Dissidia is fan service on a UMD. Secondly…and in a really far second, it’s a fighting game. Now, that comment would seem a harsh criticism for much of anything, but the creators of Dissidia seem to fully understand this. To recover from the shamelessness of it all they decided to cram AS MUCH CONTENT AS POSSIBLE into the game. What could’ve turned out to be an embarrassing Ehrgeiz: God Bless The FUCKING Ringesque abomination, actually is a legitimately fun and interesting game. Much more fun and interesting than, say, Dead or Alive or Tekken…or anything past Soulcalibur II in that series.
I was extremely impressed with Dissidia on almost all fronts. Being a Final Fantasy fan and having played/owned every iteration I was set up to be let down. How can you mash everything about this series into a fighting game and still hope that it retains the spirit of the originals? Whether or not they succeeded could be debated but the idea here is that they really tried. The soundtrack is filled with new arrangements of almost every memorable piece of music from the series (Takeharu Ishimoto is a newish composer at SE and he is exceptional. His work on Crisis Core is equally amazing, more on that another time). The characters (some of them seeing 3d renders and voice acting for the first time) are unbelievably faithful to the source material. The overall storyline for the game itself is a cliched shout-out to the series’ melodramatic roots, but the individual characters’ tales somehow continue or reflect upon their respective game’s stories well. From the battle moves to the emotes, to the equipment and items…Dissidia: Final Fantasy is an RPG historian’s dream come true.
I would say, for me, the main pull of the Final Fantasy series has always been the characters. I fell in love with Cloud and his giant sword, his angsty personality and that game’s darker depiction of a dying and corrupt world. Zidane and his flirty ways were endlessly amusing which made it so much more endearing when he fell for the princess who he didn’t know was a princess. Cliche, yes…but Final Fantasy always had a way of immersing you in even the most tired plot lines or characters. Maybe it was the endless amount of backstory that we were always treated to. Maybe it was the way they attached songs specifically to characters to help evoke more emotion from us when they were on screen. Whatever that ‘feeling’ was that we had towards them, it’s represented here in Dissidia faithfully. Cloud is the same Cloud here, he still mopes around…is unsure of himself. Zidane still hits on girls and Exdeath still talks about putting everyone in the motherfucking void. It’s pretty cool. When you get to that character select screen and you see all the heroes that you’ve grown up along with, all grouped together like that, it floods you with memories. Especially when you click on one of them and their music from their game starts playing. Call me a fanboy or whatever the hell you want but that shit means something to me. No other series in gaming has even close to as rich a stable of diverse and well-made, fleshed out characters.
And none of that would mean a damn if they didn’t remain faithful to and keep their attention on the details. I already commented briefly on the historical accuracy of the items, equips and whatnot but I wouldn’t be doing their frightfully diligent implementation any sort of justice if I didn’t expound. There is, of course, an item shop flooded with every piece of equip-able armor and weapon that you’ve seen a hundred thousand times. Mythril armor and weapons, check. Gil, check. Potions, ethers (hi-potions, hi-ethers) check and check. There is a “Museum” feature in the game that shouldn’t be called anything less. There you’ll find all the character art, all the back stories, all the music, all the cutscenes…it’s a cornucopia of Final Fantasy goodness and should be treated as such. Never before has there been such an exhaustive collection of all that is FF in this compact and accessible a format.
When I talk about the details I want to make sure that you understand that Dissidia treats its characters with the same level attention that the items, equipment and music get. For those of you who played FF II, here’s a perfect example. You may remember a red rose being a key item that Firion could pick up and then present to the King to trigger the conversation option about joining the resistance. While the rose itself was a key item that came to represent your entry and affilition with this rebel group, it wasn’t symbolic of whole game itself. It wasn’t necessairly all that iconic, ya know? In Dissidia, the character of Firion has trouble deciding what his dream is…what his ideal world would be. While progressing through his storyline he struggles with the concept of what he’s fighting for, and when he finally figures it out it’s the rose that represents that dream for him. After that point, he carries a bright red rose around that he shows people, and tells them that his ideal world is one filled with beautiful red roses. They never over-tell or re-tell that story. While it would’ve been helpful for the uninitiated to have Firion say something like, “I used this red rose to gain entry into the resistance…oh so long ago” or some bullheaded thing like that, he never does. For as self-indulgent as this series and its creators can sometimes be, Dissidia somehow employs the easter eggs much more subtly than you would ever expect. I know what that fucking rose means because I fucking played Final Fantasy II and I don’t need to be told what it is. To do that would cheapen the experience. I really appreciate that they handled things like that the way they did, it’s almost classy… in a way. If you haven’t played FF II you just might think this guy likes roses or is a pussy or something, ya know? But SINCE I HAVE, I’m treated to an extra layer of depth that the designers are banking on me knowing about. They aren’t trying to shoehorn an experience I never had into some really accessible thing that shamelessly insults its player by robotically repeating past plot points. It really is a refreshing departure from the ugly fan service that Square Enix has made their mission statement in the last five or so years.
Because there are so many slight nuances and insider shout-outs, I would say that you shouldn’t bother even playing this game if you haven’t played a good percentage of the Final Fantasies. It is a decent fighting game, but as a “fighting game” alone….probably not worth the purchase for someone expecting the usual fare. The battles play out in Nomura’s now signature Advent Children style over the top action, which is much more fun to participate in than it was to watch happen. It’s fast and exciting with an obscure learning curve. Please excuse the use of this next phrase, but Dissidia isn’t your father’s fighting game. Many things you’ve come to expect from that genre just don’t exist here. Yes there’s blocking and counters, but there’s also flying and ranged magic. I’m assuming that there’s no proper translation of say, Street Fighter IV skills over to Dissidia. The closest thing that even resembles a similarity is probably Smash Bros…and even mentioning that game in the same sentence is dangerous. The core idea here, again, was not to make a real video game first and foremost but a forced mash-up of an entire series. It just so happens that a fighting game is the easiest and best avenue for such an idea. The fact that there is a mostly functional and entertaining fighting mechanic attached to this encyclopedia is a bonus for me.
I don’t want to completely throw the game itself under the bus, because there are a lot of redeeming qualities and a significant amount of effort put into the mechanics and presentation of it. For instance, the move titles that appear when you perform a signature special appear in a game-specific word bubble at the top of the screen. Cloud’s all show up in Final Fantasy VII’s blue background with white text using the same font from that game. Cute little detail, that. His ultimate attack is of course Omnislash. You see where I’m going with this, right? It would’ve been really easy to create all of these new 3D renders and then let everyone just be clones of each other. Instead, they made every character surprisingly unique in battle. After playing through each person’s campaign multiple times it’s very easy for me to pick out my favorites…and there are some that I hate, too. Thing is, I’m sure that some people love those other characters. I think that’s a mark of a good fighting game. Expressing all the characters individually while maintaining a fair level of balance seems to be a difficult thing for fighting game makers to accomplish, but they managed it here.
And they somehow turned an RPG into a fighter. You’ll gain levels as you fight, but not some bullshit temporary levels that only last for a battle or a campaign. The levels you gain are permanent. I guess I never thought I’d see a fighter with a heavy grind, or that I’d like that in a fighter…but here it is. The feeling of being able to stick with one character and watch him/her grow continuously in a fighting game is a very real paradigm breaker. In fact, they had to design the game to cater to that element, making the last levels absurdly difficult to the point where you actually DO have to grind just to best the final baddie. See…it really is Final Fantasy isn’t it? Because of this design, by the time you’ve invested the required effort into that one character, you’ve formed a bond with them. I don’t know about most other people but as much as I enjoyed Ivy or Mitsurugi…I never really became attached to ’em. How could I? Most fighting games’ single player mode runs you through a gauntlet of about ten battles, each one getting a little harder. When you beat the boss and watch a half-assed three second ending you are transported magically to the title screen with nothing but a sense of true knowing that the rest of the entertainment in the game is exclusively multi-player. It’s sad really, and the biggest reason why I just don’t like fighting games much.
Dissidia Final Fantasy is a win for me for reasons that it would be a fail for most. It’s as close to an RPG as a fighter will ever get, and simultaneously as close to a fighter as an RPG will ever get. Does this whacko hybrid work for anyone other than me? Yeah, I suppose the sales and sequel prove it was successful. But do people really like it? Probably never to the same level as Street Fighter or Dragon Quest. I’ve gotta pat Square Enix on the back here and that’ll be a rare thing for anything past 2004 but Dissidia is legitimately good. And the true reason for this is that they made a fighter that I actually wanted to play…and that I DID play. I’ve said this for years, but I always thought it would be a sweet idea if someone ever made a fighting game that only had one character, at least at first. You’d take that character through a personal storyline where the battles you fought would be encounters with your enemies at key moments. It could play like a fighter but have the sensibilities of an RPG. You’d level up, so also would your challengers. You’d go from place to place and fight any new characters who stood in your way and after besting them you’d progress the story and move on. It could play exactly like Street Fighter or Tekken…I don’t care. The thing about fighters for me is…I turn the game on, beat it once with whatever guy looks cool and then I can’t find anything else in the game that would feel rewarding to accomplish. Fighting games don’t have any real meat and potatoes story modes, ya know? It’s a shame because I feel like there’s a lot of potential there. To its credit, Soulcalibur tries from time to time to add a more significant mode but it’s usually jukky and boringly mediocre. I think the best compliment I can give to Dissidia would be that if it were not a Final Fantasy related title, I would still be interested in playing it. If Street Fighter were structured the same way as this, I’d have been all over that shit years ago. What the FF characters do to this formula is enhance the style and give me the opportunity to explore this new idea with characters I’ve come to know and love. Also, the graphics are unbelievable.