Have you ever dealt with a baby? I’m sure I have some parents reading this blog, and, while I’m not one myself, I have been conscripted in a few babysitting duties over the years (presumably because people mistake me for a responsible adult [before they see my Transformers collection]), which means I have occasionally been subject to the fun of child negotiating without all the love and affection one might have for the little proto-humans. I’ve found that my number one problem with babies (yes, this blog is taking the bold stance of “babies got problems”) is that you can never be completely certain what they want. Crying is happening! Does that mean you’re hungry? Thirsty? Need to be changed? Need your Goggle Bob licensed Goggle Bob doll? Need to watch that one video with the letters coming out of the tree for the 87th time? You are making noise, you are upset, I know you need something, but what? I’m doing everything I can! What do I have to do to please you!?
This, of course, makes me think of fans.
It’s hard to be a fan of something. Recall your fourth grade English class, and remember that the word “fan” is short for “fanatic”, and “fanatic” means crazy go nuts squirrels in your pants bonkers. When I’m talking about being a “fan”, I don’t mean “I kinda like stamp collecting, I think it’s neat.” What I mean is you are a fanatic, and would dash into rush hour traffic if it meant retrieving a mint copy of the Earthbound official strategy guide. Fans would die for their fandom, and anyone that is already in that mindset is going to have some opinions on things. Talk to a typical fan, and you’ll find that, inevitably, they have much more detailed and elaborate plans for their favorite franchise than the actual caretakers. They understand the characters so much more than anyone ever could, and, if you’ll just sit down and read this fanfic novel I wrote, you’ll realize that Modo is truly the most sensible and emotionally evolved of the Biker Mice from Mars.
And, to be clear, I’ve written thousands of words on the topic of a teenager that hangs out with a duck and a dog and swings a giant key around to fight thirteen old men that are all the same old man. I have no delusions about my own standing in the fan spectrum.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that fans like stories. It’s not enough to simply have Guile and Ken fight each other, there has to be some story, some meaning there, and it’s all the better if there are secrets and relationships and maybe someone married the sister of the other guy’s wife. When there is even the tiniest coincidence between two characters (say, Ryu and E. Honda are both from the fairly large nation of Japan) that has to be exploited and explored and layered into the narrative. Fans eat this nonsense up, and I would love to show you my collection of Street Fighter story guides sometime to confirm this fact (thanks Udon!).
And even more than stories within a world, fans absolutely adore stories about worlds colliding. I want to say this is some sort of basic human desire to see everyone hang out (as proven by the sheer number of GI Joes that have rescued Barbies over the years… or vice versa), but it seems to reach absurd levels in the more nerdy fandoms. Star Trek: The Next Generation meets The X-Men? Sure, Patrick Stewart is down for that. Every Red Ranger coming together to form the Mightiest of Morphers? Alright, that seems doable. Viewtiful Joe vs. Deadpool? Well, that was just bound to happen.
Final Fantasy always seemed destined for this kind of thing. Practically from the get-go, the Final Fantasy Franchise has loved a good story, and featured characters that were just well defined enough to be distinctive, but just broad enough to be your computer boyfriend. You know Barret would buy you flowers every day if you met IRL, right? And, what’s more, Final Fantasy games always seem to take place in different worlds (universes? They can’t seem to pin down one afterlife…), so, under normal circumstances, Selphie would never get to meet Sephiroth, which is a failure of the space-time continuum. This mistake must be rectified! Sabin must be allowed to suplex a dreadnaught!
And for years fans took up that torch. Webcomics featuring poorly ripped sprites gave us worlds were Edward the Bard could be insulted by Edgar the King. Fanart featuring Squall and Bartz comparing Omega Weapon prizes. And I’m pretty sure flash animation had existed for a whole five seconds before someone started their epic tale of Edge training Locke to become an assassin. And the omnipresent prose fanfiction? Did you ever read that story about how Red XIII had kids because he hopped dimensions and seduced Angelo the dog? It was surprisingly graphic!
So it’s no great surprise that after years of sitting around watching the cease and desist orders pile up, Square Enix finally decided to give the public what it evidently wanted and smush all the Final Fantasy heroes and villains together into one giant brawl. Cloud could now fight Kuja! Onion Kid vs. Jecht! Firion vs. Cloud of Darkness! I mean, who among us hasn’t wondered about who would win that battle?
And there was a story! This was no Smash Bros. where everyone is just a doll or whatever excuse we need to get Donkey Kong and Samus Aran in the same universe; no, this was an epic battle between good and evil on a stage beyond time! A conveniently even number of heroes much fight an equal number of villains for the title of most brave, and, after an inevitable second act dark age, the heroes rally and banish chaos from the universe. And maybe Kefka gets to call Squall a poser.
But fans, as ever, wanted more. More characters! More Final Fantasy variety! And, maybe most important, more story. Final Fantasy Dissidia told the tale of ten heroes and ten villains, but there wasn’t much time to breathe. Aside from battle intros and a story mode that boiled down to random team-ups, no one really got to interact. Cloud got to yell at Sephiroth again, and Golbez (Jecht) got to be all mopey about tormenting his brother (son), but these were all stories we had already seen, taken to the mean of PSP story allowances. Squall got less development than in his origin game, but Firion got so much more. And the audience got a tantalizing sampling of what could be.
Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy was meant to fill in those gaps. Dissidia was supposed to be the lucky thirteenth time the “tournament” occurred, so here’s one story back, when everything is weeeeird and craaaaazy. Tidus, Terra, and Cloud are all on team Bad Guy. Jecht is a good guy, and he’s got friends like Kain, Lightning, and Yuna. Father and son Laguna and Squall are the same age and working together. And in addition to Chaos’s Minions, we’ve got an army of unbeatable crystalline entities breathing down the heroes’ necks, and an immortal death dragon at the top of the heap. Dissidia 012 is no mere crossover game, oh no, this is a story worthy of its own Final Fantasy universe.
And it was dumb as shit.
In a lot of ways, there are very few other ways that could have gone. I’m not going to say that the glory days of Square storytelling are gone forever (or never existed…), but a story full of main characters is always going to be unwieldy. Aladdin or Mulan were designed to be main characters that carry entire stories on their own, and Squall and Cloud are no different. Slot them into roles where they have to share the spotlight… and they just don’t work. Terra instantly shrinks from conflicted heroine to brainwashed damsel. Kain is boiled down to betrayer in chief, and Tifa comes off as, at best, confused. Amusingly, Lightning makes out best because she becomes the “main character” and leader of the 012 generation, so her characterization can be consistent with the Lightning we all know and love. So, with Lightning reliable and the rest of the cast reduced to caricatures, we’re looking at, what, a 3% success rate? I can’t imagine why the fans weren’t pleased.
And it’s a shame, too, because, once you take an hour or so to understand the intricacies of the Dissidia battle system, it’s a pretty fun game to actually play. While it might appear to be random numbers smeared across the screen while two characters inexplicably fly around final boss arenas, Dissidia actually offers a pretty engaging little battle system. Yes, the leveling/equipment system should be left at the curb (you’re either over or under leveled, thus the battle takes too long, or you’re evenly leveled… and then it’s the enjoyable, straight match it should have been in the first place), but the idea of stacking particular accessories for rigidly defined battle strategies offers something of a Pokémon Planning-esque strategy to a fighting game. What’s more, while it can be annoying as hell to watch, this is the first I’ve seen a fighting game really capture that “anime fight” feeling of characters zooming into the air and clashing blades at Mach speed. It takes a fair amount of getting used to (“Wait, I’m not doing damage, I’m doing damage to his ability to do damage?”), but once you’re in the zone, you’ll be tossing around ultimate attacks like a champ.
But that’s not what anyone remembers about Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy. What’s remembered is a plot that is a plane crashing into a train wreck that also happens to be on top of a volcano. No gameplay firefighters are ever going to douse that blaze, and it’ll keep burning well into the next century.
Did anyone expect anything different, though?
Fans clamored for some Final Fantasy crossover for years, and Dissidia delivered with all the most popular Final Fantasy characters. This isn’t Cait Sith battling Maria, this is Cloud and Sephiroth, the toughest of the toughies in the Final Fantasy pantheon. Yes, there had to be concessions to get a plot out of these guys, and, yes, any new villains introduced would inevitably pale in comparison to the murderer’s row of murderers already featured. Dissidia 012 has its share of problems, but, given everything included, it’s probably the best of all possible Final Fantasy Fighting worlds available to 2011.
But still the fan uproar continues. Still every Final Fantasy Fan and their dog has an opinion on how this could be done right, and here’s a twelve hundred page document on what would be the best way to go about that. No, Square, you don’t understand these characters, this is stupid. Here, pass me the controls, I’ll show you how it’s really done, and don’t try to stop me…
Fanatics, you have everything you need. You have exactly what you asked for. It’s all right here!
And the crying continues.
FGC #136 Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy
- System: PSP, though also available as a download for the Vita. Good, another fighting game that will never see a second player.
- Number of players: Two, but, again, you’re going to have to find someone with another copy and a PSP. I don’t know how the Vita emulation works on that front, but I’m going to go ahead and assume no one in your area owns a Vita anyway.
- Favorite Character: Laguna Loire. I blame it on my impressionable teen years, but I’ve never felt such a great kinship with any other video game character. I can’t imagine why I’d be so enamored with a wannabe writer with horrible romantic skills and an inexplicably supportive network of friends. He’s also fun to actually, ya know, play in Dissidia. Bartz gets second place (and first for Dissidia ) for making the cost-cutting “mimic character” into something actually viable and interesting.
- Backwards Compatibility: I want to say this is one of the few games I’ve played that involves leveling but allows you to transfer levels between games. Square seems to love ignoring the ability to import save data (just let me take my Final Fantasy 10 PS2 save to FF10HD, dammit! The data is right there on the hard drive! I found all those damn ciphers already!), and in a game where grinding was about the only way you’d see the villains become at all viable, it’s very welcome.
- Just play the gig, man: Submitted without judgment, a portion of lyrics to the battle anthem “Cosmos”:
The Pilgrims are gathering and the marching band, the marching band’s howling
Compassion is the flag a righteous man, a righteous man will hold
The Pilgrims are gathering and the marching band, the marching band’s howling
Compassion is the flag a righteous man, a righteous man will hold
The Spirit is over town, waiting for me to hit the floor
Blooming white sky for the voice of one calling tonight
Tonight fate is the red crown, the red crown around your door
Time is scattering the seeds of the mourning daylight
- Skinner Box: Dissidia and Duodecim also included early Square attempts at guilting the player into firing up the game once a day. Moogles send you mail on a daily basis, and if you’re not around to answer their inane questions, you don’t get nearly as many baubles and beads for powering up your fighters. Combine that with daily EXP/GP bonuses, and, well, have you Dissidiaed today?
- Goggle Bob Fact #1: My Final Fantasy is Full of Laudable Women article was written for the Talking Time forums before this site launched. As a result, I knew I wanted to post it on this site somewhere, and I considered posting it as the review for one of the Dissidia games. I decided against that, because not only does Dissidia have a teeny tiny female cast, it also drastically undermines the contributions of characters like Terra, Yuna, and even Edea (should Squall even know who Ultimecia is?). Duodecim, if anything, seems to reinforce the idea that the female leads are “secondary characters” like Kain or Laguna. So, yeah, posted that article as its own thing after a while.
- Goggle Bob Fact #2: I know there’s a new Dissidia in the pipeline. If that game decides to follow the story of the original Dissidias, I’m going to write a Kingdom Hearts Explained-esque series for the franchise. Someone remember to hold this statement against me later.
- Did you know? Cid is simultaneously a man from the past of Final Fantasy I and a moogle in this one. Seems like it took a while for that to happen, kupo.
- Would I play again: I admit that I enjoy playing this game. I don’t touch the story mode with a ten foot pole (who cares that the overworld is back? Not me), but I do like firing up the occasional pickup match on the Vita. Ya know, just to see if I’ve still got it.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bionic Commando for the NES! Ah, now that’s one way to get into the swing of things. Please look forward to it!