Tag Archives: old man yells at cloud strife

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

SLASHLike the ouroboros, here is the tail of the Final Fantasy 7 Compilation, and the head of the Final Fantasy 7 story.

Let’s review the Final Fantasy 7 franchise. Final Fantasy 7 was a straight JRPG that redefined gaming and, incidentally, was pretty damn fun to play. Ehrgeiz wasn’t technically a FF7 game, but it featured almost the entire main cast, and eschewed all the trappings of a plot for a fighting game that amounted to “let’s have fun with these guys”. In a way, it was almost proto-Dissidia. Advent Children, meanwhile, was Ehrgeiz’s opposite, nonexistent gameplay in exchange for a reunion (ha!) special that focused primarily on Cloud’s various psychoses. Dirge of Cerberus was an action game with a plot, but both parts were severely lacking when stacked against Vincent’s debut game. And, starting before even Advent Children, there was Before Crisis, an episodic cell phone game featuring the Turks that never saw release in North America. Given I can only guess at its content, I’m forced to conclude that it was exactly as unnecessary as Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, though I’d love to be proven otherwise. Still, anything primarily staring Reno cannot, by definition, be any good.

It’s a personal bias, yes, but I always felt that the individual pieces of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 did not combine to form a Voltron that could face the robeast that was the original Final Fantasy 7. I’m not even that big of a fan of Final Fantasy 7 (on my general Final Fantasy rankings chart, it’s above anything from the NES, but I’d put 4, 6, 8, 12, and even 13 higher than 7. This is, again, completely subjective, so don’t think too hard about it), so it’s not like I’m putting the game on that high of a pedestal. But Advent Children was a popcorn flick about as substantial as kernels, and Dirge was a game roughly as fun as licking a fire poker (I speak from experience!). As an added bonus, both games “expanded the mythology” in a manner that seemed to only weaken the original Final Fantasy 7. So Sephiroth can just come back to life whenever he wants despite Cloud’s final cathartic omnislash? And there are somehow entire countries that we missed exploring back when AVALANCHE was touring? Great, now I just want a bigger, badder Final Fantasy 7, and not this parade of spinoffs.

Final Fantasy 7 Voltron needed something else. It needed its Blazing Sword. It needed Crisis Core.

Crisis Core is Zack’s story. Zack, you may recall, was little more than Cloud’s palette swap in the original Final Fantasy 7. While I don’t believe ATTACK!Zack appeared onscreen for very much of Final Fantasy 7’s original release (hey, who’s that in the picture?), FF7 NA included a few scenes of Cloud and Zack escaping from Hojo, and Zack… dying. Zack, ultimately, is the Uncle Ben to Cloud’s Spider-Man, so, right from jump street, there was no way Crisis Core would wrap up with a happy ending. Additionally, this forces Crisis Core into being a prequel, and thus cursed with all the problems that great men like George Lucas have never been able to overcome. Enjoy all these amazing characters achieving grand goals? Great! Now you get to watch them before they got anything done, and, by plot rules, will be incapable of accomplishing anything!

And, make no mistake, Crisis Core is burdened with some particularly groan-worthy retcons. Zack named the bar that would become Tifa’s Seventh Heaven. Aeris wears her signature pink outfit exclusively for Zack’s return. The Turks, and Tseng in particular, have a great interest in Aeris not only for Shinra, but also as a personal favor to Zack. And, most aggravating of all, Sephiroth is revealed to not be the only science experiment stalking the halls of SOLDIER, no, Sephiroth’s contemporaries, Angeal and Genesis were also pumped full of midichlorians Jenova Cells, and at least one of those guys tried to destroy the world a good couple of years before Meteor was even a glimmer in the cosmos (the other one turned into a dog or something). On one hand, sure, it makes sense that there would be a few other “test cases” spawning from Hojo’s lab, but on the other hand, come on, way to weaken your scary, imposing, and, most of all, memorable big bad by just making him one of a batch.

MONSTERBut, despite all the prequel problems inherit to the story, Crisis Core seems to be the only worthy successor to the Final Fantasy 7 name within the compilation. And it’s not because it’s the first game to even try to simulate something like a “real” Final Fantasy 7 feel, it’s because it’s finally about something.

This, ultimately, is the secret to a good prequel. Far too many prequels (and, yes, Star Wars springs immediately to mind here) spend all their time carefully lining up the dominos for the actually good story. Here’s the Buster Sword, here’s exactly where it got its start, who owned it, and every enemy it bisected before it got to Cloud. Yes, that kind of thing is inevitably interesting to someone that already experienced the original story (and, incidentally, possibly spent a decade on Gamefaqs theorizing and debating unexplained gaps), but to someone that simply played Final Fantasy 7 and then called it a day and moved on to 1997’s other releases (or someone who didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 at all), it’s just rote plot filler. Woo, Warrior X is super attached to Sword Y, haven’t seen that before. No, what a prequel needs is a story of its own, and, more importantly, a theme of its own.

Except, my bad, Crisis Core doesn’t have a theme of its own.

Crisis Core is, much like its ancestor, completely obsessed with fate. We already know Sephiroth’s story, but, once again, here’s a man that discovers his origins, and then absolutely flips until Nibelheim is a smoking crater, and the planet is steered onto a similar path. Genesis, Sephiroth’s red-headed step brother, has a similarly destructive outlook on life, but believes his fate is being steered not by his genetic origins, but his literary origins. Yes, Genesis is, essentially, a malevolent English Major. Regardless of the source, both whackjobs endanger the entire planet because they’re convinced they’re meant to. Angeal is on the side of the angels (oh, I just got that), but he’s similarly shackled by duty and destiny. He’s the good guy because he (mostly) follows orders and looks out for his subordinates, but, still, he’s, in a manner of speaking, “just following orders”.

And then there’s Zack.

WoooZack is an actual SOLDIER 2nd Class at the start of the game (which, incidentally, means AVALANCHE likely would have slaughtered the guy had he never received a promotion), but eventually becomes an actual SOLDIER 1st Class to stand with the greats like legendary Black Trench Coat and easily forgotten Red Trench Coat. Zack spends most of his life following orders, not only during the plot, but also through a series of side missions that are assigned via Shrina and various other hangers-on. Zack, here’s a tip, when you’re taking orders from a pre-pubescent Yuffie, you’re maybe a little too obedient.

Eventually, Zack is betrayed by SOLDIER and Shinra, and he becomes a man on the run. But even when Zack is separated from the company and companions that have defined his life up to this point, he’s still following clearly defined, short-term “missions”. Protect a comatose Cloud. Stop Genesis from doing… whatever he’s doing. Empty every indistinct cave of every generic monster. You can take the boy out of SOLDIER, but you can’t take the SOLDIER out of the boy. Throughout it all, Zack seems to retain one overarching goal, and that’s to return to Aeris back in Midgar… a goal that is, yet again, in service to another person.

And, as we all know, Zack isn’t going to achieve everything on his bucket list. Despite eventually obtaining enough broken materia to take down a planetary goddess, Zack is still going to be gunned down by a trio of soldiers as Cloud looks on, because, without that event, there is no Final Fantasy 7. It’s a tragedy, you know what’s going to happen, and it becomes an echo of Aeris’s own fate in Final Fantasy 7 (unless you’re one of the twelve people on Earth that didn’t have that death spoiled by a FAQ, strategy guide, “well-meaning” friend, or me). Bye ByeKnowing Zack’s fate, every action, every life saved, every afternoon wasted punching ostriches has that much more meaning for a man with a death sentence. Maybe Zack completes every mission, maybe he just speeds through “his” story, but no matter the choices he makes, there’s no getting off the train Zack’s on, and his last stop isn’t Midgar Station, but a forgotten hill that will be seared into Cloud’s (repressed) memory.

So enjoy Crisis Core. Enjoy a game that, finally, at the end of the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, remembers what Final Fantasy 7 was all about. It’s about fate. It’s about choices, both real and imaginary. It’s not about fights with hulking dragons or invincible WEAPONs, it’s not even about saving the planet. It’s about people, what they do, and what they try to do to make their lives better.

Crisis Core does what no other piece of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 does: it makes Final Fantasy 7 better. And if you don’t want to play Final Fantasy 7 upon completing Crisis Core, well, then maybe you’re just a puppet without emotions.

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

  • System: PSP, and only PSP. I, however, will be shocked if we don’t see a Type 0-style HD remake of this game before at least one of the Final Fantasy 7 HD Episodes.
  • Number of Players: One Zack. Wait, let me make sure someone didn’t try to shoe-horn in a 2-Player Mission mode or something… okay, yeah, just one player.
  • Port Problems: Assuming Crisis Core does wind up on anything but a portable system, it will be a loss for the game. Crisis Core’s gameplay soars because it has about a thousand short, “meaningless” missions that are ideal for quick play sessions or while watching TV (or both). A Crisis Core that still basically requires all those Grumblebite-sized missions (for leveling, materia acquisition, etc), but must be played on the big screen during dedicated couch time would not be nearly as enjoyable.
  • To be the very best: Yes, I 100% completed every mission in this game. It’s a testament to how good the gameplay in Crisis Core actually is, but it’s also a result of the PSP seeing practically zero software after its initial launch. But, once a year, Square Enix released a PSP game actually worthwhile (see also: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia, and Final Fantasy 4 Complete [my “last” PSP game]), and I’d be damned before I let a system I purchased wallow in disuse. Work that battery, PSP!
  • Barrett? No Barrett. Fine time to look at the start of Avalanche, but nooooope.
  • Buster Blues: Much fuss throughout this plot is placed on the Buster Sword, what it means to its various owners, and how important it has been throughout the lead-up to Final Fantasy 7. The Buster Sword even originated with Angeal’s poor family saving up to purchase the iconic blade for their son… so it’s kind of a shame that it’s the absolute weakest sword Cloud can equip, and it’ll start soaking up inventory mildew five seconds out of Midgar.
  • Did you know? Genesis survives this game, and is dragged past the good Final Fantasy 7 games to appear in the secret ending of Dirge of Cerberus as the reawaked “G”. This was supposed to be important and spooky and oh boy what is Genesis going to do next… but, nope, Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 ended chronologically with Dirge, so we won’t know what Red gets up to after awakening unless, I suppose, Final Fantasy 7 HD is a monster success worthy of new, original content. Sorry, Genesis, you’re loveless.
  • Would I play again? Yes, despite complaints that a “TV Version” would suck all the fun out of the experience, it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll play whatever version of Crisis Core we see in the future. It’s a surprisingly good game (particularly compared to its contemporaries), and I wouldn’t mind seeing poor, doomed Zack ride again.

What’s next? Regular service resumes next week, and Random ROB has chosen… Splatoon for the WiiU! Time to get our squidly bits a-paintin’! Please look forward to it!

Let's call it a day

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

King of the God Fist?Words aren’t enough for Ehrgeiz.

As you may have heard, Final Fantasy 7 put Squaresoft on the map. I will argue until the day I die that Chrono Trigger was a better game, and Final Fantasy 6 was subjectively better than FF7, but that is immaterial to the fact that Final Fantasy 7 not only made an airship full of money for Squaresoft, it also dramatically increased Square’s cultural footprint. The likes of Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami were synonymous with gaming for a couple of console generations, and Enix was a hulking cyclops in its native Japan, but now Square and the Sony Playstation brand were the guys to beat. Someone at the top of Square must have noticed, because, instead of simply relying on the genre that had earned Square its (ultimately fleeting) elevated position, they decided to try a few new things.

But, you know, they still hung on to that FF7 IP. They knew what primed their potions.

In retrospect , 1998 was an interesting year for gaming. The Playstation was starting its dominance of the console market that would last for another generation to come, and Nintendo, for the first time, was stuck with a dud that seemed downright archaic next to Playstation’s wondrous world of FMVs. But even amongst the rise of “arcade graphics” on the home consoles, the arcades were still if not exactly booming, at least healthy. The fighting game fad hadn’t completely subsided yet, and while Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were gradually making their way to a permanent home on the couch consoles, the likes of Tekken and X-Men vs. Street Fighter were offering amazing experiences for anyone still willing to donate enough quarters. In a way, it was a “healthy” time for gaming, or at least one where forty bucks would net you a forty hour game, and fifty cents would nab an experience a little bit more interesting than Mappy Land. And, yes, since the arcade was still reigning supreme, “arcade games” were considered above their console brethren: you can play Tekken at home, but the real experience is at the mall.

So you can imagine my amazement when, wandering around a local arcade, I saw my old friends Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII staring back at me.

WINNERThis is, as ever, a weird thing about video games. Yes, any entertainment medium with a story worth its salt does its best to endear its characters to you, and thus make them part of your fictional, mental “family”. Arguably, this is the entire concept that currently drives Hollywood and marketing in general: you already like Harry Potter and his wizarding friends, so here’s another seven movies with those kids, and maybe a spin-off about animals or something. Like that Lord of the Rings? How about we bleed a trilogy out of that old guy with the hairy feet? You’ll watch that, right? But video games are even worse in that regard, as I’ve argued before, you so totally inhabit a character in a long-form, video game narrative that you inevitably grow more attached to your digital avatar than you would a hero you simply watch. I journeyed from Cloud’s awkward SOLDIER days in a tube in the basement to the center of the Earth itself right there with him, so you better believe I care what happens next and where he goes.

When you get right down to it, this is the (obvious) thinking behind the whole “Compilation of Final Fantasy 7” or whatever Squeenix was calling it, but back in 1998, that was still years away. I reiterate this from during my Kingdom Hearts coverage, but well before the likes of Dissidia, Theatrhythm, and other Square-Enix games that make my spellcheck spaz out, when a Final Fantasy game ended, it ended. Kefka bragged about creating a monument to nothingness, but about a half hour after he was defeated, his world was… nothing. Get it?The mere fact that Cloud had escaped a similar fate was an event all on its own, and then there was the little fact that he was, ya know, playable.

Let’s revisit Final Fantasy 6 again (hopefully for the final time in this article, but no guarantees). Sabin was likely the most “physical” party member in that game, and his most enduring animation was either flipping a train 180 degrees or quickly spinning around an enemy with sporadic epileptic flashes. The ultimate spell, Ultima, created some kind of blue dome… was that supposed to be ground erupting, or just an expanding sphere of pure magic? Who knows? And the ultimate summons was a trio of static drawings that shrunk and flashed as needed. Even when Final Fantasy 6 was at its dramatic height for graphics, you had to use a healthy amount of imagination to fill in the gaps.

In that regard, Final Fantasy 7 was an amazing upgrade. I can’t have been the only person that was shocked when Titan flipped the very ground below an enemy, or when Sephiroth summoned a meteor that incidentally destroyed half the galaxy. But even though graphical splendor was radiating Final Fantasy 7, the average playable character was still fairly limited. Everyone remembers Cloud’s Omnislash, but his earlier limit breaks were simple affairs, like a generic “sword beam” or three slashes that managed to produce kanji. And Cloud’s basic slash involved a weird, “instant” dash the didn’t even bother animating Cloud, ya know, walking/running. Yes, there’s untold grandeur in Bahamut’s multiple appearances, but the main party of FF7 (complete with randomly shifting models between FMVs, battle scenes, and maps) never really felt like they were built to actually “move” in a real environment. For all the polygons and modeling that went into Sephiroth, I never really believed he had that many more movement options than accomplished hunk of lumber Ex-Death.

WeeeeNow, here was Ehrgeiz. Not only could Cloud walk, run, and jump at will, but he could battle on a 3-D plane. He could use multiple attacks (some based on Final Fantasy moves, others… not so much). He could block, fall down, and get right back up again. In short, Cloud Strife was now a “real” person… or at least as real as the cast of Tekken 3. Tekken 3, incidentally, is my ruler by which “realistic” graphics are measured exclusively because the girl I had a crush on through junior high (and high school) (and college) (and not insignificant portions of the last decade) who had absolutely no interest in video games took one look at T3’s Eddy Gordo and responded, “Wow, he’s pretty hot.” Aside from sparking a lifelong rivalry with practitioners of Caopeira, this event taught me there’s a significant difference between the “abstract” models of most JRPGs, and the more realistic (and evidently hotter) models of more kinetic games like those in the fighting genre. Cloud had belonged to the former grouping, but now was firmly entrenched in the “real” world of Ehrgeiz.

And it wasn’t just Cloud! Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII were all palling around the arcade, and by the time Ehrgeiz hit the home consoles, Yuffie, Vincent, Sephiroth, and Zack had joined the melee. This was huge! Yuffie and Vincent were hidden characters in FF7, so their inclusion here legitimized a pair of fan favorites that previously weren’t even allowed to participate in their own ending (and the fact that you could play as a Turks version of Vinnie was just icing on the cake). Zack was practically unseen throughout FF7 (which, yes, deliberate move), but now here he was, running around and doing squats like a champ. And Sephiroth? Holy cow, Sephiroth. A… not insignificant portion of Final Fantasy 7 is dedicated to telling the player exactly how incredibly badass Legendary SOLDIER 1st Class Sephiroth happened to be, and, back in the late 90’s, we hadn’t quite come around to the nuanced reading that that’s all there to contrast with the vaguely weak and ineffective “real” Sephiroth. So this, the opportunity to play as the one and only Sephiroth, God, it’s still hard to put into words.

Right in the chaosNever mind the fact that the majority of the FF7 cast was now simply little more than costume swaps for the real Ehrgeiz characters (Red XIII literally was a costume swap, Vincent, Yuffie, and Zack are all reused movesets), and never mind that this is a “dream match” situation, where the plot doesn’t have to make a lick of sense, and the majority of Final Fantasy imports don’t receive proper endings. This was, plain and simple, an attempt to elevate Ehrgeiz above the fighting/arcade competition, and, while I’d like to claim my peers and myself were above such naked pandering… it worked. It worked like gangbusters. I guarantee you there are more than a few copies out Ehrgeiz out there where the entire original cast was completely untouched, but the Sephiroth portion of the disc is worn into oblivion.

So, you know what? Ehrgeiz might not be part of the official Compilation of Final Fantasy 7. No, it doesn’t reveal what Cait Sith was up to in his spare time, or fill in the backstory on Tifa’s orthopedic underwear, but it might be the most important video game featuring Cloud and company, even if they never speak a word. This was the game that said, “You know what? It doesn’t make any sense, some of these characters are dead, and others are tossing around landmines for some reason, but here is a portion of the cast of Final Fantasy 7 in another video game? You want to play?”

I suppose there are words for Ehrgeiz, and those words are, “Yes, please. May I have another?”

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

  • He's unchainedSystem: Playstation (1), and arcade. I understand this game has seen some random rereleases in Japan, and I’d be surprised if we don’t see similar either before, after, or during the Final Fantasy 7 remake release window.
  • Number of players: Two. You can have Cloud and Sephiroth fight, or Cloud and Zack fight, or Cloud and Tifa fight, or, I don’t know, one of those nobodies from the proper cast.
  • Favorite Nobody: Most of the original Ehrgeiz cast are forgettable “Ryus”, that is to say, a bunch of random muscle dudes who want to win the tournament to be better martial artists or whatever. However, this is likely just because “Yoyo” Yoko Kishibojin hoarded all the other available tropes. She’s a high school girl/police officer/archeologist that attacks with jujutsu and a mechanical, spiked yo-yo. The only other remotely unique character is Jo, who basically holds a more “mature” version of Blanka’s backstory. Figure that one out.
  • Favorite Final Fantasy 7 Character (Ehrgeiz edition): Vincent Valentine was my boy in Final Fantasy 7 and out, so, even today, he’s the first character my cursor gravitates toward. And he gets his own suit! That said, for actually playing the game, I choose Tifa, who practically already was a fighting game character anyway, so her gameplay adapts really well to the ring. You know what, if the next Dissidia doesn’t allow Tifa and FF6’s Sabin to team up, I’m getting out of the biz.
  • Barrett? No Barrett.
  • Dungeon Times: There’s also a rogue-like 3-D beat ‘em up in there, as would be expected of the people that brought you Tobal No. 1. It’s very rogue-like, as you’ve even got a hunger meter to worry about, but I never played this mode for more than ten minutes because you can’t play as Cloud. What’s the point? At least magic in that area is said to come from “materia”, so that’s a step in the right direction.
  • YummyDid you know? Technically, Nomura designed all the characters in this game (FF7 cast included), but the game was also directed/designed by Seiichi Ishii of Virtua Fighter/Tekken fame. Not that the early VF or Tekken characters were all that original or distinct to begin with, but it seems Ishii may have had a great influence over Nomura here, as practically every character in Ehrgeiz has a Tekken lookalike. Also, I don’t see that many zippers…
  • Would I play again: This game was a Trojan horse to begin with, and the only reason I ever played it in the first place was to satisfy my desperate biological need to play as Cloud Strife just one more time. Ehrgeiz is important because it proved exactly how popular Final Fantasy 7 was/is (very), but it’s not all that great of a game, particularly compared to its Playstation fighter buddies (and their descendants). It’s not terrible, but, aside from a strangely adult Yuffie, there isn’t much to see here.

What’s next? Anybody else remember how the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 kicked off? I do! So grab some popcorn and get ready to re-experience the most expensive cell phone advertisement ever!

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