How did your predictions for Dissidia 012 turn out? Was it all you hoped for, or one of the greatest disappointments yet from the Final Fantasy series?
For this author, I was initially less disappointed by Final Fantasy XIII, if that tells you anything.
Though XIII stripped away from FF much of the gameplay elements that we associate with both the FF series and RPGs in general — not the least of which were the immersive qualities of exploration and towns full of NPCs to talk to — it still featured some of the most strongly written characterization in the series. And while far too much of the plot and details of the setting were relegated to the emotionless, text-only Datalog, it was still a well-conceived plot and interesting setting.
While Dissidia 012 has not forgotten all of those things, the scattered and needlessly puzzle-like presentation of the plot left me thinking that it had for a couple of weeks.
I should acknowledge up front, by the way, that the story is usually the most significant element of an RPG for me. As such, that will be the focus of this article.
Gameplay is absolutely important to any, well … game … and can make a great story that much more fun to experience. That being said, I suffered through Final Fantasy IX’s sluggish and infuriating gameplay for a second and third playthrough of its story — and it’s not even one of my favorites in the series.
Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t say a word or two about the gameplay of Dissidia 012.
Though I did play the first Dissidia, and quite enjoyed it, I haven’t had any time with the controls of the prequel. However, several other staff members and a number of forum users here at TLS have spent quite a bit of time with it. By all accounts, the new characters are great additions to what is still a competent, fun-in-a-popcorn-movie-kind-of-way fighting game/action RPG mechanic, now better balanced and with enhanced controls for some returning characters.
The breadth of content offered by the game is also respectable due to the implementation of a world map for story progression, the inclusion of the original game’s storyline, and a new extremely difficult campaign that puts the first game’s Inward Chaos to shame.
No, I’m not dissatisfied with the gameplay features of 012. What complaints I have are largely with the presentation of the story, an area in which Square titles were once invariably acclaimed for excellence.
The problems with storytelling are numerous. While inconsistencies between this title and the original Dissidia have been — despite all expectations and in spite of initial reports — kept to a jaw-dropping minimum, there are a number of scenes that should pack an emotional punch but which instead lack any impact other than a raised eyebrow, and a number of failures in competent writing and wasted potential.
It would be fair to say that Dissidia 012 is a disappointment right from the opening CG movie — a random accretion of new clips and footage from the old game’s CG opening. Unlike the original game’s opening, however, the newer one is not presented with any narrative of its own, nor does it have any relation to that of the overall story.
Speaking of the opening, do you want to see Vaan and Gabranth have some new kind of interaction, given their history together in FFXII? Too bad! What you get in that opening movie is it.
The developers can spend the entirety of one of the game’s 20 short, supplementary segments (Report 9) on Vaan calling the Onion Knight his little brother, but they can’t provide any new meaningful interaction between Vaan and the guy who killed his actual brother? What the fruity hell is this?
Worse still, players will eventually learn that — despite what the opening implies — Vaan and Gabranth aren’t even taking part in the war depicted in Dissidia at the same time, so they couldn’t possibly have crossed paths in the first place.
What about Cloud’s death scene in Report 7? Cloud barely appears in the game at all prior to making a stand against Chaos and embarrassing himself — and then Chaos summarily strikes him down with an attack hidden behind a fade-to-black, and Cloud dies a few seconds later.
Really, Square Enix, this is how you kill off the only character on Chaos’ side who chooses to openly stand against him?
If you’re going to try to sell us on a scene like Cloud’s death — which they were obviously banking on — you have to do more with him in this particular narrative than rely on our knowledge of his past stories to make us feel emotionally involved. While the first Dissidia didn’t exactly have gripping journeys for its characters, it did walk them each through a properly constructed tale, and you knew what each had taken from their experiences by the time they got to the end — even amongst the villains.
012 gave up on trying that with almost everyone but the new characters; which, I’ll admit, is understandable to a point given how they’re only around for this one game.
Even the Cloud/Tifa interaction that is here in Report 5 — which seems to be the selling point of the aforementioned death scene — doesn’t really do much for either character or add to Cloud’s dying prayer in any meaningful way. I suppose there is something there for CloudxTifa shippers in depicting Cloud — who has all his memories — choosing to fight an enemy he couldn’t hope to beat in order to protect an amnesiac Tifa — who he fears will be unable to fight if she regains her memories of him — but there’s little else for everyone else.
Even looking at it from that angle of fanservice, though, what do Cloud’s failure and final request of Cosmos to protect Tifa say about him? We already knew he would die to protect Tifa. We already knew he loves her. What’s being done with Cloud here that we couldn’t and haven’t already gotten elsewhere — aside from an unceremonious, lackluster death scene?
While we’re discussing death scenes involving FFVII characters, by the way, where is Sephiroth’s suicide? Mentioned twice in the original Dissidia, it was supposed to have occurred during the twelfth cycle of the war of the gods — during Dissidia 012. Where is it? Mention of it — including an explanation for his motivation — is mentioned under his in-game profile, but Square Enix should take notes now that this was an extremely unmemorable way to depict one of their most popular characters offing himself.
Hell, you can’t even call it a depiction. We still don’t know how he went about committing suicide. Did he manage to run himself through with that 15-foot sword of his somehow or what? A lot of us would actually like to know!
Guess fans who have been asking to see this since the first Dissidia came out are just SOL.
Moving on — or living in the past if you prefer — where is Squall’s death? It isn’t depicted in any of the game’s nine main chapters, nor in any of its 20 Reports.
Given the presence in this story of his father, Laguna, there was a lot of room to do something special with the two. Instead, they barely have any screentime together, Squall doesn’t seem to have his memories of Laguna from FFVIII, and the closest we see him come to dying is in Report 1 while battling Kuja — an opponent who wasn’t actually trying to kill him. He then escapes along with Zidane and Bartz, who go on to be killed themselves by Kain.
And, really, SE, you can’t at least have some kind of ironic exchange between Squall and Laguna where we get to chortle inside because we know they’re father and son even if their forgetful asses don’t?
Up next, where is the Onion Knight’s death? He barely gets any meaningful screentime this whole game outside of Report 9, which I discussed earlier. His most meaningful scene is a kindred spirit moment with Squall, the two sharing irritation at Laguna and Vaan.
How about Cecil? Brother to Golbez, the mastermind behind ending the war of Dissidia, and something like a brother to Kain, who lays the groundwork for Golbez’s plot — why does his death warrant no depiction given the emotional weight it could carry if delivered by his own family in order to save him?
All these opportunities for powerful moments, and no capitalization. We know all these characters were supposed to have died during the twelfth cycle in the war, so where are these scenes? How did these characters die? Did Kain kill Squall, Cecil and Onion Knight too?
The deaths of all the heroes were among the moments most eagerly anticipated by a number of fans, and there’s no delivery at all for some of them. Several others (Zidane, Bartz, Firion) have their lead-in or follow-ups depicted, but none feature the fatal attacks involved. We just know that Kain killed them.
[EDIT on May 4, 2011: Apparently, there is some DLC called Official Quests in which it's revealed what happened to Cecil, Squall and Onion Knight -- and it's only available to Japanese players right now. Lame that this wasn’t included in the physical copies of the game, nor been made available to players worldwide.]
Same deal with the final stand of 012′s six fallen heroes. We do get to see Lightning, Vaan, Kain and Tifa go down fighting, succumbing to their wounds, but we don’t see them receive their wounds. We just see fallen enemies at their feet and still more approaching.
Yuna and Laguna’s deaths are even more disappointing. We see Yuna’s body laying on the ground in the aforementioned scene, but don’t even get a look at Laguna’s. Not that it would matter much anyway since we wouldn’t have gotten to see his heroic fall.
[EDIT on April 20, 2011: It was brought to my attention by Spiroth_Kweehh on GameFAQs that we actually can see Laguna's body in the same shot we see Yuna's. It's on the other side of the manikin near her. We can also see it again right as Lightning finally falls. Her head blocks our brief look at him when it hits the ground. Thanks for pointing this out, SK.]
Speaking of Lightning and co.’s noble final stand — and this will be a point where I harp on gameplay — why isn’t it interactive? Zack’s identical scenario in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was, and the scene was all the more powerful for players thanks to that interactivity — knowing that no matter how long and hard one fought, the outcome would not and could not change.
And that game was released only a few years ago. Has Square Enix already forgotten that genuinely brilliant element of an otherwise mediocre title?
One of the few things that Crisis Core did extremely well was allow us to step into Zack’s shoes as he went up against an unbeatable force. Like the last playable sequence of Shadow of the Colossus, that sense of struggling against a tension that you can’t overcome makes the whole thing poignant and palpable in a way that just hearing about it can’t.
Here, the player gets no part in the party’s final, desperate moments — no chance to be emotionally involved as the inevitable outcome becomes ever more apparent. Hell, we don’t even get to watch the situation deteriorate to that point for the heroes. We just join the scene as they’re hitting the floor.
Bad move, SE.
While the build-up to the march of the manikin army was none too bad — even if a bit too long-winded — it had me excited to see where things went. I expected a gladiatorial melee of swords, magic and pulverized crystalline enemies. Instead, I see a few broken paperweights on the ground and six of my favorite Final Fantasy characters eking out their last breaths.
As missed opportunities go, this has to the very biggest in the game. A chance to be side-by-side, so to speak, with these characters we love as their hope fails them could have really done something to us emotionally. Rather than sad, I was more pissed off at the fact that I didn’t even feel like I was being asked to cry.