- Review Price: £41.99
Available exclusively on PS4 January 30
Final Fantasy’s combat system has undergone numerous revisions over the 30 years of the series’ existence. From old school turn-based strategy to free-flowing battles of more modern entries to the Dissidia spin-offs, conflict has always been interesting. Dissidia Final Fantasy NT presents one of the deepest and most exciting combat systems the franchise has ever seen, so much so that it made me wish it was in the mainline series.
Much like the story of Final Fantasy, the combat is initially overwhelming and confusing. There’s simply so much information to take in – and loads of microsystems at play at once – that understanding it all as the screen throws up a wave of numbers and button inputs is simply not possible. But take it step-by-step, appreciate what each thing does, and soon it all clicks into place into something equal parts spectacular and bonkers.
Dissidia is a three-versus-three 3D arena fighter that combines Final Fantasy’s RPG elements with some classic fighting game systems. It’s in a similar vein to the Dragon Ball Xenoverse and Naruto games. NT brings together some of Final Fantasy’s most iconic characters, as well as couple of characters from the likes of Type-0 and Tactics, but it’s within combat itself where these fighters and what they can do is complicated, at least at first.
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All the fighters are broken down into three main classes: Vanguard, Assassin and Marksman (there’s also a Specialist class, but for the sake of brevity we’ll stick with the three). The classes determine the type of range your character is best utilised at: Marksman is far, Vanguard is mid and Assassin is up close. It’s a rock-paper-scissors mechanic where one type is strong and weak against the other two. It makes for strong strategy in the character selection as you and your two teammates select your combatants.
Playing locally across six consoles, this was fine, as we could discuss our choices before hitting confirm, but when it comes to playing online, currently there’s no option to cancel a choice and return to the fighter select screen. This runs the risk of creating imbalanced lineups, which I quickly discovered has a huge impact in matches. Hopefully this option is added before launch.
Once the fight starts, the UI throws a lot at the player. I played using the same interface as the game’s arcade version, which will apparently be streamlined before launch. But even with this overload, once I learned what each piece of information is for, it was useful having it – even if I didn’t use every facet at once.
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You can see your Bravery count, as well as the Bravery level of your teammates and your enemies, every fighter’s health, the minimap, status bars, summon levels, the score and more. However, you can ignore most of this and simply focus on your opponent and have a battle of Bravery, which is the biggest factor in the game.
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There are two key layers to NT’s combat. Aside from the basic movement, dodges and dashes (as well as their air equivalents), there are two attacks: one is to build up “bravery”, the other is to actually inflict damage on your opponent. Pressing X attacks an opponent, but doing so doesn’t take any health away, it instead builds up a number at the bottom of the screen (Bravery), the higher this number is, the more damage you’ll dish out with the square button. Once you do a Bravery hit, this number reverts to zero, and you have to start again. Being hit by an opponent’s X attack lowers your Bravery, so it becomes an almost cat-and-mouse meets poker where it’s all about when you decide to cash your Bravery and deal damage.
The closest comparison I could think of is Mortal Kombat’s ‘Test Your Might’ minigame, where you have to mash one button to reach a certain limit before pressing another in order to break the board. It’s a fiendishly exciting system, building up Bravery higher and higher until you’re able to wipe out an enemy player – at which point the number glows purple to inform you thus – and not being hit yourself.
There are also special abilities on the triangle button, unique to each character as well as directional abilities and attacks. There are also summons, which can be earned by simply dealing damage, or accelerated by attacking Summon Crystals that appear at random on the map.
The first team to grab three kills wins. If you get incapacitated yourself, you’re not out of the game, as you can respawn after a certain amount of time.
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Matchups are thrilling, with so much going on at once. Rushing around the gorgeously rendered maps, again chosen from different locations from mainline Final Fantasy games, matches for the most part are frenetic but manageable. Unlike Xenoverse or Naruto, fights are conducted at a slow enough pace that I always know what’s going on, and require few enough inputs that I’m never mashing the controller in the hope of creating magic.
Keeping inputs simple and the strategy complex works massively in the game’s favour. It allows you to focus on the fight, picking up bits of information as and when you need it. It’s also surprisingly easy to manage the amount of fighters in the mix. Switching focus from one opponent to the next is done by a press of either trigger, while pressing both locks on to the nearest enemy. There are also arcs of light which show if an enemy is focusing on you, keeping you aware of any attempted ambushes from off-camera. It’s a well put-together system that only becomes more enjoyable once the pieces fall into place.
Each character as well offers something wonderfully unique. Even within the three classes the characters all have different characteristics that make them viable choices. I appreciated the range that a Marksman like Terra offered, while also loving the traps that Y’Shtola could lay with directional attacks. Kefka was also wonderfully animated, a true jester who runs with a glorious gallop that’s so fun to watch I temporarily forgot about fighting. My favourite was most certainly Cecil, of Final Fantasy IV fame. A Vanguard by trade, Cecil is able to switch between his light and dark archetypes, each offering different attacks and ranges. Being able to lunge in with my spear, before quickly retreating to heal and focus my energies on another unsuspecting opponent before cashing in my Bravery for a kill and point for the team is so thrilling.
Matches that go down to a sudden death victory led to plenty of punch-the-air moments. This is certainly the most enjoyable arena fighter I’ve played, and it’s a credit to Team Ninja that it’s both so complex and yet so inviting.
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This is the most fun I’ve had playing a Final Fantasy game. It may strip away all plot and nuance, but it replaces it with some of the most enjoyable over-the-top action I’ve played in a 3D fighter. It’s more concise than Dragon Ball Xenoverse, more coherent than Naruto, and more beautiful than both combined.
I didn’t think a Dissidia game would be one of my early 2018 must-buys, but after spending a couple of hours with NT, it most certainly is now.