I’ve already mentioned my interest in Square Enix’s upcoming crossover fighting game for the PS4 in a recent article, but I still had some slight reservations regarding whether I could actually play the game or not. I don’t want to spend money on something that I ultimately can’t get to grips with. Fortunately, Square Enix released an open beta for the game, allowing players all over to get a taste of what it has in store.
With the beta now closed and the game due out in a few days, I figured I’d jot down my personal experiences with Dissidia to share with you all and see if this is a game anyone can pick up and enjoy or something reserved only for the most die-hard of fighting game fans.
Some quick disclosure, though, I wasn’t able to see everything the beta offered; most importantly the online play, so I can’t tell you how good the servers are and the like. Which is a little bit annoying since it’s clear that that’s where the main meat of the game is. Unlike previous entries which had a heavy focus on single-player content, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has very much been designed for the competitive fighting crowd (which make sense considering it started off as Japanese-exclusive arcade game). I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game get pushed to appear at EVO or something.
That being said, I don’t feel like Dissidia risks alienating casual players. Sometimes, you don’t want to spend days learning the intricacies of the gameplay just so you can play the basic stuff; you want to jump in head-first, pick up a character and immediately have a fun time. Dissidia is one of those titles. It may look daunting to an observer but its control scheme is remarkably simple to understand and pick up. There are no convoluted control stick movements or long strings of specific button combos to pull of flashy shit; you only need to press the corresponding button or do it in conjunction with pushing the left control stick.
Actually, I should probably reiterate how the game works, just in case. Dissidia focuses on 3-vs-3 battles within a 3D arena, with your goal being to KO your opponents three times to win the fight. To do this, you must use Brave Attacks (the cross button), which build up your Bravery Points (BP). The higher your BP, the more damage you can deal with HP Attacks (the square button). It’s entirely possible to build your BP up so high that you can instantly KO an opponent, which is immensely satisfying but risky to pull off, since your BP lowers whenever you get attacked. Do you gradually whittle your opponents’ HP down or do you wait until you can deal a large amount of damage at once? It’s one of those games that offers a decent variety of strategies, and this isn’t taking into account each character’s individual attacks and skills.
Before a fight starts, you can customise your character with different EX Skills (which are linked to the triangle button) to use in battle to help turn the tide, such as Poisonga (which deals damage and slowly reduces BP) and Mighty Strikes (temporarily doubles how much damage you and allies deal). Each character also has different HP Attacks that you can unlock, as well as a unique EX Skill only they can use. It feels like Dissidia encourages you to experiment with different load-outs and methods of fighting. As a result, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself playing against someone with the exact same strategy.
Each team also picks a Summon that they can call upon during the battle to aid them by attacking randomly appearing crystals. Doing this builds up a gauge that, once filled, allows you to call said Summon by holding down the touch pad. The more players that do this, the faster the Summon appears.
Battles tend to turn into races to see who can break out their Summon first, but they don’t guarantee victory. As devastating as these things are, they can’t deal HP damage; they only lower BP. I found myself on the receiving end of Summons’ attacks multiple times yet my team was still able to pull through with a victory. Long story short, the Summons feel like they’re decently balanced; devastating enough to put your team at an advantage but not to the point where they’re a glorified insta-win.
But what about the characters themselves? Well, the roster is split between four different types of fighters. Firstly, there’re the Vanguards (e.g. Warrior of Light), which are all about dealing as much damage as possible. Secondly, we have Assassins (e.g. Lightning) that prioritise speed. Then there’re the Marksmen (e.g. Terra) that hang back and dish out long-range attacks. And finally there’re the Specialists (e.g. Vaan) – complete wild cards that have special traits that can change how they play all together.
Despite these categories, though, every character felt different to each other, even in terms of basic stuff like their standard Bravery Attacks. I wasn’t able to play as every character but it didn’t take long for me to find ones that I was very comfortable with using; Kain and Garland probably being personal favourites.
The tutorial certainly helped a lot. If you decide to pick the game up yourself, make this your first port of call. It provides in-depth info regarding pretty much every major mechanic the game has to offer, including some of the more “high-level” skills like dash-cancelling, which are thankfully pretty easy to pick up and learn.
One major downside, though, was the lack of character specific tutorials. While I was able to get to grips with certain characters with repeated play, I hope the final game has an option to really break their individual move-sets and skills down, especially in regards to their unique EX Skills. Nowhere in the beta did it explain what any of them did. I had to look up the details online because I had no idea if I was even using them correctly. Pretty much every other fighting game offers these kinds of tutorials so it would be such an oversight if Square Enix and Team Ninja completely excluded them.
But once you’ve learned how to play the game, what do you do next? Well, that’s obvious. You go fight, either against other players online or the AI in stand-alone battles (which wasn’t available in the beta) or in the Gauntlet mode, which is essentially the game’s arcade mode where you take part in a series of battles, earning points with each victory to unlock rewards. I played a lot of this mode as a means of practice and, boy, do I have things to say about it.
The mode is simple enough; you pick three characters for your team and you are then given multiple options for fights, with varying levels of difficulty. If you battle high-level opponents, then you’ll be able to take on even more difficult ones in the next round and earn even more points. Basically, if you want to earn a high score and unlock the really juicy rewards, you need to win hard fights. This is another example of how welcoming Dissidia feels for newbies. If you’re only comfortable with fighting low-level opponents and aren’t particularly bothered with unlocking everything the game has to offer, then that’s a valid option for you.
Besides, just playing the game rewards you with experience for the characters you play as (which, in turn, unlock other things) and there’s a shop you can spend in-game currency on other items (no micro-transaction bullshit here). You can even earn Treasure which basically act as lootboxes that drop random treats like new battle music, alternate costumes and icons to put on your online profile. And I don’t think you have to worry about getting repeats from these things either. Dissidia manages to be surprisingly rewarding in all the right ways.
That being said, I still have some issues with the aforementioned Gauntlet mode, and it’s mostly due to the AI on both sides. I know, I know, “don’t blame the game;” I’ll admit, most of my losses were down to me not having much experience and still figuring things out. At the same time, however, I can’t count the number of times I noticed how irritating the AI could be.
Low-level opponents, while easy to deal with, will spend so much of the battle walking away. Not attacking, not defending, not even dodging. Do you have any idea how weirdly insulting it is to have an attack miss because the opponent just walked in the opposite direction? As a result, some of my early battles were lost due to the timer running out.
Unlike most fighting games, should the time limit expire, neither team wins. Against human players, this is a fair decision since it prevents either team from simply wasting time once they have gained a lead. But this rule doesn’t really affect AI opponents since… they’re the AI. They don’t have to worry about being penalised or having their personal ranking lowered; they literally have nothing to lose. If I’m gonna be defeated, at least be proactive and kick my ass.
Also, the AI had access to way more EX Skills, including some pretty effective ones like Doom and Esunaga. Not gonna lie, it felt like they had a bit of an unfair advantage at points, but this is something that obviously won’t affect the main game since you’ll be able to get those skills yourself.
As for the AI teammates, they would either be surprisingly helpful and contribute greatly to my victories or be completely useless. I’ve seen my allies stand right next to Summoning Crystals and just stare at them, I’ve seen them rack up enough BP to one-shot opponents with and then do nothing with it. With teammates like these, the fights feel more like 1-v-3 and that’s not fun in the slightest. But like I said, sometimes they did OK and even won some fights for me, including one against an Adamant Rank team (which is, like, the second hardest difficulty, I think?).
Apparently, though, as you increase characters’ ranks, it improves the AI so they become more competent so I guess that’s OK. It’s a bit irritating that you essentially have to grind for it, though, but the game works around it since all the characters in your team get experience, so you don’t have to play as characters you don’t want to just to get their ranks up. I guess this essentially makes all my criticisms about the Gauntlet mode pointless? (I’ll let you decide that)
If I had to make one other complaint, it’s how overly chaotic battles can sometimes get, and not in a fun way like in Super Smash Bros. Between the flashy attacks, EX Skills and Summons, it gets really hard seeing what the hell is going on at points. I had instances where my Summon’s attacks would obscure my vision and make it difficult for me to find my now prone enemies and take advantage of the situation. Certain arenas even have stage transitions that alter the scenery and I would sometimes mistake them for enemy attacks. It’s just a little too hectic and arguably could cause slight sensory overload, making it a struggle for some players to get used to.
Aside from the Gauntlet, single-players can also enjoy the game’s Story Mode. It’s a little nontraditional and nowhere near as in-depth as the ones from the previous Dissidia titles but (in the very little time the beta let me spend with it), it seems entertaining enough. In order to progress, you need to collect Memoria, which you get by leveling up the characters in the other modes. Said Memoria can then be spent to unlock cutscenes for you to watch at your leisure.
It’s certainly not an ideal way of handling a story since it means having to leave the story mode entirely and go grind fights elsewhere. It really breaks the pace and might leave a lot of players who enjoy this kind of thing particularly sour. It’s a real shame since, of the few cutscenes I was able to unlock, it looks pretty damn enjoyable, with good voice acting and great interactions between the characters. You’ll also be able to take part in key battles throughout the story too so there is some level of interactivity. Without those, it’d feel like you were just watching one of those cutscene compilations on YouTube.
So did the beta leave a good first impression? On the whole, I’d say yes. Judging on this alone, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is easy to pick up, has content to appeal to both casual and hardcore fighting game players, offers plenty of customisation options regarding controls and button layouts, has tonnes of unlockables and fanservice, is a visual and auditory spectacle (like God damn, this game is pretty and I love all those music remixes); overall, it’s just really fun to play.
At the same time, though, it doesn’t feel like it offers enough for the single-player crowd. As someone with only a passing interest in both the fighting game genre and the Final Fantasy series, I don’t see myself playing this game regularly to justify paying full price for it.
If you’re someone who doesn’t really care that much about getting good at the game and getting your name further up online rankings and such, I’d probably recommend waiting until Dissidia gets a price drop or for the inevitable Complete Edition that comes with all the DLC. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to get the game someday so I can see everything it has to offer (and at the very least get relatively decent with it). It’s just not a priority right now.
As for the rest of you that are dying to get your hands on the game and/or have already pre-ordered the thing, here’s hoping it delivers everything you ask for and then some.