When I bought a PlayStation Vita during the fun that was Hurricane Sandy, I spent some time browsing the compatible PSP lineup. There were a few that stood out, and one of those was Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy. I came to enjoy the game thanks to clever mechanics and because it was a fighting game that had a ton of content to play. I've been eagerly awaiting Dissidia Final Fantasy NT to show up and bring the game to consoles, and after an open beta that left me wanting more its finally here. So, does it improve on past entries, or does NT stand for Not Trying?
It isn't a Final Fantasy game if there isn't some kind of story mode. The game's plot sees two gods, Materia and Spirtius, summon various characters from different worlds to fight for them. Both claim ownership over the land and use the warriors they summon to prove it. Along the way, they run into a mysterious threat that seems interested in little other than eating everything. The plot is about as paper thin as you'd expect, and quite often nonsensical. The game provides a timeline to keep track of events, but it directly contradicts what is actually happening. At one point Kefka is somehow in two locations at the same time, if the timeline is to be believed.
The real fun should come from seeing the interactions between the various characters. Having Onion Knight and Vaan argue over who gets to escort Y'shtola, all while she's just marching ahead without either of them or a genuinely silly verbal mudslinging match between Shantotto and Ultimecia while other characters look on confused is actually kind of hilarious. Sadly, Dissidia Final Fantasy manages to occasionally ruin these moments as well. Squall and Lighting basically wander off during one scene and are never seen again, while Golbez throws a rock during the opening CGI movie and that's all we get to see of Cecil's brother.
Maybe the character's interactions are interesting, but Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has one of the most bizarrely terrible story modes I've ever seen. The story map is made up of a grid, with each point being a different cutscene or battle. If you want to unlock a spot on the grid then you need to spend Memoria to do so. You can only earn Memoria by playing solo gauntlet matches or online matches. A good fighting game should use the story mode to ease you into its mechanics and teach you the characters. For some reason Disidia decided against that, and instead forces you to grind out Memoria so it can drip-feed you the rare fight or 30-second cutscene. Without the grinding, I'd probably place the story mode at around 2 or 3 hours. With the grinding, you're looking at a solid 25 hours of nonsense for that trickle of actual new content.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT's combat doesn't compare to the average fighting game. You can't just hammer away at an opponent and expect them to die. Instead, you have two types of attacks. Bravery attacks are your basic moves and every time you land one you get bravery points while draining your enemy's points. The more bravery points you have, the more damage you'll deal with the other type of attacks: HP attacks. These moves directly drain an enemy's life bar but can leave you wide open if you're not careful. Balancing when to best use an HP attack and when to hold onto them leads to a surprisingly fun battle system.
Of course, there's more to it than just that. Two major factors in combat are summonings and EX abilities. At the start of each fight, you'll get to pick which summoning you want to utilize. Each summoning always gives you a passive buff, like more HP or dealing more bravery damage. As you fight, crystals will show up on the battlefield. Shatter enough of them, and you'll be able to call your summoning onto the battlefield to assist. For the next fifteen seconds that summoning participates in the battle, unleashing huge attacks that deal a lot of bravery damage. This makes picking a summoning that complements your team rather important. Characters with strategies based around their EX ability, like Noctis or Ramza, would be better with Bahamut's passive that charges those abilities faster. A character like Tidus, who needs to be dashing for his most effective attacks, benefits more from Odin's boost towards dash bars.
Each character in the game gets three EX abilities. One of them is unique to each character, serving as their special personalizing skill. Some are rather simple, like Lightning locking enemies into a long combo that heals her for every hit landed. Others are a little more surreal, such as Kefka's applying a ton of debuffs to any enemy in range. Learning these EX abilities is vital to getting the most out of each character. You can also equip two global EX abilities, which have different use. Throwing balls of poison, buffing damage, teleporting, and more. You can change each character's global skills, and you're going to want something that works with their unique skill and the character as a whole.
To learn all these systems the game has a tutorial that becomes a double-edged sword. On one hand, the tutorial does a fantastic job teaching the general overview of the game's mechanics. By the end of it, I could sidestep attacks, dash around the battlefield, and chain off of my teammates. Furthermore, I was able to do all this with surprising ease and confidence I don't normally feel in fighting games. On the other hand, the tutorial does absolutely nothing to teach you each character's individual quirks. Want to learn how to switch Onion Knight between his three jobs? Or how to Draw as Squall? Or what on Earth Kuja and Y'shtola's unique EX abilities actually do? None of that is covered and you'll have to turn to an outside source or experimentation.
This is really a shame, as each of the game's 28 playable fighters feels great. Lightning has the ability to switch between the melee-focused Commando and the magic-focused Ravager at will, Cloud can charge up all of his attacks, while Jecht can interrupt his combos to chain together different attacks. None of these fighters felt overpowered, underpowered, or like they were clones of each other. Each character is unique, viable, and honestly fun to play as.
Honestly, the combat is so fun that it should easily make Dissidia into a winner. The problem? Everything around the actual fights is a mess that hurt my enjoyment of the game. Want to change those EX skills for characters? There's no global setting to do so. Instead, I have to go through each of the 28 characters individually and change their skills one at a time. Being able to set up a couple global spell lists would have made this so much easier. Oddly enough, I could set a global playlist of music while I fight. I have no clue why one is more important than the other.
The game offers two forms of fighting: a regular 3v3 match and a core battle. Both can be played offline, but you can only do a core battle online if you go into custom games. I'd probably be more upset by this if core battles were even vaguely fun. The strange mode has you defending a crystal while trying to destroy the other team's crystal. In reality, the mode takes far longer than the game's time limit actually allows, and even then the gameplay loop shown in core battles isn't really that much fun. Attacking cores requires far more work than really should be needed, and nearly every core match I played ended with the time running out and both teams losing as a result.
Unfortunately, there's not really much to do in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT other than start up a new fight. As far as single player goes, the game is rather bare bones. At first, all you can do is take part in a six fight gauntlet. As you play through the story you'll unlock "story trials" that are just like the gauntlets, only now you're forced to use specific parties rather than being able to pick your own. The only real change comes in the form of the summon trial. Here, you'll fight against the aforementioned summoned beasts, which basically serve as boss fights. These fights are cool enough to make me wonder why I had to play through the majority of the story mode to unlock them, and why more wasn't done here. I'd love to take one of these fights co-op online.
When it comes to the online the only ranked mode you can play is a basic 3v3 match. Without fail trying to start one of these matches would take a solid minute of searching to get one going. After that, there's about a 50/50 chance if the match is going to be a laggy mess or not. When everything works fine I was in love with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. I felt like it was one of the first fighting games in a while where I was keeping up with the competition and genuinely enjoying myself while playing. I just wish I didn't have to put "when everything works fine" there. Just as often I got matches where I'd hit a button and watch an absurd delay between my input and my attacks.
At least the game is graphically impressive. Every character model, attack, and battlefield are made with a seeming genuine love for the Final Fantasy series. Watching The Promised Meadow go from a dead wasteland into a field of flowers, or Alexander burst from the city of Alexandria, is always a visual treat. The game's soundtrack is mostly comprised of remixed versions of Final Fantasy battle music, which is appropriately awesome. If you're not a fan of the remixes, however, the game also provides the original version of each song in the game. The only downers on the soundtrack are the few original songs made for the game, which mostly consist of the kind of music you'd find set to a Naruto AMV.
The heartbreaking thing about Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is just how good the combat is. Every single match I was in I was having a blast. I could play each character and enjoy myself, I had fun jumping into another 6-round gauntlet, I even took to online matches with a genuine glee I don't usually have for multiplayer fighters. Then the story would stop me and demand I grind more, I'd have to navigate obtuse menus to tediously change abilities, wait a long time for another online match, and hope it didn't lag this time. Polish could make this a great game. At the current time, it's just kind of disappointing to see the potential squandered.
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available as an arcade cabinet.
Every time I got into a match in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT I was honestly enjoying myself. It's just a shame that every single element around the combat is a total mess.
- Fun Character Interactions
- Great Combat System
- Large Cast of Unique Fighters
- Story Mode Requires Endless Grinding
- Setting Abilities is Tedious
- Low Amount of Content
- Online Has Long Wait Times, Gets Laggy