Final Fantasy is always changing. Though it goes through many different phases (some I didn’t enjoy), my loyalty to the series is unwavering. The franchise has branched out into many different genres over the years, covering RPGs, MMOs, card battlers, tower defense, virtual pet titles, and even cooperative multiplayer. A fighter featuring a full cast of beloved characters found throughout the now fourteen Final Fantasy standalone titles only seemed natural at this point in time. Ehrgeiz just wasn’t enough, and it featured more than Final Fantasy characters, having only the populars show up as cameos. The fans wanted something more, and Square Enix has answered the call with the upcoming purely Final Fantasy fighter, Final Fantasy: Dissidia. I dove into the demo available via PSN and lived to tell the tale.
Since Final Fantasy has always been about planning, making the right moves, and knowing when and where to strike, it should come as no surprise that Dissidia is indeed a thinking person’s fighter. You’ll find none of the frantic pacing and imagery as showcased in titles such as Guilty Gear here. Instead, the devs have opted for a slower, precise, and more methodic style of gameplay that relies heavily on different characters’ strengths and weaknesses rather than raw explosive special moves and scenes to accompany them.
Firing up the Dissidia demo, the familiar soothing Final Fantasy melody we all know and love plays softly over the title screen and for a few moments I was fighting becoming misty-eyed. The demo kicks things off by offering you the choice between “normal” mode and “hard” mode, with some menacing Flans ready to pounce. I chose “normal” until I could get a better idea of what I was getting into as the music melted into more spirited battle music that would set the tone for my later skirmishes. After choosing a mode of play, you’re given quite the generous selection of characters for a mere demo: an Onion Knight, Terra, Cloud, Sephiroth, and Cecil, all laid out in brilliantly colored art next to their names in a scrolling menu that consists of which game each character belongs to. It’s the attention to detail such as this that I really appreciate as a hardcore Final Fantasy fan.
Choosing a character melts the screen into a peaceful image of clouds, the loading screen. No, real clouds, silly. You’re also given a brief rundown of how Dissidia’s fighting system actually plays out via illustrations and text. It’s likely a bit more complex than many of us are used to, putting out three different gauges that you’ll need to pay attention to in the heat of battle. As in any self-respecting fighter you have a health bar that you’ll need to keep an eye on. You also have what’s known as a Brave Value, which is directly related to your attack power as well as your opponent’s attack power. Depending on how much Brave Value the two of you possess, you will do more or less damage. Terra with more Brave Value than Sephiroth will deal more damage. To up your Brave Value while fighting you can alternate from damaging attacks or moves that lower your opponent’s Brave Value, adding a variable layer of strategy into the mix.
You’ll also want to keep track of EX Mode, which places a bar on the left of the screen. Once it’s filled, you’ll be able to use moves akin to limit breaks on your opponent. EX Mode attacks to me were the true meat of the demo, showcasing true Final Fantasy fashion with beautiful and luxurious CG cut scenes that unleash a devastating blow on anyone who happens to be on the receiving end of the attack. But just because you may be lucky enough to land one of the attacks, don’t assume it doesn’t go both ways. Both players participate in EX Mode moves, setting up a menu to cast a certain spell or press appropriate button sequences in order to get the attack off the ground.
You’ll find that this rapidly ups the tension in the midst of battle, though it can also be a very cheap way for opponents to shift the tides in their favor so that they emerge as victor. Your character will also change visual forms in EX Mode, for instance Sephiroth will sprout a single black wing appropriately, and other characters will shift into proper forms or simple beefed-up versions of themselves. Some EX Moves require much less effort than pressing buttons, though, and will end a fight outright should the player reach the item required for winning the battle. You should be especially vigilant when up against characters who utilize these moves, which is admittedly cheap, but hey, it’s still part of the game and you’ll have to find your way around it.
Though you’re limited to a few characters to choose from, the demo will set you up against a plethora of fighters you’ll be able to square off against in-game, such as Kuja, Zidane, Squall, the Warrior of Light, and Firion, to name a few. As far as visuals go Dissidia is lustrous, though many may balk at the decision to use what some may liken to “fanart” portraits and character designs for some familiar characters. I found all of the available fighter portraits to be colorful and highly acceptable. If it’s any indication of what you can expect, think of what was showcased in Crisis Core and that should give you a good idea of what to expect. Those of you looking for highly detailed, gorgeous Amano artwork shouldn’t be disappointed, but be advised Dissidia features a more cartoonish look than you might have wanted to see. Never despair, however – some of your favorite characters are rendered in gorgeous 3D and given painstaking detail now so that you can get to know them even better than you thought you did.
From what I was allowed to play via the rather short demo, which consisted of a few rounds of fighting and explanations spliced in as interstitials, I can definitely say that Dissidia should be an explosive purchase for both fans of Final Fantasy as well as simply fans of fighting games with open environments and a lot more than just simple button combinations. If you’ve ever connected with a Final Fantasy title, then there’s a good chance that you’ll get caught up in the wonderful world of Dissidia as well.