit of a game, there’s even an option to alter the rules of the game itself, or to create quests where they control every possible variable. Once you’re done, you can share your unique quests over the internet. The levels of customization are essentially endless. Unfortunately, enjoying a lot of this content (like dressing your characters up in alternate costumes, playing different battle themes, etc) is only available outside of story mode, which will be where the bulk of your time is spent.

It should be no surprise that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with Dissidia 012. The main storyline runs at about 20 hours, and upon completion, you unlock the entire story mode from the first game, with updates to reflect the changes Dissidia 012 brings. With over 30 characters to build up to level 100 and various forms of customization like more costumes, new attacks and items to collect, hundreds of hours will go by in a flash. While the PSP may be on its last legs before being replaced by its successor, you can sit by comfortably waiting for the next wave with Dissidia 012.

Rating: 4/5

And the Winner Is…

Japanese Role Playing Games have been a cornerstone of the realm of video games for years. When we’re tired of shooting, platforming or sports games, there’s nothing like an adventure that features memorable characters, a well written narrative that appeals to the fantasy fan in all of us. Most gamers have been fans of RPGs in general due to the many entries of the Final Fantasy series, as it’s consistently been one of the biggest gaming franchises of each console generation. Although one would think the winning formula that Final Fantasy always has to offer would be just that, a lot of unrest has been circulating over the past few years. The majority of JRPGs follow a number of the same troupes; which include effeminate male characters, cliché storylines to name a few, along with other points that often cross with anime, manga or Japanese culture in general. Many people have begun to call out why this has been happening, and have even shined the spotlight on Final Fantasy.

2010 was a year of turbulence in the Role Playing Game realm, because many household names suddenly found themselves having to fight to stay relevant and viable. Of the games that I reviewed this year, I feel that Final Fantasy XIII was the one who took up this challenge and responded to the growing concerns that ridiculed its waning popularity.

There are several vexing features that are unique to Final Fantasy XIII, which largely served to disgruntle many players who were used to many traditional concepts in the long running series. These changes, while unexpected, were the essence of moving the series forward in its own way.

Here’s what some of you elitists missed out on

Let’s talk about the biggest complaint people seem to have with Final Fantasy XIII: “It takes twenty hours for the game to get fun.” “Half of the game is an interactive tutorial.” “It’s too linear.” Every time I hear these comments, I can’t help but cringe. Yes, the game doesn’t “open up” until the group is fully assembled, and that doesn’t occur until the end of Chapter 9. (There are a total of 13 Chapters, of varying lengths.) In light of that, it would be pretty ridiculous to think that the player is being “held against their will” and forced to not get any enjoyment from the game for such a long time. While the player is “restricted” in that sense for this portion of the game, let’s look at why this seems to be complained about.

First, character growth is capped for each chapter, to discourage power leveling. Fortunately for those who didn’t notice, this maintains the challenge for the player. Secondly, each chapter introduces a new concept during combat for the player to grasp and master. This game features a new rendition of the Active Time Battle system that many of us are used to, and without learning the nuances of it, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. For example, during a boss fight in Chapter 3, players are faced with learning the importance of effective Paradigm Shifting. Near the end of the battle, the boss unleashes a desperation attack that will put each party member in critical health, and it soon follows up with another attack that kills everyone off. The player can only get through this boss fight once they understand that they have to shift to a Paradigm that focuses on healing to survive the rest of the encounter. If they are successful, the party switches to “healing mode,” and weathers the oncoming attacks with ease. Soon after the party is healthy again, they can finish off their adversary with little trouble. A quick decision like that was mandatory for this boss fight, and must be second nature for the player in order to make it through the more difficult fights later in the game. Each chapter during this linear section of the game has lessons that the player needs to understand fully in order to survive, because when the game finally affords more freedom to the party, any encounter can result in a game over if the player wasn’t prudent enough to understand the mechanics of the game while the training wheels were still on.

“So we’re all here to save the world; not just me, right?”

As I mentioned before, the party is split up for the first nine chapters of the game. One of the key reasons behind this is that the player is treated to one-on-one character interactions that really help to delve into each characters personality with as little interference from the rest of the cast. Ironically, most of this development occurs during the early part of the game that many players glossed over. Here’s a clip demonstrating the growing camaraderie between Lightning and Hope during some of the cut scenes throughout Chapter 5.

Video Credit: TheShatteredElement, Square Enix and Final Fantasy XIII.

Bonding like this isn’t possible in a group setting; and this is especially true in real life as well. Since the team was divided, it allowed more energy to be put into each character at each turn of the plot. In turn, players could better understand their personalities and make connections to them. For once, each party member had a direct stake in the mission at hand, and there wasn’t a character that was “just along for the ride,” or lacked any pertinent dialogue. When the team finally was formed, this cohesion continued to the end.

Multiple discs still work

Although we always thought the concept of console loyalty would still be upheld by Final Fantasy (despite it’s past on Nintendo’s systems), this too unraveled. Although this game was originally planned to only be on Playstation 3, an Xbox 360 port was also announced. Whenever a game has a port coming along for another system, development often has to be scaled back so the finished product can run nearly identically for each console it’s released on. The differences in graphics were notably small, but definitely blown out of proportion by elitists. A funny complaint involved the minor difference that the Xbox 360 version had multiple discs, while the Blu-Ray only needed one. The bottom line here is that the entire Xbox player base that may have never experienced a Final Fantasy game before now had its chance. This is just another idea of the changing landscape in the video game industry – There’s not much reason not to limit your audience, especially if the game in question is Final Fantasy. Playstation fans shouldn’t be whining, as they’re receiving the same olive branch with the soon to be released Playstation 3 port of Mass Effect 2.

It’s pointless to compare Final Fantasy XIII with the other big titles in the series, like Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. Each of those games had their own changes and additions that helped make them notable games that fans could easily identify with. Although their changes were much more subtle, they weren’t met with as much resistance as Final Fantasy XIII is facing. No two entries are the same, because there’s always a new story to be told, and new ideas and ways to help move the game forward.

Moving forward, like it or not

If you examine anything well known- be it a famous band, television or video game series, there will always be people who have problems when the franchise is taken in a new direction. Whether it’s because a long standing tradition has been broken, or new ideas have taken prominence over the old, it’s impossible to disagree with the fact that change is going on. It’s painfully clear that nothing is really safe in video games. In this landscape, a game that wasn’t afraid to leap into the unknown and to try something new, like Final Fantasy XIII has this year, is without a doubt deserving my choice for Game of the Year 2010.

Terra, Complete!

The picture basically explains it all. But, if you want to somehow dodge any harmless picture that could be construed as a spoiler, I’ve just finished Terra’s portion of Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. Overall his game wasn’t too difficult, but the final level for his storyline gave me a run for my money. Even though I was on standard mode, I was getting way too many game over’s for my own good. I’ll leave his last boss anonymous, but relatively speaking, he was pretty damn tough (hard like Sephiroth) compared to the rest of the boss battles in the game, at least for Terra. Kingdom Hearts does an excellent job with each boss battle, I was never disappointed.

As far as Terra goes, he only grazed the surface each Disney world he visited. In the short time he interacted with each character most of us have grown up with, the eventual boss battle signifying the end of his portion of the world occurred sooner than I had expected, and after that, he would be off towards the next destination, and at times, very abruptly. With Snow White, he meets her and protects her from a horde of Unversed. Like the frail girl she is, she runs at the sight of danger into the forest (Yeah, the same forest where the trees come to life and grab at her). Terra turns around and sees the boss behind him and defeats it easily. “What does this all mean? Maybe I will find my answers elsewhere…” Snow White’s world is complete. I can understand this approach to the narrative, as it makes me want to play through the next character to see what happens next in each world after the previous hero leaves. Later on, I find out Ventus shows up with the Seven Dwarves to take Snow White to the cottage.

Hopefully this is just Terra’s problem, but Final Fantasy characters have been nearly non-existent – I’ve only seen a very young Zack from Final Fantasy VII, for about ten minutes. So far, all of the other (popular) characters have yet to make an appearance. I hope that gets rectified soon.

That’s all for now! I would have been more diligent in completing everything there is to do, but since I’m reviewing this, I had to fly through as fast as I could. I’m working through Ven’s story now, so stay tuned!

Revive These RPG’s! Part 1

Between the many different genres of video games out there, RPG’s rank high in terms of complexity, longevity, and overall quality. Each console generation has brought a multitude of stories and adventures, from fulfilling ancient prophecies (or defying it), gathering over 100 heroes to achieve a miracle, to utilizing forbidden technology to combat evil.

Most gamers know at least three Final Fantasies, and the rise of popularity for western RPG’s has hit an apex, and is clearly dominating our once fickle market that only knew what Japan spoon fed us. Back in the day, there have been a couple of notable gems that have without a doubt garnered many more fledgling gamers to our coveted genre, and gave the enthusiasts new games to play in the meantime. They deserve much praise, as each of these titles were excellent in their own right. Despite that, each of these games have been notoriously absent in this current console generation. Where have they gone? Here are a couple games that I think deserve a revival:

Wild Arms

This was the definitive alternative RPG for early adopters of the 32-Bit generation of consoles. Released in 1997, it was in between the great titles that pushed the limits of the SNES, and the clear example of graphical dominance the Playstation was capable of before Final Fantasy 7 was released a few months later. The storyline was simple; an evil group called the Metal Demons has appeared and plans to take over the land of Filgaia, and it’s up to a silent youth, a swordsman, and a princess to fight back. As one of the first RPG’s that combining both a Wild West and Sci-Fi motif, it was a fresh take against in terms of story, during a time before complex convoluted stories equaled immediate success.

Exploration areas such as dungeons, towns and the world map were 2D, but battles exploded into 3D environments. At the time, it was great seeing characters that actually moved and jumped around while fighting, rather than moving from one side of the screen to the other. Fast paced combat and easy to comprehend systems were the ticket here, and this user friendly game turned many people onto RPG’s. The tool system also added depth to each dungeon, rather than being a rush to the finish line to advance the story, with random battles and a boss fight in-between. For example, you can count on Jack’s grappling hook to cross large distances, Rudy’s Radar to check for hidden treasure, or Cecilia’s pocket watch to reset a puzzle if you messed up, to name a few.

Wild Arms had a number of sequels, but when placed against the mainstream appeal of more successful RPG’s, it only seemed to remain in the consciousness of niche communities. As a result, when the series graduated up to the Playstation 2, Wild Arms 3, 4, and 5 came and went quietly. Thankfully, the first and second games are available on Playstation Network for those interested in taking a trip through the past.

Should it come back?

While Wild Arms was never really known to be a mover or shaker in the RPG world, I loved the first game as a kid. Sony has done a good job reminding gamers there’s more to PS1 era RPG’s than Final Fantasy 7, and Wild Arms 1 and 2 have been leading the charge. If there were to be a new Wild Arms game, I can see a faithful remake show up on Playstation Portable.

Stay tuned for Part 2!