Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (also known as Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy) is a rich hybrid of role-playing and fighting games. It adds a colossal amount of content to the original Dissidia Final Fantasy, which was already a total blast to play. Like many Final Fantasy spinoffs before it, Duodecim is not without faults. There's a definite learning curve to overcome here. But for those patient enough to invest some time in learning Duodecim's ins and outs, the reward is incredible.
If you're coming to the party way past last call, I'm happy to catch you up. Duodecim is the prequel to the original PSP game that launched in 2009. In the Dissidia universe, two gods are warring with each other: Cosmos, Goddess of Harmony, and Chaos, God of Discord. These deities have summoned warriors from different worlds to wage battle in a classic clash of light and darkness.
As it turns out, this conflict has been cyclical. Duodecim describes the cycle before the cycle in the original Dissidia. In Duodecim, players are introduced to six new Final Fantasy heroes that star in this story. They're struggling to come to terms with this concept of "endless battle" and trying do something about it.
Because I froth at the mouth for melodrama, I'm a fan of the whole "light versus darkness" shtick. The story itself is weak and lacks emotional focus, but it's much better than your average fighting game plot. When certain characters are on the screen and acting awesome (I'm in love with Golbez; dude knows how to monologue), I'm content.
Most of the gameplay in Duodecim is similar to what you experienced in the original Dissidia. Combat takes place in large, open stages and two fighters battle one-on-one. The entire roster is composed of classic heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy series. When engaged in combat, each character has a bravery value and hit points. Characters use normal attacks to raise their bravery value and HP attacks to deal damage to those hit points.
At its core, Duodecim feels more like Smash Bros. than Street Fighter. Moves are much simpler to execute but you still need to worry about timing, character placement, and reading an opponent's next move. There's plenty of strategy here, but you're not required to perform 30-button combos to succeed.
But even if you have an easy time getting into the basics of battle, the rest of Duodecim is perched atop a steep learning curve. When I passed the game to IGN's Hilary Goldstein and Ryan Geddes, I believe their reactions were a mix of confusion and eye explosions. But if you stick with it through the beginning, you'll start to see how much Duodecim has to offer.
Some of those offerings are new to this prequel. There are new characters to experiment with and the returning fighters have more moves. There are also a number of new stages, including ones built in the Final Fantasy XIII universe. But one of the biggest changes to Dissidia's battle system is the inclusion of assist attacks. A game with lots of strategy just got deeper. Now, when the time is right, you can use your assist gauge to call another character into the field to provide some support.