Dissidia is a brand new fighting game (Not Really) featuring an all-star Final Fantasy cast that pits the heroes against the villains. It started as a spin-off to Final Fantasy series on the PlayStation Portable so its root are firmly placed in its handheld origin. My first experience with Dissidia NT was in the Hawaii arcades some two years ago and I tell you what, even when it’s all in Japanese and your limited understanding of the language means you understand none of it (because a cursory glance at the game makes it quite clear that you need a proper introduction to it) when you’re as stubbornly competitive as I am, you are willing to spend the money until you understand why you’re losing so badly. The game as brilliant. Sadly for Square Enix I suspect this game’s going to get off on the wrong foot with a lot of people (and result in some undeserving critical reviews), because the first two mindsets are not so positive. In fact, both as a game and a Final Fantasy title, the early going with the game can feel like it’s very hostile indeed.
To get something out of way, there is no traditional story mode featured in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. The game instead has been divided in a story mode and gauntlet mode, which works like an Arcade mode of a fighting game. The story mode is simply a series of cutscenes that require a certain amount of collectible memories to unlock them. These collectibles are unlocked by playing the Gauntlet mode which offers two different type of battles: Core and Standard. Core is basically ‘attack the enemy crystal’ battle where you target the enemy crystal and destroy it before they do the same against your crystal. The standard battle is a 3 vs. 3 brawler that lets you control a main character along with 2 AI controlled fighters. The aim here is to incapacitate the enemy 3 times and to avoid having the same thing happen to your party members.
Before you even start playing, Dissidia is crushingly disappointing. This game exists principally as fanservice for Final Fantasy fans. I don’t mean in terms of swimwear and lingerie costumes, but rather, just like with Nintendo’s Smash Bros series, Dissidia brings together beloved characters from beloved games for a battle royale. Dissidia’s problem (and what Nintendo has got so right over the years with Smash Bros) is that its roster is terrible. The bulk of the roster involved the primary hero and villain from each Final Fantasy game, and whichever designer made that arbitrary and circumspect decision really needs to rethink their understanding of Final Fantasy. In some cases it works – love them or hate them, you can’t argue that Squall, Kefka or Lightning deserve a place in a roster such as this. But with other Final Fantasy games the “leads” were not the popular ones; no one I have ever met has ever admitted to preferring Vaan over Balthier, Fran or Ashe in Final Fantasy XII. And yet Vaan’s the “lead” of FFXII, so he’s in the game. Meanwhile, the villains from the first three Final Fantasy titles are completely uninteresting and generic, and while you could make an argument for Warrior of Light is so iconic to Final Fantasy that he deserves to be there, the “hero from each game” approach also means Dissidia NT counts Final Fantasy 3’s Onion Knight in the roster, who is as redundant of a character as you’ll ever see.
The battle system in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT features slick animation and fluid controls but the combo system is severely limited in how it works. The combos are executed by the direction button along with the attack button. Depending on the input pressed, the attacks might play out differently. Aside from the normal attack which is also called ‘Bravery’ attack, there is the ‘HP’ attack that lets you deal the final blow to the enemy. It is a system that has been taken directly from the past games but with some new tweaks this time. The issue with the combos is that if you miss out, it leaves you open to opponent attacks and while the computer controlled opponents play fine on the normal difficulty, it can be frustrating to deal with them on a higher difficulty setting. You will be punished severely for even a tiny mistake and there is good chance that you unintentionally keep missing out on combos because of the chaotic nature of battles.
Each character in Dissidia is broken down into one of a range of classes – Assassin, Vanguard, Marksman, etc, and those classes each have their own strengths (marksmen are ranged powerhouses, assassins hit hard and fast). In addition, each character has his or her own unique spin within that class; I prefer marksmen myself, and Terra, the mage, plays entirely different to Ace, who throws playing cards around as weapons. The game is well balanced as a whole – some characters tend to show up more often but that’s more because of their popularity than any inherent strength – but each character is different enough that they have their own unique mastery curve.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is not a fighting game. Not really. It’s a strategic action game and is a clear attempt by the publisher to spin the Final Fantasy franchise into something that can work in the world of eSports. Dissidia Final Fantasy NT does offer the ultimate fanservice, but it is held back by the lack of single player content and a poorly designed story mode. The combat system is fun although flawed in design due to the chaotic nature of battles. All In all it's still a great game!