Moving away from its role-playing game foundations, the original Dissidia Final Fantasy traded turn-based battles for real-time action duels. Featuring an all-star cast from the franchise, it told an original story that celebrated the series’ diverse incarnations–while also presenting an odd yet satisfying approach to character action. After the release of the 2015 arcade follow-up, Square-Enix and developer Team Ninja have brought the 3v3 multiplayer fighter to the PS4. But in aiming for a more competitive focus–along with some half-hearted offerings for solo content–Dissidia Final Fantasy NT loses sight of what makes the Final Fantasy series so memorable, resulting in a hollow journey through a franchise’s storied history.
Set long after the original Dissidia titles, and just before the arcade edition, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT takes many liberties with the franchise’s array of stories to offer context as to why the many fighters are embroiled in an eternal battle. When warring gods Materia and Spritius call-forth the heroes and villains to engage in a new fight for the fate of their collective universes, the warriors soon realize that there is a greater threat lurking in the background–forcing rivals to set aside their differences to take on the encroaching menace.
Much like its predecessors, Dissidia NT is very much a celebration of the Final Fantasy mythos. Set across different locales from the series’ past–including Final Fantasy I‘s Cornelia and FFVII‘s Midgar–several of the stages recreate the same style and tone found from their respective titles. The visuals on display are vibrant and detailed–allowing fans to see their favorite characters and their ornate outfits with modern graphics. Along with the return of iconic musical themes and other references to past titles–including the appearance of the tutorial Moogle who continues to overstay his welcome–the brawler pays great attention to creating a mashup of the most iconic elements from 30-years worth of noteworthy games.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s story campaign makes attempts to justify the backdrop of its chaotic slugfest, while offering some moments of fan-service. Taking control of several heroes from the Final Fantasy series, they’ll fight against their own rivals and corrupted copies of other characters as they come to grips with the reality of the present battle. While the many cutscenes throughout are charming, the story as a whole feels undercooked, even disregarding some of the newcomers to the roster.
This is made worse by some rather odd choices in how you go about experiencing the narrative. Story progression uses a node-based system, with cutscenes and key battles costing Memoria to unlock. After exhausting your Memoria, you’ll have to dive back into other gameplay modes such as the Gauntlet mode to grind experience and earn more tokens for the campaign. This ultimately makes the campaign a fragmented experience that you can’t go through at your own pace, weakening the impact of the story’s more meaningful encounters, which build up dramatic fights that you’ve already experienced several times over in other modes.
To switch things up during the story, your party will take part in boss battles against several of the game’s summoned monsters. Pitting your team of three against large-scale foes that can use several arena-filling attacks and super moves is certainly a step up from the usual fights throughout the campaign. But while the scale of these fights are impressive, and the game’s visual luster shines throughout, these battles also present massive difficulty spikes in the campaign. What’s apparent during these encounters is that Dissidia’s multiplayer-tuned mechanics and movement seem ill-equipped to handle the large attacks and movement patterns these bosses wield. Given that they are capable of wiping out your party in single moves with ease, these large battles feel more like clumsy exercises in trial-and error–and luck–rather than a culmination of your skill.
With a roster of well over 20 characters–including familiar faces such as the brooding loner types Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, along with newcomers Ramza Beoulve and Noctis Lucis Caelum from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XV respectively–there’s an impressive set of brawlers to choose from, each with their own unique playstyles. These characters adopt one of four classes, ranging from the heavy hitting Vanguard to the agile Assassin, the zoning Marksman, and the versatile Specialist–with their varied movesets bringing strategy to Dissidia’s fast-paced combat system.
The battle system in Dissidia NT is largely as it was in the previous titles, save for the removal of character-unique super moves and the new focus on team-battles. Dissidia will force you into split-second decisions to make your hits count. By building up attack power with non-lethal Brave attacks–draining your opponent’s power in the process–you’ll be able deal greater amounts of raw damage to your opponents with lethal HP attacks. Moreover, collecting energy from randomly placed crystals will allow your team to call in your chosen Summon monster to the fight turning the flow of battle in your favor. Much of the previous game’s RPG growth mechanics have been stripped out in favor of more static growth. Gameplay in Dissidia is entirely skill-based, with leveling only opening up alternate abilities and other supplementary options. Which places every player on a largely even playing field.
Battles are set in large arenas, so you’ll constantly be on the move utilizing defensive maneuvers –along with support spells and buffs–to stay one step ahead of your rivals. Combat is mostly kept at a relentless pace, and when you’re in the thick of it, the fighting system allows players to exhibit some rather clever strategies that reward those who can read their foe’s next move and strike back. While this system may come off as bit a overwhelming for newcomers, the generous tutorial mode will put you through your paces to learn all the mechanics necessary to survive.
Moving away from the one-on-one duels, the new 3v3 format makes for more hectic battles. While these are fun to take part in most of the time, they often result in overly busy encounters with all fighters bunching up–made slightly worse by an overstuffed user-interface. The camera also struggles to keep up with the action, which is especially frustrating on the higher difficulties or during online play, with your enemies adopting a more cunning approach.
As you clear through battles and increase your player rank and character level, you’ll acquire Gil for use in the item shop. While you can buy most of every item in-game with the currency–which includes character costumes, weapon skins, online card decals, player avatars, and background music–you can also find special treasure packages that yield a set of randomized rewards. Though rest assured, you can acquire every item on your own in-game with Gil, as there are no real-money microtransactions in the game whatsoever.
In keeping with its multiplayer focus, Dissidia NT now features an online experience which includes ranked matches and custom games tuned to your own preferences. When up against skilled players online, these matches can prove to be intense affairs that show off the complexity and strategy within the combat system. Unfortunately, simply waiting to take part in battles can be a chore. During the first week of the game’s release online matchmaking took upwards of 3-5 minutes to get a battle going. Moreover, several of the matches were burdened with sudden lag spikes and skipping, resulting in some rather uneven and unreliable encounters. While most online battles turned out well, lag dips and long wait times were a common occurrence.
What’s most disappointing is that in going headstrong into its competitive multiplayer angle, Dissidia NT doesn’t offer much outside of it. If the online multiplayer and repeat excursions into the Gauntlet mode doesn’t interest you in the long term, then you may find yourself with few reasons to proceed with the game’s already repetitive offerings.
For all its attempts to honor Square-Enix’s long-running series, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT stumbles far too often when trying to replicate some of the many core gameplay tenants of the series in the framework of its own game. While it manages to offer fun and responsive combat, along with an infectious charm throughout, it struggles to advance much from the previous Dissidia titles. With a story that’s fed piecemeal behind arbitrary gating, several combat encounters that feel out of place, and unreliable online systems that don’t function when you need them to, this online brawler isn’t able to live up to the series that it steadfastly tries to celebrate.