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Heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy series collide in a PSP masterpiece...
On the rare occasion when a PSP title turns up it's the same old routine; the customary rigmarole of a firmware update before the game will even boot, then the realisation that the battery is flat and the arduous wait before coming anywhere near to even being able to load the game.
Fortunately, Final Fantasy: Dissidia is well worth the wait. It's an absolute beast of a game packed with so many features and depth that it's a wonder they managed to squeeze everything onto a single UMD. Following the masterpiece that was Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Square-Enix has once again shown what the PSP can do when handled with the care and attention many publishers fail to devote to it.
At its core, Dissidia is a fighting game that pits characters from the Final Fantasy series - I through to X - against one another in an eternal battle of good vs. evil, aligned under the gods Cosmos and Chaos. But this isn't a Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter; it's an entirely different type of game that's closer to Square's old PS1 title Bushido Blade than the aforementioned fighters.
Battles takes place in fairly large stages and offer complete 360 degrees of movement and combat. The central fighting system relies on two primary methods mapped to the square and circle buttons, with a simple command setup that corresponds to the buttons being pressed in conjunction with the analogue stick. What initially sounds childishly simple in comparison to the aforementioned fighters is in actuality the game's defining masterstroke. The technique is fundamentally based around the Bravery gauge which increases with attacks used by the circle button. Bravery points are stolen to-and-fro between the two opponents with such attacks. The caveat being that the damage caused by physical attacks on the square button - which will ultimately win the bout - is linked to the number of Bravery points that you've accumulated.
The system places emphasis on strategy over dexterity, but that doesn't come at the cost of battles that are stunning in their choreography and dramatic action. Characters get slammed into walls, sprint up vertical surfaces and engage in mid-air action in a highly dramatic fashion that exceeds what you'd anticipate from its fundamentally simplistic setup but befits what's expected from Square-Enix. Add explosive and typically cinematic EX special attacks, Summon spells and much more behind this basic principle, and you have a combat system that is thoroughly unique, satisfying and endlessly enjoyable.
But it's the magnitude of everything behind the action that makes Dissidia so rewarding. Each character's ability on the battlefield is reflected by traditional RPG attributes, and it's a given with any Square-Enix title that collecting weapons and items plays a crucial role to the game. The system behind the Accessories that brings further bonuses is well devised, providing various multiples of perks depending upon different combinations. All in all this allows a tremendous level of customisation to what eventually occurs during the combat.
Split into 10 different chapters each covering a title in the Final Fantasy series, Dissidia employs the same plot arc throughout in the 'Destiny Odyssey' mode as several characters team up together to retrieve crystals and finally put an end to Chaos. Each chapter is then split into five different stages, with a board allowing you to move and ultimately destroy the Stigma of Chaos that allows you to progress to the next stage. Even at this level there's a strong tactical element, as each turn, battle, and looting of treasure chests costing a Destiny Point with the aim being to finish the stage with points remaining. Certain battles allow you to accumulate extra Destiny Points by satisfying various criteria in the following battle, while Skills can also be employed on the board to improve your chances in the combat. The various characters you'll get your hands upon provide a fantastic sense of variety and different game styles, while the bite sized nature of each individual chapter perfectly suits the PSP.
Dissidia is a game that sustains your interest by constantly rewarding with new features. Even after numerous hours into the game, additional modes are still being unlocked. Accomplishments work like Xbox 360 Achievements, rewarding you with various unlocks by completing different criteria. A Calendar system keeps track of your progress, rewarding you on certain days with various perks and providing a tangible real world bond to the game that keeps you coming back for more. And if that wasn't enough, extra modes titled 'Shade Impulse' and 'Dual Coliseum' are unlocked after completing the main story mode. Dissidia also features Ad-Hoc multiplayer, with various benefits coming into play when fighting against friends. As always with PSP titles it's a shame the game doesn't support Infrastructure Wi-Fi play, but there's no denying it offers enough to warrant convincing your friends to pick up a copy of the game.
Square Enix has even thoughtfully put a Data Install option in there to cut down on the load times, and more importantly improve the battery life because the UMD isn't constantly whirring away.
But above all of this, Dissidia is a game for fans of the Final Fantasy series. Beyond the fact it pits the likes of Cloud, Squall, and Zidane together, there's plenty of little nods that will entertain. For example, following your adventure, replete with old-school 2D visuals, the Chocobo's journey throughout mirrors your progress in the game and unlocks various bonuses along the way as you engage in battles.
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