I'm a fan, and I'm feeling pretty well serviced.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is an interesting game concept: take the heroes and villains from the first 10 Final Fantasy games and pit them against one another in an epic fighting game then be sure to include a rather comprehensive plot for each hero to battle his or her way through. Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy does everything a sequel is supposed to, except have a simple and eloquent title. There are more characters, more levels, and a much more involving story mode. In addition to all the new content, Duodecim is sure to keep every single thing from the first game so you don't even need to have played the first to enjoy the second.
The first thing that becomes evident while playing Dissidia 012 is that it's made by the same people who brought us the Kingdom Hearts franchise. The character models, level design, and overall aesthetics look like they were lifted directly from Kingdom Hearts, and that's the highest compliment I can imagine. Everything is wonderfully detailed, beautifully animated, and has a unique art direction that just looks exactly like you'd expect it to. In addition to the graphics, the magic and attack animations are superb! Things explode, characters go flying across the screen, and beatdowns happen on a regular basis and never does it seem out of place or silly. That said, I still can't get over the lip synch that was also brought over from Kingdom Hearts; it just looks like images flashing on the face and it's rather unnerving.
Special kudos to the crew in charge of the score, though. They managed to take some of the best map and battle themes from every Final Fantasy game to date and incorporate it into Dissidia 012. Not only are they accurate recreations of said themes, but they seem to be remixed in such a way to give them a distinctive Dissidia flair, and every single one of them (save the Final Fantasy XIII themes) made me want to pop in my old games again, especially XII's map theme. There's nothing quite like running around as Vaan, listening to some of the best music the Final Fantasy series has to offer, and getting a wave of nostalgia. Then again, it's clear that that's precisely what this game was made to do: elicit feelings of nostalgia, and it does that remarkably well.
Almost every voice actor from previous Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games comes back to reprise their roles for Dissidia, offering another level of authenticity that breathes life into the game. It's not deep, it's not the kind of thing you buy a game for, and to be honest the game would have functioned just fine without a single line of spoken dialogue, but it's a nice added feature that really helps the atmosphere.
I admit it's quite weird; this is the first and only fighting game series I've ever played that put more of a focus on the campaign mode than the vs modes. In fact, I'd argue that you could entirely forget that this is technically classified as a fighting game due to the sheer amount of content and length of the story. When you start out, you're given an option to import your save data from the original Dissidia to carry over levels and items from that game for your multiplayer needs. In this respect, I am quite impressed since it means that you don't feel the need to start over or that your time was wasted playing the original.
The story mode is much more linear this time around. Instead of choosing your hero and embarking on their individual quest in whatever order you chose, this game follows the exploits of the group of new heroes as they travel together, get separated, and go their own ways before reuniting to take care of Chaos, the God of Discord. If it sounds a lot like the first game, that's no accident, since the story is essentially the same. Cosmos, the God of Harmony, has compiled a group of heroes from the various Final Fantasy universes to fight against the team constructed by Chaos. Really simple, does little more than set up a paper-thin excuse to have all the heroes and villains together in one place, and for its purpose it works quite well, but it's nothing more elaborate than fanfiction. Then again, Kingdom Hearts was essentially the same thing.
As an added bonus, when you complete the game, it gives you access to the original ten heroes to retread their footsteps from the first game with the added features and abilities from this game. In essence, this has its own entire game and literally everything from the first game, meaning you don't even need to buy the original to get the content from it!
The main difference in this game is that instead of just being a series of grids to move over and battle the various enemies, this time you have an actual world map to explore with hidden passageways, forests, mountains, and enemies to fight. As much as I'd like to praise this welcome return to the world map, it's mostly linear and only leads to a series of glowing gates that take you to the familiar grid locations from the first game. In fact, 90% of the game happens in these game board-like areas. At least you have the option to repeat many of these worlds so you can gain more experience and learn new abilities or open chests to get more Gil.
And this is where it gets confusing. As you progress through the game, you are granted three distinct and unique kinds of currency, each for purchasing different items in different stores. Of course you have your Gil, which you get from chests and at various locations around the world, but you also have two other kinds of currency. The first are PP, which are awarded after every battle and can be used to purchase various things from the in-game store, like costumes and the like. KP are awarded for achieving special requirements during battles and can be exchanged at the moogle shops for accessories. I like how they make the KuPo points exchangeable at the moogle shops; clever move, Square-Enix!
The thing about Dissidia 012 is that it has many of the best points from various other franchises. It has the aesthetic feel of Kingdom Hearts as well as the simple but elegant combat from Smash Brothers, but it also has all the intricacies and customization of any standard Final Fantasy game. For this reason, two people fighting as the same character could have entirely different stats and fighting styles. It's almost like a create-a-fighter from other games, and I can't imagine a better way to give you reason to keep playing. Unlike any other fighting game, you actually have a full equipment list to chose from, including weapon, shield, armor, headgear, and a swath of accessories. The accessories give you dozens of different effects from simple stat gains to special one-time-only abilities. The equipment, on the other hand, is there for stat building only. No weapon or armour you equip will change your attack style or appearance in any way. No, you get to equip abilities for that! Instead of most fighters that give you a set move list, this one gives you limited slots to fill up and limited points to spend on abilities and attacks. Short of writing a game manual, I can't really explain it in detail, but imagine a create-a-fighter mode with RPG elements, and that's the kind of customization you can look forward to - just pay attention because there's so much to get to grips with that you'll still be learning things as you enter the final dungeon. I still don't entirely understand how Battlegen or the Chocobo item creation work, and I've easily put in two dozen hours across the various modes.
Of course, not all games can be perfect. As much as I felt the game looked, sounded, and felt amazing, the simple fact is that it could use some more polish. While the combat is simple and rewarding at times, it's also horribly unbalanced. Some enemies could be killed in a matter of seconds, while others are seemingly impossible to kill without cheating or resorting to cheap tricks. Some enemies dodge literally every move you throw at them while others have special abilities to increase their attack stat to ridiculous levels within seconds of starting the battles. Some enemies near the end of the game actually have abilities that will lower your attack stat to zero, rendering you helpless for a rather lengthy period of the fight. It's not that it's too much of a challenge, but it felt incredibly cheap and I can honestly say I've never wanted to break my PSP in half more than while playing this game.
It's also worth mentioning that you're going to spend a lot of time staring at a loading screen; every time you enter a battle, every time you go into one of the grids, after every battle, and every time you change your character. It's not game-breakingly bad, but it certainly is a major distraction and is worth noting.
On the flipside, when the game is good, it's very good. The battles consistently seem very epic in scope, and take place on stages of Smash Brothers-esque detail. There are attacks, dodges, blocks, jumps, pursuing abilities that lead to aerial combat tricks, assists, summons, and every other kind of Final Fantasy mainstay you can imagine, except it's all done in real time rather than turn-based.
Oh right, I forgot this was a fighting game!
Yeah, given the sheer volume of content available in the story mode, it's easy to forget this is actually billed as a fighting game. When the single player campaign takes you upwards of 15-18 hours to complete without even touching the retread of the first game or the Vs modes, that means that there's even more stuff to do after you finish the main game, which could easily put your hour count past 50.
The Vs mode is still pretty much identical to the first game, save the addition of party mode. You still play your various heroes and villains to level them up to 100, mastering abilities and equipping them as you wish, but now we have the ability to make entire teams of characters fight against one another. The party mode consists of two types: Tournament and Round Robin. Tournament is where you each pick your characters in whatever order you chose, and the winner of the first match goes on to fight the next member of the opposing team until they themselves are defeated. This goes on until one team is entirely eliminated. Round Robin is a series of exhibition matches where you chose your order and it makes a series of individual matches, the winner being the team that wins more of the matches.
Both of these modes seem pretty simple and I would have preferred a more elaborate team battle where all fighters are on the battleground at the same time, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
When it all comes down to it, I am somewhat torn over this game. I have almost nothing but praise for its features, options, and content, but I can't get past how some of the core gameplay is still unbalanced and frustrating. The game looks absolutely amazing from beginning to end, and sounds just as beautiful; there are various game modes to play, including the rather lengthy campaigns and the comprehensive vs modes. And all of this comes to you at a reduced price, so I have a hard time not giving it my highest of recommendations, but be wary of parts of the game that are just frustrating, and be sure to pay very close attention to every tutorial or you will be lost. Of course, if you played the original Dissidia, none of this will be a problem and you'll likely get nothing but enjoyment out of this game.