Dissidia Final Fantasy NT Impressions

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has finally made its way from Japanese arcades to consoles. The 3v3 arena fighter pits characters from 30 years of Final Fantasy history against each other, and the part of me that’s both a fighting game and franchise fan has found a lot to love with the mashup. The game is messy at times, due in part to the expanded player count, and yet it’s been an experience I can’t put down. The action is fast-paced with an abundance of fan service-heavy delights to collect.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT features a large roster of playable heroes and villains from Final Fantasy I through XV, Tactics, and Type-0. There are 28 characters available at launch, with more being added to the game in future updates. Furthermore, each character fits into one of four roles: tank-like vanguards, mobile assassins, ranged marksmen, and specialists who don’t fit into any singular role. At first glance, the thought of learning all of these characters and roles seems overwhelming. But Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s combat mechanics are actually quite easy to grasp.

The core of combat revolves around Bravery and HP attacks, which are mapped to the circle and square buttons respectively. Bravery is essentially how much damage can be done to an opponent’s health bar via HP attacks. Its value will increase when dealing hits and decrease when taking them (it does have a default, so it will recharge if you’re left alone for a time). Build up enough Bravery, and you can incapacitate your target with a single HP attack. There are no advanced button combinations to remember here. Pressing circle repeatedly will unleash a series of strikes if the first connects, and you’ll eventually follow up with square when you’re ready to deplete someone’s health. I’m simplifying it somewhat – Bravery attacks can be modified based on the direction of the left thumbstick, and some characters can even charge both types of attacks – yet it doesn’t take long to understand a character’s move set.

As easy as it is to learn how to play Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, mastery doesn’t come quite so fast. There’s a large emphasis on timing and evasion. You can dodge to gain invincibility frames, dash across the map, block, and perform action cancels. Dodging, dashing, and blocking repeatedly or for too long quickly drains a stamina meter. And there are not insignificant recovery times. Missed attacks result in delays. Foes knocked to the ground may have a moment of invulnerability. It is possible to chain a successful Bravery attack combo into another by a timely press of the dash button, yet as mentioned dashes aren’t unlimited. Finally, each character has two customizable EX skills and a personal skill that start and recharge on timers. These often confer individual or team-wide buffs or are thrown to inflict debuffs.

Fun note: thrown debuffs like poisonga can cancel a marksman’s attacks. I’ve countered ranged barrages with timely EX skills to much amusement.

Skill level between players who mastered the timing of their attacks and dodges was always apparent. Believing all I had to do was get in close and spam the circle button often meant I’d earn a good thrashing. So while Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is certainly approachable, and perhaps leans more toward brawler than hardcore fighter, there’s plenty of opportunity to improve one’s proficiency. And I’ve loved every match attempting to do just that. The Bravery and HP system is downright thrilling. It provides for exciting, visual comebacks as Bravery numbers rise and fall between players. I’ve lost count of the number of satisfying back-and-forth bouts where my opponent was one HP strike away from victory, and I turned the match with a well-executed dodge and counter. There’s the undeniable joy of playing as recognizable Final Fantasy characters, as well, and each and every one feels great to control.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is also as enjoyable to absorb as it is to play. It’s a visual and auditory treat. Character models are richly detailed and animate smoothly. It’s especially neat to see characters from 2D or low-poly Final Fantasy entries represented in high-definition glory. As players flew through and engaged each other high above the ground, I couldn’t help but think of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. And the music, pulled from 17 games and includes numerous, excellent remixes, put a smile on my face every match.

Battles aren’t without issue, however. The cluttered interface can be confusing. The screen is drowned in numbers, several indicator bars, flashy effects, and target lines (think Final Fantasy XII). Switching targets is a combination of L2, R2, or L2 + R2, which isn’t difficult to learn but gets messy in frantic 3v3 battles coupled with a finnicky camera. There’s a lot going on at any one moment and keeping up with it all is no small feat. I’ve sometimes preferred my time fighting 1v1 or 2v2 to better train myself, thankfully doable in custom online lobbies, rather than engage the chaos of a full match.

Defeating opponents isn’t always the sole objective. There are two battles types in the game. In a traditional battle, the main goal is to defeat three opponents. Team health bars are displayed at the top left of the screen. At the same time, summoning crystals periodically spawn. Attacking them builds up a meter, and once it’s full a classic Final Fantasy summon can be called down to buff one team and attack the other. Core battles are the second type, and victory is achieved by destroying an enemy crystal while successfully defending your own.

If you’re hoping for more, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT may look a little thin. The two aforementioned battle types are all you get in every mode, offline or online. The story mode is basic, and that’s fine for an arcade port, but it’s frustratingly implemented. It’s not possible to simply play straight through the story. Instead, time must be spent fighting matches in the other modes to earn resources to unlock story content. There are ranked and custom lobbies for online play, the latter of which features a welcome server browser. Offline modes, aside from the story, offer single sparring matches and a gauntlet to fight through six battles. There is no local multiplayer, which I can’t say I’m not disappointed about, but then again the screen already gets so busy that cutting it in half might not have worked well.

Beyond the simple joy of combat, rewards are almost always doled out at a battle’s completion. Whether through victory or defeat, player accounts and characters gain experience and levels. Leveling them up earns new EX skills, HP attacks, treasures (think loot boxes), and a resource called memoria for unlocking story nodes. You also get gil to spend in the game’s shop. But fear not, progression isn’t wholly random. There’s no way to buy treasures with real money, either.

I can’t stress enough how happy I am that in 2018 here’s a game from a major publisher that is not tainted by microtransactions and a slot machine-like progression system. Every goodie can be bought straight with gil. And oh boy, there is an abundance of goodies. They include character skins, weapon skins, music, icons for profiles, and fully voiced chat messages. Thankfully, you don’t have to be online to reap rewards. Everything is acquirable offline. In fact, running through gauntlet matches is probably the fastest way to earn experience and money.

With so much to earn, there’s a good amount of customization in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. Skills and skins are assigned to sets that, during character selection, can be cycled through. What’s really cool is that music playlists can be created globally or for individual characters. There’s nothing stopping someone from setting “One Winged Angel” to always play when fighting as Sephiroth. My only complaint with the process occurs during character selection. If I choose Type-0’s Ace and want to edit his loadout, for example, I’m brought to the entire character customization list rather than just straight to Ace’s menu. It’s not a huge issue, but said list is pretty lengthy (and Ace is at the very bottom).

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is an addicting brawler full of fan service that leaves me grinning. Its adrenaline-pumping combat system and charming presentation more than make up for the faults it does have. It’s an absolute joy flying through the air and sending enemies crashing through the environment as characters from a franchise I grew up on, and it’s all so wonderfully rendered. If you’re a fan of both fighting games and Final Fantasy, Dissidia provides a lot of enjoyment. And even if you’re not familiar with the series it’s based on, the easy to learn but difficult to master mechanics and exciting flair should entice anyone looking for a solid arena fighter.