Around Akiba Game Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy NT
When it comes to games, the west gets things late. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the recently released Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, a PS4-exclusive port of the Dissidia Final Fantasy Arcade, which has been out in Japan for more than a year. Although it trades the Nesica save card for an internal hard drive, Dissidia NT plays extremely similarly to its arcade parent, with a story mode and local multiplayer added in for splash-and-dash. Still, consider this review applicable to both the arcade game and console port, if you like, as the arcade cabinet is so similar that it even uses a modified PS4 controller, complete with the famous X,O,∆, and ☐ buttons.
Gameplay is similar to the past entries in the Dissidia series on PSP, but with much larger battle arenas, prettier graphics, and a new default 3v3 format, which replaces the iconic duels of games past. Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja, a studio renowned for its 3D beat-em-up games like Ninja Gaiden, Hyrule Warriors, and the recent Nioh collaborated on this title, and it shows in the frantic, fluid 3v3 action. The basics of gameplay are: you assume the role of a hero or villain from any of the Final Fantasy games, 1-15 (and Type 0, and Tactics), and duke it out with other FF characters. Think Smash Bros, but with only spiky hair and teenage angst.
Practically, the battle system is simple enough when you get the hang of it, but it does take some getting-used to. Characters have two “health bars,” so to speak: Bravery and HP. Bravery acts like a shield, absorbing weak attacks and dampening the damage dealt by strong ones. HP is what you don’t want to lose, ultimately: while bravery recharges with damage dealt, HP only depletes. If you lose all HP, you are “incapacitated,” in the game’s own idiosyncratic jargon, and the first team to “incapacitate” three players on the other team wins. Attacks also follow this Bravery/HP dichotomy, with weak attacks depleting Bravery to pave the way for slower, but more damaging direct HP attacks.
Whereas previous Dissidia games were focused 1v1 experiences against, chiefly, AI opponents, Dissidia NT’s gameplay can feel awfully frantic by comparison. With both 3v3 matches and online play as default, there’s an awful lot of “Who the hell is attacking me?!” that tends to go on in the average match. Combos and summons can last a long time and send you flying all the way across the huge maps, making for a bit of a problem when it comes to the flow of gameplay. It’s easy enough to fly your way across vast stretches of the map thanks to the new dash function on the R1 button, but whole matches do have a tendency to follow this pattern: enter the fray, get knocked spectacularly far, spend 10-20 seconds flying back to the fray, get knocked spectacularly far again, lather rinse repeat. Add that to the fact that us western neophytes are up against the Japanese who have had more than a year to train on the same game in arcades, and matches do tend to feel a bit unfair until you decide to, as the kids say, “git gud.”
Story mode does shake things up with some lovely cutscenes and intentionally pitched battles, but it is ultimately held back by the fact that story progress is unlocked through grinding (and, importantly, winning) online matches. Also, it may be a cynical thing to say, but…much as I love the Final Fantasy series for their storytelling in general, it is nonetheless a fact that nobody is really playing a Dissidia game for its story. They’re playing it to get their ass handed to them by Japanese teens with over a year of practice under their belt, in a frantic, massive, beautiful, overcomplicated arena fighting game. Obviously. 😬