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FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

WW #05 Ladies’ Night

This is Wankery Week, and, while masturbation in general has something of a male-connotation, let’s not forget that women have needs, too. Sexy needs. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about shoes or showers or other things that the fairer sex seems to believe are essential. Ladies, I’ve got a good musk going here, I don’t need some random water shooter to relieve me of this funk.

Errr, anyway, in the interest of fair and balanced wankery reporting, I decided to speak to a few real life, no-exploding-clothes women. In particular, I decided to speak to a handful of people that had been playing videogames since childhood, and, of course, puberty. It’s one thing to talk to someone that has gotten into gaming as an adult, but it’s quite another to dig someone out that may have been attracted to 8-bit graphics when they were contemporary. And besides, it’s only fair as, as previously mentioned, I may have had a crush or two on Playstation heroines.

So, while I’m not going to get into names and specific fetishes (ATTENTION PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY KNOW ME: Ruth has a thing for centaurs. Thank you), a number of women responded with fairly expected answers. Nobody seemed to go for the obviously half naked men (sorry, Mayor Haggar), and, sorry, albino Grecian war gods don’t do anything for the local ladies. What seemed to stick to the memories of these women was predominantly a number of JRPG heroes. King Edgar Figaro might not be the ladies’ man he claims, as Final Fantasy contemporary fugging Squall was named as a crush. Similarly, I’m fascinated that someone named a character from Final Fantasy Tactics (she actually asked me to not even name the character, even if she is anonymous in the article, because, thinking about it as an adult, she was that embarrassed by it), because those guys are barely more than poorly translated chess pieces. And Wild Arms’ Rudy was named, which actually reminded me of my own crush, and I can basically see where this is all coming from.

GET IT!?I mentioned at the start of the week that I had a crush on Princess Cecilia of Wild Arms. See, I was fourteen, and I want to say that I didn’t acknowledge that women were actual people until around when I was sixteen. Before I had my first “real” girlfriend, I pretty much interpreted women as unknowable, ascended creatures that had this whole sex thing figured out and were the eternal gatekeepers of me ever getting to see real, live nudity. In short, I hadn’t yet discovered that everybody poops. And, really, video games didn’t do much to divorce me of this notion, as “developed” video game women were magic warriors (Terra/Celes, FF6), manic pixie dream girls (Marle, Chrono Trigger), or cats (Kat, Breath of Fire 2). Cecilia, literally from her introduction, is a magical princess, yes, but she also falls asleep in class and is known as the gluttonous “burger queen” by her classmates. In other words, in a weird way, she’s “one of the guys”, and… well, I’m just saying if we ever hung out, I’m pretty sure she’d be in to me.

And it’s fascinating to think about that line of thinking from the other side of the sexual seesaw. Videogame women were generally warrior queens or male accessories, but the men in these stories were supposed to be player-inserts. Revisiting Rudy Roughknight of Wild Arms, we’re talking about a guy that literally has maybe three lines of dialogue. He’s almost an entirely mute protagonist in his starring adventure, and, spoilers, he’s not even a damn human. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s well developed enough to have a general personality and life, but you’re allowed to fill in the blanks on the finer points. For boys, this means that you too can imagine yourself as a heroic adventurer, and for girls, you too can imagine Rudy as your ideal boyfriend. What? You want to be an adventurer, too, girl? No, we already have a woman filling that blank. Please move along.

SexyI’m going to give the designers of any number of JRPGs the benefit of the doubt on this one, because it (theoretically) wasn’t misogyny that made Rudy the ideal boy, it was simply a need to appeal to a boy-based market. JRPGs often follow the same tropes as shonen manga because they’re both trying to garner that same audience, and half the tropes there go back thousands of years as “boy stories”. In modern times, we may have gotten past “Princess Peach needs rescuing” but it’s still hard to ignore the glut of fictional women that appear to exist exclusively to entertain the male protagonist. But since those male protagonists are supposed to be audience inserts, it’s easy for the audience to ascribe any traits they’d like to Male Hero #3,214. Rudy would totally hang out with you and talk about One Direction all night long. He’s a huge fan!

That is something I, a heterosexual male, understand. What I don’t understand is how this kid popped up in a number of responses…

FGC #209 Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13

Here it comes!I want to start by plainly stating that I loved Lightning Returns. I played it through twice, and that’s an extreme rarity for me nowadays. I loved the combat, I loved the world (we’ll get into that), and it was still probably the most pure “fun” I’ve had with a JRPG in a while. That said, let’s look at the good and the bad of Lightning Returns.

BAD: The World is Stupid

The conceit of Lightning Returns is that all of time and space got totally fubared over the course of Final Fantasy 13-2: Serah’s Big Adventure. Thanks to a pair of nitwits and an army of monsters that are somehow the good guys, time got broken, because you can apparently only toss a moogle at a problem so many times before all of reality shatters. As a result, the world(s)(?) was reduced to a collection of easily segmented “areas”, and, with grandfather time out of the picture, people do not age. What brave new world is this!?

Except…

Only the tiniest bit of lip service is paid to the “everyone is an immortal” thing. Despite living for 500 years, the majority of Nova Chrysalia’s population is pretty indistinguishable from the average Final Fantasy population. They fritter about their days, provide sidequests, and occasionally fight monsters. Every single person is at least 500 years old, and the best anyone seems to be able to accomplish is opening a bakery. As an easy example of this nonsense, there’s a sidequest where you reunite an estranged father with his son. In 500 years, they apparently couldn’t get over their issues, but, yay, sidequest heroine Lightning is here to patch up any stormy relationships in a thirty second cutscene. I think the reward for that quest was unlimited meatballs or something. Centuries of life and potential progress, and all we got are new recipes for side dishes.

Seedy's!But the biggest issue here is the whole “end of humanity” thing. There’s supposed to be this overpowering feeling of melancholy to a world that is on the cusp of destruction. Lightning has thirteen or so days to save every soul she can find, and her first “case” is a serial killer in a grimy town filled with sorrow. It’s basically Final Fantasy meets Jack the Ripper (except ol’ Jack is hunting women with fluorescent pink hair), and every NPC you encounter is lamenting their sorry, immortal life and how nothing has any meaning anymore without procreation or aging. Boo-hoo. This contrasts poorly with…

GOOD: I want to live there

Seriously, if I could live in any Final Fantasy world, I’d pick Lightning Returns.

The first city, Luxerion, is a lame knockoff of Dickensian England, but the other big city, Yusnaan is a city dedicated to “we’re all immortal, so let’s have a damn party until the end of time”. It’s my kind of place. There are street merchants selling every kind of food you can imagine, monster battle arenas for entertainment, some kind of deadly version of Nickelodeon Guts, and fireworks every night. There are random musicians wandering around, so I assume the rad in-game music can be heard by the residents, and, added bonus, it’s very easy to avoid monsters in this area if you need a rest. The whole place seems like some kind of beautiful dream of an endless Mardi Gras, and the only drawback is that the drama club puts on the same stupid play every night. Get some new material, nerds!

FlappyAnd the rest of the world is just beautiful. I don’t mean from a “fancy HD graphics” perspective, I’m talking about how I’d genuinely want to enjoy the Wildlands if they were locally available. Probably a great place to play Pokémon Go. I figure that, sometime in the last 500 years, some immortal landscaper decided the rolling planes needed to have the lawn mowed every few days, so everything looks surprisingly hospitable for monster hunting grounds. And there is a lush and verdant ecosystem, with floating eyeball creatures and lizards the size of dogs and twelve chocobos for every chocobo eater. The concept of Nova Chrysalia is that what was salvageable from the “old world” all got recklessly smooshed together, but here it looks like such a move might improve a good deal of real estate. If anybody wants to destroy time and space in the real world to see how that works out, let me know, I’m game.

Oh, and the Dead Dunes sound like a place to avoid, but, should you own a fedora and whip, it’s totally the best place to grab ancient relics. And when you’ve got a timeline that somehow includes millennia of destroyed civilizations, that might be a fun way to while away the centuries.

GOOD: The world respects its heroes

Let’s run down what the cast of Final Fantasy 13s has been up to…

Best buds!Snow founded nonstop party town, and then retired to his private fortress to sulk for the rest of eternity. Thus, Snow has become the saddest boy in a town of happiness. This seems like an appropriate punishment for being Snow.

Vanille feels that she’s responsible for the current fate of the world because she made some poor life choices approximately a billion years before Final Fantasy 13, and turned into a colossal chaos demon, like, once. Despite being instrumental in then saving the world (twice!), she’s still down on herself, so she turned to religion. And that religion made her the new Blessed Mother. Of course, they’re going to sacrifice her on judgment day to appease some angry god or something, but she’s marginally aware of that, and seems to be okay with a few centuries of being worshipped as a living goddess. And she got a new hat, too! Score!

Fang is less than okay with the whole “my secret lover is going to sacrifice herself for the world” thing, so she’s decided to hunt around the dessert for relics that will save dear Vanille. While she was doing that, she kinda incidentally started an entire society of archeologists/bandits, so she maybe sorta rules a complete continent. Wasn’t really her intention, she did have other things on the agenda, but I think finding magical treasure is a little easier when you’ve got an army at your disposal. Also, as she points out, thanks to cryostasis and time traveling and more cryostasis, she’s 1,621 years old, but still looks to be physically in her 20s. Not bad.

Noel, the last hunter of 13-2, has somehow also become the leader of a death cult, though unwillingly. He tries to fight our main heroine thanks to a random misunderstanding involving fake oracles, and, upon seeing the error of his ways, decides to become a vigilante in a city of misery. This basically makes him Batman (albeit AzBats). Becoming Batman is what most people aspire to, so good for him.

Hope, Lightning, and Serah all become unwilling pawns in a mad god’s plan, but it could be worse, they could be…

BAD: Inadvertent Racism

Lightning and Hope might be pawns, but they’re also literally the most powerful people on the planet. Hope is a conduit for a literal god, and Lightning has been granted insane Valkyrie power to complete her task of killing literally every monster in existence. Every other main character is in a vaunted position in their respective faction (whether they like it or not), and, save the fact that Odin seems to have been demoted from “transformer” to “bird”, anybody that helped out in an earlier Final Fantasy 13 game is doing pretty well.

Except Sazh.

Sazh!Sazh is still worried about his son, who had his soul fragmented into random bits because who cares. Sazh decided to solve this problem by hiding in a broken airship in the middle of nowhere. After 500 years of sitting in a rocking chair and creepily muttering to himself, Sazh has become a legendary hermit, and his only interaction with the outside world is when those damn kids TP his hovel every Halloween. And this isn’t a Yoda situation, where he has ancient wisdom to impart to anyone that will listen; no, this is more along the lines of “if we had a bigger budget, his new model would be a naked man covered only by his beard and an afro that is hiding an entire family of bats”. When his son’s soul is finally recovered, Dajh is afraid to wake up, because Sazh has become that scary.

Couple this with his initial characterization being half totally awesome and half a lazy retread (gee, where have I seen a Final Fantasy character known for firearms and being extremely protective of his child before?), and his 13-2 role being “stuck in the neon claws of Gamblor”, I want to say that the African American community is not well represented in this Japanese RPG. Okay, maybe I’m seeing too much here, but when the entire rest of the (white) cast gets to become kings and queens, and the black guy becomes a crazy go nuts recluse… it kind of sticks out.

And, Christ, the bird that lives in his afro gets more of a role in the story than Sazh!

GOOD: Lightning kicks ass

WeeeAfter spending a few centuries in the timeout chamber, Lightning is back and kicking ass. Of all the Final Fantasy “main heroines”, Lightning indisputably is the most likely to slay an angry god. Granted, her only competition is Terra (whom Dissidia pigeonholed forever as “whiny mage”) and Yuna (“I’m sad my boyfriend is a ghost”), but, still, I can probably count the number of strong-in-the-real-way female characters coming out of Japan on one hand. Well, “strong” and also “doesn’t appear in a game featuring tear-away clothing or twelve year olds wearing butt floss”. Lightning is determined, powerful, and absolutely does not spend any of her time fawning over boys or worrying about her hair.

And, by virtue of the gameplay, she’s also kinda the most powerful character ever in a Final Fantasy game. Lightning is finally a true army of one, and is completely alone on her adventure to save the world. No party, no monster companions, no omniscient player dropping off magical abilities or whatever: it’s just Lightning against every monster left on the planet. And there’s never any “oh no you’re not man enough” nonsense, either. Right from the get go, Lightning is tasked with saving every last soul on this husk, and there’s no doubt she’s going to succeed. Lightning wholly and totally kicks ass, and doesn’t need so much as a moogle to help her.

BAD: Lightning is a robot

Unfortunately, “Unstoppable Lightning” comes at the expense of… ya know… Lightning.

I’ve mentioned this before, but all Final Fantasy main characters (and most of the supporting cast) are built exclusively for their one-and-done stories. This is a good thing! But it also means most Final Fantasy characters may be boiled down to a simple mad lib. Terra is magically unbeatable, but unloved. Squall is accomplished, but plays poorly with others. Tidus is an all-star, but can’t dress himself. The basic point of every Final Fantasy game is to save the world, but to also shade in whatever blank is afflicting the hero. Cloud is going to kill Sephiroth and stop Meteor, but along the way, he’ll learn the real meaning of freedom and, dare I say it, friendship. I believe it was Kurt Goldstein that first theorized that it would only be possible for a fully actualized person to summon a dragon that can shoot laser beams.

He's back!I mention this because Lightning had a pretty clear arc through Final Fantasy 13. Amongst… everything… happening in that labyrinthine plot, Lightning does pick up on the whole “letting people in” moral that is hiding somewhere behind the space pope. Consider that the inciting incident for 1,000 years of strife in the Final Fantasy 13 universe is the simple scuffle that Lightning won’t accept Snow as an invited member of the family. This problem quickly cascades to Macbethian proportions, and that thread kind of gets lost somewhere around Snow earning a motorcycle made out of subservient sisters, but, still, it’s there! Lightning changes and grows over the course of Final Fantasy 13, and, while she’s not some emotionally perfect being by the finale, Lightning does become a better person by the end of Final Fantasy 13.

So, naturally, they had to strip out that Lightning in time for her titular game.

This, of course, is not by accident. Like Cloud before her, Lightning had to be reduced back to her core components in order to be “recognizable” as the same badass from Final Fantasy 13 promotional materials. In this case, the story uses the bluntest tool in its arsenal (okay, second bluntest, an outright retcon would be worst), and basically says “a wizard did it” to the now overly stoic Lightning. Lightning had her emotional core/heart/Claire torn out by a vengeful god, and now she’s super sad about not having emotions anymore. But just because the story offers a reason for a character’s regression doesn’t make it forgivable. The Lightning that was capable of making good intentioned poor decisions (like, say, giving a knife to a vengeful teenager) is gone now, and all we’ve got is a mechanical war machine that occasionally comes around to “Hey, something seems off.”

So, basically, Lightning is turned up to eleven, but we lose Lightning in the process.

GOOD: Dress-up!

Here comes the wardrobe!

FGC #136 Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy

What?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.

HUGZAnd, 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 HA HA HA(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 RAWRwere 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.

Bang, zoomAnd 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 LOVE ITbattling 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 skillsDon't feel bad 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 [1]) 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?

    I hate you
  • 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!

Laugh later