Dissidia 012: the never-ending story

, | Game diaries

I’ve played almost every Final Fantasy game released in the United States. I bought Final Fantasy VI a second time just so I could play it at work on my Game Boy Advance. There’s an army of Final Fantasy action figures on my desk. I have twenty-nine versions of the chocobo theme on my iPod. I have a plush tonberry doll. I named the plush tonberry doll.*

And even I think the Dissidia story is completely bonkers.

After the jump, Final Fantasy fanfiction

The story in Dissidia goes like this: Two warring gods, Cosmos and Chaos, are fighting over something, somewhere, for some reason, and instead of doing anything themselves they grab Final Fantasy heroes and villains to do all the work for them. Cosmos, a pretty blond woman in a white dress, sits in a mystical watery tower and always sounds as if she’s about to cry. Chaos, a four-armed horned demon with giant bat wings, sits on a bone-covered throne and is voiced by Keith David. I’m playing as the good guys. I never get to have Keith David on my side.

For the first game, this was perfectly fine. Good guys fight bad guys, sooner or later the hero fights the villain from his or her game and defeats them, and then Keith David kills me ten times in a row as I try not to fling the PSP through a window. Once I finally win, everything is set right, the worlds get fixed, and everyone goes home happy. Except Keith David, I guess.

Dissidia 012 complicates this. It’s a prequel to Dissidia, and it has a bunch of new characters that aren’t in the first one, so unless they all get lost on the way to the main event, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how this is going to end. On the one hand, one of these characters is Lightning, who I hate. On the other hand, three of these characters are Kain, Tifa, and Laguna, who I adore. So I’m conflicted.

There’s a bigger problem than foregone conclusions, though. Between Dissidia and its sequel, bloat set in. The 012 in the title refers to the sequel being the twelfth “battle of the gods,” with the events of the original game being the thirteenth. Monologuing villains (they even monologue at each other!) talk about how the losers of each side lose their memories and are revived to fight again in the next cycle. Reports unlocked throughout the game hint at an underlying purpose, captured children, vicious experiments, and a mother’s desperate actions. This is done across three major story modes with the viewpoints shifting between thirty-one separate characters, three different timelines, and smaller side scenes that accompany the main story but are only seen through the Reports menu. Fortunately, the game lets me replay any cutscene I come across, handily arranged in a timeline that shows where everything fits in the staggeringly complex story.

Not only is this fairly ridiculous on the surface, it’s also completely unnecessary. I don’t need a conspiracy, a rich mythology, a well-documented history, or secrets lurking beneath the surface to enjoy Dissidia 012. The first game gave me what I wanted; a core part of each original game’s story told in between beating up people for money, like Terra’s fear of her powers, Cloud’s search for identity, Tidus’s coming of age story, and Squall’s desire to have everyone leave him the hell alone. If we’re getting new characters, there has to be a better way to add them than making the story go from one combat to thirteen.

The worst part about this is that actually playing the story mode is fantastic. There’s a chapter in the story for each of the heroes, so I’m going from the tutorial as Lightning to Vaan, then Yuna, then Kain, and so on. Each character plays so differently that I spent the first few fights learning the new abilities and tricks, then the rest of the story perfecting them. By the time I’ve really gotten the character down, I’m clobbering the final boss of that story and moving into the next one. As long as I’m not paying too much attention to the grand plot that Square Enix has spent too much time trying to build, I’m having a great time watching Cloud and Sephiroth spout half-baked philosophy at each other while Vaan calls Lightning dumb. Then we all fight Keith David and go home.

Up next: talking to a wall
Click here for the previous Dissidia entry.

Matt Bowyer lives in Kansas City with his wife and two ferocious guard cats. He plays entirely too many videogames, especially when he should be working on his novel.

* In the interest of full disclosure, the plush tonberry was a present to my wife, and she’s the one who named him Santana. She named him after a tonberry in the Final Fantasy d20 role-playing game I wrote and run once a week, though, and I think that’s worse.