It’s been 30 years since the first Final Fantasy game released. Somehow, what originally was conceived as a publisher’s last-ditch attempt to make a successful RPG defied all odds, going on to become one of the longest running franchises in gaming.
Now for its 30th anniversary, this Fantasy is looking far from final, and Square-Enix has decided to celebrate by releasing a third entry in the popular Dissidia Final Fantasy spin-off series, which once again pits friend against foe in a fighting game format.
While it might feel new to us Westerners, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT actually released in Japan’s arcades back in 2015. Known for its fast-paced action, deep battle system and the ability to create your very own dream lineups of characters from the Final Fantasy Franchise roster, Dissidia is about as fan-pleasing as games come.
Heros and Villains Assemble
Here, players can choose to battle it out as any of the main protagonists or antagonists from each of the 15 main installments. To put a spikey-haired cherry on top, Square has even included a few beloved spin-off characters like Ramza (FF Tactics) and Ace (FF Type-0).
Dissidia is undoubtedly one of the most impressive compilations of gaming fanfare ever released. Its (many) Final Fantasy tributes come in the form of battle arenas, alternate costumes, weapons, player icons and even various titles that you can unlock for your profile.
In other words, this is a game that’s bursting at the seams with winks and nods to the series’ past, collating the franchise’s best music, characters, and memorable moments from the past 30 years.
In a nice touch, even ye olde sprite-based characters get the HD treatment here. Where heroes like Terra (FFVI) and Cecil (FFIV) captured our hearts before 3D models were even a thing, each 2D warrior has been lovingly recreated from their original models, now matching the majesty of HD-born heroes like Noctis and Lightning. The English and Japanese voice acting is superb too, bringing fan-favorite (and previously inaudible) characters to life in a way that wasn’t possible in their heyday.
While this is a brawler at heart, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the story mode in a Final Fantasy title. Dissidia‘s story is similar to previous games in the series, but includes new characters like Noctis, Materia, and Spritus.
Previous dynamics between Cloud and Sephiroth (FFVII) or Tidus and Jecht (FFX) are abundant during story interactions. With the exclusions of Ramza and Ace, every character makes either a major or minor appearance throughout NT’s 6-8 hour campaign. Dissidia requires players to acquire items known as memoria fragments. Earned by raising their player level through battle, these shiny gems are necessary to progress the story.
The need to spend memoria fragments to unlock every cutscene or battle is frustrating. Most games with a similar story system reward the player as they play. Dissidia instead artificially extends the story’s length by requiring players to play other modes to earn fragments. Completing battles in the story removes them permanently too, which disappointingly makes revisiting enjoyable battles impossible.
To compensate for this, completing enough events in each story arc unlocks new offline gauntlets. Beating the story also gives players the ability to jump into the highly enjoyable summon battles again on a higher difficulty level. As you’d expect from a spin-off, the narrative is serviceable, but isn’t exactly anything special.
Fortune Favors the Brave
Dissidia is unlike any other fighting game on the market. While most games in the genre have mechanics that are obvious to anyone watching, Dissidia does not. Attacking your opponent does not necessarily deplete their life gauge like most games. Dissidia instead employs two different attacks categorized as Bravery and HP.
While HP attacks deal damage to your opponent’s life gauge, the damage is very mild without properly using Bravery attacks. Bravery attacks, on the other hand, are unable to deal actual damage but each attack increases your Bravery gauge. These are then converted into power for the following HP attack. HP attacks are unblockable and fans will definitely recognize flashy moves like Cloud’s Omnislash, or Noctis’s warp-strike.
It adds further frustration for newcomers, as dying at the hand of a move you have no easy way of defending isn’t a lot of fun. The necessity of knowing how to identify and react to these HP attacks is imperative. It’s similar to knowing every Critical Art in Street Fighter V, or X-Ray attack in Mortal Kombat. Dissidia characters can have up to four of these moves while characters in other games have one or two.
Is ‘Dissidia’ Complex, Complicated, or Just Confusing?
Dissidia ebbs and flows between nothing happening on screen and too many things flooding your eyeballs. Dissidia‘s UI includes each character’s health, bravery, and buffs/debuffs along with the player’s selected skills and team life gauge. The map, emote bar and game clock occupy precious screen space and tend to be irrelevant in the heat of combat.
The good news is, the UI is very intuitive and takes little time to get accustomed to. The bad news is there are so many things happening at once it is often lost. A special note goes to the Bravery indicator, which is extremely intuitive as it glows purple when opponents are able to be finished off.
One of the biggest complexities is the need to balance your attention between all the combatants on the field. In an ideal world, the match would consist of three individual fights. In reality, more battles come down to how teams rotate their attention between opponents. Teams must not only excel in combat but in surveying the battlefield and helping allies who are losing their matchups.
Swords, Sorcery, and Summons
Combat quickly becomes chaotic as the screen fills with fireballs, blizzards and sword clashes. Using summons during fights only compounds this chaos, as Ifrit, Shiva or Bahamut unleash their power throughout the arena. These screen-filling attacks deal massive amounts of damage to opponents’ bravery, effectively making them harmless for a short duration.
This makes summoning a double-edged sword — the damage is great but the ensuing confusion is often overwhelming.
EX skills add another layer of depth, as they allow you to share your HP or bravery with allies. Each character also has a unique EX skill that is specific to their abilities. For example, Cloud’s Limit Break increases defense and lowers charge times for attacks. While FFIII‘s Onion Knight is able to swap jobs between Ninja and Sage while recovering health and bravery.
The most confusing thing is that the game never tells you what each character’s unique skills are or their function. The game also lacks any kind of combo tree, forcing players to figure out each character’s combos on their own.
This is complicated, as certain characters have unique moves that change as time progresses. For example, FFXI‘s Shantotto has empowered spells when enraged, but there are no tooltips for triggering rage. This is a core fighting game feature and is expected for a game with this much depth. In failing to implement it, Square Enix has dropped the ball and made the learning curve unnecessarily steep.
Warriors of Light
Dissidia features three queues for online play: Ranked Solo, Ranked Party, and Custom games. Ranked queues, solo and party match players of similar ranking ranging from Bronze up to Adamant. Rankings in each queue are exclusive to that queue and completely separate from offline rankings.
Custom matches are by far the best online experiences Dissidia offers, thanks to the sheer number of variables that can be modified. The low stakes environment enabled players to chat with one another which led to the most balanced and creative matches. It even created opportunities for unbalanced teams — like two vs one — for an increased challenge.
The most confusing thing is the lack of implementing some sort of tiebreaker into the default battle system. Matches that end due to time expiring result in losses for both players, which makes sense for arcades. But in today’s fighting game market it’s a poor choice, as nobody wants to lose on technicalities.
Ending matches this abruptly leaves both players with their time wasted. The most competitive matches have a lot of back and forth, and for them to end this way is disheartening.
Is ‘Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’ Good?
With Dissidia Final Fantasy NT releasing nearly a week after two major game releases it may have missed the boat. With Dragonball FighterZ and Monster Hunter: World stealing the bandwidth from players it has a hard time standing out.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has had our attention since its release in Japanese arcades back in 2015. The trouble is that it’s at this weird stage of having solid mechanics and great brand recognition, but poor execution. Dissidia‘s eye-catching visuals and enhancements from its handheld days make it leaps and bounds better than it’s ever been before. Though the lack of information and poor decisions in the battle system obscure what could have been an amazing experience.
Dissidia is undeniably attractive and enjoyable to play. However, the steep learning curve and amount of time needed to master makes it a fighter that’s not for the faint of heart.