Final Fantasy has always succeeded by making the ludicrous seem logical. When a 17-year-old kid summons an ice god who corrals continent-sized chunks of ice from outer space and drives them into the skull of a dancing cactus, yeah, that’s somewhat ludicrous. But that bombast is just a gaudy way of saying “8,500 hit points of damage.” The series’ flights of fancy are fun because players know that behind all the pageantry, there’s a rigid logic at work. Elegant systems of status points, experience, dice rolls, etc., serve to ground the action in sanity.
You don’t need any knowledge of Dissidia Final Fantasy’s mathematical underpinnings to enjoy its over-the-top moments. An expansive fighting game, Dissidia stages its bouts in vast arenas where characters can dash and fly anywhere in the 3-D space, as if in an all-grown-up Power Stone. The sensation of weightlessness is immediately approachable, thanks to a simple control set. The offensive controls, for instance, include one button used to drain strength from your opponent, and another for attacks that inflict damage. That’s it.
The Final Fantasy learning curve remains in full force. The first few hours of play bombard players with new concepts like “Destiny Points” and in-fight item creation. The customization schemes are intricate and thoughtfully constructed, yet they’re mostly optional. Dissidia is as complex as you want. It works as well for a quick one-on-one fight as it does for a micromanaged run though story mode.
The overarching narrative in Dissidia is “find the crystals, save the world” twaddle, so it’s fortunate that most of the story is told from a more personal perspective. Ten classic heroes each have their own quest that ties (tangentially) into the main story. This treatment doesn’t do much for bland NES-era characters such as the Warrior Of Light, but series icons like star-crossed sorceress Terra and lone-wolf Squall shine in surprisingly watchable cutscenes.
It’s a welcome sign of pride that the Dissidia developers didn’t plug beloved characters into a generic fighter template, a notion that would have satisfied a great many fanatics. Instead, Dissidia is an earnest attempt to translate the strengths of its source material into a new context. It somehow makes the ludicrous notion of a Final Fantasy fighting game seem pretty reasonable.