It has been little over a week since Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (abbreviated as “New Tale) has arrived exclusively on Playstation 4 since I started writing this review. Based on and a direct sequel to the critically-acclaimed and best-selling original Playstation Portable (PSP) game which released in 2008, the jump to its big console cousin seemed inevitable, and was just a matter of when. But who would’ve thought we’d have to wait exactly 10 years and a console generation for it to hit home, much less as part of the series’ 30th anniversary as the original Dissidia was part of its 20th?
More importantly, does this ambitious new tale evolve and elevate the Dissidia series to new heights where it truly matters as a competitive fighting game? To that question, I can say a resounding yes. Dissidia delivers in spades in its new direction of gameplay, if you take the time to learn it. However, as great as it is as a game, there is still room for improvement in some other areas, provided Square Enix wants to make the jump to e-sports as well as give Dissidia NT a more global appeal to casuals.
The Long Wait
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a competitive 3-on-3 3D arena fighting game published by Square Enix which, for the first time, has been outsourced to another developer: Team Ninja, the brainchild behind the bodacious Dead or Alive fighting game series, the bloody, high-octane modern Ninja Gaiden action game series, and in more recent memory, the critically acclaimed Nioh. Originally an arcade game released in Japan in late November of 2015, it has received unrelenting, tireless updates to the roster and character balancing... over 35 updates, as I recall. The arcade itself was actually modified Playstation 4 (PS4) hardware with a retooled arcade stick. The game would go on to see gradual success in Japanese arcades as a competitive fighter with its own national tournament circuit, and is still being played regularly to this day.
On April of 2017, Square Enix would formally announce the console version exclusively for the PS4, but not without a few worldwide beta tests. An online closed beta with a limited roster would be released 5 months later in September, where it served to address such issues such as online matchmaking and more notably, the busy UI. Four months later, on early January 2018 - closer to the game’s PS4 release - an open beta would be released, which would serve to address the controller mapping issue, as some veteran PSP Dissidia players were used to the X button as the jump button. Finally, on January 30, 2018, players from around the globe would finally get a true taste of the arcade craze Japan has had the pleasure of experiencing for 2 years.
How a New Tale Changes the Game
Dissidia NT still has the main core gameplay mechanic that makes Dissidia unique - its Bravery system. In Dissidia, you do not simply strike your opponents in the hopes they’ll take direct damage to their lifebar. The amount of damage you deal depends on the Bravery points you sap away from the opponent and add to your own by landing Bravery attacks. When you have enough Bravery points, you can then use a different kind of attack - the HP attack - to directly deplete their life bar based on the Bravery points you accumulated.
Unlike its predecessors where your HP value and base bravery points were completely dependent on your character’s level and stat-enhanced equipment, every character shares the same HP value of 3500 points while the base bravery is 1000 points... furthermore, the changes to a character’s customizable equipment are purely cosmetic. When you deplete an opponent’s Bravery points completely, the opponent goes into a Broken status, which means that they won’t be able to deal any HP damage until their Bravery points have recovered to 1000. As a result of breaking the opponent’s Bravery points, you earn an additional 1000 from the Bravery point pool, located on the top right corner of the screen during match play.
At its core, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is moreso a competitive fighting game than its predecessors, and it immediately shows in two huge ways.
The first one: The removal of stat-boosting customizable equipment and other light RPG elements.
The second one: An all-new character class system designed for the game’s new 3-on-3 combat.
While this may be a shocking and different experience for many, there will be some die-hard fans of the PSP titles that see their game through rose-colored glasses and will swear to their dying breath that Dissidia NT is “a step backward” and somehow “dumbs down” the franchise, when in fact, it’s far from the truth. Dissidia NT’s new approach to the gameplay - if anything - is more of a multi-layered chess game, and whether you call checkmate on the opposing team completely depends on not only your knowledge of your favorite character(s), but understanding the game’s mechanics that lie within the character class system, and more importantly, how much of a team player you are.
The previous games had mechanics unique for its 1v1 combat system such as an EX Meter, an Assist Meter, and for some characters, Branching HP attacks (Bravery attacks that automatically chain into HP attacks when connected). All of these have been removed and replaced with alternatives suitable for 3v3 combat, and in most cases, is all the better for it.
The EX Meter is replaced by the Summon Meter, which ties in with the summon your team has chosen to aid you in combat. Each summon has pre-summoning enhancements as well as post summoning enhancements to the party, with the latter being more profound and rewarding. By locking on to and destroying the Summon Cores that periodically appear during match play, you fill up the gauge much more quickly. When the gauge is full, the team must work together to quickly summon their larger-than-life teammate by pressing the Lightbar button on the PS4 controller. If all three teammates do this at the same time, the summon is instant. It should also be noted that when a summon core does appear, the Lightbar’s mic makes a sound that indicates it’s fully materialized, and when you summon your monster, the Lightbar’s color corresponds to the summon you chose during the short summoning cutscene, which is a VERY nice touch, and makes me appreciate the inclusion of the Lightbar that much more.
As for the Assist Meter and Branching HP attacks, I think it’s quite obvious why these were removed... you have teammates, and you should be assisting each other. And naturally, this is why most of the cast in Dissidia NT is locked to one customizable HP attack and locked to seven Bravery attacks that cannot be customized, making teamwork all the more important. The more synergized your team is, the more you’ll see that assists and branching HP attacks were never needed. When a team is on point in Dissidia NT, it can be a beautiful, yet terrifying thing.
However, not everything regarding the EX mechanic has been removed. Instead, it has been repurposed as EX skills. Each character can customize two shared EX skills, while having one unique to their own. The matter of which these EX skills can be used are based on a specific cooldown period that cannot be sped up by landing hits or taking damage, much like the Burst mechanic in the Guilty Gear series. The customizable EX skills range from regaining health, to sharing bravery, to increasing attack power, setting traps, or even temporary invincibility... but you must use them wisely.
Dodging and Blocking have also gone through some changes. In Dissidia NT, you can sidestep to avoid linear attacks or backstep to avoid incoming short range attacks, but there are no longer any invincible frames while doing so. Blocking in Dissidia NT is a bit more intuitive than it’s predecessors. Instead of having a short window to parry a single attack, you can now hold the button to activate a shield in true Smash Bros. fashion that allows you to defend not only melee attacks, but even rapid-fire projectile attacks with ease.
The game’s new character class system consists of three core types and one unique type:
The Vanguard class characters are tanks that deal heavy damage, and have Bravery attacks that have wider hurtboxes and have priority over the faster Assassin class characters.
The Marksman class characters are not the best in close-range combat, but have plenty of long-range attacks in their arsenal to keep the slower Vanguard class characters at bay.
The Assassin class characters are the speedsters of the bunch, and have the easiest time getting in on the Marksman class characters to capitalize on their weakness in close range.
And finally, there are the unique Specialist class characters, where each individual character is a one-of-a-kind experience that could either make or break the team. The wild cards, if you will.
When you think about it, Dissidia NT’s character class system on the surface is in itself an homage to the triangle system from another well-known title Team Ninja is known for, the Dead or Alive fighting game series. And for a game that is designed for 3on3 combat, it works surprisingly and extremely well on terms of finding the right team composition. With a star-studded cast spanning 30 years of Final Fantasy history, each character in their class has their own style and charm to them, and it’s hard to stick to just one for long.
Fortunately, there are plans to be even more characters on the way throughout the game’s cycle, capping at at least 50+ characters. So we’re looking at potentially 17 additional characters after the game’s launch, with 6 of them potentially being returning characters we’ve yet to see in action for the latest installment (Yuna, Prishe, Gabranth, Gilgamesh, Laguna, and Tifa).
New Tale, New Trials (and Errors)
Now that we’ve covered the meat-and-potatoes of Dissidia NT’s gameplay, our focus goes to the single player features out the box. When you first start the game, you’ll be given a choice to choose a language for the game’s text as well as the spoken language (Interestingly, this also changes the characters’ lip sync to match the English dialogue, which is a nice touch). Afterward, you’ll see a short passage before being formally greeted by Final Fantasy’s mascot of sorts-- the lovable Moogle, kupos and all. Right out of the gate, you have the following gameplay menu options:
The Offline modes include a Tutorial, an Option mode, a Gauntlet Mode (the standard arcade mode), a Sparring Mode, and a Story Mode. Sadly, there is no local multiplayer mode, which is a strange and baffling omission, given there was a simple solution for that. But we’ll cross that bridge later.
The Option mode has some nice features to make the experience convenient and less annoying for some. For example, the Day One patch now allows longtime Dissidia players to finally use the X button as the jump button and the Circle button for Bravery attacks. You can also toggle the system voice and Moogle hints on or off.
Supplemental features include the Shop, where you can buy various items with in-game currency called Gil, which you earn naturally through playing matches. The choice of items include customizable gear to change how your character looks, as well as character icons and lots (and lots) of music from the huge catalog of Final Fantasy games to play during matches. The alternative to obtaining these items is the Treasure mode, where you use the treasure tokens you acquired from playing the game under certain conditions to unlock three randomly-generated lootbox prizes you would otherwise pay Gil for at the Shop. If you already have an item, that prize is replaced with Gil at the value of said item.
The Tutorial serves its purpose at teaching you the basics in general for how the game plays. However, the game makes one major misstep for newcomers - it fails to explain each character’s Bravery Attack moveset and their properties, even in the pause menu or character select screen. Thankfully, there is a YouTube channel belonging to a one Trueblade Seeker whom explains this - and many more in-depth details about the gameplay the tutorial doesn’t teach you - that I highly recommend. So to those who have read the review this far... you’re welcome.
The Story mode - or rather, the design choice of the story mode - fumbles a bit this time around. While the Dissidia series was never exactly Shakespeare on terms of storytelling (let’s face it, it’s as much of Final Fantasy fanfiction as you can get), the story itself is still serviceable. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is HOW it’s mapped out... literally. Instead of plowing your way through the story in a streamlined manner, the story’s cutscenes are locked away by Memoria coins you must collect by playing matches in Gauntlet Mode or online, which breaks the flow of the single player experience significantly.
Depending on your skill (or knowledge of a certain exploit on YouTube that has been discovered for the Core Battle Gauntlet) this could take anywhere from 3 to 10 hours in earnest. And even then, you have to unlock fights within the story mode to play them, which makes me wonder... what was the point? It’s an arbitrary design in pacing, and you’d sooner or later get bored of the grinding you must do in order to complete every single section of the story map. For this feature in particular, I have to give it to the original Dissidia games (particularly 012) for making the story mode feel more accessible and less of a chore to blaze through IMO.
Even so, completing everything in the story mode rewards the player with even more features in the Gauntlet Mode. As you progress through the story, you’ll unlock different Story Trials using a specific team of characters, and these offer more bonuses than the standard trial, depending on how high your player level is. You also unlock the Summon Trial, which pits you against all seven of the summons in the game, also with greater bonuses than the standard trial. While the summon battles can be frustrating at first, it isn’t long before you figure out their attack patterns. And to make things fair, the KOs your AI teammates do not count during these summon boss battles, only your own. Personally, I highly recommend a team of Marksmen for these battles, as these were clearly not designed with a team of Vanguards and Assassins in mind. Either way, the payoff is worth it, and you’ll sooner be collecting sizable loot to buy items a lot quicker from the shop.
The Multiplayer Experience
Aside from the 3v3 combat, fanservice appealing to many a generation of fans, and undeniably gorgeous console-quality graphics, Dissidia NT’s biggest draw is its more sophisticated online multiplayer. While the original Dissidia games were good and all for what they were as far as multiplayer goes, we have never experienced something of this scale, and for fans of Dissidia, this is quite a big deal. You have your Rank matches where you can be randomly teamed with other players worldwide, or invite teammates of your own choosing to take on players worldwide. If ranking up isn’t your thing and you just wanna have some casual fun, Custom Match is the option for you.
Custom match is a freeform lobby system where you can set up matches almost any way you want, from connection requirements to time limits to player shuffling. Heck, you can even play 1v1, 2v1, 3v1, 2v2, or even 3v2 matches if you toggle the AI opponent filler off. But good luck working around that character class system, ‘cause some classes have clear advantage over others. Still, it’s all in good fun, and the option IS there for those who desire it.
Sadly, for those hoping to watch the action while waiting for a match in a lobby, there is no Spectator Mode. But it’s understandable, considering you’d have to watch it from multiple perspectives. And as of yet, there hasn’t been a way to view the match from an all-encompassing angle even in the arcade version. The best way to go about this will be for each individual to record the match from their own perspective and share it later. The quality of the online netcode is a mixed bag. If one player has a bad connection, it could potentially slow the entire match to a crawl. Maybe in a future update, the game will change to a dedicated server as opposed to a peer-to-peer server.
But... we must talk about the strangest omission of all. Why, oh why, is there no local multiplayer option? This was probably the most crucial feature Dissidia NT needed for local tournaments... heck, many would say this is a requirement if it’s looking to pursue E-sports, let alone everyday local tournaments. Such a feature could’ve easily been implemented with something as simple as linking LAN cables to each PS4 console for LAN parties, which at best would make lag nonexistent. This is something that Square Enix and Team Ninja REALLY need to take their time to look into in the future, because this is very important. But for now, the online multiplayer should suffice, even if it gets spotty at times.
As a competitive arena fighting game and one who has always wanted Dissidia to take a more competitive approach, I personally find it easy to love Dissidia NT, and even moreso that it embraces the team-based 3v3 combat to make the party-based feel of a Final Fantasy that much more immersive in Dissidia... and it works surprisingly well, even if the visuals can get a little chaotic. And while the structure of the game’s Story mode is more of a chore than its predecessors, the unlockable trials to obtain sizable amounts of loot to buy items from the shop either make the struggle worth it in the long run. However, when it comes to the core game and its online multiplayer (where the lasting appeal ultimately goes), Dissidia NT is off to a good, if not rocky start. Let’s just hope they put as much care on their offline features in the future as much as they are their planned DLC characters in the future, which I admit will be interesting.
I highly recommend this game to those who always wanted a more balanced, team-based competitive Final Fantasy fighting game and immerse themselves in the experience with fellow fans of the series. Like every fighting game, it isn’t for everyone. It isn’t the most newcomer-friendly installment around, and misses the mark in teaching the player how each character is supposed to be played. But in the age of information, there are quite a decent amount of places to go to obtain such knowledge, especially Trueblade Seeker on YouTube. I also recommend not playing this game just for the story. Have the mindset of getting your feet wet and learning the game through trial and error. Even I will admit this game feels overwhelming at first, but over time I got the hang of it. And when you’re online, don’t let your focus be solely on winning. Let your focus be on being an effective team player, and the wins will come over time as you find dedicated teammates that click with you.
P.S. Oh, and for the love of Cosmos, PLEASE pay attention to that mini-map! It’ll help you tremendously.