I briefly mentioned Dissidia in my previous post on Crisis Core. I realized that I haven't actually written about it, even though there's some stuff there that does deserve mention. In case you haven't guessed yet, Dissidia is yet another Final Fantasy spinoff. In a sense it's the ultimate fan service game for the franchise. It brings together heroes and villains from all games in the main series to fight epic duels in an endless conflict between good and evil (such an original plot there!) Although it's about Final Fantasy characters facing off, it's not really a fighting game in either 2D or 3D tradition.
1. Full 3D Combat, Anime Style
Dissidia is truly three dimensional fighting. It is more reminiscent of third person action games than fighting games in this sense. All in all, it's a strange fighting-action-rpg hybrid. By saying that Dissidia is truly three dimensional, I mean that every dimension is used in almost equal fashion. On average characters tend to spend as much time in air as they do on the ground. Considering all the insane crap these characters do in their respective main series games, I think this is highly appropriate. Most importantly, it portrays the characters as truly powerful individuals who literally defy the laws of physics. For a game controlled with just six action buttons the range of movement is pretty amazing.
The characters run quickly across the ground, they jump high and can do fast evasive maneuvers. They cannot exactly fly, but evasive maneuvers can be done in the air and they work a lot like air jumps. On top of this, some characters' aerial attacks help them stay afloat. Terra for instance can pretty much stay in the air for the entire match, using her long range spells to harass her opponent. While characters cannot fly freely, they can use dashes to cross distances along the ground, across air, from ground to air or air to ground. It's a simple mechanic: as long as the players holds the dash combination, the character charges towards his locked-on target. This allows melee characters to quickly close in on spellcasters. The dash can be modified by certain skills to charge away from the target or even to allow dashing into chosen direction (I'm not sure how this works though).
A lot of attacks also knock the opponent all around the battlefield. Ground attacks can send the opponent flying forward or into air. Aerial attacks can also send them crashing down. Smashing opponents against walls, roofs or floors opens options for more damage. Finally there's the chase mechanic. Some attacks that launch opponents into the air allow chasing. A chase is always a 50-50 guessing game. Guessing wrong can lead to more chasing (or crashing into something). Guessing correctly opens the option to counter with a similar guessing game. All in all, these mechanics combined make sure that combat really moves across battlefields.
2. Brave New Damage
Instead of going with the traditional way of trading blows for direct damage, designers of Dissidia have chosen a different approach. Yes, characters still have hit points and eventually these will be reduced to zero. However the way there is a bit different. The game features two kinds of attacks: HP attacks that deal the actual hurt, and bravery attacks that are used to power up HP attacks. Characters have a bravery gauge. This is a number that indicates how much the damage next HP attack that connects will inflict. Unless nothing special happens, bravery is a zero-sum game. Each bravery attack that hits gives the attacker bravery and takes as much away from the defender. It's an interesting concept - no matter how much you connect with bravery attacks, damage only realizes when you connect with an HP attack. If you guessed that HP attacks are slower and therefore hard to connect with, you are right.
The system is not just a simple zero-sum game though. Connecting with an HP attack uses up all accumulated bravery. Although it raises back to the initial level fairly quickly, there is a serious risk in spamming HP attacks: getting hit while at zero bravery inflicts a 'break'. Whenever an attack breaks the opponent, the attacker immediately gains a huge bonus to their bravery. The bonus comes from stage bravery which is also reset when it's collected. When stage bravery is high it is especially important to avoid breaks. Gauge resets and breaks cause the total amount of bravery in the game to fluctuate. Finally, a lot of summons affect bravery in some way. Summons are once per battle effects that are equipped and can do a wide variety of things (multiply, freeze, reset etc.)
Overall, the system allows for two types of builds. Characters that have high initial bravery can try to connect with HP attacks often, taking advantage of the fact their bravery resets into high number soon after connecting. Alternatively characters can build for bravery damage and aim to score a few charged up HP attacks. The choice between these two strategies depends a lot on what kinds of attacks a character has. Some characters have HP attacks that are really hard to avoid and/or safe to use while others rely on solid bravery attacks. While HP attacks don't differ in damage, there's still a lot of reason to have more than one - they differ in speed, hit area and other stranger factors, all of which dictate what kinds of situations it can connect in.
Although the game has other aspects - what with being an RPG and all - they are not particularly interesting. Character development is pretty standard. Abilities are gained in a linear fashion. Learned abilities are equipped using a point cost system. Each character has a limited number of attack slots. Characters can also wear equipment and choose an assisting character who can be summoned into the battle. But yeah, all that's pretty standard, we've seen it before. Overall, the game is really good at portraying battles in hyperpowered anime style - a style highly suitable for Final Fantasy characters. The combat system is something that should be looked at when thinking about real-time RPG systems, especially when trying to make it really flashy. Dissidia is fast and has insane attacks but at all times it remains easily controllable. For a fighting game I am pretty sure that it is not balanced enough to be really taken seriously.