To celebrate the venerable Final Fantasy series' 20th anniversary, Square Enix came up with Dissidia Final Fantasy, an action role-playing game that will feature a sizable cast of the most well-known characters from the series. In the last two decades, there have been more than a dozen Final Fantasy games and spin-offs, but Dissidia will reunite some of our favorite heroes and villains from the main series and pit them against one another in epic battles. At first glance, this is going to seem like a fighting game--because that's primarily what you're doing--but with its role-playing game elements, storyline, and customization, Dissidia is more than just one battle after another. We had an opportunity to play a few skirmishes at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but we recently received a preview build to go more in-depth and check out the game's many features.
The story takes place in a distant realm, where two gods have been locked in an eternal conflict. Cosmos (the goddess of harmony) and Chaos (the god of discord) have been recruiting warriors from all over to fight in a deadly war. It seems that Chaos is now gaining the upper hand and Cosmos is running out of steam. After gathering 10 of her bravest warriors, Cosmos tells them that they must each track down a crystal, their last hope of winning the war. Very little instruction is given, but the warriors immediately set off on their individual journeys, searching for answers and the elusive crystals.
Story mode is set up so that you can play through each hero's individual storyline in any order. To complete the character's story, you must clear multiple chesslike levels. Each map is made up of a random array of squares on a grid, with enemy pieces, treasure, and potions placed on the board. The goal is to get to the Stigma of Chaos on the other side of the board to finish the level. As you complete battles, you'll gain levels, learn new abilities, and receive items and equipment so that you can customize your character. Equipment is shared among all the heroes, so you can easily swap items when you change characters. As the story for each character unfolds, you'll notice that their personalities and backstories parallel the events from the game they originally starred in. For instance, Cloud is as brooding and pensive as ever, shrouded in doubt and wondering what he's fighting for, and Terra has to deal with amnesia and has powers that she doesn't quite understand. It will be interesting to see how all these storylines will tie together, because assembling such a large cast of characters with such rich histories can be difficult.
Battles are one-on-one fights in which the goal is to reduce your opponent's health to zero. The system is unique in Dissidia because you must first use the circle button to reduce the bravery points of your enemy in order to boost your own. Your bravery points are equivalent to the damage that you can deal, so once you've sucked enough bravery from your opponent, you hit the square button to attack. It's like wearing down the shield of your enemy before delivering your killing blow. There's an EX gauge to the left of your health bar, and when it's filled, you can enter EX mode by holding square and the right button, which gives you the ability to deal more damage as well as perform an unblockable EX burst--similar to a limit break or overdrive from previous games.
The different arenas range from wide-open fields to indoor hallways, which can make it difficult to keep your eyes locked on to your opponent. You can lock on using the L button, but the camera isn't always in the best location, especially if you're maneuvering around walls or cliffs or chasing down a nimble foe. There will be times when the X button will appear onscreen, giving you the option to give chase to your opponent or dodge oncoming attacks. The battle system was designed by the creators of Kingdom Hearts, so you'll see familiar features like air recovery if you've been hit. If running around the battlefield proves to be too overwhelming, there's a "command style" option to unlock, which changes the game from the usual "action style." This mode lets you choose commands in the battlefield while the CPU moves your character for you. While this does make the game easier because you don't need to worry about the camera or movement, you still need to watch your character and time your actions, or you'll easily lose the match.
Dissidia is packed with modes and additional features so that you are constantly discovering something new or earning more items. When you initially create a profile, be sure to pick what day of the week you will likely play the most, because there are bonuses for playing on that day. A shop is available so that you can upgrade your weapons and armor as your characters level. You'll learn new abilities, which can be assigned to specific button configurations and equip summons that you've found. You will constantly be unlocking new items and modes, so the in-game manuals are a handy reference if you need more information. It's also fun to see cameos of characters from across the Final Fantasy series who are there to help you out.
Arcade mode--which was added for the North American version--lets you choose the character you want to play as and face a computer-chosen lineup of opponents. Depending on your results, you can earn points to spend in the PP catalog, where you can unlock villains among many other things. Once you unlock more characters, you can play with or against them in Quick Battle, a mode that lets you customize the characters and stages and adjust the computer's strategy. We didn't get to test it out, but you can show off your skills by playing against a friend in ad hoc mode and there's a Duel Colosseum mode as well that involves cards.
Dissidia's impressive roster has been tweaked by character designer Tetsuya Nomura, giving them a more uniform look. The cutscenes are beautifully done, and the in-game graphics will remind you of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Nobuo Uematsu's previous musical works, which were handpicked by Crisis Core composer Takeharu Ishimoto, will evoke strong memories of the previous games and are one of the highlights when playing through the game. Most of the cutscenes are voice-acted, with some actors suiting the characters better than others. As a whole, though, the game looks and sounds fantastic, which fans of the series are sure to appreciate. As you progress through the game, a museum option will appear, which will house music samples, cutscenes, and information on characters for you to peruse at your leisure.
Dissidia Final Fantasy is clearly aimed at the fans, so you can play as the buster-sword-wielding Cloud once again or see how the Warrior of Light from the original Final Fantasy was meant to look. An action game at its core, Dissidia offers a ton of options that we haven't even touched upon during our time with it. We'll be updating our site with additional exclusive gameplay footage each week, and be sure to check back for our full review when the game is released on August 25.