Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)

Dissidia is known as being the “Final Fantasy Fighting Game Franchise” but that’s only half true for Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. In fact, NT’s new team based structure and goal based game modes make it feel more like a MOBA than anything else. There’s real potential in that formula; a console MOBA with faster action-based mechanics. Square Enix did a lot to capitalize on that potential. The gameplay is solid, the controls work well, and the graphics and sound are up to Square’s normal level of JRPG perfection. However Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, despite all its merits, fails catastrophically in one of the most basic elements of game design, the user interface.

A change of pace that has potential

If you are new to the Dissidia franchise, know that it puts an interesting spin on the traditional fighting game formula. First of all, action takes place from an over the shoulder point of view. You may recognize this camera angle from franchise fighters such as Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball and Naruto line. Similarly, all fights are highly mobile, with character able to jump, air-dash, and practically fly all around a huge 3D arena, packed with hazards.

Damage is handled differently in Dissidia. Instead of dealing damage straight to your opponent’s HP, you have two types of attacks: bravery attacks and HP attacks. Everyone starts at 1000 bravery. Landing a bravery attack damages your opponent’s bravery and increases your own bravery by the same amount. Reducing your opponent to zero bravery stuns them for a short period of time and doubles your bravery.

HP attacks tend to be slower and harder to hit, but are the only way to deal actual damage to the opponent. If you land an HP attack you spend all your bravery and deal that much damage to the opponent’s HP. Your bravery then slowly restores itself to its original starting total of 1000. 

This system, for better or worse, makes every battle feel like an “anime battle.” You and the opponent trade furious quick blows trying to wear the other down. Then, when one of you manages to raise your bravery high enough to kill the opponent, you go in for one final flashy strike. It makes gameplay focus on individual exchanges rather than the war of attrition most fighting games become, and it forces players to be aggressive rather than defensive.

New to NT is its 3-on-3 format. You and two other characters go up against an opposing team of three in a battle to see who can score the most kills first, or who can destroy an enemy’s “core crystal” situated at their base first. This is where the game starts to feel like a MOBA.

To compliment this new team based battle system, NT has also introduced a number of character classes. There are the vanguards who are slow, powerful, all-around fighters, the assassins, who sacrifice HP and range for speed and damage, the marksmen, who fail at close quarters combat but excel at long ranged and AOE damage, and the specialists, who support the rest of the party and fill in a flex role. In addition to these classes, each character also has a unique EX skill and two standard EX skills that are governed by cooldowns, another piece of MOBA influence.

Success in battle will oftentimes come down to teamwork. If an assassin chases down a marksman, more often than not the marksman will just die. However, if a vanguard ambushes the assassin and lets the marksman pelt them from long range, then the assassin is screwed. Once again, you are seeing the MOBA influence here and as you continue to play you’ll find yourself developing skills that you would use in any other MOBA. You’ll double team the opponent, stay out of their range to lure them into an ambush, beat them to map objectives, and more.

As I said earlier, the gameplay is solid. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this formula. It might not be exactly what fighting game fans are looking for, but it can be as deep and strategic as any other fighting game on the market. It takes a while to get used to and teamwork is an absolute must, but it’s a fresh change of paste for anyone who wants a slightly different experience from the standard 2D and 3D fighters on the market.

User Interface – So many simple errors

Unfortunately, NT’s solid gameplay is not supported by the rest of its design. Once again, this is a game that is fundamentally based on teamwork. Teamwork requires communication. Believe it or not, there is no way to communicate in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. There is built-in voice chat but no one is using it because it’s clunky and it’s difficult to use fast chat commands in the middle of battle.

There’s no easy way to ping the map or signify to your team what you are doing or where you are going. You could, if you had a group of friends you wanted to play with, form your party ahead of looking or a match, but that’s a lot of hoops to jump through for a game that was meant to be played quickly in groups.

In addition, there’s no local multiplayer whatsoever. This is a shame because NT was originally designed as an arcade game. It was originally designed to be played with people standing to your right and left, shouting things at each other. Granted, it may have been impossible to split the screen three ways, but this is an essential part of the Dissidia experience. The fact that it’s missing is nearly unforgivable.

I could look it over if the online experience was OK, but it too stumbles over itself in bizarre ways. The netcode is serviceable. Matchmaking is, unfortunately slow but tolerable. However, the user interface fails again! You cannot see what characters your teammates are choosing if you choose to pair with randoms instead of with your friends. You have to choose your character and their loadout before you know who you are playing with, who your opponent’s are, or what stage you are playing on.

This makes team coordination practically impossible. Not only does this mean that every third team you run into is made up of nothing but Cloud Strife, but it also means that your team composition ends up being random and random teams tend to fail. If, by totally random chance, you end up on a team with three marksmen and the opposing team has a vanguard, an assassin, and a specialist, your team will be at a severe disadvantage and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This causes players to choose characters that can handle fights on their own without the aid of teammates, which means playing vanguards and… maybe… assassins. This severely limits the amount of characters that even show up in online rotations. At that point, when teams are made of nothing but close ranged characters, battles become less like 3-on-3 strategic fights and more like three 1-on-1 matches taking place on the same map. At that point you can just play in solo battle mode which puts you up against one other character, but unfortunately this feels shallow and it throws away 90 percent of what makes the game fun in the first place.

The result? Everyone is playing Cloud or Sephiroth in solo battles, a pale shadow of what the game could have been.

Dissidia doesn’t make it easy to dive into character variety either. The tutorial only teaches you the game’s basic controls. Nowhere does it teach you every character’s special ability. Heck, the tutorial doesn’t even mention that characters have special abilities. Unless you take to Google to look them up, your only choice is to mash away and try to figure it out.

You cannot back out of this screen

But by far the biggest failure of user interface design is the lack of a cancel button in certain menus. For example, if you start queueing up for an online match, you cannot decide to cancel and go back to the main menu. It doesn’t matter if it’s been taking 20 minutes to find a match, you just have to sit there and wait or force quit the game.

The same holds true for some of the single-player modes. When you enter them you can’t cancel them and go back to the menu whenever you want. You are just stuck there. It feels like this is a holdover from the original arcade design that never got fixed. It makes perfect sense to lock someone in when you are shoving coins into an arcade cabinet. It makes no sense to lock someone in when they have been waiting on a match for far too long and they just want to back out and play some single-player.

Frankly, the user interface design just feels sloppy. So many small errors were made that took a fun game and rendered it nearly unplayable. If only a few things were fixed, like actually letting you cancel out of certain modes and allowing you to see the characters your teammates were choosing, NT would be a much less frustrating experience.

A controversial new take on story mode

NT tries something new with its story mode which has a lot of its fans split. Instead of hopping into a campaign that lets you fight against A.I. opponents interspersed with story driven cutscenes, NT’s  story is locked behind… well… playing the game. By playing the game’s other modes you gain a resource called Memoria. You then can spend that memoria to watch special cutscenes and fight special battles on a story tree.

It’s really a very interesting take on story mode that integrates the game’s overall plot with the modes you’ll be spending the most time in (in this case, online versus.) The only reason it fails here is because of the aforementioned U.I. problems, and because the story is really nothing more than “a bunch of gods call you into another world to beat the crap out of each other.”

Play as all your favorite Final Fantasy characters, except most of them

For the most part, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s roster will satisfy most fans. The main character and main villain from Final Fantasy’s 1-10 are all present. In addition, major characters and protagonists from Final Fantasy 11-15, Tactics, and Type-0 are present as well. However, something about the roster feels incomplete.

First of all, the lack of villains for any of the more recent games feels like an admission of guilt of sorts. It’s as if they are saying that no villain from recent Final Fantasy history is memorable.

But then again, who the heck wants to play as Cloud of Darkness, The Emperor, or even Ultimecia? These villain inclusions feel like they are taking up the slots of other characters that could better fit the Dissidia mold. Fan favorites like Tifa or characters like Sabin who actually used fighting game mechanics in their original game are mysteriously absent. I know that these villains showed up in previous Dissidia titles but… so what? Tifa and Yuna also showed up in Dissidia 012 and they didn’t get grandfathered in. It’s a shame because only six of the 28 characters are women, and Tifa and Yuna could have added more diversity to the cast, while doubling as requisite Final Fantasy fan-service for fans of VII and X.

In fact the only supporting character to show up in the roster is Kain from Final Fantasy IV. That’s a good choice if you were only going to include one, but I would have liked to see NT delve deeper into Final Fantasy’s character library.

Square Enix makes ‘em pretty

If there’s one thing Square-Enix knows how to do, it’s to make a visually impressive game and Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is no different. Character models are beautiful, from the modern day designs by Tetsuya Nomura to more classic designs that look like a moving Yoshitaka Amano painting. Attack effects are gorgeous, so much so that you don’t mind that they make the action hard to follow.

It’s the music that is NT’s highest point. It has such an amazing soundtrack filled to the brim with remixes of classic Final Fantasy themes. Just listening to the random tracks that play behind battle is a treat. While I was going through the tutorial mode, I would just stand around and do nothing so I could listen to the medley that took me through the core themes of every Final Fantasy title.

Who Is This Game For?

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a game that that should be fun but somehow manages to miss all of its target demographics.

Fighting gamers should love this game, but the emphasis on team battles means you can die simply because you had bad teammates, which is something fighting gamers abhor. It also means that the game’s solo battle mode is fundamentally unbalanced.

MOBA players should love this game, but the bad U.I, lack of voice chat, and general inability to coordinate with your team will frustrate them.

Final Fantasy fans should love this game, but the fact that the roster misses several fan favorites might turn them off.

This leaves us with a game that, for all intents and purposes, is a really well designed game but somehow manages to appeal to no one.

So let me put on my speculation cap for a second and tell you what I think happened. I think Dissidia Final Fantasy NT was a fantastic game in arcades. Here you could just walk up, put your quarter on the cab, and join into any random game with two other people. You could look to their monitors to see who they were picking and shout to them when you wanted to coordinate. Combined with the fun and frantic gameplay, this would be a formula for a perfect arcade game, sure to suck quarters (or in this case yen) from anyone who walks by it.

Now the game comes to new territory, the home console, and suddenly all the strengths of the arcade version are gone. You can’t see who your opponent is picking. You can’t shout to them to coordinate. Artifacts from the arcade build that were meant to prevent people from stalling a game now make you force quit the game through the PS4 menu. Simply put, not enough thought was put into this game’s port. It’s a shame because this could be an amazingly addictive and competitive title if a few simple things were fixed.