Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square Enix / Played on: PSP / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Partial Nudity)
Squall vs. Laguna? Cloud vs. Sephiroth? Terra vs. Exdeath? Relax, faithful readers, you haven’t stumbled upon some crazed fan fiction. Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy is the new (and strangely titled) Final Fantasy-themed fighting game from Square Enix. A prequel to the original Dissidia, Duodecim offers up more characters, a new story, and tweaked gameplay. Is Square Enix’s second foray in fan service as enjoyable as the first, or should you look elsewhere for your wildest Final Fantasy dreams?
Duodecim chronicles the events that lead up to the first game’s story. The core story is the same: Cosmos and Chaos, two powerful deities, fight to maintain the balance of harmony and discord in the universe. Both gods summon heroes and villains spanning the entire Final Fantasy catalogue of games to aid in their conflict. On top of this, doppelgangers of each character known as Manikins have invaded the land and are threatening the power of the Gods. The main story centers on the six new characters (Kain, Tifa, Laguna, Yuna, Vaan, and Lightning) as they battle against the Manikin army. Just like its predecessor, Duodecim’s story is melodramatic and irrelevant. While beautiful cutscenes help to tell the story, the banter between characters is overly dramatic and only serves as bookends for each chapter. Fans of the series will appreciate Square Enix’s attempt to incorporate character-specific traits and situations, but it ultimately serves as fan service and can be completely ignored.
On the surface it looks as if little has changed between the first game and Duodecim: You have power-building Bravery attacks that build up your strength that you then unleash on your opponent in the form of HP attacks, and when someone’s HP reaches zero the battle is over. Levels are still fought on a grid system, but a new overworld is present for you to explore between each boardgame-like series of battles. If you’ve played the first game you’ve essentially played Duodecim, and if not it is quite easy to get the hold of. Square Enix has implemented a small training session and multiple hints on how to play throughout the main story’s load screens. As you battle you build up an EX meter that you use to gain back life, deal more damage, and execute character specific special moves. New to the game are Assists, which have you calling in an ally to pummel your foe for extra damage. Minor tweaks to gameplay will show to series veterans as well. Entering EX mode while being attacked initiates Ex Revenge mode that gives you back more Bravery to quickly get back into the fight. On the whole Square Enix has done exactly what it should with a fighting game sequel: Fix the problems and add new mechanics while still keeping things fun.
A bevy of modes and options are available outside combat. After each battle you receive experience points that level up your character and improve their stats. You find new equipment and accessories to enhance your attack and defense. Reaching certain levels unlocks new attacks and abilities to further customize your character. To make a long story short there’s an insane amount of customization options for each character and you’re sure to find a character and gear for them to fit your style. Completing battles earns you PP that you use to unlock new characters, costumes, options, and even new difficulties and gameplay modes. Outside of story mode there’s Arcade mode that has you fighting enemies one after another, a new Party mode has you select multiple characters to defeat an equally sized opposing party.
The new Communication Mode is Duodecim’s attempt at multiplayer, with lobbies available to join with other players and duke it out in one-on-one or party fights. Duodecim is constantly rewarding you for playing, and the sheer amount of modes, unlockables, characters, and options guarantee you’ll be playing the game for weeks months from now. I really can’t stress enough how much there is to do with this game: It is a complete package through and through.
If you’ve played the hell out of the first game and are concerned about having to start all over, don’t worry. A convenient data transfer moves all of your levels and unlocked goodies over to Duodecim so no backtracking or grinding is needed.
Seasoned Dissidia vets will find the same control scheme in Duodecim. The control stick is both tight and responsive. Attacking and defending can take some time to get used to but after you get the hang of it it’s second nature. While each character plays differently they all have the same control setup, which actually works very well. An entirely new control option known as RPG mode is also available for those of you who’d rather let the computer do all the work for you. In RPG mode you have a select few control options: Move, Defend, HP Attack, and Bravery Attack. Pushing the corresponding button once will make your now AI-controlled character focus on the desired action while still avoiding attacks and moving effectively. While it’s not nearly as fast-paced as playing otherwise, RPG mode works brilliantly. The computer does a good job of making the right decisions in battle, but those willing to put in more effort will find actually controlling your own character to be the better option.
The Final Fantasy series is well known for its musical compositions and beautifully orchestrated soundtracks. Duodecim takes all of the best songs and themes from the 13 Final Fantasy titles and puts them into one amazing soundtrack. Remixed classics like Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI and Theme of Love from FFIV sound incredible. Final Fantasy fans should look no further than Duodecim for the definitive Final Fantasy compilation. On a few occasions I actually paused the game or sat idle just to listen to the music. Character voices both in and out of battle are impressive as well. Though most of the dialogue is unimportant, the variety of characters play their parts well. In particular Kefka (FFVI) and Laguna (FFVIII) sound like they should: Kefka is a crazed clown who acts accordingly while Laguna is a happy and optimistic leader. Both voice acting and music combine to create a game that is fun to listen to as well as play.
Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy is a good game for everyone, and a fantastic package for fans of the Final Fantasy series. It is without a doubt fan service to the extreme, but being a fan of the series I can do nothing else but eat it up! A ridiculous amount of modes makes sure there’s always something to do, and the game is rewarding you for playing every chance it gets. The story is still below average but the numerous tweaks and additions to gameplay more than make up for any story-related shortcomings. If Square Enix keeps producing sequels of this caliber, the Dissidia franchise will be around for a long time.