Friday, June 24, 2011

Final Fantasy Superfriends

When I first heard the rumblings of Square-Enix creating a fighting game based on Final Fantasy, I thought someone was playing a joke.  Even when factual evidence of this game's existence and development came to light, I was still skeptical:  I figured that yet again, this was another episode of "Wouldn't it be cool IF" where the company was once again showcasing the power of all the cool things they could do with the Playstation 3, much like when they teased us with that tech demo of Final Fantasy VII years ago.


However, as time went on, I soon discovered that Dissidia:  Final Fantasy was eventually going to be a very real thing in our world.  Even more surprisingly (given the quality of the screenshots) it was going to be on the PSP.  When these facts began to slowly sink in, I became fearful.  Why, you ask?

Need I say more?

The last time Square-Enix attempted something remotely resembling a Final Fantasy fighting game, it produced interesting results, to say in the least.  Ehrgeiz was not a bad game, per se, it was just a faux Final Fantasy fighting game.  The original game, developed by the creators of Tobal No.1 and published by Namco included a cameo by Cloud and Tifa.  When Square ported the game over to the Playstation, additional characters (Yuffie, Vincent, and most notably, Sephiroth) were added in.  These characters had no impact on the story, despite so many of them being there.  They oddly felt out of place, as if they were just copied and pasted in:

Like this.
While Ehrgeiz was not a terrible game, it was nevertheless a forgettable one.  Thus understandably, I was a little skeptical of Dissidia.  In spite of the stellar graphics, as to be expected of any Square-Enix game, my cynical gaze viewed it as another sad attempt to milk the Final Fantasy franchise for all that it was worth.

After spending time playing through this game, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  While Dissidia is filled with its share of flaws and has a somewhat laughable story, it manages to combine fighter and RPG elements to create an experience that, while likely not winning it game of the year status, nevertheless manages to create a *fun* experience that will offer fans of the Final Fantasy series hours of distraction.


In my post on bridge games, I'd noted both entries of Dissidia as my bridge games of choice.  Dissidia was a  day one purchase for me and upon buying it, I did play it quite thoroughly, while focusing on the story mode.  Eventually, as David's Nocturne post notes, life got in the way, and Dissidia fell by the wayside.

So what prompted me to pick the game back up?  Shortly after the announcement of Dissidia:  Duodecim, I discovered that the second entry of the game would contain all of the content of the first, while adding another story mode, more characters, and more content, thus effectively rendering my copy of the original obsolete.  Once I discovered this, I felt the pressure to rush through the story mode.

Now, I did not explore all of the additional modes of the game and extra features beyond the story mode (and there are plenty to keep you busy), but I completed the main story and unlocked enough to the point where I could comfortably say I "finished" the game.  I managed to do so with only a week to spare before the second installment came out, which allowed me to get some meager trade in value for the first entry before the price completely tanked:

Imagine the dejected stock broker as a Gamestop Employee.
While I may not have received the full experience that those who played the game tirelessly may have, I spent enough time with the game to be able to comment on certain areas:  Namely the important ones of story and gameplay.

The Endless Cycle of Battle

Dissidia is a crossover set somewhere in the Final Fantasy universe:  Though if the allusions and certain scenes from both games are to be believed, the specific world is likely that of the first game -- fitting, if you think about it.  The game has received a lot of heat for having a nonsensical story not befitting that of the Final Fantasy series.  Perhaps I had a little more patience for the game, as I found a lot of these criticisms to be, well, petty.  Perhaps playing numerous crossover games has numbed me to the absurd part of the stories.

No, wait.  It's probably because I've played enough crossovers to realize the story could be a much bigger trainwreck than people claim it to be.

You knew this was coming.
The premise of the story is simple enough:  Two divinities, Chaos and Cosmos, have been warring since time immemorial.  Each divinity summons champions to fight for their cause, with Cosmos representing the light (thus all the protagonists from the series) and Chaos representing the darkness (all your villains).  None of the Warriors know why they've been summoned.  Their memories are fragmented, with them only recalling bits and pieces from their original world (admittedly, the second game fleshes this out a bit more).  This so-called war has been going on for ages, and a number of cycles.  Worse yet, being 'killed' in this war does not result in a permanent death, but instead being revived so that they can continue fighting in the unending conflict:  Shitty for them, but awesome for us because we get to keep playing.

Along the way, various hijinks, shenanigans, and tomfoolery take place.

Seriously, I've seen worse.

I like to think about how things came to be in regards to my games.  As I thought about Dissidia, I actually felt a bit of pity:  The game attempts to span 12 incarnations of Final Fantasy, while only (though, the second game sort of skews this) picking 2 characters from each game:  One to represent good (the forces of the goddess Cosmos in the game) and one to represent evil (the forces of Chaos).  Some choices are going to be obvious here:  Cloud and Sephiroth are going to be included from FF7.  Kefka is going to be included from FF6, which naturally means you have to include Terra/Tina, since the clown needs someone to torment.  Zidane and Kuja are going to be included from FF9.  Really, these are no brainers.  Plus, let's not even think about the sheer amount of nerd rage they would have had to deal with if they didn't include these fan favorites (yes, people actually do like Cloud).

But since they were obligated to include characters from each Final Fantasy game, the creators also had to pick the games where they. . really didn't have much to work with.  The Warrior of Light for Final Fantasy 1?  How generic can you get!  The Onion Knight from Final Fantasy 3?  Really?  I mean these characters, as well as their evil counterparts, came from an era where the dialogue in RPGs wasn't. . .well, Shakespeare material, to say in the least:

Back then, this was considered top-notch dialogue.
Then again, this doesn't always improve with time:

More to the point.
And yet somehow, you have to take all of these characters -- some significantly more well developed than others -- and make a cohesive story out of this?  All things considered, the creators did a pretty good job, given what they had to work with.  Again, since I like to think about the process that brought these games to be, I can't help but thing of all the potential scenarios that were considered, but ultimately scrapped. Kefka's circus of doom?  Sephiroth's hunt for the perfect Mother's Day gift, where he goes on to slaughter people who can't give him the right gift?  Cecil Harvey and the Holy Grail?  Cloud and Zack's bogus journey?  ..Then again, the last one's been done.

We know how this one ends.
Really, when you consider it, things could have been much, much worse.  As fans, we should be thankful they didn't just randomly go on and pull something out:  We might have ended up with some strange scenario where Jenova comes to a surprise birthday party with a new head, or something:

Happy Birthday.
The characters are a bit of hit and miss.  I've mentioned that a few of the characters, who had little personality before, had some creative liberties taken with them.  In some cases, this works out quite well, making the Dissidia incarnations of some characters even better than they were in their original appeaance:  Garland is not only voiced impressively, but comes across as a fairly cool villain.  Ultemecia, who was an incoherent mess in FF8, has a more believable personality.  A special nod, however, goes to Emperor Mateus from FF2, who, if not for Chaos, might as well be the main antagonist of the game.  Heck, even the generic Cloud of Darkness, who had perhaps 2 lines in FF3, is characterized as well as you could expect the pure embodiment of evil to be:  Creepy, referring to herself plurally and in the third person.  And because it's Japan, she's also a scantily clad, levitating woman.

She has an abundance of..uh.  You know, not touching this one.

Other characters thankfully survive with most of their personalities intact:  Squall's still an exasperated jerk, but perhaps even moreso because the crowd he's surrounded with is more inept than his SeeD classmates.  Zidane's the eternal optimist.  Kuja's still theatrical, and fittingly so.  Exdeath is still generic as hell (and gameplay wise, cheap as hell).  Kefka is still crazy, though the addition of voice acting really brings this character to life.  Jecht, who was relegated mostly to flashbacks in FFX, gets to showcase more of his personality in this game, and is of course a badass. 

The manliest character you'll see in this sea of androgyny.
A good number of the characters, fortunately (or depending on how you look at it, unfortunately), stay loyal to their roots.

..But what about those that don't?  Sadly, the weight of this mostly rests on the Warriors of Cosmos, which is unfortunate, because you see these characters most of the time.  I know that the creators didn't have much to work with when they developed the Warrior of Light, so I expect him to be generic.  Fine.  You get that one.  But Cecil?  Dear god, I don't know what happened to him.  Sure, in FF4, Cecil got angsty at parts of the game:

Too busy pondering a Linkin Park purchase to notice his hot girlfriend.
But holy crap, Dissidia turned him into one of the cheesiest characters alive.  He's frequently prattling on about friendship, the light, more friendship, his brother, and yet more friendship.  At one point in his story mode, he even yells out the line "I fight for my friends!", which is even more of a travesty considering he's nowhere near as broken as Ike in Smash Brothers.

Cecil isn't the only cheesy one.  Firion, for example, is constantly prattling on about wild roses in his existential search for who he is:

Tidus seems even more upbeat than he was in FF10, to the point of being ditzy.  Terra seems even wimpier and withdrawn than she ever was in FF6.  Cloud comes across as even more of a morose loser than he ever was in 7.  It's like they took the worst personality traits in these characters and made them worse.  Yet somehow, I'm supposed to be rooting for the good guys, as there isn't a story mode for the Chaos characters (which is a disservice to the fans, I feel).

In this group of Superfriends, almost everyone is Aquaman.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned Sephiroth yet.  Did they make him worse?  Better?  Neither:  They made Sephiroth into a troll.  Perhaps Cloud being more of a loser is due in part to Sephiroth:  After all, the entirety of Cloud's story mode is Sephiroth trolling him.  In short, Cloud is busy being mopey and expressing his reluctance to fight, and having a lack of a reason to fight.  Firion at one point, comes along and shows Cloud a a wild rose in hopes of inspiring him to fight.  Later, when Cloud is moping, Sephiroth, in a trend that's been happening all story mode, comes along to provoke Cloud.  After his initial attempts fail, he succeeds by throwing the same wild rose Firion showed him at Cloud's feet, essentially saying "Here's your damn flower, now fight me".  Only, instead of fighting, he laughs and runs off.

If that isn't trolling, I don't know what is.  He is the living embodiment of the M.O.D.O.K. theme.

If you thought he'd gotten over the joys of toying with Cloud.. you'd be wrong.
And to top it all off?  While many other villains go through their death throes upon losing (while mentioning that they'll simply be revived), whenever Cloud wins a battle against Sephiroth, he doesn't even get that.  Sephiroth just appears beside him, shakes his head, throws a few insulting remarks at Cloud, then walks off, basically making you feel like you never won against the guy.  What a jerk.

I could go on at length about the characters, and while I'm certain I haven't done enough justice in describing how cool some of the interactions are (particularly Tidus and Jecht), I'll leave that to you to search out on YouTube, or in your own copy of the game.  For now, let's move on to how the game actually plays.


Dissidia is unique in its attempt to combine fighting game and RPG elements into one package.  The story mode portion of the game has you progress through chapters for each warrior of Cosmos before shifting into a final showdown chapter.  Your "World Map" in each is similar to a chess board game (though the second incarnation of the game changes this to something more akin to the earlier Final Fantasies).

 Instead of a single life bar, you and your opponents have three gauges in play:  The EX gauge, which fuels the character's 'hyper' mode, the HP bar, which is the aforementioned lifebar, and the bravery gauge.  Attacks are divided into two types:  Bravery Attacks, which subtract from the opponent's bravery and add to your own, and HP attacks, which damage your opponent's life (and is the only way to defeat them).  HP attacks can't be used indefinitely, however, as a successful connection reduces the user's  bravery to 0 temporarily.

When a character's bravery falls below 0, they suffer from "break" status, which renders their HP attacks ineffectual (as their bravery gauge is at 0), and adds a bonus to the other character's bravery (increasing the power of their next HP attack).  The picture below should give you a better idea of what this looks like:

Now, this can potentially lead to a variety of strategies in combat:  You can amass enough bravery until your next HP attack can one shot your opponent.  You can attempt to whittle down your opponent's HP bit by bit as you build bravery gradually.  You can let an opponent nail you with a HP attack and quickly counter while their bravery is low Or you can simply strike when you feel the opportunity is right, regardless of where your HP is at.

The battles themselves take place in a variety of stages from the FF universe, most of which are spacious, a few which are laden with traps or other obstacles, and a select few which are closely confined.  It's certainly a nice change from the 2D plane, and it feels like one of those games that does 3D environments nicely.

RPG elements are also present in Dissidia:  Your characters gain experience points and level up, bringing increases in base bravery, HP, attack, defense, and magic abilities.  Each battle you fight nets you Player Points to spend on skills, gil to spend on new items, and occasionally  materials to forge new equipment with
I'd like to say that all of this gives the potential for immersive combat that's a perfect marriage between strategy and fast-paced battling, but things can become horribly balanced for either side if the level spread is too wide (usually within 5 levels) or one side is well equipped.  The flipside to this is how rewarding it can be to overcome a CPU entity many levels above you, though more often than not, it ends up being a bit annoying.

Admittedly, it's not perfect, but as a fighter that attempts to integrate RPG elements into it, the effort is pretty darn successful.  Under the right circumstances, you do have the potential for some pretty epic battles.

I didn't have many other problems playing the game in my experience.  The controls took some getting used to, initially, since there's a lot to manage:  HP and Bravery Attacks, dashing, gliding, evading, and so forth:  Once you get them down, however, it comes pretty naturally.  The dodging mechanisms were a bit frustrating at times, as it felt like it was almost too easy for someone to completely evade an attack (it's more of a command input than moving out of the direction of it, at times).  The camera worked fine as well, which is especially notable for a 3D fighter.

I'll also admit that my perspective of balance comes from a player fighting the CPU, however.  This brings another problem to light:  Because the game is on the PSP, there's really no potential for online multiplayer, unless you're fortunate enough to have AdHoc party set up via a PS3, which not all PSP owners will have access to.  I can't help but wonder what sort of potential this game would have had on a console, given how well it was done on PSP.

Closing thoughts

Dissidia is a satisfying game for what it is.  People make the critique that it's a game you won't like unless you're a Final Fantasy fan.  However, isn't that the point?  Furthermore, with such a large fanbase, one can hardly argue that this game will only reach a small niche audience.  With a cast spanning over 12 games, most people are bound to find at least 2 or 3 characters they like, if they've enjoyed any game out of the franchise.

At the end of the day, however, I can't help but wonder how this game would have fared on a console.  At the very least, the online gameplay problems would be resolved.  Yet one must wonder how massive the roster would be on the consoles (after all, DBZ and Naruto fighting games have shown us just how large this potential is), or how much further the music and graphics, which already pushed the limits of the PSP, would be on the console.

Those are possibilities that we may perhaps never know.  Until that possible day, however, I'll merely content myself with the second entry of Dissidia, which is something I recommend you all do if you've not played the first.

Until then, keep playing.

Just not as Golbez, because he's a cheap bastard.

1 comment:

Dr. Claw said...

I'll say this of Ehrgeiz: There have been few game events more satisfying than giving Yuffie a spinning piledriver, Zangief style, with Vincent. I wanted to do that in the real Final Fantasy VII.