As is the case with most super-groups, Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy (hereafter simply Dissidia Duodecim or, succinctly, ‘Duodecim’) is more than the sum of its inclusive, rock-star parts. For while its synergistic premise is notably overarching and grandiose – an all-star high-school reunion of some of the most noteworthy characters from the extensive Final Fantasy anthology fused together in one fighting/RPG ensemble – it’s the title’s holistic, nuanced experience that elevates it above what some feared would be an incongruous, schlocky parading of Square Enix’s prized cows. Duodecim quite easily could have come across as a brazen attempt to milk an already fatigued fan-base; a gauche exercise of “more gil for old rope” so to speak.
On the contrary, Dissidia Duodecim utilises its star-studded cast, not as a shameless play on the fans’ insatiable penchant for more Final Fantasy, but as the cornerstone to what is a riveting, well-wrought and bedazzlingly deep gaming rollercoaster.
At Dissidia Duodecim’s heart is a fairly basic concept: pit heroes from the Final Fantasy series against their nemeses and other random adversaries in a series of interconnected one-on-one battles, the game’s mismated troupe bound together by a perfunctory cosmic pretext that just about explains how more than thirty characters from over a dozen games could possibly exist in one centralised space. Beneath its oft aerially-fixated 3D action battles and ostensibly standard RPG-type veneer, however, Duodecim presents a fathomless mine of complexity, choice and replayability that the most hardy of RPG fans will revel in.
In essence, Dissidia Duodecim is the quintessential desert island disc; a game that flourishes in its own multilayered and protean forms. It’s a game that persists in metamorphosing into new and unexpected configurations the more it’s engaged, dishing up seemingly endless permutations and offerings in a multitude of repeatedly different guises. A brawler, an RPG, and an adventure tale with platforming traits in one, Dissidia Duodecim’s chameleonic qualities could have resulted in a schismatic culture-clash; a game that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be and hence boldly posits that it’s everything at once. Adroitly, Square Enix’s “1st Production Department” development team have instead managed to tame numerous discordant concepts, congealing the clashing gameplay styles into a complimentary equilibrium, ultimately proffering what is essentially the Swiss Army knife of PSP games.
Though this balancing act is finely-tuned, it’s not without casualties, as for every nuanced offset and umpteenth crafted mechanic added to the ingredient bowl, there is a stark price of admission: namely yet another spiralling gameplay facet piled on top of what is an already heady mutating mix of commands, techniques and rule-sets. That’s not to say Square Enix are found wanting in the assistance department, as self-appointed Dissidia aficionados and newcomers alike are presented with an in depth compendium of help files, supportive material and, fourth wall be damned, instructional steerage of what to do and how to do it from the characters themselves at times. It’s appreciated (and downright crucial in places) but it still equates to hand-holding while the clueless neophyte is guided over a bed of coals. You’re happy for the show of support, sure, but your feet are still going to get burned.
Ultimately the destination will be achieved by most; players able to suitably customise their fighters by configuring attacks, accessories, abilities and summons, all the while shopping for equipment or game modes and bonuses such as new characters and arenas to do battle in. Alas, for some, the journey along the way will be fraught with confusion and, at times, frustration at many different turns.
Of course, those buying their ticket will know what to expect from with what is presented as a prequel to 2008’s Dissidia: Final Fantasy. This time the mantra is resoundingly clear: bigger, better, more. Case in point, Duodecim introduces a world map (actually the same geographical region from the very first Final Fantasy title) across which characters can now freely roam and interact with other members of the series, collecting various baubles and exploring as they go.
The majority of the action is still found in the “dungeons” or “gateways”, however – eclectic pantheons of stepping-stones presenting various pathways and challenges, progress traditionally blocked by foes eager to leap around one of Duodecim’s many multi-tiered battle-grounds. Story Mode (as opposed to Battle Mode, which is pretty much a tailored open season of smack-down) allows players to embody the numerous heroes of the franchise charged by the goddess Cosmos to combat her counterpart, Chaos. Inevitably the soldiers of her celestial opposite are the villains of Final Fantasy, despots that, for the most part, only become available to play as when purchased through the game’s “PP” system. PP is gathered along the way — as are a lot of things – each battle and action often resulting in a windfall of gil, points and gewgaws that can sometimes come across as almost intimidating.