On paper, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT sounds like an action-oriented Final Fantasy fan’s dream come true. Featuring three-on-three online battles between some of the most recognizable faces in the series’ 30 year history, Dissidia NT fully embodies its role as a vehicle for fanservice. Cloud, Terra, Zidane, Lightning…the gang’s all here, spoiling for a brawl, stuffed to the brim with quips and visual callbacks to the iconic RPGs they hail from. Given the splendid execution of the two Dissidia games to come before it—a pair of speedy, polished fighters woefully limited by the reach of the PlayStation Portable platform they were shackled to—NT seemed poised for success.
After some 15-odd hours with a final retail copy of the game, any hope I held onto that it might improve upon the unimpressive beta version has been ground into dust.
Dissidia NT is a winding labyrinth of poor design choices. Where do I even begin dissecting the myriad ways it goes wrong? I can scarcely recall the last time I was so vexed by a video game, much less one that should, by all rights, cater to my sensibilities. First, the game does a miserable job of preparing the player for combat. A basic tutorial gives an adequate rundown of how Dissidia NT works as a whole, but stops short of outlining each character’s quirks and gimmicks. Nowhere in Dissidia NT is there a proper move list, let alone a breakdown of what it means to “master a job” as Bartz, how to time Squall’s attacks for explosive bonus damage, or any other character-specific idiosyncrasies. This information is available, but not where one might expect: The breadcrumb trail leads to an external website, of all places, creating a significant skill gap between players who dive in headfirst and those who take the time to research their characters outside of Dissidia NT itself.
I stand by my assertion that the core three-on-three ruleset simply does not engender balanced competitive play. The essential Dissidia functions—namely, speedy combat utilizing an array of flashy Final Fantasy abilities—are here, but they are warped, having passed through a filter to make them palatable for team play. The presence of a single unskilled player can often spell certain doom for an entire team, because every death counts toward a cumulative total—three strikes and you’re out. Not only does this punish newer players, who can quickly find themselves overwhelmed, but it indirectly discourages experimentation with different characters and ability loadouts. (If only there was an in-game explanation of how these things worked, or even a simple training mode that doesn’t require a player-engineered workaround to function properly! Alas.) The high stakes of failure make learning to play Dissidia NT an intimidating prospect, particularly when compounded by its generally sluggish controls, laggy netcode, and convoluted pre-battle setup process.
While battles themselves have the potential to be enjoyable, Dissidia NT‘s menus are an inexcusable mess. Never before have I seen a game so hell-bent upon making itself a chore to play. The sheer drudgery of navigating through layer after layer of nested menus to accomplish anything outside of battle is exhausting. Want to jump into an online match? First you’ll select a mode, then a character, then an ability loadout (which cannot be changed at this step in the process—no, that must be done in an entirely separate menu outside of any battle mode), then wait to be matched with other players, then select a summon, then wait for every player’s vote, and then, finally, enter the skirmish itself. It is no exaggeration when I say that during my time with Dissidia NT, I spent longer waiting for any given match to be prepared than I did actually engaged in combat.
Dissidia NT incentivizes continued play with cosmetic bonuses and unlockable story cutscenes, but these too are hindered by the game’s unwieldy design philosophy. Every character sports a variety of fascinating costumes, many of which call back to classic Yoshitaka Amano artworks, unused character designs, or other delicious bits of Final Fantasy esoterica. Yet the majority of these are acquired through random treasure drops (in-game loot boxes, which are thankfully not purchasable with real money), and they must be assigned to cosmetic sets in a mode accessible only from the main menu. Music, another element crucial to the Final Fantasy experience, can also be tailored to the player’s liking through customized playlists, but these are also gated behind a cumbersome menu. Want to switch things up on the fly? Forget it—everything in Dissidia NT demands equal parts preparation and patience.
It is baffling that Dissidia NT would eliminate the functional story mode of its forebears in favour of tepid, disconnected cutscenes that unlock through entirely separate modes. The player spends a currency called “Memoria” to view these scenes in sequential order, and though some feature interstitial battles, there is little in the way of glue to form a cohesive narrative. Make no mistake: this is fanservice, fun and loose and ultimately superfluous. Dissidia NT does explicitly canonize the proceedings of the previous two games by referencing their stories, which is interesting considering its complete disregard for their gameplay mechanics.
My objective as a critic is never to generate outrage or silence dissent, but to draw attention to issues that I think could stand to be corrected. I want to love Dissidia NT, truly; not that it makes me more of a fan than anyone else, but I have no less than four Final Fantasy tattoos permanently emblazoned upon my flesh. To say that I have affection for its source material would be something of an understatement. I bristle with vexation at this new direction for Dissidia because it strips away everything that made the series a success up to this point, thereby robbing Final Fantasy of the considerable magic it has always possessed. The spell is broken. My frustration is a symptom of that dejection.
I can think of few words less apt than “success” to describe Dissidia NT in its current state. It is a mystifying, bumbling leap backwards that squanders the abundant potential inherent to its premise. It stands as a testament to its developers’ hubris, rich with audiovisual spectacle but completely lacking in even a basic understanding of effective multiplayer game design principles. The Final Fantasy brand has not been so thoroughly dragged through the mud since the launch of Final Fantasy XIV. Dissidia NT needs its own dramatic overhaul in short order if it is to ever crawl its way back from the precipice of disaster.