Suffice it to say, I harbour a sentimental attachment to this one. Last year, I was one of 40 Final Fantasy fans invited to attend an exclusive evening in London with Ichiro Hazama, the man at the helm of Dissidia NT’s production team. After the usual Q&A, I was the fool who challenged him to a match of his own game; “You’re going down, son!” I believe were my badly-chosen words. A misguided decision, I thought, as he thoroughly put me in my place and mercilessly secured a clean victory within minutes. From the moment it was announced, I jumped at every opportunity I had to sample Dissidia NT, attending the show-and-tell in London, signing up for PSN beta tests, and even adding the original Dissidia to my digital Playstation library. By the time NT was finally released for PS4, I was already thoroughly familiar with this port of Dissidia’s latest manifestation that, up until NT, was exclusive to Japanese gaming arcades. The day finally came to pass, and all my rampant premonitions of what Square-Enix and Koei had cooked up for us were put to rest, not through nostalgia, but in an ambivalent display of both joy and disappointment.
To kick off, NT’s graphics are truly astonishing; no matter what element of the game might rub you the wrong way, it has well and truly got its face on as it does it—the slightest detail of each character model is so precise that it put could put certain animated movies to shame, and each stage is lovingly crafted with the same heart and soul that made the original entries so adorable. The game’s unusual story mode is complimented marvellously by stunning cinematics that tell NT’s story in amazing visual majesty. Even the menus that guide you through NT’s modes and features are in themselves cinematic. During fights, the painstaking detail of each stage alludes to their respective games, with visual cues & references as it hosts six beautiful characters battling it out in a mindless palette of colors and explosions. There’s just as much beauty in the music, with a comprehensive soundtrack of new and old songs from each game included in NT’s roster. Most of the music you might remember from last time is still hidden in the game waiting to be unlocked, along with a few new arrangements, many of which were sorely missed last time around.
Taking the time to pit all of your favorite Final Fantasy characters against each other is satisfying. Exploring each character’s moves and skins lead into some shameless showing off when entering into the online matchmaking. Each player wears their pride like a badge as each lobby is decorated with various portraits and titles from all four corners of the Final Fantasy universe. Role-playing plays a part too, as interactions between players manifest as chat messages unique to each character During matches too, players can’t help but recreate iconic conflicts between matching characters,
That, sadly, is about as much praise as Dissidia NT allows. After spending some time in the game, the novelty soon wears off and leaves players with a desperate sense of longing. The game is fundamentally bland & empty in terms of content, to the point that it barely justifies its existence as a boxed product and really falling short of contributing a meaningful addition to the Dissidia franchise. Where its predecessors were so full of life, Dissidia NT lacks the dedication that it so desperately required. Offline modes and story content are exhaustible in a matter of hours, and even the online content that was so passionately prioritized lacks any degree of variety, as players play the same matches over and over again in its lifeless matchmaking system. Even the recent inclusion of tournaments players can sign up for bears little difference to a standard session. The game fails to deliver even before mentioning the frankly abysmal connectivity problems that can spontaneously throw players out of matches or crash at the lobby screen, actively punishing players for “not completing the match.” Some of the most committed in the community have stuck at it long enough to earn some of those rare rewards & in-game titles, but the kind of dedication needed to rack up that kind of kill count is beyond a joke considering the sheer amount of soul-destroying repetition involved.
The offline story mode of NT is a lot like the game itself; it opens with a compelling scene-setter with the promise of an epic, action-packed adventure, but quickly becomes mundane & tedious, and finally abandons you at a less than ideal moment, leaving players hungry for some contextual closure. The new characters are dull & unlikeable, and the plot ends without so much as a 'well done', providing no clear ending and rounding everything off with a few ambiguous stills over the credits and a final, almost meaningless post-credits clip. Compared to the rich and lasting story of the previous games, it's a huge letdown. All that being said though, NT is only a port of a Japanese arcade game, so the focus was never going to be the implementation of a meaningful story. Squ-enix have also confirmed that DLC characters will individually expand the narrative too, albeit in the form of one or two additional scenes or fights. It just seems to me that making the decision to include a story mode would surely require commitment, otherwise it's a costly waste of resources; yeah, its nice to see those spectacular graphics in action, but a half-hearted story mode is almost worst in the mind of an RPG gamer than having no story mode at all, which would at least make way for richer gameplay.
In hindsight, Dissidia NT had the potential to be incredible, if only it had the soul to do it. Square Enix’s marketing strategy just isn’t good enough to facilitate a game of this size, with a DLC release schedule that goes months without a single release. Free content is apparently on the table, but with absolutely no information as to what or when it will be, Dissidia NT is shedding players by the truckload. The importance of active interaction with players is clear when looking at other games in the genre; Dragonball FighterZ, for example, was released at roughly the same time as Dissidia NT and already has four DLC characters on its roster, with a further four announced. Squ-enix’s neglectful approach to NT is truly saddening. Fundamentally, NT is a fun way to pass time in small chunks, but the lost potential and missed opportunities are nothing short of staggering. NT’s mobile comparison, Dissidia Opera Omnia, is much adored by Final Fantasy regulars for its turn-based combat & implementation of Dissidia’s Bravery mechanic, and playing through it really makes you wonder why it couldn’t have made it onto the console version as an interesting new story mode. Unless Square Enix’s accommodation of the game’s community sees some drastic redirection, Dissidia NT will certainly tank, and become a sad historic dent in the Final Fantasy tapestry.