If there is something that over the years Square Enix has absolutely nailed down, it's that they know how to put on a good show. They'll give you plenty of bright colors, lots of explosions, people pausing for dramatic effect, and wild character designs, and as of late, I feel like I'm getting the Michael Bay experience with their games. Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy 012 is the latest in their games that feels like there is something hollow about the experience of the game, and there are plenty of places where I can place the blame. Be it the hackneyed story, the frustrating gameplay, maybe it's just the wacky and pretentious sounding title? I can't fault Square Enix on their production values though, they have that stuff down in spades. Dissidia Duodecim is one of the best looking and sounding PSP games out there, the problem there is that that's pretty much all this game has to offer once you get a hang of the simplistic and ultimately boring gameplay.
Right off the bat, the story of Dissidia Duodecim is a nightmare to decipher, you've got characters from all walks of the Final Fantasy universe, called forth by both Chaos and Cosmos, deities that command discord and harmony. These chosen warriors must fight a never ending battle to maintain the balance between the two powers. What boggles my mind is, why do they have to suffer from amnesia? What point does this serve? And why does the winning side get to keep their memories of previous battles? Initially I was even more confused because people like Tidus and Cloud had jumped ship to join the side of Chaos, was there a draft at some point that had Chaos and Cosmos alternating between top picks? The main story of Dissidia Duodecim is focused around new members of the Cosmos team entering the fray and their constant battles against Manakins; dopplegangers who for some reason only attack the warriors of Cosmos. Kain (IV), Tifa (VII), Laguna (VIII), Yuna (X), Prishe (XI - unlockable), Vaan (XII), and Lightning (XIII) have the initial spotlight, and completing their campaign will unlock another storyline involving the original Dissidia cast. Each character has their own story within the Dissidia universe, from Yuna trying to save Tidus and Jecht to Lightning and her bad attitude conflicting with the other characters and trying to decipher what Kain and Cosmos are up to, and the returning cast has their own stories as well, which kind of felt like a retelling of the original Dissidia. Out of all the new characters it seems Kain has the most involved storyline, with some clandestine backstabbery afoot, which isn't a stretch considering who he is. Clearing the entirety of the story mode will take about fifty hours when all is said and done, which is actually kind of tough to swallow when it comes to the gameplay aspect.
Dissidia isn't something I would classify as a fighting game any more than I would something like Senko No Ronde, it feels more like an action brawler with RPG trappings, and really it's too much to bear. If Square Enix wanted to settle on a fighting game then the first thing the should do is make the game fully accessible from the get go. Instead you need to level up a character in order to unlock more moves to be used, which are definitely more useful than the stock base character move set. Combat is a weird beast to say the least. Your characters are constantly fighting for Bravery, and you increase your character's Bravery by landing attacks on your opponent. Once your Bravery reaches a certain point you can perform an HP attack which will actually harm your opponent. These HP attacks are some of the specialty moves that people are known for, like Kain's jump attacks or Cloud's limit break. Each character plays fairly different from each other, some like to get up in your face for attacks, like Tifa, or set traps for combos like the Emperor, or just want to run away and avoid being attacked like Terra or Kuja. This amount of character variety is nice, but the end goal is still the same, deal some damage for Bravery via the circle button, and then damage the HP with the square button. Now it's not quite that simple since there is a lot of moving around on the maps, with plenty of dashing and dodging taking place, which is ruined by an awful camera and lock on system that loves to get hung up on corners or in cramped areas will swing around wildly making tracking the battle and attacks an incredibly difficult affair.Another thing hampering the accessibility of the game is the control system. This is one of those games I would beg for a port on to the PS3 just for extra buttons and a second analog stick. There are too many button combinations trying to do too many things at once, and one of the most frustrating ones is summons, which is mapped to the right button and circle. Circle is a commonly used button, and so is the right button since you'll use that in conjunction with the triangle button to dash around the map. I can't even begin to count the number of times I used a summon at the wrong time, or blocked when I meant to dash toward my enemy and felt the need to restart the match as a result. Though that wasn't the only reason I would restart a match, not at all, there was the timers for the round, or the inescapable combo attacks, or the opponents summon that completely knocked the game off balance making that round futile. There are times where this game can be ridiculously easy, or criminally hard, and that lack of consistency made the game less enjoyable in the long run. Especially when the level disparity starts to rear its ugly head in later character story arcs. Sure I might have a ton of great equipment for the Warrior of Light character, but he's still at level one, while the enemies are at about level ten or so. Some later fights will jack up that level gap even further, making them the most likely event that would lead to me snapping a PSP in half, since one mistake is literally the end of the match.
Outside of combat, Square Enix has fixed quite a few problems I had with the previous Dissidia, like doing away with the terrible movement system between fights from the first game. Now the grid system is still in place, but you are no longer punished for movement, and the rewards system has been revamped to reward you just for completing battles in the form of Kupo Points that can be turned in at Moogle Shops, and you can multiply the points earned by completing chains of battles. Outside of the grid dungeons there is a nice overworld map that has Moogle Shops and items for collecting, or characters to converse with to advance the story, or side dungeons where you can go level up your character. Speaking of leveling up, I didn't get this the first time around, but why does this game have stats like an RPG? I spend more time trying to milk points out of my character's inventory than I do spend it actually battling in dungeons. There is a ton of menu navigation and initially it's daunting. Then there's the Battlegen, a system that gives you items based upon actions performed in gameplay, and there are achievements on top of that which will also give you items based upon stats like play time, or for clearing chapters. Then there is the PP system where you are given points through mail received from the Mognet, or by finishing fights that can be used to unlock other stuff like outfits, voice tracks and hidden characters. It's almost too much content to be honest.
Obviously Square Enix has put their top men on making Dissidia Duodecim look as good as possible, and really they do not disappoint. This game is easily PS2 quality, which again makes me wish for a port on to a non-handheld system. The characters all look great, though they seem to have gone overboard with the superfluous beads and trinkets stuff, but it's not like it's anything that detracts from the visuals, it just looks weird, but that's a given for anything with Tetsuya Nomura's art style. The levels are quite a sight to behold as well, the Phantom Train was an interesting choice for a stage and works quite well. There's also plenty of explosions and colorful effects to take your mind off how boring a lot of the gameplay gets (again why I mentioned Michael Bay). The audio department has also done an excellent job on Dissidia Duodecim. They took some of the best music from each game and gave it a bit of an update, and some of the tracks work out wonderfully, like Terra's Theme, which fit perfectly as overworld music. The voice acting is fairly solid, though I will never understand pauses that are put in dialog for the sake of matching up with lip-sync, it winds up sounding awkward but overall the work is greatly appreciated.
I was hoping Dissidia Duodecim would address some of the problems I had with the original game, most of all the random factor of the gameplay. That is not the case, but the refinements they have put in to Duodecim make the game a lot more enjoyable than the original. Unfortunately the game still feels like a huge time sink with no major pay-off. It's not like the story offers any kind of canonical function, let alone make a whole lot of sense. Truly it will take a great deal of patience to get through Dissidia Duodecim, all the menu navigation, fight restarts, level grinds, and side missions make this game a chore to play through. Not once did I ever really feel like I was getting better at the game, but instead felt like I got lucky on the random number generator and tried my best to game it in my favor. Even with the Final Fantasy name attached to it, it's hard to recommend Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy 012 even to the most dedicated fan of the series.