Dissidia: Final Fantasy Hands-On

Who wins in a fist fight between Final Fantasy legends?

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Dissidia: Final Fantasy
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TOKYO--It's been a little over a year since Square Enix announced its all-star game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy universe. While we've only seem CG trailers and very few in-game scenes up until now, we were finally able to get our hands on the game at Square Enix's DK Sigma 3713 Event.

To recap what's known so far, Dissidia is an all-star brawl game where you get to fight one-on-one with characters from the Final Fantasy series. The character designs are by Tetsuya Nomura who's been working on the series since FFVII, but the game includes many older characters starting from the first installment back in 1987. Though the complete roster hasn't been announced yet, it seems so far that the developers are releasing characters from almost every game. Here's a quick list of all the characters we could confirm at Square Enix's event:

FFI: Warrior of Light, Garland
FFII: Firion, The Emperor
FFIII: Onion Knight, Cloud of Darkness
FFVI: Kefka
FFVII: Cloud, Sephiroth
FFVIII: Squall, Ultimecia
FFIX: Zidane, Kuja
FFX: Tidus, Jecht

With Final Fantasy being Square Enix's most famous franchise, the developers are obviously paying a lot of attention to giving an authentic feel to the characters. In the new trailer, Squall and Sephiroth were quite calm even in battle, whereas Tidus seemed pretty heated up when he met his father Jecht for battle. Kefka was shown for the first time, and he's kept his infamous twisted personality from FFVI. While the Cloud of Darkness preferred to kill off her adversaries on the spot, Kefka stopped her so he could have "fun" with them.

The demo that we played allowed us to pick from four characters: Warrior of Light, Tidus, Onion Knight, and Garland. As you'd expect, each of them fights in different styles. For instance, Tidus from FFX is a well-rounded fighter who uses his sword and also fights with blitzballs; in fact, one of his moves is the Jecht shot. Garland, an armored antagonist from FFI, is bigger and more of a heavy-weighted fighter who's slow but powerful. The Onion Knight from FFIII may look dinky compared to the other fighters, but looks can be deceiving. Aside of being able to use magic, his sword attack hits multiple times in a brief second, very much like it did in FFIII. The game only uses two buttons for attacking, which we'll explain later, but you can perform different kinds of attacks by holding onto a direction when you press an attack button. The attacks also change depending on whether you're in the air or on the ground. We're told that you can gain new moves as you progress through the game and power up.

As is usual for a Square Enix game, you can grow your characters and make them stronger. Though the details weren't explained at today's sessions, we did see that our character would level up after battles and also gain ability points. We also saw that we earned a knife after beating one of the characters with Tidus, though we couldn't confirm if it was actually an equitable item because the menus were disabled.

Dissidia is essentially a head-to-head fighting game, but it's quite different from the traditional type, such as Tekken or Virtua Fighter. A better comparison would be Capcom's Power Stone; especially the way that you're constantly moving around in a 3D battlefield. However, the map is bigger and the characters are much more versatile when it comes to moving around. In fact, the way that you can float while in midair melee combat or run on walls and perform extremely high jumps or air dashes, feels like you're controlling the superhuman-like Cloud from the FFVII:AC movie.

Dissidia's battle system is pretty simple, albeit a bit unique. Each player has a life bar, and there's a number displayed on top of the bar called brave points that signify the player's attacking power. Similar to most fighting games, you win when you deplete all of your opponent's life. There are two buttons you can use for attacking, and they're both essential for winning. The square button (called the HP attack) does damage to your opponent's life and is based on your number of brave points. The circle button (called the subattack) does damage to your opponent's brave points and allows you to acquire your opponent's points.

The key to winning in Dissidia is to keep hitting your opponent with the circle button because that'll power you up and make your opponent's attacks weaker at the same time. What's more, there's a big bonus if you happen to drain all of your opponent's brave points. The game goes into "brave break" time, which is where your opponent's brave points don't recover for a short while. During the brave break, you get a massive bonus of additional brave points, which allows you to strike your opponent with a powerful hit.

When we played the demo, we were constantly trading brave points with our opponent in a seesaw fashion using the circle button. Once we got the upper hand, we'd attack with the square button to inflict damage. The battle was basically a repeat of that process because your brave points reset to default once you get a clean hit on your opponent with the square button (you don't lose any if you miss). However, the game is more than just simple button smashing. Some moves require precise timing to pull off, and you also have a number of methods to dodge them, such as guarding or quick evade.

Attacking your opponent also raises a meter on the side of the life bar called the EX gauge. While the EX gauge only builds up gradually when you attack, it can be accumulated faster by collecting items called the EX force, or even better, a huge item called the EX core that sometimes appears onscreen. When the EX gauge maxes, you can go into EX mode by pressing the R and square button together, which will make you more powerful. With the Onion Warrior, for instance, you can turn into a ninja, which powers up your sword attacks, or a sage, which makes your magic attacks more powerful. In the case of Garland, he'll become tougher and won't get knocked back by attacks while he's transformed.

What's more, if you make a clean hit with the square button while in EX mode, you can follow up with another move called the EX burst by pressing the square button again. The camera zooms in on your character, and you can execute a devastating special attack. In the case of Tidus (who didn't seem to change his looks during his transformation), his EX burst was an overdrive attack from FFX. Similar to FFX, the camera zoomed in on him and a timing meter was displayed onscreen, requiring a precise button input to have the move succeed.

The demo only featured about two stages, but we saw that they're going to be themed after the FF titles. One was a beautiful crystal-like plane with streaks of light flowing all around, which was somewhat reminiscent of the crystal rooms in FFIII. The streaks of light could be used for gliding from one area of the map to another. Another stage was based on the last area of FFX and featured a lava pit with rocky platforms. Given how easy it is to avoid falling because you can double-jump and run on walls, the lava pits felt more like an aesthetic than a penalty zone. But if you fell, you'd be brought back to safety in Final Fantasy style: Warp (Dejon) magic.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy already seemed pretty solid in its current state. The graphics were top-notch as you'd expect from Square Enix and up to par with Crisis Core or perhaps even better. The game is slated for release in December in Japan, so it won't be long before we can get our hands on the final product. Square Enix has also announced that there's going to be a PSP bundle for the game. Square Enix is also collaborating with beverage maker Suntory to release another lineup of Final Fantasy potions for Dissidia.

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