Release date: January 30, 2018
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
Being a follower of the Final Fantasy series has had more ups and downs in the last 30 years since its inception than just about any other game series in history. It has more spin-offs, sequels, and sub-games than just about any other game franchise that exists, and as any fan would agree, there’s a good number of them that just aren’t good games or don’t represent the series very well.
The Dissidia spin-off series, which started in 2008, is another one of those projects that makes you question whether the series has gone astray again or whether it really represents the series well. If you haven’t played any yet, the Dissidia series is basically a 3D arena fighting game that’s entirely populated with Final Fantasy characters and stages, and this turns a lot of people off, given that FF is an RPG series, and as such, the previous Dissidia games are some of the most divisive among series fans.
NT is the third entry to this spin-off series, and it makes a lot of changes from the previous releases and brings in famed action game developers Team Ninja to help sharpen up the combat system, but are these changes for the better or do they tarnish the name of the FF series once again?
I’ll just start off by saying that Dissidia NT is one of the best looking games in the whole series and the best-sounding for many reasons. Visually, NT is easily the prettiest and most fully realized that you’ll ever see most of the series’ classic characters, with the game fully designed for modern gaming hardware, running in full 4K on PS4 Pro, and with full animation, looking closer to the original character sketch designs than they ever have before. It’s a wonder to see a fully realized, 3D version of a character that you’ve loved for nearly 30 years, and everything in NT is meticulously detailed in this way.
On the music front, NT also features over 100 tracks of in-game music and a fully customizable playlist that you can edit to only play the songs you want during battles. Final Fantasy has some of the most iconic music in video game history, and this game features tons of original tracks from their respective games as well as a whole slew of newly arranged versions of the classic tracks, making it a joy for any FF fan who loves the music as much as I do. Each character is also fully voiced, with the option for English or Japanese audio, giving each character a further personality of their own, which many of these characters never had before in their respective games.
Now is where the positives largely stop, as we start to talk about the gameplay of NT. The game was originally released in 2015 in arcades, where players could play against each other from all over the world using an online service built into the arcade machines, and it had no offline modes. Because of being designed for an arcade machine, the way the game controls is somewhat strange and clunky, and it never quite feels right, and it has a huge learning curve that will turn off many new players.
The way the game plays is that every battle features three people on each team, and of your team, you only control one of the characters, unlike in previous Dissidia games, where you could switch between your characters, you are stuck with your one character in NT. This makes a little more sense for online modes where each character is controlled by a human player, but in the added offline modes for the home version, it starts to be a nuisance having your team be controlled by AI.
The enemy AI is generally very cheap and reads/counters most of your movements with ease, and your team AI can be useless at best in many battles, making most encounters pretty frustrating or unsatisfying. The way the offline modes are set up in NT is also not very well-thought, since it contains a story mode, but instead of just being able to play the story mode, you have to continuously unlock it by playing the game’s other modes, constantly switching back and forth between modes to grind out unlock points to continue playing the story.
Besides all that, the story mode is fairly short and inadequate, but it feels like they tried to trick you into not noticing how short and lame it is by having you grind in other modes to unlock it, making it feel stretched out or longer than it actually is. The worst part about story mode is you never get to choose which characters you fight with, but you’re stuck with some scripted characters for each chapter and the progress and leveling you did with that character in other modes does not apply to story mode, making it even more frustrating and unsatisfying.
There is also a treasure/unlock system in the game, but the only things you can actually unlock are online avatars, character skins, and more music tracks for your playlist. These things are nice, but ultimately don’t amount to a lot at the end of the day, and unlocking happens very slowly, with you needing to earn tokens to get more treasure, and it takes quite a while of playing just to get a few treasure tokens to redeem.
The core gameplay mechanics feel close to something like a Virtual On game or as a more modern example, something like the recent Gundam Extreme VS games or Dragon Ball Z: Budokai games, where you run around a battlefield chasing your enemies while flying through the air a lot. The biggest downside to this is that the movement feels extremely slow and some of the stages are quite big, making a lot of your time in battles spent flying around, trying to get to a certain area of the map instead of actually fighting. This makes for a very boring experience, flying around constantly looking for action and having to wait to get there, and often, by the time you get there, the battle has already moved somewhere else or someone has attacked you from behind so you can’t even get to your destination.
Each character also only has about 10 different attacks in their entire repertoire and there is no combo system to speak of, so it feels more like just pecking away at your opponents with a few different attacks, over and over again, and doesn’t allow for much flow of combat in any way. The formula of chase-attack-rinse-repeat gets pretty old quickly and battles usually last at least 5 minutes at minimum, so combat becomes more of a task than something to be enjoyed.
On top of the previously mentioned elements, every battle has a very strict and short time limit, so it makes things even more frustrating, since it takes so long to move around, and the worst part is that in the offline modes, if the timer expires in any battle, you automatically get a game over and have to restart. I couldn’t begin to tell you how this kind of decision gets made in game development, but it does not do the game any favors.
Online play is also a very clunky and lackluster experience, with plenty of network problems leaving characters frozen in mid-attack, floating in the air, and many players exploiting higher-level techniques and stats, leaving beginners face down in the dust with almost no entry level, since there is no proper system for matching people with similarly-leveled opponents. Once again, this leaves the whole experience pretty sour, in addition to the offline modes being a mess as well.
While it is amazing to see and hear the world of Final Fantasy realized in such great detail and splendor, the gameplay system and some very odd design decisions hinder the game from really providing much past the aesthetic enjoyment. It feels like this should have just been a free-to-play game where players could jump in and have an easier entrance point, but instead, this was released as a full $60 game, and has a $30 season pass on top of that for content that’s added later, making this very hard to recommend.
It feels like a big misstep releasing the game in the state that it is, and it’s hard to recommend, even to series fans, unless you just can’t get enough of the visual and audio elements, and you’re willing to spend $60 to get it. Unfortunately, it seems the FF series just isn’t meant to have a proper, satisfying action game, so your time may be better spent playing the classic RPGs or some of the other modern releases that stick to what they know a little better.