Dissidia 2: the real grindhouse

, | Game diaries

Many games are built around short self-contained conflicts. But then what? You win, you lose, so what? Why does it matter? Are you just playing to pass time? The answer, of course, is yes, but videogames are all about denial of that fact.

So videogames add context, ranging from high score screens to exhaustive grinds. For instance, real time strategy games put their battles into a campaign. Some of them fold in RPG-style leveling up. Starcraft II’s battle.net uses a hearty ranking system and unlockable badges. The Total War games drop battles into a larger turn-based strategy game. In League of Legends, you earn points you can spend on microtransactions.

Fighting games are mostly terrible at situating their battles into a larger context. Mortal Kombat tries, but it mostly comes down to buying koncept art in the Krypt. BlazBlue has a legion mode where you manage an army on a grid, but you have to be able to play the game in the first place. That’s not likely to happen this lifetime for us mere mortals. Soulcalibur IV has RPG character building and Super Smash Bros. Brawl lets you collect stickers to power up in the story mode. But one fighting game schools them all.

After the jump, Dissidia 2 gives you reasons to fight

Dissidia 2 is very Japanese for its long shallow RPG curve. It has crafting, achievements, inventory, ability points, experience points, money, strategy map points, collectible summoning superpowers, assists from other characters, chocobo rewards, weekly bonuses, skills that level up, unlockable attacks, costumes, voice sets, and accessories that let you tweak your character more and more dramatically as he levels up. Every single battle you fight, whether you win or lose, advances you in one or more ways. You are never wasting your time in Dissidia. It is in a constant state of forward motion, with your velocity determined by how well you play.

For instance, when I started the game today, a moogle (don’t ask me what that is, because I don’t know) sent me a player icon and some prestige points I can use to unlock new costumes. My bonus day is Thursday, and I’ve invested heavily in boosting my weekly bonus. If I take a new character through the story mode on a Thursday, I can power ahead of the leveling curve pretty quickly and brute force my way through what would have been tough battles. This week, I’m earning extra money on Friday and Sunday for some reason.

Checking my achievements (here called accomplishments), I’m about to earn a really helpful accessory that boosts the power of all my other accessories by 130% until my superpowered summoning ability triggers, which tends to happen later in a match. I’m also close to winning awards for overall play time (don’t ask), unlocking player portraits, and total distance travelled by all characters in the course of fighting battles. The accomplishment currently giving me fits is to up a sequence of special attacks called chains. I need to get six. I can easily chain four attacks, but the fifth and sixth aren’t so easy.

My play plan, which charts a series of special rewards by showing the progress of a chocobo, is currently set to hardcore, which gives me fewer but more powerful rewards. In six battles, I can get my chocobo airborne, which will give me better post-match rewards. But more importantly, I’m only three battles away from some special treasure. Go, chocobo, go! The little chocobo shows up in the corner of a screen after battles to let me know how I’m doing.

I’m currently playing a sort of spearman dude named Kain (I have no idea who any of these people are, since I don’t know the first thing about Final Fantasy). He’s got a great finishing attack in which he leaps into the air and then falls directly onto his hapless opponent. I’ve got this slotted twice so it earns double ability points, which will eventually make it cheaper to slot, allowing me to use command points for additional attacks and passive abilities. I’m currently playing through Kain’s story mode, which has gotten him to level 8. I’ve got a couple of characters into their 20s and another half dozen into their teens. There are about a dozen more I haven’t even tried yet.

In a section for artifacts, I can see that I haven’t earned a single thing. I don’t even know what artifacts are, but I imagine they’re going to be pretty awesome.

All of this is the stuff between the fights in Dissidia 2. Connective tissue. A fight in Dissidia takes no longer than a fight in Mortal Kombat or BlazBlue, but it’s got so much more long-term context than any other fighting game.

Because of all this, you might dispute whether Dissidia a fighting game. You could argue that it has more in common with single-player brawlers like Bayonetta, God Hand, Devil May Cry, and God of War. But unlike those games, Dissidia 2 works just as well as a multiplayer game as it does a single player game. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend with the game, you can pit your characters against each other. The result is just as much a contest of strategy and reflexes as Street Fighting IV. And even when you’re playing it as a single-player game, it’s always a straight-up one-on-one battle.

Furthermore, Dissidia has a unique gameplay mechanic that reminds me a bit of Bushido Blade. Bushido Blade was a Playstation 2 fighting game notable for its lack of a health bar. Rather than chipping away a pool of health, it modeled a deadly one-hit/one-kill situation. It was all about setting up that single hit.

Dissidia doesn’t quite go to that length, but it is based on building up the power of your strike before trying to land it. If you play your cards right, you can set up a one-hit/one-kill attack. The basic idea is that you’re jockying for position rather than simply chipping away at a health bar. Like Bushido Blade, it’s in the positioning more than the simple punching.

Of course, Dissidia 1 and 2, both excellent games, limit their player base by being on the PSP. But that doesn’t stop them from being among my favorite fighting games. You can read my review here for more of an overview. And for the perspective of a Final Fantasy fan, be sure to check out Matt Bowyer’s game diary, which starts here.

Mortal Kombat review
BlazBlue: you are not ready
Tuesday: you’re wearing that?
Wednesday: amateur night
Thursday: the worst best one

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