If someone were to ask you to think about fighting games, there’s a number of names that would instantly come to mind for most people. If you’re more into the 2D side of the genre, you might give examples such as Street Fighter, The King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear, etc.; for those who prefer the 3D variety, there’s Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, and so on.
While those two types of fighting games tend to be the bread and butter of the genre, we’ve seen other titles take some daring risks with gameplay concepts over the years—and this was especially true on the PlayStation 1. With that system’s ability to render fully polygon worlds that could be explored on more than two axes, a new type of fighter was born: the 3D arena fighter. In games such as Taito’s Psychic Force and Omega Force’s Destrega, players could fly around an enclosed section of the landscape in three dimension, tossing out long-range projectiles or rushing in for melee combos while being automatically focused on their opponent.
In late 2008, Square Enix gave the subgenre another addition with Dissidia Final Fantasy, a new project that saw heroes and villains from across the Final Fantasy franchise battle one another. The game stood out as one of the unique and exciting exclusives for Sony’s PlayStation Portable, but throughout both it and its sequel, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, it was hard not to feel like the ambition on display was being hampered somewhat by its choice in platforms.
And that’s where Dissidia Final Fantasy NT comes in. Back in 2015, Square Enix teamed up with Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja division to develop an arcade game based on the Dissidia series, one which retained many of the core concepts of the PSP games, but while also amping up the action and visuals thanks to the combination of more powerful hardware and a far bigger screen.
One of the biggest changes to the game is what makes Dissidia Final Fantasy NT so wonderfully chaotic: the switch to a three-on-three format, where you and two teammates (either human- or AI-controllers) face off against three rivals (again, either human or CPU) in one big melee. Moving away from the one-on-one battles of previous Dissidia games now means having a lot more to think about in any given moment—from where you are in relation to the position of the opponent you’re targeting, to what your teammates are doing, to what your foe’s teammates are doing (and if any of them are sneaking up to attack you). It’s a change that was quite appropriate for an arcade release, but does that mean it was also what the next generation of Dissidia home releases should be built around?
That change is probably Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s biggest (but not only) barrier of entry—and it’s going to be one that turns at least some players off. When battles were still one-on-one, the slower pacing and bigger window for considering strategy meant a friendlier game to lower-level players. Here, with the changes that have been put into play, defeat can be utterly brutal.
NT now features four character class types—Vanguard, Assassins, Specialist, and Marksman—and I was determined to learn Final Fantasy VI’s Terra, who fills the longer-range Marksman role. For at least the first few hours of playing, I was sure that the class was broken, because I was getting crushed. It can take a while to have the gameplay fully click, and while I was going through that initiation period, the losses my teams were being handed (in part due to my lack of skill) were downright ugly. At times, I’d be trying to focus on sniping a particular enemy, and then suddenly a melee-focused character would rush in, attack me, and it seemed like I simply had no offense or defense that would stop them. So, I’d give characters like Lightning or Cloud a try—and get completely controlled by members of the class I’d nearly sworn off. (The game’s netcode also spelled my doom at times, with some matches almost being slideshows; thankfully, though, I’ve had way more stable matches than bad in my time playing.)
Even now, I’ll still have matches where my team gets decimated, or where I struggle a bit with the controls. (Some of the moves require pressing a button plus direction, and there can be a disconnect between what you think you’re hitting and what the game reads you as hitting as both your character and the camera are moving around). And yet, I’m finally at a point where I can hold my own or even dominate a satisfying amount of the time—and in that, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT can be absolutely magical. Different doesn’t always mean better, but the uniqueness of this experience compared to most other fighters out there at the moment really can be refreshing. It’s the kind of game that you play when you want to feel like a god trying to bring order to chaos, offering up a power-trip rush that’s just oh so good. Although, I don’t think NT could ever replace Street Fighter V or the other genre staples that I love spending time with as my usual go-tos; instead, it’s the kind of game that you love knowing is there waiting for you, and that you go to when you want that escape from the norm. It’s something to get obsessed with, and then put down, and then come back to later after a bit of time–sort of how I see PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite compared to the tried-and-true third-person shooter offerings.
However, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT then has another accessibility problem that’ll cause some players to be unable to slip into that level of appreciation I describe above. The game’s arcade roots are absolutely apparent here, and one of the ways in which that manifests is a dearth of modes or things to do for those with little interest in going online. The main content for single-player sessions is the story modem, but it’s so bad that it’s almost hilarious. Across five different paths, you’ll find out why the game’s 29 characters have been brought to this land, but that tale is told in disjointed pieces that can feel incomplete or almost nonsensical—even after you’ve unlocked the cutscenes of every path. Unfortunately, to unlock those clips or story-focused battles, you need Memoria points, which you only get for levelling up characters outside of story mode.
When you start the game, you have only enough points to get through the opening cinematic, and then need to unlock at least four more cutscenes before getting near your first fight. I can’t at all understand what the goal here was; most of the cutscenes aren’t interesting enough to warrant such work being put into unlocking them, and the kind of players who usually prefer solo content—more casual fighting fans—are often the type who prefer to stick to one singular character in the early hours of playing (which will slow down the rate at which you earn Memoria). The story mode should have been the same five paths interspersed with more battles to serve as what needed to be accomplished to unlock the next storyline piece—as it stands now, what’s presented just comes off as a disappointingly lazy and misguided effort.
Outside of that, there’s only a few other options to keep players satisfied offline. The first is Gauntlet Mode, an enjoyable side excursion which pits you against a series of rival teams that get higher in skill level with rewards waiting at the end. There’s also Sparring Match for setting up fights against CPU opponents, which benefits from having far more potential than it’ll first seem. While you can set up typical three-on-three matches, you can have any of those six slots be vacant, meaning you can instead run handicap matches or even revert back to the older one-on-one days of Dissidia. This could be the sleeper hit mode of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT in my eyes, but there just aren’t enough settings to give it its full potential. For example, I set up a three-on-one battle against the computer, but even pumping that one enemy’s AI level all of the way up to max, there was still no possible way it could have won. Had there been, say, attack and defense multipliers that could be applied, and other variables like maybe gravity sliders or changes to gameplay speed or random afflictions or whatever, this mode could have carried more of the burden for those seeking single-player content. Also, why aren’t these team balance options available for online play? Having the choice to run one-on-one, three-on-one, or two-on-three matches with all human players would have added even more life to the game. Still, NT could easily have locked us into nothing but three-on-three fights period, so I’m glad to see the ability to shake things up for local play. (Sparring Match is also, by the way, where you’ll need to go to have a proper Training option—no idea why it wasn’t included in the separate Tutorial portion of the game.)
After that, the only other real longevity Dissidia Final Fantasy NT offers is building up your characters. This is divided into two different focuses: the character’s level and abilities, and cosmetics. Levelling up characters earns you new buff and debuff EX Skills can than be used by all characters, along with HP Attacks (the techniques used to actually down opponents) and chat messages that are unique to each individual character. Along with EX Skills and Memoria, you’ll also receive Treasure, non-microtransaction loot boxes that give you three items from a selection of chat messages, profile icons and titles, battle music, or character skins and weapons. (Cosmics and music can also be purchased with Gil earned through playing—EX Skills cannot.) There’s a nice amount of things to unlock, but the cosmetics suffer somewhat from the same thing that ails the cast of characters they’re intended for: it all feels very safe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the roster available here, and we get an amount of choices that feels perfectly reasonable pre-DLC. It’s just, they’re all obvious choices. Of course we get Cloud and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII; of course it’s Noctis from Final Fantasy XV or Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII. I just hope, with whatever upcoming DLC arrives, that we get some fun additions to go along with those safe bets—I want Fran, and Barrett, and Celes, and other choices outside the defaults.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT reminds me a lot of where Street Fighter V was when it was released—just without the assurance that the overall package would be beefed up with time. If you can accept this game as something you’d find in a local arcade, or simply don’t care about single-player content in fighting games most of the time (like I don’t), then the larger-than-life power fantasy presented with this roster of beloved Square Enix characters can provide hours of entertainment simply from its scant selection of modes. If you want something more—or are looking for a more casual fighting game experience that you can ease in to—then the reality of this fantasy may just be too harsh. As much as I adored the PSP, I think this is the first time that the Dissidia series has truly gotten a chance to shine—but if it’s going to attract a wider audience going forward, it’s going to need a whole lot more polish.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT finally brings Square Enix’s handheld “what if” franchise to the big screen, and the results are pretty fantastic for those who love chaotic, high-energy combat scenarios. Unfortunately, the game can be challenging to get the hang of due to a range of factors including class differences and controls, and there’s not much to do for those who prefer their gaming sessions solo. Still, for players who do click with this third Dissidia chapter, it’s a heck of an experience.
T – Teen
|Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Product was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI.