TOKYO--The Tokyo Game Show floor is a busy place, and the mobs surrounding the Square Enix theater are intimidating. Nonetheless, we pushed through and spent some solid time with this upcoming nontraditional fighting game--after watching a lengthy trailer for the game within the publisher's Mega Theater, of course. Thankfully, all the flash and vibrant color present in the impressive trailer was present in the gameplay proper. And that alone should keep Dissidia flying high on the radar for most Final Fantasy fans.
The trailer itself was a name check featuring a number of popular characters and archetypes from the series. Characters we glimpsed included the Cloud of Darkness; Cloud Strife (no relation); Golbez (called Golbeza here, as he was in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy IV); Jecht; Tidus; Sephiroth; Exdeath; Bartz (aka Butz) Klauser; Terra (aka Tina) Branford; Kefka Palazzo; and many others. In our playable version, we had access to a small number of characters: Tidus, Zidane, Squall, Cloud of Darkness, Onion Knight, and Frionel (known more commonly as Firion). In our first play-through, we chose Tidus, the Blitzball phenom that starred in Final Fantasy X. Fans of game music should note that while the main menu theme was the rising and falling arpeggios we've long associated with the game, it had a symphonic, slightly new age sheen added to it, which matched the first fighting arena, a shimmering sea from which glacial crystals rose.
Because the written instructions provided were in Japanese, it was tough to get a handle on the move set at first. The circle button initiated standard attacks, called sub-attacks, while the X button allowed us to jump. The first thing we noted was just how floaty--in a good way--the action felt. You'll be landing a lot of blows in midair, so keeping distance between you and your opponent is one of the best defensive maneuvers available to you. Pressing square initiates a special attack; in Tidus' case, it is a blitzball that whooshes toward the enemy at super speed. The goal is to diminish your opponent's brave points by using sub-attacks; doing so makes your own attacks stronger and your foe's weaker, thereby allowing the special attack to do a great deal of damage. Once you land the stronger attack, your brave points reset and the tug of war begins anew.
You aren't just limited to these moves, however; you will also initiate quicktime button events. If you aren't a big fan of this overused gameplay mechanic, don't worry: They aren't too frequent and only consist of a single button press. Just be on your toes: The window of opportunity is tiny. If you manage it, though, you'll initiate a slow-motion attack, and your enemy will temporarily freeze, allowing you to rush forward to land a blow. If you time the first hit just right, you'll be greeted with another quicktime event, letting you to string attacks together without fearing a counterattack. The fight lasted longer than we expected, but it wasn't long before Squall was down for the count, temporarily answering that all-important question over which spiky-headed teen was the superior brawler.
It certainly wasn't Frionel either. We fought him in a dilapidated temple where broken columns littered the floor. Clouds slowly moved across the foreboding purple sky, and Frionel zoomed toward us. This fight didn't last nearly as long because we'd probably gotten used to the airborne controls and special attacks. The EX gauge on the left filled as we landed blows; once it was full, holding R while pressing square initiated a powerful attack that slayed Frionel in a single strike. The next fight--against Zidane--was just as easy. The battle began in a circular dais rising into the sky, but eventually, the brawl took us to the ground below, where an irregular stone walkway meandered through a lavalike substance. Combat was still floaty, but Tidus couldn't fly, and this fight forced us to be a lot more conscious of the arena than before because it was easy to fall into the lava.
And finally, we took on Jecht, who pummeled us with one fire attack after another. We slowly depleted his brave points until he was vulnerable. Once that happened, we triggered our EX attack, and in one fell swoop, the son had offed his own father. The success screen told us that Tidus had leveled up, and the demo ended--in just enough time to play again, but this time, as Squall. And who was our first opponent? Tidus. Squall obviously had a different set of moves and a different feel. He didn't seem as nimble in the air or as quick on his feet, but he could string a number of sword attacks together, ending with a flurry of swings and a dramatic flourish. From a distance, the standard attack button initiated a carpet of lightning that sped toward our opponents. Squall's special was a circular swing of his sword that sent a flurry of red energy flying at his opponent. So down Tidus went, which means that the final word on whether Squall or Tidus is the ultimate teenaged attack machine must be left for another day.
Unfortunately, the Cloud of Darkness ended our winning streak. In the temple arena, the floor broke away and we fell to the bottom. There, our foe's constant stream of purple spheres and electrical attacks became tough to defend against. And like that, our time with Dissidia: Final Fantasy came to end. It's hard to say just how the final product will turn out, but we can at least say that it looks and sounds quite beautiful, as well as dramatic. We also had fun during our short play session. We'll bring you more on this interesting game as news becomes available.