Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a game that was developed to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise, and as such, it features some of the most well known characters from its illustrious history. However, unlike typical Final Fantasy games, Dissidia: Final Fantasy has a very strong focus on action gameplay, a genre that Square Enix hasn't exactly excelled at. This time though, Square Enix is hoping that their gameplay model coupled with the addition of so many great characters is a winning combo.
As expected from a Final Fantasy based title, there is a story to accompany all of the action. Chaos, the God of Discord, and Cosmos, the Goddess of Harmony, have created a realm from remnants of other worlds. Each of them also selected ten warriors to represent them in a war that would wage for an age, until the balance of power shifted towards that of Chaos. As a last ditch attempt to stop Chaos from being victorious, the Warriors of Light band together to try and stem the tide.
To be blunt, the story is nowhere near as deep as a typical Final Fantasy title, and it essentially serves as a relatively shallow device to give players the incentive to fight. Each of the Warriors of Light has their own story, featured in the 'Destiny Odyssey' section, which takes a look at their own personal demons. For example, Cloud Strife attempts to overcome his insecurity and discover a reason to fight. The stories also all link together too, as many of the Warriors travel together, and only by playing through all of the stories will players understand exactly why everything happens. However, even after taking this into consideration, it's disappointing to find a game bearing the Final Fantasy name that it isn't overly engaging. Chaos, while effectively being the main antagonist, doesn't really provoke any kind of emotion and many of the other antagonists aren't anywhere near as evil as they were in their original titles.
The progession through the main game can also feel a bit disconnected, as it essentially feels like a board game. At the start of a level, players are greeted with a board, which contains statues. They must then use Destiny Points to progress through the level, any way they see fit, fighting manequins along the way. Extra Destiny Points can be granted depending on how the Manequins are defeated, and prizes can be rewarded based on the number of Destiny Points a player has at the end of the level. However, the main problem comes with how the story is delivered. There are 5 levels to each of the story chapters, but story is only offered at the beginning and end of each of these chapters in short bursts. It means that there is a very small ratio between story and combat.
Speaking of the combat, in a bold move, Square Enix have gone completely away from their comfort zone and created a game that relies entirely on real-time combat. However, it's much deeper, and far more inventive than typical fighting games. It's entirely in 3D, and there is a ton of variety to be seen in all of the different levels featured in the game. Combat can take place in the air, or on the ground, and it's not uncommon to be shooting across the map at high speeds towards a foe. There is also the addition of the Brave Point system. Alongside the typical Hit Points (HP), a character also has Brave Points (BP). These denote how much damage can be performed if a successful attack is landed on an opponent, although it's not quite as simple as that.
Each character has a selection of Brave Attacks, and HP Attacks. By performing successful Brave attacks, it increases the amount of Brave Points that character has, while decreasing the amount the opponent has. The player can then choose to do a HP attack, and deal that amount of damage, or store the Brave points up to try and do even more damage. However, if someone's Brave reaches 0, they are then broken, allowing the opponent to acquire all of the Stage Brave. Performing a successful HP attack reduces that person's Brave to 1, so it's easy to be broken for a short period afterwards. It might all sound very confusing, but it's a system that works, and works very well. Since Dissidia: Final Fantasy still has a role-playing backbone, there are level progressions, stat increases and extra abilities to unlock. However, the addition of the Brave system means that even a low levelled character can technically still beat someone who is much higher. It helps to level the playing field somewhat, although the AI doesn't necessarily reflect this. As the level of AI characters increases, as does their skill. Fighting against an AI opponent when under-levelled can seem like an impossible task, so as with normal Final Fantasy games, players will have to do some level grinding. There is a 100 level cap, and stats can get exceedingly high. There is also a very good amount of moves to be present, although not all of them can be used at the same time. Even abilities such as blocking must be assigned, so players must decide how they wish to build their characters based on the moves they have available. Each of the characters do have moves geared towards a certain style of play, but the ability to change helps to make each of the characters feel more personal, as two people can build their character a completely different way.
One thing that can't be changed though, are the EX-Modes. Each of the characters featured in the game has an EX-Mode, which will see them enter a 'limit break'-like state. Terra goes into her Esper form, while Cloud Strife is able to equip his Ultima Weapon. To be able to enter the EX-Mode, players can either collect EX-Cores, or collect orbs which are found throughout the level after damage is performed. While in this mode, characters unlock abilities such as regen, as well as increased changes for criticals. However, if an HP attack connects, they can perform an EX Boost. These were definitely included to increase the nostalgic value, but they can really turn the tide in combat too. Each of them involves some kind of interaction, such as pressing button combinations, or pressing a button as quickly as possible, and they help to both break up the action, and keep players engaged at the same time.
In terms of presentation, Dissidia: Final Fantasy is equally comparable to Square Enix's recent offerings on the PlayStation Portable. The levels are spacious, and there are pleasing elements such as level destruction, which help to keep things fresh. There is also voice acting performed and it's definitely nice to see older characters finally have voices associated to them. The soundtrack, composed and arranged by Takeharu Ishimoto, also oozes quality and will definitely strike a chord with fans of the games.
In terms of replayability, Dissidia: Final Fantasy excels. Alongside the Story Mode, are Quick Fight and Arcade Mode, which features innovative modes such as Duel Colosseum. These allow players to hone their skills and level up their chosen characters. There is also a fully integrated Multiplayer option, although there is unfortunately no online option. Players can use their own characters though, which have been levelled up throughout the story modes. There is also the PP Store, which can be used to purchase new characters, such as Sephiroth, but also Judge Gabranth and Shantotto. Other costumes can also be bought, as well as game mode modifications and new stages. Essentially, there is enough base content, and extended content to keep players occupied with Dissidia for a considerable amount of time.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a successful foray into the Action genre for Square Enix, although sometimes it's a bit confused about which genre it wishes to have as its main focus. The story is quite disappointing, and the combat isn't exactly perfect, but with the amount of characters, moves, and modes there is more than enough present in Dissidia: Final Fantasy to keep fans of the series happy.