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

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Why I Won’t Get a 3DS… For Now

While new consoles always flaunt more advanced hardware and intuitive software than the previous generation, the first crop of games always seem to leave many of us wanting more, and in some cases, feeling sour for forking so much money only to be underwhelmed. Taking on every facet of the 3DS will have to wait until more information is divulged, so this article specifically deals with the trouble that most new consoles face upon their release; the first batch of games that are used to “wow” the public into making the big purchase.

They said this day would come

To me, buying a new console soon after its release is like taking a risk. While I admit to owning each relevant system, I also admit that I got a hold of them relatively close to their launch dates as well. While many of my friends were envious that I was an early adopter of many consoles, I never was as excited to be “one of the first” as other people are. For the handheld crowd, its new console season, and with that, each new press release has been attracting fans to wanting to be the first to own; an innate status I never really enjoyed.

To me, there are a lot of roadblocks that make it so I’m really uncomfortable with purchasing a new system early on. I have never been impressed enough with the relatively small lists of launch titles to warrant forking out an arm and a leg to buy it. I was the first on my block with a Dreamcast, Xbox, Gamecube, Wii, Playstation 2, PS3 and Xbox 360, but I didn’t readily welcome picking up their new-fangled controllers for at least a few months afterward.

This is happening right now for Nintendo’s 3DS. The DS’s successor is being hailed as Nintendo’s newest golden child in a dynasty in (portable) gaming excellence, and with good reason. Nearly anyone you talk to owns a DS, and for the most part, they love it. A follow up to it is naturally going to get a lot of positive reaction. While I too have high hopes for it, I won’t be so quick to purchase one yet, until I see good reason to.

Video Credit: Youtube user AlphaProtocol360 , Capcom, Super Street Fighter IV

“Since we’re naming names here…”

The 3DS’s sky-high price of $249.99 feels like a reoccurring nightmare that began with the PSP Go. Of course new tech is going to be expensive, and you’ll definitely get what you pay for. However, I just don’t see myself paying that much right now just to be able to take a portable iteration of Super Street Fighter IV, for example. Fighting game purists already have enough difficulty competing with a standard control, and are quick to shell out even more cash for a proper arcade stick. Success in competitive fighting games requires the player to be able to execute every technique and combo in their arsenal on command. This just isn’t possible on a handheld controller. This has been true for every other portable iteration of a mainstream fighting game in the past, and that fact just isn’t going to change now. On the bright side, it may be better to say this game will be aimed at the average player base who may not have that much experience with Street Fighter, and want an easier time getting into it. In that respect, this game may work out pretty well. Still, it’s largely the same game, albeit with some new connectivity features and an oblong new camera angle. I’m still not convinced enough to buy this.

Give it some time to grow

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the 3DS isn’t a good purchase just based off this examination of Super Street Fighter IV. I’m saying that for me, I need a lot more convincing than a few shiny ports of already-existing titles, or slight re-imaginings of games we’ve already come to know. I want something new. The future of handheld gaming is definitely on its way, but I think we can wait a little longer for games that are much more substantial. When that happens, purchasing a new console like the 3DS won’t feel like such a waiting game. I don’t think the “future” that we’re all thinking about has emerged yet, since we’re still looking in the past and conjuring up new coats of paint for games that have already come and gone.

Phantasy Star Portable 2: Reviewed!

Yeah, since my reviews have their own pages, when I post them, they aren’t sent as alerts to the inboxes of people who subscribed, so here it is!

I don’t have enough time to fully wrap up Phantasy Star Portable 2 with a Final Thoughts piece, since I have a number of other articles in the works already, in addition to my final exams bearing down on me. I feel that my review does it enough justice. With that said, I can move onto my next project: Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

Stay tuned!

Phantasy Star Portable 2 First Impressions

There was such a large gap in time between writing articles and playing through this game because of my studies and work, that I’ve already finished this game. Excuse my lateness!

Around this time last year, I was chomping at the bit, awaiting the release of SEGA’s Phantasy Star Zero for the DS. I routinely patrolled PSO-World.com, gathering information to keep me busy until I got my hands on the game itself. In one of the posts on the front page, I had read that the Japanese demo of the soon to be released Phantasy Star Portable 2 was accessible on American PSP’s as well. After a little leg work of getting it up and running, I had in my hands a demo that many gamers had no clue existed (unless they frequented the site as well). It was relatively short and most unfortunately in Japanese, so I couldn’t absorb much about the game. From what I could understand, I knew that this game had some real potential. Now, a year later, Phantasy Star Portable 2 has materialized on American shores.

So, What’s New?

It’s best to think of PSPo2 as a complete stripping down of nearly everything that made up Phantasy Star Universe, and subsequently revamping it all from the ground up. In short, this was very successful! While most of the changes have to do with alterations to the mechanics, most of them serve to make the game much better overall. Mentioning all of the changes are difficult to cover here, but a here are two key changes that already make this game shine, especially when compared to previous entries in the series.

1.       Combat Overhaul

–          In earlier iterations of Phantasy Star Universe, your character’s PP (the equivalent to MP, or magic/skill points) was connected to each weapon you used. Whenever you used a Photon Art (which are physical techniques, or magic spells that required this PP) it would deplete. You could regenerate this naturally from using normal attack combos, or you could refill it with an item. Alternatively, you could also pack a bunch of the weapons, and just empty their individual PP gauges, and switch to another weapon with a full tank of gas, so to speak. Obviously, skills deal much more damage than regular attacks, and in theory, you could just run through a mission doing your best attacks, all of the time. This made for relatively boring gameplay, since monsters were pretty easy to begin with.

–          All of this was changed this time around. Your character now has a personal PP bar, which is connected to every weapon you have. While Photon Arts still function the same, a single full combo can deplete your entire bar. Your PP can automatically regenerate, and this process can be hastened by using regular attacks. While you pepper regular attacks on your enemies, your character is constantly building up a chain. The higher the chain, the more damaging your Photon Arts become, which makes Photon Arts act as finishers, rather than the bread and butter of your arsenal. With a group of likeminded players, one member could dedicate themselves to building high chains, while another plows through monsters with their photon arts. In addition to these changes on the offensive front, two welcome actions –dodge rolling and blocking, make playing defensively much better as well. As a result, combat stays fresh and doesn’t become a mundane affair.

2.       Difficulty

–          PSU was never considered a difficult game. A well balanced party who knows how to excel at their roles appropriately could steamroll the most difficult of missions. For example, when PSU’s expansion, Ambition of the Illuminus, was released, it was touted as having tougher bosses to match the ability of the players better. In one mission, players charge a temple, rushing forward until they come toe to toe with a two headed dragon. This is all well and good, because on average, the mission lasts about eight to ten minutes, culminating in a boss fight that unfortunately lasts about thirty seconds, if the boss gives the party some trouble. The new bosses simply didn’t have enough HP to last very long with an entire party laying waste to it, and simply wasn’t very difficult to handle. I’m willing to bet that the people that continue to play PSU are more than likely still running this mission, only because it’s the easiest, and yields the highest rewards, despite very really easy.

–          In an attempt to turn players on their ears, PSPo2 makes nearly every mission an active attempt for survival, provided that you’re going against monsters close to your own level. Enemies are much smarter this time around – they can block, evade your attacks, and work together to take you down. In story mode, if you die, the mission ends immediately, without giving you a chance to try again. Furthermore, bosses have had a dramatic spike in HP as well as difficulty. For example, De Ragan, who used to be a pushover, is actually a pain in the neck to take on without the proper preparation. In multiplayer mode, death is not as unforgiving, since you can respawn and come back to where to you died. However, this severely impacts your rewards for clearing the mission at hand.

I’m really excited to dive right into this game. Personally, I’ve logged over 500+ hours on Phantasy Star Universe, but like many others who played with me, got bored of the repetitive combat system and the obvious impediments general experience that caused me to lose interest in the first place. So far, I’ve already seen my major complaints rectified, so we’ll see what more there is to discover!

Final Thoughts on Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

These stats were from when I first cleared the game. I spent about 20 more hours getting through post-game material, and a more accurate statistics sheet would blow the information here out of the water!

As an owner of both a Nintendo DS and a PSP, I always have a number of portable games on tap to nestle into bed with, or to carry on the go. I love them both equally, but when I focus on a game on my DS for example, my PSP will be secluded in my desk, collecting dust for weeks, even months at a time. Over the past year however, the tide has definitely changed in favor of my PSP. My DS has already been entombed in it’s carrying case for at least six months, and when Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep took a residence in my game collection, it’s continued to remain there. The PSP has more often than not been the destination for half-assed ports, lackluster franchise revivals and games that just “weren’t as good as they could have been”, but this latest entry in the Kingdom Hearts series is sure to propel itself past any of those categories, as well as make any remaining naysayers of the PSP take a second look.

As I mentioned in my review, this game clearly showcases the power that the PSP is capable of. I thought there were very few things that Birth By Sleep failed to do on a grand scale; I was entertained from start to finish. Most importantly, there wasn’t at any point in my play through that I said to myself, “Oh, this is just a portable game,” and subconsciously lowered my expectations. In fact, there were a number of times where I said to myself, “This could definitely exist on a console!”

Overall, I appreciated the storyline, because it explains what was going on prior to Sora’s time, so to speak. Contrary to what a lot of other gamers are saying, I thought Terra, Ventus and Aqua were casted pretty well, and their voice actors did a good job projecting their respective characters personality, which helped me make a better connection with the three of them.

When I played as Terra, I felt the internal conflict he was dealing with between doing what was right and going along with what Master Xehanort guided him to do, and genuinely was upset with how things turned out for him in the end. Just like Anakin Skywalker before him, it seemed as if he had the potential to become very powerful, but it goes to show that evil can still work to ruin you, if you walk close enough to it.  Ventus’ youthful nature made it easier for him to interact with the Disney characters. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of the group, which appealed to the kid inside all of us. We’ve all wanted to interact with the likes of Mickey Mouse, a Disney Princess, or be able to fly with Peter Pan at one point or another in our lives – and Ven made that childhood dream come true on screen. Aqua, whom I saved for last, was my favorite. I liked her the most, because she represented a pretty lacking demographic in the Kingdom Hearts universe until now: a strong feminine presence. Aqua could not only hold her own in combat, she had a strong personality and never played the damsel in distress card (cough Kairi). Of the three heroes, I would like to see what’s in store for her in future games.

Of course, the game expects you to watch the secret ending this time around. The regular ending left me hanging, but the extra scenes really set us up for the EVENTUAL release of Kingdom Hearts 3. At this point, I really want to just frown upon any more side stories, prequels or anything else, because it’s been five years since we’re played through Kingdom Hearts 2. I can’t imagine there has to be that much else to develop in the storyline, but we have Kingdom Hearts 3D and Re:Coded to play, when they get released.  For review purposes, I played the game on Standard Mode, meaning that in addition to beating the game, I had to collect every treasure chest, meld every ability, kill every monster at least once.. Are you asleep yet? Yeah. It certainly gives you something to do, but I got bored of completing each world with a 100% rating before I hit the halfway point in each storyline. Playing Standard Mode requires you to do many more “chores” to get the privilege of seeing the true ending, but luckily, if you play on Proud or Critical (Hard or Very Hard) Mode, you just have to clear the storyline. Whether you actually have the patience to complete this laundry list if you’re playing Standard Mode is up to you, but if that’s too time consuming like it was for me, Youtube can fill in the blanks!

Although I expected it, Birth By Sleep is also getting the Final Mix treatment. What’s worse is that news about Final Mix releasing in Japan (only, of course) happened to go around as soon as the States finally got the original game. For those who don’t know what Final Mix is, its basically a remixed edition of the game, with extra content like new boss fights, more cutscenes and the like. To me, it’s not worth justifying shelling out top dollar for largely the same game, but I immediately felt like we got the inferior game in comparison.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was a very successful game. The PSP is clearly getting into it’s later stages of life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony were to reveal a successor to their handheld during next year’s E3 convention. The silver lining in this is that until then, the PSP games that we’ll be getting in the meantime are very likely to be using every ounce of power the PSP is able to offer, and if more games are as fully featured and well done as Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep keep coming down the pipe, I know I’ll be just fine.