Square Enix has been determined lately to put out some really different, exciting stuff. Some of this has come in the form of new IP such as the wonderful The World Ends With You while others have been backed up by existing properties like this title, Dissidia: Final Fantasy.
The clue of what Dissidia is actually in its strange title - Dissidia is a slight twist on the word 'Dissidium', which is Latin for conflict - fighting. If you were to translate it, it would literally come out as Fighting: Final Fantasy.
Comparisons with Nintendo's hugely successful Super Smash Bros are inevitable - Dissidia pits a hero and a villain from the first ten FF games against each other, with the roster rounded out by two secret characters - a hero from the online realm of Vana'diel and a villain from FF12's Ivalice.
Despite its genre, the gameplay in Dissidia is far from anything that the fighting genre is historically known for. While it is one-on-one, all fights take place in full 3D arenas, and combat has an interesting feel that bears some similarities to other Square action RPGs like Kingdom Hearts and Crisis Core but is still markedly different.
Rather than simple health bars, the HUD is much larger than your average fighting game, consisting of several bits of important information. Every character has HP but the all-new and important number in Dissidia is known as 'Brave.'
There are two types of attacks in Dissidia - Brave attacks and Physical Attacks. Brave attacks damage your opponent's Brave and restore your own; Physical Attacks damage your opponent's HP. The more Brave you have, the more damage you can dish out.
Generally, combat in Dissidia revolves around trying to reduce your opponent's Brave and raise yours to a suitable level and then unleash a HP Attack that will damage your opponent's HP by whatever amount your brave is at - for example, a character with 700 Brave would deal 700 damage.
In short, it’s in your interests to keep your Brave high and deplete your enemy's Brave low. When the time is right you should attack relentlessly with HP attacks, doing as much damage as possible.
Because of this interesting system Dissidia doesn't play like a traditional fighting game at all. It's best described as a tug-of-war, with the advantage at any given moment going to the player with the most brave. How much Brave you have can be reversed, depleted or increased in any manner of ways in next to no time, so Dissidia is a game where incredible comebacks are more than possible - they're almost regular.
Dissidia's combat is all about being constantly aware of your Brave as well as your HP, executing the right types of attacks at the right moment. It's not very much like a traditional fighting game but more reminiscent of the series where all these characters have come from.
In addition to Brave and HP attacks, players also have a bar on the side of the screen called an EX Gauge. This can be filled up by collecting items on the battlefield and when it's full your character can enter EX Mode.
While in EX Mode your character will receive a large stats boost and by landing a HP attack and following up by hitting Square, each character will do what is known as an EX Burst but can only be described as a Limit Break.
Cloud will bust out Omnislash, Squall will perform Renzokuken, Zidane will Trance - everything you'd expect from every character from every era will be on show with some stylish animation as the enemy helplessly watches themselves getting pummeled.
Outside of this, Dissidia puts quite an emphasis on timing for a game born from a turn-based RPG series - a key skill will be learning how to dodge at the right moment and then hit back with a powerful counter-attack that can lead to damaging combos.
Dissidia's controls are pleasingly simple, with HP Attacks mapped to one button and Bravery Attacks mapped to another and a Jump button for good measure. There are modifiers for moves on the D-Pad and extra maneuvers such as air dashes, but players will find that the game can be played simply with 3 buttons early on and these more complex controls can be moved into afterwards.
In battle the game is a fighter dressed in an RPG's clothing, but outside of battle the RPG elements are in plain sight. In story mode and custom battles you can level up the fighter of your choice, and leveling up will unlock better skills and abilities for use in battle.
Characters can only have a certain number of moves at any given time, so you'll also have to choose which of your unlocked abilities you're going to take into battle and which ones you're going to leave behind. These elements add a satisfying amount of depth to the fighter. All very traditional RPG stuff.
Meanwhile, winning in any mode will earn PP which can be spent on new upgrades and equipment for your character. Equipment works like any RPG - helms, armor, gloves - they'll all help to boost your stats and improve your abilities. A nice nod to FF fans is the fact that each character has a number of weapons to unlock with very familiar names and stats. Sadly, they don't change the character appearance.
The storyline of the game doesn't have a patch on what you'd get from a main-line FF title or even one of the more traditional spinoffs, but it's fairly surprising that this game has one at all. The story of Dissidia reinforces everything we know about each FF hero and villain already, choosing to retread known ground rather than establish new elements.
It's a bit bare-bones, but the story involves the heroes of light being drawn out to stop their evil counterparts, but it's all there really to allow some fanservice so you can see Zidane fight Kefka and Squall fight Sephiroth. All the characters have been well cast and are voiced wonderfully by the ensemble cast and if they already have a voice are voiced by their established actors.
Between fights players will have to move through a grid-like map, clearing several simple matches against ghost characters based off the famous characters in the game. Outside of fighting the story mode is sadly repetitive and simplistic and doesn't stand up too well to the FF tradition of wildly different locations.
Locations are an issue throughout, with stages taken from iconic locations from each FF title. Some stages such as FF7's Lifestream are highly recognizable and iconic, but others are somewhat generic looking and even difficult to figure out which game they belong to.
While none of the other FF characters show up in fully-fledged cameos, images of them in sprite form and in new artwork by Tetsuya Nomura are packed into every corner of the game and they'll show up in tutorials and help menus.
On music duties are Crisis Core's Takeharu Ishimoto and Black Mage guitarist Tsuyoshi Sekito and the soundtrack is certainly excellent. There's a mixture of remixed classics from the FF games and also a selection of the original tunes to fight along to. It's a far reaching soundtrack, but considering the musical legacy it has to draw from its also a little small in size - each game has 4 tracks - two fight tunes and a map tune and one extra unlockable piece. Call us spoiled, but we would've liked more.
Dissidia is a game that is simply dripping with fanservice. It might be stating the obvious but regardless of what we advise here if you're a Final Fantasy fan you're going to love this game and if you're not you're going to hate it.
Dissidia is packed with references to every single Final Fantasy game in every area and is filled with winks and nods to hardcore fans of the series in everything from the menus to the dialogue. Like Advent Children, this is a love letter to the fans that is guaranteed to leave anyone who's ever a loved a Final Fantasy salivating for more.
There are some downsides - a lack of depth outside of battle, a limited but still awesome soundtrack and the glaring absence of a proper, non ad-hoc online mode - but in spite of all that Dissidia is a fantastic game. It's a suitable tribute to the Final Fantasy series and is a very clever fusion of the fighter and RPG genres. Highly recommended.