Dissidia Final Fantasy and its oddly-titled sequel, Dissidia 012 [duodecim] Final Fantasy, are among my absolute favourite games on the PlayStation Portable. Lightning-fast fighters with abundant fanservice, the pair leveraged Final Fantasy‘s rich history and extensive catalogue of characters in spectacular fashion. The series has always been known for its cutting-edge visuals, and Dissidia served as a showpiece, rendering many fan-favourite places and personages in three dimensions for the first time ever. Now, after skipping a console generation, Dissidia returns as Dissidia NT, a competitive team brawler for the PlayStation 4. Having spent about eight hours with its open beta test over the past week, I’ve gained a clearer idea of what the game is trying to be, but I’m not without my reservations.
Given that Square Enix intends for Dissidia NT to be their first foray into the world of esports, the developer has substantially altered the series’ core structure to suit its new team-based format. Players’ primary mode of engagement is now through three-on-three battles. Forming teams of three in an online lobby, players can select from a huge roster of Final Fantasy characters to do battle with. Each has a unique playstyle and moveset, spread between in-your-face, hard-hitting Vanguards, lithe and deadly Assassins, magic-slinging Marksmen, and off-the-wall Specialists. Every character’s movements and personalities are faithfully replicated from their original games, making them instantly recognizable to longtime Final Fantasy fans.
What has not been replicated is the overall feel of the original Dissidia pair. Being completely honest, I don’t think the game’s core rule set works whatsoever. I’m not totally against the game adopting a team format, but the core conceit—the first team to suffer three deaths loses, even if it’s the same person all three times—is awful. I often felt like matches ended long before I had an opportunity to make an impact, particularly if one player (myself included) was a weak link. Dissidia NT is flashier than ever, but it also feels sluggish and floaty. The degree of control here has been significantly reduced, and when things aren’t going your team’s way, it can be borderline infuriating. It’s like desperately trying to grip a bar of soap that keeps slipping away.
This frustration is exacerbated by the absurdly convoluted process of connecting to a match in Dissidia NT. First, the player chooses a character, then an ability loadout, then has to wait (sometimes for two-to-five minutes) for a team to populate, then the whole team has to signal that they’re ready, then everyone has to vote for a summon, and then the match itself has to load. I cannot stress enough that the tedium of this process comes close to ruining the experience entirely. It absolutely must be streamlined if Dissidia NT is to succeed.
To their credit, Square Enix listened to fan feedback during the game’s alpha test and improved the battle UI considerably. It’s still far too cluttered for my taste, but the game’s overall presentation has been improved, particularly throughout its many (emphasis on “many” here) out-of-battle menu screens. It’s clean and easy to parse, with that modern, crystalline edge that Final Fantasy is known for. Similarly, the soundtrack is full of beautifully arranged Final Fantasy melodies well-suited to battle.
Strangely enough, I had more fun running through a gauntlet of matches in Dissidia NT‘s offline mode than I ever did playing online. This leads me to believe that the netcode is at least partially to blame for the sluggishness I experienced online, but there’s no doubt that the game is substantially slower overall. As it stands, I’m still holding onto hope that the final retail version of Dissidia NT makes continued improvements to the experience. Check back for our final review after Dissidia NT launches on January 30th.
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