Squall zips around the sky. He’s locked onto some enemy, Kefka maybe, and he’s holding the dash button to fly toward him at maximum speed. He’s going to unleash some kind of nightmarish attack, a thing that will brutalize the evil clown’s bravery and make him vulnerable to the most devastating of maneuvers. My teammate, Terra from FFVI, is doing some kind of magic over to my right. I’m Shantotto, a rhyming little creature from a Final Fantasy title that I haven’t ever played, and I’m doing elemental magic that is, for the most part, missing every target.
This is Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT. This is all happening at once. Meters are going up and down. I am competing with the other team in order to better accrue summon points that might allow me to get one of the great monstrous beings from the Final Fantasies past, Alexander or Bahamut, one of those big beaters that’s going to rain down pain on the battlefield.
This is, as I am given to understand, a lot different from previous Dissidia titles. Both of the titles that predate Dissidia NT were more traditional 1v1 fighting games in which two characters from the Final Fantasy series’s long history would square off against each other in complicated vertical arenas. These were games that focused on creating the kind of fight events that have existed in the series since the PS1 era: big characters have big moments where their weapons clash, and they’re probably screaming the entire time that it is happening.
Dissidia NT is a wider experience than those games. It’s a 3v3 rumble where your team is attempting to fully counter the moves of the other team by reducing their Bravery and, eventually, their health. For me, this basic system is one of the most compelling in the game, despite its simplicity. You hit other players with character-based attacks (like Ultimecia’s boss-battle moves from Final Fantasy VIII), and makes part of their health bar blink. This means that they are less brave, and when you finally crunch them with an “HP attack” they lose all of that health in one fell swoop. Tactically reducing a player’s Bravery and their HP in all one intense combo is an amazing feeling. It’s truly great. It’s also rare.
The tragedy of Dissidia NT is that it must become more complicated. In becoming more complicated, it drives me out of it. It’s an arena-based 3D fighting game, and so the attacking I just described is heavily complemented by a full suite of dodges, blocks and counter-moves. There are combo setups and team-based moves that I only have the smallest understanding of. This is a game that significantly rewards dedication to its systems with a deep knowledge about how to manage it all.
Sadly, I have no interest in doing so. Like many competitive games, there’s no extrinsic reward for doing well in the game. You play to play, to get better, to excel in the world of Final Fantasy fighting. That carrot doesn’t work for me, and I imagine that it doesn’t work for many others as well, and that mostly has to do with how obscure this game is. I played through the entirety of the tutorial, and there are definitely things happening in the game that I was not prepared for and do not understand based on that tutorial.
In an even sadder turn of events, the game’s story mode is not a fight-by-fight progression through a world of mixed up Final Fantasy characters. Rather, a significant portion of the story mode is gated behind a currency called Memoria that you get from playing in matches against bots or human players online. The former gets old pretty quickly; the latter is impossibly difficult for someone who has not dedicated a significant amount of time to learning the game. So instead of a lightweight, introductory experience, Story Mode looks a lot more like a reward for grinding matches.
While I enjoyed my time with Dissidia NT, my feeling is that you might not enjoy it unless you’re already familiar with it. It is a game that seems to be designed for a player who already exists, not new players who might want to be welcomed into the fold, and my attempts to explain this game to the people who have watched me play it have produced blank stares and solemn nods of confusion.
As a person who enjoys the stories and characters of the Final Fantasy franchise, I’m immediately more likely to be invested in Dissidia NT and what it’s offering me. However, that’s not enough; I need to love these characters and this complicated and opaque game type, and truly enjoying the heart of it isn’t really possible for me. I love watching Squall fly through the air. I love that Zidane is kicking ass up and down the industrial areas of Midgar. But this is yet another game that seems to reward the already invested, and I would have loved a beginner-friendly arena fighter game that I could tell my friends to get and play with me. As it stands, this isn’t that game.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT was developed by Team Ninja and published by Square-Enix. It is available for PlayStation 4.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.