The visual drama of battles is further elevated by Dissidia's cinematic camera, which valiantly tries to frame the action appropriately and does a good job of it in large exterior arenas. It's not nearly as successful in enclosed spaces, however. Claustrophobic stages like Pandaemonium can be a struggle to navigate, and skirmishes take you into corners and near ceilings, where the camera is simply incapable of showing you exactly what's going on. Certain successful blows may initiate a chase sequence, which is a timing-based tug-of-war in which fighters take turns landing or evading a single attack at a time. In some circumstances, the camera will position itself behind a wall or in some other equally unhelpful position during chases. That's disastrous in a one-on-one fighting game; Dissidia should have stuck with expansive arenas. Lunar Subterrane and Order's Sanctuary, for example, are absolute joys to play in and are unfettered by camera issues.
The story chapters offer a lot of bang for their buck just on their own. You won't find as much variety among characters as you would in a traditional fighting game, but the differences are just substantial enough to inspire you to level up multiple fighters. And because you can earn and equip new attacks, individual fighters evolve over time and thus offer a bit of variety even when you're sticking to a single character. But there's a lot to keep you occupied outside of Story mode. There is Arcade mode, which then splinters into multiple sub-modes in which you take on sequences of opponents. In Duel Colosseum mode, you shuffle through various cards to earn loot and equipment upgrades, and fight enemies. And as you'd expect, you can also fight stand-alone battles against AI opponents and other players.
Dissidia doesn't offer online play, but you can take the fight to others in ad hoc mode, using characters you have leveled and customized or an arcade mode character that puts both players on equal footing. As in any fighting game, playing against a buddy can be both more challenging and more rewarding; Dissidia's AI is respectable, but real players can become more attuned to your play style--and are more likely to get distracted by occasional camera issues than the AI, which is completely unhindered by such quirks. You may encounter small bouts of lag at the very beginning of matches and when initiating burst attacks, but the smoothness necessary for an even fight is there when you need it. And if there's no one nearby to challenge to a battle, you can fight ghosts of your previous opponents, which are AI profiles that attempt to mimic their moves.
Fights provide some of the finest displays of visual energy you'll see on the system. Characters move fluidly throughout the arena, and there's a nice feeling of violent contact when your blade finds its mark. Exaggerated animations and boisterous sound effects make every fight feel as if the weight of the world hangs in the balance. Battle stages look mostly fantastic and are based on famous Final Fantasy locales that may have already carved out a place in your own imagination. The frame rate has no trouble keeping up; gameplay is slick and smooth, and the result is a technically impressive game that's hard not to marvel at. And while the story may not amount to much, prerendered cutscenes are staged well, and the opening cinematic is jaw-dropping in the overdramatic Final Fantasy tradition.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a joyful experience that piles on the pleasures, within both its gameplay and its feature set. You earn real-time rewards represented by a Chocobo's journey; you can save battle replays, edit them, and export them as video files; and Moogles send you bizarre messages with points included to spend on more unlockables. In other words, there's a lot of game in here, more than some people will know what to do with. It's disappointing that some of the arenas don't seem to have been created with the cinematic camera in mind and that the story seems more like mediocre fan fiction than it does a true Final Fantasy epic. But if you came just for the fun and the frenzy, Dissidia offers plenty of both, supported by a framework of tangible rewards that deepens the more you play.