Dissidia 012 Review and Story Analysis

by April 5, 2011 15 comments

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. It has that strong a narrative.

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, however.

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 (unlocked after finishing the prequel story), 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, as well as 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 sweet 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 given the popularity of the character, 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 story.

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 ironically 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 made 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 supplementary 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 selves 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 downloadable content called Official Quests in which it’s revealed what happened to Cecil, Squall and Onion Knight — but it’s only available to Japanese players. 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 she 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. 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.

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  1. Rose
    #1 Rose 6 April, 2011, 18:45

    Yeah, I agree with that. I’m actually feeling really disappointed by the new game. Kinda hard to get attached to any characters in this one.

    Reply to this comment
  2. ZackFair1219
    #2 ZackFair1219 6 April, 2011, 22:39

    Hmm I agree on the majority of it, and I won’t say the same thing I said to gamespot about giving a fighting game a bad rating all for story because this is a story faq. However, the game is intended to be a fanservice, played most likely by fans of the series. Sure, the game has a big question mark over your head if you’ve never played an original Final Fantasy, but that is the point. You either play the games and understand what’s going on, like it was intended, or start with it first and just play with little to no understanding of what they’re talking about.

    You also must remember how much extra stuff they have squashed into the game, making it incredibly compact and amazing that they stuck that much into a PSP game. The creators said is was extremely difficult to convert the entire game into a UMD in the first place, so the story would naturally be lacking in certain places as for show, but we still get the gist of what happened. If they would have waited for the up and coming PSP2, I could guarentee that the 012 storyline would be expanded greatly.

    Reply to this comment
    • Squall_of_SeeD
      Squall_of_SeeD Author 7 April, 2011, 13:51

      You are quite right that it’s a fanservice game, and — having played every FF that this one draws characters from, with the exception of XI (though I’ve watched a lot of story-related videos on YouTube) — I would say it did a good job at servicing the fans in so many ways.

      However, that’s really not an excuse to have so many issues with the storytelling, which is not the same as issues with the details of the story itself. Not that I really have any issues with the story anyhow.

      UMD size also isn’t an excuse for poor presentation in scenes like Cloud’s death since they could have either a) not included the story mode from the original game in the first place, or b) put the game on two UMDs.

      In any case, thanks for reading and commenting. =)

  3. lightningstorm
    #3 lightningstorm 7 April, 2011, 15:53

    I liked the game a lot. Infact, I was just playing it. I can’t wait to unlock all the reports and find out more of the back story.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Marin
    #4 Marin 8 April, 2011, 04:32

    Cloud’s just killed on the spot for not thinking things through. Dude deserved it, IMHO.

    I think Squall and Laguna’s interaction in the backstory/reports is adequate. He took the whole “live for the moment” advice to heart. A complete contrast with Ultimecia’s that time should stand still in the 13th one.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Whitney
    #5 Whitney 11 April, 2011, 06:42

    I’m just glad someone finally pointed out Square Enix’s increasingly detrimental habit of trying to release plot in a form other than in game. I can’t say that Dissidia can do something like Crisis Core in the vein that Dissidia is a one on one fighter and Crisis Core has a lot more freedom than this game in that regard.

    Character interactions and story seem too questionable to me. Absolutely no Shantotto, Gabarnth, Prishe, or Gilgamesh in the actual story?! They’re just left there?! I get that the game has the original story piled onto it but still, I’d trade a lot of those quests and even the large overworld for some additional story.

    Reply to this comment
    • Squall_of_SeeD
      Squall_of_SeeD Author 13 April, 2011, 18:26

      I agree.

  6. Cloud_Strife
    #6 Cloud_Strife 11 April, 2011, 12:57

    Excellent Report…Should be presented to Square Enix.

    Reply to this comment
    • Squall_of_SeeD
      Squall_of_SeeD Author 13 April, 2011, 18:26

      Ha, thanks.

  7. B
    #7 B 24 April, 2011, 05:41

    I looked at a summary of Reports on finalfantasywiki and I’m sure one of them has Squall and Laguna talking.

    Reply to this comment
    • Squall_of_SeeD
      Squall_of_SeeD Author 25 April, 2011, 01:34

      They do talk in that one scene, yes. As I said, they barely have any screentime together. But the scene doesn’t foot the bill on what I was hoping for — at least some kind of ironic exchange where we get to go, “Ha, that’s funny, ’cause they’re father and son.”

  8. RyuTaige
    #8 RyuTaige 26 April, 2011, 11:14

    hey guys,

    i know this may not be the proper place to ask this but is the original dissidia included in duodecim?, i was planning to buy the original later since it’s out of stock but i just finish the 012 “treachery of the gods” story part then it led me to 013…. i meant all content of the original one?


    Reply to this comment
    • Squall_of_SeeD
      Squall_of_SeeD Author 29 April, 2011, 13:14

      Not quite all, no, but a good 90% of it or more is there.

    • Cody
      Cody 4 February, 2013, 22:21

      Can you please elaborate on what in 013 didn’t make the cut in 012?? Thanks!

  9. Ella
    #9 Ella 22 June, 2011, 18:19

    The saddest thing about Dissidia 012 is that it had overwhelming potential but due to shoddy excutive decisions about releasing it on only one UMD or a platform as limited as the PSP all of these seeds of ideas were left to waste.

    As frustrating as many of it’s cop outs where (3 013 Cosmos member deaths unaccounted for in the game itself and those that are shown are rushed and/or poorly executed, no Sephiroth suicide scene or build up, hardly any attention paid to the villains and many interesting dynamics or potential moments of fanservice left to rot) what it did right it did very right IMO. Report 01 alone was worth the price of the game and serves as proof that even S-E is willing to fix their mistakes every once in awhile. And as you mentioned it did a wonderful job of advertising the strengths of the new 012 characters.

    It’s a real shame though that they decided to keep this on such a small platform, if we had been able to get this on the PS3 then there would’ve been room to devote attention to all of the characters and their plots without having to resort to cheap storytelling or simply listing what happened in a character profile. All in all I’m pleased with the game but there was a lot of failure there. It’s probably because S-E was so ballsy with their trolling that I can’t help but respect them for it. That and as I mentioned before: REPORT 01. The respect towards IX’s continuity and the development it gave Kuja I can and shall harp on about for years to come.

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