Dissidia: Final Fantasy was created to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Square-Enix's (née Squaresoft's) Final Fantasy series. It pulled two dozen heroes and villains from Final Fantasy I through XII and pitted them against each other in a free-roaming 3D fighter, and then topped it off with extras out the wazoo. While this experiment of considerable risk arrived more competent than most may have expected, the last thing Dissidia seemed to need was a sequel. Time marches on and with it always brings a new Final Fantasy, but what do you add to a game that already, almost literally, had everything? A whole lot more, of course.
Dissidia 012 [duodecim] Final Fantasy is a fairly ridiculous name for anything, but its additional numbers and parenthetical suppositions might best describe the fact that Dissidia 012, which is what I'll be calling this game, isn't a sequel typical of the usual Final Fantasy tradition. And yet, despite assumptions cast by a lackluster opening, it's not really forged with a mission-pack mentality either. Dissidia 012 contains everything from the first Dissidia; characters, arenas, and the full treasure chest of goodies are included in the game (and some of it can be unlocked right away, with a proper Dissidia save file), but layers a handful of new gameplay systems, characters, mechanics, and, yes, easter eggs and extras seemingly tailored exclusively to the hopes and dreams of Final Fantasy's goliath fan base.
That being said, it would do interested parties well to read/skim my review for the original Dissidia. I'm not going to reproduce the instruction book rehashing Dissidia's complex mechanics, but on a basic level Dissidia 012 functions quite the same. Set in a complete 3D, free roaming arena, the obvious goal is to beat the snot out of your opponent. One button is assigned to Brave attacks, which are used, basically, to steal your opponents Brave Points and claim them as your own. Once Brave Points are depleted the character is "broken," allowing for HP to be hacked off in meaningful quantities with the other attack button. Each method of attack is allotted six unique moves that change with the position of the analog nub, which, at that point, isn't too dissimilar from any other fighting game.
Of course, to say Dissidia's combat is merely pushing back and forth against your opponent would be like saying football is as simple as throwing and catching. Character equipment plays a role, as do accessories and summons, then there's the EX Gauge, which is the equivalent of a super meter, and you can't forget that each of these additions arrive draped in references to previous Final Fantasy games. New to Dissidia 012 are assists, which call in another character and can be used to create even crazier combos. Assists characters can also deplete the opponent’s EX gauge, which is the sort of thing that sound trivial to the layman but actually has a considerable effect on Dissidia 012's systems. Again, this is all just the tip of the iceberg; Dissidia 012 is no Destrega, Power Stone or Ehrgeiz, which is to say the action not only looks incredibly cool, but favors absolute proficiency over aimless mashing to boot.
Control is a still a divisive affair. As with anything familiarity arrives with repeated use, as Dissidia 012's learning curve for its systems seems to weirdly go hand in hand with character control. Still, I constantly found myself wishing for a better means of camera control than the PSP could provide. It's a bit hard to describe but, even after I got a grip on what I was doing I still felt like the machine wasn't up to the task of performing what my brain intended it do to. Part of this is due to the relatively cheap AI (which can be softened in difficulty adjustments at any time), but the rest simply felt like there was too much going on at once for a game with so few buttons. Dissidia 012 functions just fine on a fundamental level, but leaves much to be desired when the player starts fantasizing about what they could do with a legitimate controller.
Dissidia 012 brings more to the table than battle upgrades. Certain characters have been tweaked and rebalanced (for example, the Internet tells me Firion and Kefka are almost completely reworked), but the main draw, indeed the most alluring feature of the entire game, are the new characters in the field. Kain (IV), Tifa (VII), Laguna (VIII), Yuna (X), Vaan (XII), and current it-girl Lightning (XIII) join the entire existing cast. What's interesting about these characters, and is one of Dissidia's greatest strengths, is the diversity of their playing styles. Laguna's firearm based ranged attacks are in stark contrast to Kain, who maintains distance at the cost of fast and quick melee attacks. Furthermore, all of the move sets are also tied to each characters personal history; Lightning can switch between Commando, Ravager, and Medic classes whole Vaan can use a variety of different weapons. No two are exactly alike, which is a considerable achievement for Dissidia 012’s limited input options.
The new characters are filtered into a storyline that serves as a prequel to the original Dissidia. The game board from the first Dissidia has been trashed in favor of a means of exploration Final Fantasy fans can interpret and recognize far easier; a world map. Constructed in vain of the PlayStation Final Fantasies, the world map doesn't exactly serve a tangible purpose outside of getting from A to B, collecting a few obscured chests, and killing off a few manikins along the way, but it's certainly cool. In fact, it's almost Dissidia 012 in a nutshell; design decisions and references that would be completely lost on the common man are transformed into an endearing reference for faithful patrons. It doesn't hurt those who don't get it, but it's perfectly suited for those who just might.
Unfortunately one area where Dissidia 012, like its predecessor, falls way short is its attempt at telling a story. For whatever reason Square-Enix feels the need to keep a deathly serious tone throughout Dissidia 012’s story mode. There are some attempts at humor here and there, mostly thanks to Laguna, but on the whole Dissidia 012 inexplicably tries to keep a straight face while maintaining the illusion that all of these characters are assembled in the same place for a specific purpose. With memory loss afflicting every character, with some of which remember details from their respective games and some completely oblivious, any sense of believability is thrown out the window. In stark contrast lie the hints and tips behind all of the tutorials and help screens. These segments could have been throw-away bits, but they’re played off with a sense of self-awareness and gusto absent in any of the main characters. Square-Enix probably didn't want to lampoon their sacred cows by gathering them together in a hilarious farce, which is understandable, but it would have been a nice break from the contrived nonsense that’s always on display.
If Dissidia 012 has any significant flaws, it might just be how much content could potentially go unnoticed. The depth of the battle system bears repeating; character customization, item creation by way of mission achievements, and item rewards are all doled out over the great amount of time one spends with the game. Then let's not forget all the unlockables like different costumes, additional music tracks, and even hidden characters. Labyrinth Mode is a rogue-like minigame that I almost missed, and Creation Mode serves to engage all of your ridiculous fan-fic mashups in ways the normal game couldn't otherwise satisfy. It's like Square-Enix gave the player a giant Halloween bag of candy and secretly refills it every time you look away; the cool stuff constantly being handed out never seems to end.