I poured way too much time into the first two Dissidia titles, hunched over my PSP’s tiny screen at ridiculous hours working my way through the immense story modes and levelling up the full rosters of unique characters. In the second game especially (confusingly named Dissidia 012 or ‘Duodecim’), I invested dozens of hours in the robust quest editor and making cool custom replays. Cue the release of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, an expanded console port of the recent Japanese arcade game, and while I was expecting a more traditional arcade fighter experience I wasn’t prepared for the absolute dearth of gameplay options on offer.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (which I shall henceforth refer to as just Dissidia NT because I’m not crazy) opens with a bombastic and beautiful CG opening featuring the game’s roster of series staple heroes and villains doing all kinds of flashy and dramatic things like fireballs and cartwheels and such. So far so good. After this we’re thrust unceremoniously into a thorough sequence of tutorials headed up by possibly the most annoying character to have ever been given a voice in a Final Fantasy game (yep, even more than that thing from World of FF). It’s an adorable-looking moogle and I don’t know its name but if I hear it say, “Defend against attacks to avoid agony!” one more time I’m going to lose the plot. Next up I was expecting to be introduced to the story proper or given a tour of the game’s various modes and features but instead I was presented with an altogether unexciting front-end menu where I could select from the most paltry and disappointing selection of game modes I’ve seen in recent memory. Granted, it stands to reason that the suite of options would be relatively slim given this particular series entry’s origin as a port of a Japanese arcade game, but I was bummed nonetheless.
MARRY ME <3
Jumping into Dissidia NT offline means selecting from one of two main options, Story Mode or Gauntlet Mode. The addition of some semblance of a campaign to what would otherwise be a straight-up arcade-only affair gave me some feeling of respite at first, but then things got weird. Rather than set up a more traditional linear series of fights interspersed with cutscenes — Dissidia NT asks players to earn ‘Memoria’ points by playing modes outside of the story mode, and then spend those points to unlock the story content one short scene at a time. Very occasionally there will be a canonical fight involving predetermined characters in which to actively participate in, but overall most of the ‘gameplay’ in the story mode is grinding for arbitrary points in other parts of the game. It’s a weird system to be sure, but in essence it’s really just a reduction of other fighting game systems and taken on its own merit it’s a novel idea. The unfortunate reality is that there is so little else to do in Dissidia NT that earning the required Memoria is a dull and downright tedious slog.
So what to do otherwise? Well there’s the Gauntlet mode, which is a sequence of six fights of (optionally) increasing difficulty where a loss means starting over. In Gauntlet Mode there is the option of the standard match type whereby each team has a shared pool of three life points in a fight to the death, or a ‘core battle’ where teams protect a crystal while attacking their opponent’s crystal. Alternatively, it’s possible to replay unlocked story mode fights or set up a single custom sparring match with the option of changing the number of combatants (finally some 1v1 action!). Failing that, the only option left is to jump online in a standard selection of ranked and casual match setups. It’s as barebones a package as they come, made all the more disappointing once the realisation sets in that there’s no other way to earn the aforementioned points to play the slightly more interesting campaign.
The Final Fantasy VII remake looks a bit weird
By now I’ve spent more than enough time complaining about a lack of fight modes and not enough time talking about the fights themselves, which is where Dissidia NT makes its best case for series aficionados to take a look-in. For the uninitiated, the basic flow of a fight in a Dissidia game is a little different to standard brawlers. Combatants move freely in a 3D space, taking advantage of a very loose sense of gravity and physics to zip and bound around the Final Fantasy-themed stages like a circus of broody, hair-sprayed fleas. Dealing damage to opponents is not as simple as smashing them to bits with you chosen fighter’s weapon of choice, either. Attacks come in two main types, Bravery and HP attacks. Bravery attacks come first, chipping away at the opponent’s Bravery points and adding to your own, until your bravery score is more than their remaining HP. Once that happens, landing a HP attack will drain the enemy of their health and take them down. Those are only the basics, but there are plenty of special moves and strategies to employ and coming to grips with the odd system doesn’t take all that long. Characters each have their own unique attacks and playstyles based on four distinct classes and picking a favourite Final Fantasy celebrity and learning their optimal strategies is rewarding. At its core the fighting in Dissidia NT is fun, flashy and engaging, but becomes far too chaotic and confusing thanks to a strict three-on-three setup. Having six fighters zooming around the small stages throwing up blustering sword combos and shiny magical attacks with wild abandon is a messy proposition on its own, but add to that the sheer amount of onscreen HUD information required to keep track of everything and things start to become straight up incomprehensible. If you’re the kind of person that can’t pat their head and rub their stomach at the same time, then you should consider yourself a normal person and might struggle with the volume of visual stimuli onscreen at any time.
That’s the simplified version of the HUD, by the way
One thing that Dissidia NT does have going for it is a hefty trove of Final Fantasy fanservice. A decent roster of 28 beautifully rendered Final Fantasy characters spanning every core game (and then some) duking it out on stages set in instantly recognisable locales is a great proposition for die-hards. Adding to that a plethora of cute stuff to decorate your online profile with, unlockable weapons and costumes and a fantastic soundtrack full of superb arrangements of classic tunes, and there’s a nice amount of FF content here. Unlocking it all can be a pain though, requiring even more grinding in the same old modes to earn either gil to buy specific items or points to open unexciting loot boxes (thankfully no sign of a paid currency here). Unfortunately, gil is prohibitively slow to earn in order to shop specifically, and because of the sheer amount of stuff to unlock, the chances of finding what you want in the loot boxes are pretty slim. Still, there’s some cool stuff to see and hear and there’s at least some motivation for dedicated online players to stay active, which may or may not be working considering how few people I could find to play with online.
There’s a fair amount of depth to the fighting in Dissidia NT, and a treasury of Final Fantasy propaganda to unlock, but it’s all tied to such an anaemic suite of modes that the long-term play required to get the most out of the good stuff is not an attractive proposition. It might seem unfair to call an arcade port out for not offering much outside of its ‘arcade’ mode, but as a full price console game, and with what’s currently on offer, it’s simply a hard sell.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher