'Dissidia: Final Fantasy' (PSP)
Also available on: N/A
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Fighting game / RPG
Release date: September 4, 2009
Whatever way you look at it, Square Enix has milked its Final Fantasy property over the years. If eleven RPG sequels aren't quite enough for you, there are always the countless spinoffs and licensed tie-ins for anyone looking to tap into the franchise's expanded universe. Saturated it may be, but the studio is clearly doing something right judging by the level of acclaim the titles have continued to garner, not to mention the impressive sales figures they've wracked up.
Square has nothing to prove when it comes to the role-playing game, but whether the series' cast of characters would lend themselves to a fighting game is a whole other question. In this regard, the PSP exclusive Dissidia: Final Fantasy was always going to be a gamble... but luckily, it's one that pays dividends.
Final Fantasy games are renowned for being epic in scope, boasting complex storylines laden with romance and tragedy. While this latest instalment is a far cry from its predecessors in terms of depth, it's still your basic light versus darkness tale with a bunch of magical crystals thrown into the mix. Out story begins in the realm of Dissidia, where the goddess of harmony and the god of discord are waging war upon one another. Each has summoned a band of warriors from across time and space to aid their efforts, but as you might expect, the unsavoury characters on the side of chaos refuse to play nice, and the forces of light find themselves staring defeat in the face.
Unlike traditional games in the franchise, Dissidia places the emphasis on reflex-based combat, but it doesn't completely fly in the face of its RPG heritage. One-on-one battles are cinematic spectacles, taking place in expansive arenas cherry-picked from Final Fantasy's back catalogue. The freedom to roam each stage sets the game apart from others in the fighting genre, while a broad rewards system will keep role-playing fans coming back for more.
As with any hybrid title, there is always a danger of alienating the core fanbase, but the intricacies of the game's combat system contain as much strategic depth as the traditional turn-based fighting synonymous with RPGs. Battles call for an admirable amount of dexterity, demanding perfect timing and mastery over the counter-attack mechanic. Evasive manoeuvres also require meticulous precision and demand just as much experience to utilise effectively.
An EX gauge, which gradually builds up over the course of battle, is a nice touch. When the meter is full, your character will shift into their EX mode, boosting their stats significantly. There's also a bravery meter, which must remain in harmony with your HP counter. Specific attacks will lay waste to an opponent's bravery while increasing your own. When this falls to a critical level, it's time to throw in some HP-wasting attacks.
The RPG components might take a back seat, but they have been skilfully integrated and lend the game the kind of longevity you simply won't find in a fighting game. Each character can level up to 99, acquiring a vast array of weapons, armour and special abilities along the way. There's even a real-time rewards system in place, handing out bonuses based on hours invested. The rewards are many and frequent, providing tremendous potential for replay value.
If there's one thing about Dissidia that will really please long-time fans of the series, it's the cast of characters. The heroes and villains at your disposal have all been hand-picked from the first ten games in the franchise. None of the fan favourites have been overlooked, with Cloud Strife and Sephiroth from the seventh instalment and Tidus and Jecht from the tenth on hand for a piece of the action. There are even a few surprise inclusions, and without giving too much away, the unlockable characters are bound to delight the die-hards.
Anyone expecting the level of epic storytelling normally found in a Final Fantasy game will be a little disappointed. It's a mishmash of clichés and bad voice work, with no time to give each hero and villain the degree of focus they really deserve. In this respect, the game dilutes the cast's heritage, rather than expands on it.
It might fall on the wrong side of epic, but story mode has plenty of gameplay to sink your teeth into. Each character takes their own individual path, giving you plenty of reasons to keep coming back. In addition to the story campaign, arcade mode gives the game yet more mileage. There are a handful of challenges to pit yourself against, such as an endurance test where you must take down sequences of enemies. Completing these tasks unlocks yet more rewards and character customisations, so there's no lack of incentive to dabble outside of the main game. The lack of online play is slightly disappointing, but you can take on a friend in ad hoc mode using the characters you have raised and customised in single-player campaigns.
While the highlight of the game is unquestionably its blistering combat, poor camerawork rains on the parade at times. Battles, by nature, are fast-paced, often calling for you to speedily backtrack across the arena. In some cases, the camera will snag behind a wall or settle in some other equally unhelpful place, leaving you at the mercy of your opponent. When skirmishes play out across the game's more confined arenas, the camera lacks the flexibility to follow the action with any precision. When you find yourself backed up into a tight spot, it feels as though the cameraman has abandoned his duties and taken an impromptu coffee break.
Camera issues notwithstanding, Dissidia: Final Fantasy triumphs on several fronts, blending spectacular combat with subtle RPG elements. It's difficult to find a hybrid title that merges two distinct genres so seamlessly, but the role-playing fraternity will enjoy the intricacies of battles, while fighting fanatics will be won over by their exuberance. The generous rewards system will shower you with bonuses throughout, meaning that every hour you invest is time well spent. While Square Enix deserves credit for trying something different with its long-running franchise, we only keep our fingers crossed that its next PSP project will be a remake of Final Fantasy VII.
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