Dissidia 012: you, sir, are no Mortal Kombat

, | Game diaries

I’ve had Dissidia 012 for about a month now, and I’ve put in probably fifty-odd hours on it. This in itself isn’t unusual; I tend to play every Final Fantasy game to unhealthy levels. My Final Fantasy X final save came in at 140 hours, at least 60 of which were spent playing the Blitzball minigame. I have yet to finish Final Fantasy XII in under 120 hours. I’ve beaten it four times.

But Dissidia 012 is a little different for me. It’s a fighting game. I don’t really like fighting games. Is it just the fanservice that’s kept me playing it?

After the jump, it’s past time for hustling middle schoolers

I’ve never really been into fighting games. I’ve owned a few, but I’ve only ever given one much attention before now: Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast. I lost a summer to that game alone back in high school, playing with two of my friends to learn every single aspect, staying up until three in the morning for best-of-nine Mitsurugi vs. Kilik matches.

I never could get the Dragon Punch motion right, never mind figuring out how to do the super move motions in later Street Fighter games. Mortal Kombat was nothing but badly digitized excess. Tekken was fine until the final boss decided he won, or I ran into the mutant AI that murdered me without me ever touching the ground. Our arcades never got Virtua Fighter or Bushido Blade.

When I got the first Dissidia, it was the perfect kind of fighting game once I turned it down to easy. The enemies danced around enough to make each battle interesting, pretty, and full of flashing colors and scrolling numbers. I got exactly enough challenge to feel like I did something right when I won. The game didn’t get in the way of me experiencing its story.

The story in Dissidia 012 is dumb. Dumb by Dissidia standards, even. It actually aggravated me, because they got away from the fun fanservice story and made it into another bloated battle against destiny. After I beat the 012 story, I felt even less need to go back into the 013 story (the story from Dissidia is fully present in the sequel, so if you didn’t get the first game, this is a fantastic entry point). I actually put the game down for a bit after that; I felt like I was done, and I didn’t want to play anymore.

I decided to play far enough to unlock two more characters, though, and in so doing I found myself having fun again. But it wasn’t how I expected; I wasn’t looking forward to seeing what ridiculous thing happened next. I was looking forward to figuring out which of Squall’s magic attacks was the best to use for his mid-range game (Thunder Barret, since it draws the target in close). I wanted to see how Kefka played versus Terra (strangely; all of his magic is more chaotic, and gets even moreso in his EX Mode). I wanted to see how Golbez’s sorcery worked (I have no freaking clue).

I started learning the stage bonuses, figuring out which character worked best in each stage. I focused on the equippable skills for each character, maximizing Kuja’s mobility and minimizing Exdeath’s complete lack thereof. I found skills that were worthless, equipped them anyway, and practiced against Gabranth to figure out the best way to use them. I found that Squall’s Solid Barrel ability works great when you dodge in close to enemies, something I never did before. I found that the timing of Jecht’s chainable Bravery attacks is very difficult when anyone but the AI is doing it to you over and over again.

It was when I was looking up strategies and timings for Tifa’s feint attacks that I realized what had happened; I was completely in love with a fighting game. If this were a different time, I’d be in the arcade with quarters in my pockets trying to stay out past my bedtime hustling other middle schoolers. This hadn’t happened since 1999, when I found myself absorbed in a tale of swords and souls, eternally retold. It was nothing I expected.

Dissidia 012 is not the worst Final Fantasy ever (that’s XIII). It’s also not the best (that’s XII). It’s not the best spinoff (Tactics: War of the Lions) or the worst (Dirge of Cerberus), either. It’s a collection of the finest fanservice Square Enix has to offer, with twenty years of Final Fantasy crammed onto one UMD. It’s a damn good fighting game with unique mechanics, a vast and varied collection of characters that all play drastically different from each other, and fast-paced gameplay that still rewards tactics and timing over button-mashing. It’s worth playing if you know the backstory for every character in the game, or if you can’t tell Kain from Kefka.

And if anyone has any idea how to do these teleport spells of Golbez’s, can you please tell me?

Click here for the previous Dissidia 012 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.