Review: Dissidia 012 [duodecim] Final Fantasy

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In our discussion review for Dissidia: Final Fantasy, both Mike and I agreed that it was a fun and rewarding hybrid mix of one-on-one 3D fighting and Japanese-style role-playing that simply lacked the depth and staying power it needed to be a mandatory purchase. Jump forward two years and we get the successor, which is everything the first game was – good and bad – cranked up to another level of awesome.

Set as a prequel to the first Dissidia, Duodecim brings you back to the origins of the never-ending war between Cosmos and Chaos, good and evil, harmony and discord. Like before, the storyline is paper thin, but it serves its ultimate purpose by setting the stage for Final Fantasy fans to live out their dream bouts between iconic heroes and villains from their favorite JRPG franchise.

The entire original cast returns (if you have an old save file on your Memory Stick, you can even import all previous character progressions), and nine new characters have been introduced to the roster, with the new story campaign revolving around Lightning from FFXIII, Vaan from FFXII, Yuna from FFX, Laguna from FFVIII, Tifa from FFVII and Kain from FFIV. They are all welcomed additions, but of the newcomers Lightning has become a go-to favorite of mine. I really like how FFXIII’s paradigm shift system has been worked into Lightning’s fighting style, enabling her to switch between Commando, Ravager and Medic roles on the fly during battles — and in this game you actually have full control over Lightning’s actions. What a novel concept!

By and large, Duodecim is identical to its predecessor, from its frenetic, acrobatic gameplay and accessible controls to the incredible graphics and flashy production value. Not to mention the calendar that charts your play schedule and ties in with the addictive reward system that constantly showers you with experience and in-game currency to spend on new gear and abilities for your characters, additional play modes, and all sorts of other bonuses, such as new maps, character costumes, music tracks, and more.

In particular, the core of the combat system has been left untouched. Players choose their warrior of Cosmos or Chaos, and proceed to duel it out on open 3D maps inspired by iconic Final Fantasy locales. The circle button in conjunction with directional tilts of the analog nub perform your mastered bravery attacks, which do no actual damage but sap an opponent’s bravery score and add it to yours. Then there are HP attacks, which, at the press of the square button, unleash powerful strikes that convert your current bravery score into physical damage. Each character also has a uniquely devastating EX Burst special attack to unleash once the EX Gauge has been filled.

The fighting engine is still simplistic and somewhat unbalanced in terms of certain characters having unfair advantages over others. But two new features give Duodecim the extra bump of depth and strategy it needed to evolve forward from the original. First is the new assist system, which allows you to choose a partner character that waits in the wings until you’ve filled the Assist Gauge enough to call him or her in for a quick team attack, or to help get you out of a bind.

And then there is EX Revenge, a special move that allows you to channel your maxed EX Gauge into a defensive maneuver that slows down time so you can avoid an incoming combo and counter with one of your own.

Another positive gameplay tweak, although not combat related, is the world map. In the story mode, there is now a traditional overworld map that you get to explore in between the main battle stages, which are still set up sort of like a chess game board. While wandering the world map, you can collect hidden treasures and fight roaming manikins for a little extra level grinding. It’s not a major substantive change, but it better delivers the feeling of being immersed in an RPG world, opposed to merely moving pieces around on a plain board game grid. Exploring the map also gives you an opportunity to listen to the game’s ultimate compilation of Final Fantasy music, with the background theme always pulled from the same Final Fantasy as your current character, to complete the effect.

Since the combat system is so similar, though, that does mean that the niggling quirks from the first game do return. Like before, the camera is never outright detrimental to the experience, but in tight quarters it does like to get stuck in awkward positions, and during mid-air clashes the perspective tends to jarringly whip around in an effort to keep pace with the high-wire action.

The camera is still a bit of a headache, but I actually found myself much less put off by it than before. However, I continue to have a strong dislike for the game’s cheap evasion mechanic. When you start facing the higher level manikins, far too frequently you end up in tedious tests of evasive endurance, with enemies seemingly able to read your mind and evade every single attack you throw at them, until finally the AI decides you’ve had enough and lets an attack go through. It’s like playing a game of ‘whoever blinks first loses’. There is absolutely no skill involved – it’s just a matter of who is the first to lose concentration and miss time a dodge.

Beyond the gameplay, Duodecim is packed with more modes and options than you’ll know what to do with. The all-new campaign should take you in the range of 12-15 hours to finish, and then once you’re done with that scenario you can dive into the first game’s full campaign, rebuilt using the new gameplay features outlined above. On top of all that, there is Report section within the story mode which fills in more back story in the form of a text-based journal you can read through, with the occasional highlighted word or phrase allowing you to engage in mini-campaign events offering even more battles and cutscenes to gorge on.

Those story modes alone are enough to keep you busy for at least 40 hours — I’ve put nearly 30 hours into the game myself, and I have only finished the 012 main scenario in full, replayed roughly half or more of the original campaign, and completed maybe a third of the report entries. Then away from the campaign, you have time attack, arcade and quick battles to play around with on the side, a rather robust suite of multiplayer content to take in should you have nearby friends to play with (nope, still no online play), a card-based Labyrinth mode that scratches the dungeon crawl itch in a roundabout way, and a nifty quest editor that gives you a surprisingly deep set of tools to create custom scenarios with. You get to choose the characters, the music, the background and the battle rules, and you even get to pen your own original Final Fantasy side stories by typing all of the dialogue for the text cutscenes. Being in a rare immature mood, I created a quest called the War of Poop, in which Cecil and Kain battled it out for the mythical Crystal of Poo. Hey, I just wanted to test the editor — don’t make fun of me too much! Really, the only thing missing is the infrastructure to share and download custom quests online. I wouldn’t want to burden other players with my creation, but I’d sure love to play those made by other Final Fantasy fans.

There truly is an endless supply of things to do in Dissidia 012 [duodecim] Final Fantasy, and this time around the gameplay has been improved and expanded upon to the point where you’ll want to experience all that the game has to offer, even if the first game didn’t knock your socks off (I was underwhelmed by the first game, yet I have been completely enthralled by Duodecim). And obviously it goes without saying, that if you already played and loved the first Dissidia, you’ll fall for Duodecim even harder, and with the provided data import option and full original campaign, there’s no reason not to sell off your old UMD and make the upgrade.

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Pros:
+ Fast and frenetic combat system is loads of fun
+ Assist attacks and EX Revenge give combat a little extra depth
+ World map exploration adds more RPG atmosphere
+ New character additions add to the fan service
+ Endless rewards and replay value
+ Typical high-end Final Fantasy graphics and music

Cons:
– Higher level enemies still dodge with cheap regularity
– Camera still finicky
– No online connectivity
– Paper thin storyline

Affiliate Links:
Buy from AmazonPSP Games) or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: PSP (UMD and PSN)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date:
Genre: Fighting / Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1 (2-10 Ad Hoc)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!