There are few franchises that engender the level of infatuation that Final Fantasy does. The epic tales draw in common elements of corruption, crystals and chocobos, but it’s the characters that are the beating heart of each entry. It’s why the Dissidia spin-offs have proven so alluring, drawing together the varied stars of the franchise’s long history, and pitting them in combat against one another.
This latest entry began life in Japanese arcades, before now finding its way to Sony’s PS4 as Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, bringing with it new characters, and a further refinement on the chaotic arena combat that this branch of the Final Fantasy family tree is known for.
Dissidia NT is a Final Fantasy fan’s heavily moistened dream, and its 29 character roster is clearly the main attraction. Many of these characters have never looked better, and for devoted followers of the series being able to create a team featuring Final Fantasy IX’s Zidane, VII’s Cloud and III’s Onion Knight simply can’t be argued with. The fact that you can then unlock further outfits, weapons and attacks for each of them as you progress is just the icing on the (Ignis-baked) cake.
Besides the amazing roster, the game ensures that you can wallow as deeply as possible in the franchise’s lore, with music from across the eras married up with battlegrounds covering the length of the series. Fighting in XII’s Rabanastre while Final Fantasy XIV’s Torn from the Heavens plays is fantastic, and the moment to moment gameplay will likely have FF fans squealing in delight – alright, smiling knowingly, but you get my point. It’s a shame then that the game’s story is your classic crossover twaddle, with fighters brought together to save their universes being the absolute loosest imperative going.
Matches are played in parties of three, and if one of your characters is incapacitated in the game’s standard battle mode, then your party will lose one of its three health bars. Victory is claimed when one team loses all of their lives. In the single player modes you take control of one character, while the computer handles your two AI companions. It all makes for some seriously chaotic battles, with six characters zipping around the battlefield firing off attacks at every opportunity.
While your HP is generally a clear indicator of how close to death your character may be in other games, it’s bravery attacks and HP attacks that are your major tools in Dissidia’s battles. Smashing your opponent about with standard bravery attacks increases your own bravery while reducing theirs, which in turn allows you to use powerful HP attacks that are equal in power to your current bravery. That’s a bit of a mess conceptually, but in practice you basically need to mash the Circle button, build up your power, and then unleash it with Square.
On top of bravery moves, each character has a batch of EX skills to make use of, with two slots that you can set yourself and a third that’s unique to each combatant. While these can be hugely influential in deciding the outcome of a match, they’re not the headline event. This being Final Fantasy, it’s summons which are the centrepiece of any battle, with a growing choice from seven of some of the series’ most iconic creatures. You build up the summon gauge by performing attacks or by destroying summon cores out on the field before entering a lengthy incantation which will bring the huge beasts down upon your enemies in spectacular fashion.
At its base level Dissidia sounds like a button masher‘s paradise, and to be fair, you can have a lot of fun with only the most basic knowledge of the game’s systems. It’s a little convoluted, but by the end of your first match you should have a rough idea of what’s going on. For those that want to put the time in there’s a batch of more advanced techniques to sink your teeth into. Thankfully the game’s tutorial mode helps to bring some clarity to the chaos, and while none of the included cancels are too difficult to perform, they can make a significant difference to how quickly you can re-engage or escape from combat.
There’s almost too much going on though, and the game’s UI isn’t the most effective way of communicating everything to you. At any one moment during combat you have to try and stay on top of how long you have left in the round, how close you are to filling the summon gauge, how much health you, your teammates and your opponents have, where you and your opposition are on the map, what bravery rating you’re at, and which of your EX skills you can use. Frankly, I just ended up ignoring most of it, focussing instead on the enemy with the shortest health bar above their head which seemed to garner a moderate amount of success.
Dissidia NT’s progression system is also a mess, and while there are online and offline modes, the story mode itself is just a series of unlockable nodes that contain cutscenes. You have to play other modes in order to gain memoria, head over to story mode, unlock the nodes, watch the cutscene and then head back to the actual action. There’s absolutely no reason why the story mode couldn’t do what every other fighting game does and intersperse each cutscene with a battle. All this set up does is cause annoyance.
There aren’t a huge array of modes to be found here either, and while the core battling is pretty fun it would have been nice to see some more variation. As it is you’re able to play offline with two computer controlled teammates, or head online to do battle as a team, but the netcode isn’t particularly reliable at this moment in time. There also aren’t the kind of options or controls to specify who it is you’re fighting against, or what level they are. The overall feeling you’re left with is that it’s a very barebones affair, despite all of the attention that’s been lavished elsewhere.
For any Final Fantasy fan, Dissidia NT has plenty to offer, with an array of the series’ best loved characters, and plenty of chaotic combat to pit them in. Unfortunately the lack of definition to those encounters, messy UI, convoluted single player progression, and a barebones selection of modes saps a good chunk of the fun away.