It's safe to say that the PSP hasn't had a run of AAA titles like many would have hoped, especially towards what seems to be the end of its life cycle. While a technically sound system, a lot of people have found it difficult to engage with a wide range of its games. That's not to say that they don't exist, it just means that it's much harder to find that obscure buried gem of a title in amongst a market filled with games that are heavily promoted licensed titles based off the latest CGI animal comedy or franchises that have been going since seemingly the beginning of time.
Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy falls squarely into the latter category, though it's not without its redeeming features. Quite possibly one of the last heavily hyped games for the PSP, Dissidia 012 does manage to counter some of the issues we found in the original, but its similarity to the first title means that it's a few steps away from being a truly must-own game for the system.
It might not be immediately apparent from the first boot-up, but Dissidia 012 is actually a prequel to the previous game. It is here that the cycle of eternal battles and rebirth is first forged in the ongoing war between Chaos, the God of Discord and Cosmos, the Goddess of Harmony. This time around, however, a few new characters enter the fold with which you play the main story mode: Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, Vaan from Final Fantasy XII, Yuna from Final Fantasy X, Laguna from Final Fantasy VIII, Tifa from Final Fantasy VII and Kain from Final Fantasy IV. Each of them are dealing with their own issues while being pulled into the universe-spanning conflict, and some have allegiances that aren't as clear-cut as one might think. It's not exactly a deep story, which is in some ways perplexing - on one hand, the Final Fantasy series is known for putting emphasis on story and characterisation, but on the other hand this still is a fighting game, so one wouldn't really expect to play it for its narrative merits.
Dissidia 012's gameplay is mostly similar to the original, though there are some tweaks here and there. Within the story mode, there is now also a bit of a free-roaming component. Your character will wander the landscape freely and be able to chat to other characters, fight other opponents and collect items. Dotted throughout the landscape are archways with blue and red portals inside them. Going through one of these will bring you to a map screen similar to that found in the original Dissidia. Blue portals will take you to optional maps that you can play at will, while the red ones are for story progression. Outside of the story of the new characters, you will also collect "reports" that allow you to play story segments from the perspectives of some of the characters who made their debut in the original Dissidia. They don't add a great deal to the story, but have the same presentation and production values of full cinematics and voice-acting.
The fight action itself doesn't undergo any fundamental changes compared with the original Dissidia. All of the controls are the same, but there's a few tweaks here and there. An additional meter at the bottom of the screen is used to indicate when you can unleash an assist character into the fray. Assist characters are made up of the game's standard playable characters, and will attack your opponent with great ferocity before disappearing. It's a welcome addition that throws a bit more variety into battles that are otherwise largely similar to Dissidia. Speaking of additions, the new characters themselves prove to be quite unique in their attacks are are all nicely balanced and possess moves that you'd expect them to based on their original Final Fantasy attacks. Special mention has to be given to Kain for the preservation of his classic jumping attack, and Vaan for being a much more dynamic and interesting character to go into combat as compared with his efforts in Final Fantasy XII.
Visually, the game remains very impressive indeed. The full-blown cinematic sequences, as sparse as they are, are nonetheless a real sumptuous treat for the eyes. Every waving line of hair and particle of light is animated in sharp and vibrant glory, the likes of which wouldn't look out of place on a home console game. As for the gameplay itself, it retains an identical look and feel to the original, but slightly scrubbed up to give it that extra bit of detail and even less likelihood of jagged edges within the game. The overall presentation of the game is essentially identical to the original - the same representation of menus is retained in many areas from both the start menu to the character upgrade screen. Beyond a few little changes here and there, at a glance it will seem like you're playing the same game.
Sound design in Dissidia 012, like its visuals, mimics the previous title. The same sound effects within battle are heard once more, though there are a few new samples here and there to accompany the attacks of the new characters. All of the music tracks from the original game are retained, but there are also several new ones that can be found, and not just because of the involvement of the Final Fantasy XIII universe. You can both unlock new tracks and buy some from the store, spanning the entirety of the main Final Fantasy, with some very well-chosen additions that somehow didn't make it into the original.
If you enjoyed the level of unlockable content in Dissidia, then you will truly lap up what Dissidia 012 has to offer. The content types are more or less the same, but the volume is even greater than before. New music, stages and player cards are in abundance as well as a plethora of items. There are also a few other new characters that can be unlocked as well which expand the already bloated roster even further, but each of the newbies still manages to have their own unique moves, look and playing style. Those who have some save data left over from Dissidia will be pleased to know that you can port some of your already unlocked content over - while a character's weapons won't carry over into this edition, their levels and already learned moves will. Characters from the previous game will also have the added bonus of being able to learn a few new moves here and there. You also have the bonus of retaining all previously unlocked content. If you have some save data from Dissidia 012 Prologus, you will also be able to gain some exclusive content. And, in a somewhat unique move, you also have the ability to unlock the original Dissidia to play on your copy of 012 in its entirety.
Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy is different in some small ways to the original, but it often does feel like playing the same game, given the wealth of shared presentation aspects. If you enjoyed the original for what it was, then you will likely enjoy this even more for the great vault of new content and characters to play with. However, these aspects may not be enough to convince you to buy this if you didn't already enjoy Dissidia. It is a competent, well-executed game with plenty of variety about it, but it doesn't seem to reach much higher and become more daring than what it could achieve.