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Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 10 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Fan service: The inclusion in a work of fiction of any material which has no relevance to the storyline, but is designed merely to excite the viewer.

Read that sentence again because this will be a recurring theme throughout this review. Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy, henceforth referred to as only Duodecim, is the most blatant and shameless fan service effort from Final Fantasy makers, Square-Enix. The raging fanboy-isms over "Which Final Fantasy is the best?" or "Who is the greatest Final Fantasy villain?" can finally be put to rest... again.

Duodecim is the second entry in the portable Dissidia series which pits Final Fantasy mainstays against one another in a bizarre universe-hopping tale of good versus evil. Despite any qualms against the quality of the stories behind Sqaure-Enix games, no one can argue that Square-Enix sets the standard when it comes to production quality. Duodecim sports the crispest and most gorgeous visual fidelity of any handheld game to date. Extended cinematic cut-scenes and flawless animations make Duodecim very easy on the eyes and the environments and set pieces fit beautifully with each of the Final Fantasy series' trademark art design.

One of the biggest arguments I have ever witnessed over Final Fantasy occurred over which game had the best soundtrack. Suffice it to say that Final Fantasy fans take their musical scores pretty seriously. Duodecim provides fans what they want and delivers masterful renditions of famed composer Nobuo Uematsu's greatest works throughout the series. Now at this point, you might be asking if an excellent soundtrack translates into great voice talent too, right? Well, it doesn't.

The voice acting and dialogue of Duodecim is puerile at its worst and laughably entertaining at its best. The melodramatic tension that Duodecim tries to build is constantly undermined by poor voice work and angsty dialogue. It is simply too ridiculous to take seriously. To it's credit, Duodecim does reprise many of the voice actors that made many of these characters famous, including newcomers like Lightning, Vaan, Tifa, and Yuna.

If many of you are thinking that this is starting to sound like the last game, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, you would be onto something. Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy isn't REALLY much more than a longer name. You see, Square-Enix decided to adopt the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. Duodecim is still an arena-based brawler, like the last entry. Duodecim is still an incredibly deep action RPG that sinks its hooks in early on. And Duodecim still doesn't make a damn bit of sense.

In this most contrived plot this side of a Saturday morning cartoon, Duodecim sets the stage for a massive showdown of good versus evil with a sweeping epic that puts the very existence of time and space in peril. Acting as a prequel of sorts to the events of Dissidia, Duodecim mainly revolves around the newly added cast of warriors; Kain, Tifa, Yuna, Vaan, Lightning, and Laguna. (Don't worry though, Cloud and Sephiroth are available right away to appease the fans.) The strange group of warriors is brought together by the goddess of the universe, Cosmos, to help battle the agent of darkness called Chaos. While the narrative in the previous entry wasn't anything award-winning, the nonsensical teenage melodrama of Duodecim is easily the weakest part of the package.

Square-Enix knows how to make RPG's and the overall role-playing aspects of Duodecim have been greatly improved over Dissidia. The inclusion of a fully navigable overworld gives the whole journey a much more traditional feeling that the Final Fantasy series is known for. Each overworld consists of a few characters that you can talk to before entering into warp gates which lead to the dungeon maps where most of the battles take place. As you progress and earn more XP, you can buy new equipment, acquire new summons, and even earn assist partners for battle. The sheer depth of the RPG hooks built into Duodecim are definitely addictive and the amount of content is sure to keep you engaged for a long time.

While the lengthy single-player campaign is sure to keep most fans entertained for a long while, the battles can be played in arcade-style sequences or online against friends. These one-on-one fights are the real meat of the Duodecim experience and Square-Enix was smart to make it quick and easy to get into a fight whenever you wanted. Even though the improvements that were made over Dissidia are generally cosmetic, the feeling of giddiness that comes from seeing a whole new world to explore is undeniable and the excitement of wanting to sink hours and hours into new Final Fantasy world (although VERY tangentially related) is magical.

In keeping with the proud tradition of nearly every Final Fantasy that came before, Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy keeps the training wheels on for a little too long. The hand-holding intro and tutorial come off a bit slow-paced and repetitive, but the effort is warranted. After Duodecim sets you free, it becomes downright brutal in the amount of merciless beatings it gives you. It won't be a walk in the park learning the intricacies of the battle system and fully utilizing the assists to defeat your foes. Luckily, you can save your progress any time and switch over to "RPG Mode" and approach the problem from a different angle.

RPG Mode is a more simplified version of the battle system where your fighter acts autonomously while you issue commands. Commands like "Move," "Attack," and "Defend" definitely drum up nostalgia and pay fan service in even the smallest of ways. If you ever feel like the 3D battle arenas are too frantic or unapproachable, RPG Mode lets you take a step back and breathe in order to (hopefully) be more prepared for the vicious attack from ruthless A.I. enemies.

Game Mechanics:
Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy offers plenty of depth in a deceptively simple battle system. Instead of a massive arsenal of moves of combo strings, Duodecim instead opts for equippable special attacks. What this means is that before a match, you can customize your special attack layouts to better suit the needs of your opponent. This opens up a whole new level of strategy to overlay the Bravery system.

Bravery is the amount of damage-dealing potential your character owns during a fight. Using Bravery attacks build your Bravery meter and the higher the number, the more potential damage you can deal when you use and HP attack. HP attacks are as the name implies - Attacks that are specifically meant to drain the opponents' life bar to zero. Balancing between Bravery attacks and HP attacks becomes surprisingly intense and adds a great deal of tension to the bouts. Each character has a unique set of traits and attacks that accentuate their franchise or personality and with over 25 characters to play, there is definitely a perfect match for any play style once you become accustomed to the nuanced battle system.

The commitment to fan service on Square-Enix's part is admirable. Packing more references, homages, storylines, and appearances from even the minor Final Fantasy characters than a fan-made Youtube video, Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy succeeds in offering a great package for any fan. However, the consequence of appealing almost exclusively to die hard fanboys is that the mainstream audience is completely alienated. If you are not the type of gamer that has played each and every entry in the Final Fantasy universe, then roughly 75% of this game will fly right over your head. The intense tradition is kept intact and for many people, that is a blessing on a UMD, but for everyone else... the enjoyable battle system may not be enough to overcome the daunting history of the Final Fantasy franchise.

That being said, I really enjoyed my time with Duodecim. The strong play on nostalgia definitely affected me in a positive way as I ran down memory lane with a whole cast of characters, that after 25 years of games, I consider friends. In a time where the PSP isn't getting much support anymore, it is nice to see Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy crammed with so much content that it would shut up even the most avid of Final Fantasy die hards. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to continue leveling up my tribal monkey, Zidane, to battle Imperial Dragoon Kain so I can race my chocobo to get more Gysahl greens.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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