Dissidia Final Fantasy NT
Open Beta Preview
"Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is shaping up to be a very different beast from its predecessors..."

Dissidia's return is a surprising one for me — the original duology on the PSP were fun little jaunts that had me hooked for many hours, but I wasn't expecting anything new, save maybe a port. Now we're just a few weeks away from the first home console entry in the series. Since our E3 overview and the closed beta back in the Summer of 2017, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has gone through a few tweaks and changes. I've spent around 10 hours with the beta and dipped into the various different modes the game has to offer.

Dissidia NT focuses on 3-on-3 brawls and is as hectic as fighting games come. It clearly prioritises online competitive play, and it shows because I've found this to be the most enjoyable aspect of the beta. You can play either Ranked Solo matches, where you're randomly assigned a party with two other players each match, or Ranked Party matches, where you can form a party with your friends to take on the rest of the world. Wait times haven't been too bad, and I've had little-to-no technical glitches during the various bouts I've joined, so hopefully this is something Square Enix will maintain.

If online play doesn't entice you, there's sadly only one single-player mode to try out. After battling through the tutorials, you can take on Gauntlet Mode, where you and two computer-controlled characters fight against a series of foes, each group getting increasingly more difficult. Winning these fights nets you points which, in turn, you can use to purchase random rewards in game, such as costumes, avatars and new weapons for your characters. It's good to see there's a degree of customisation in the form of weapons, just like the original games, but the full extent won't be revealed until the full game releases. I didn't spend too much time getting these rewards because unfortunately your data doesn't carry over into the finished product. You also gain Memoria from Gauntlet Mode, which unlocks storyline cutscenes. Sadly, I'm not sure there are plans to add in a fully fledged Story Mode like in the previous games, so jumping from a battle mode to another menu just to watch a cutscene might prove to be a pain. Another mode I would have liked to have seen available in the beta is Sparring Mode, which appears to be the standard player-versus-computer mode to practice a little more outside of competition.

My time in combat has been mixed. Mechanically, it's very similar to the original PSP games, but there's far too much going on at once for me to really settle into a match. My biggest gripe by a mile is the 3-on-3 team-based gameplay, but it seems like Dissidia NT is prioritising this over simple 1-on-1 combat. You have to try and work together as a team in order to take down your opponents, and while that sounds easy in practice, it's so hard to keep an eye on your friends and enemies at the same time with the amount of stuff going on; everything from the characters' move sets to the summons is bombastic, flashy and overwhelming, and more often than not I've lost because I can't focus. At least it all looks pretty, right? My advice is to use the minimap to track your enemies, but then you're diverting your attention away from the fight, and that can prove to be your undoing. It doesn't help matters when your character is forced into a wall and the camera pivots in the completely opposite direction, and when you need to look around briefly, you hardly get a second to do so.

The full game will have 28 playable characters, with the producers aiming to increase the roster up to 50 by way of DLC. This beta shuffles characters every three days to give everyone a chance to try out their favourites. The biggest difference is that while all of your favourite characters are returning, they've been split into four different classes — Vanguard, Marksman, Assassin and Specialist. The beta never really goes into any detail on the differences, so it's all about getting a feel for each class and character. Vanguards like Warrior of Light and Cloud are balanced fighters who focus on heavy attacks and a sturdy defence; whereas the Marksmen such as Terra and The Emperor are magic-focused classes who attack their enemies from afar. Each of them plays slightly differently from their PSP counterparts as a result of this, and everyone has been rebalanced as well, meaning your favourite might not be as easy to get to grips with anymore. Certain skills, like Special Attacks, have also been removed, which is bound to sour the taste for some. Everything points towards a more eSports-orientated direction — balanced, hectic and competitive team-based gameplay.

Square Enix has listened to fan feedback regarding the user interface, and they've tidied it up since the last beta to some degree. The various bars, time limits and move sets have been made slightly smaller, but like with the in-battle antics, there's so much to take in. Many of the game's numerous on-screen systems and bars are barely explained to you, meaning if you jump into battle you'll also be trying to understand what's what. You could always swap back to the arcade version if you wish, which is basically what the UI was in the previous beta, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is shaping up to be a very different beast from its predecessors, and that won't be to everyone's liking. I can just about see the soul of the original games in here somewhere, but at the moment it feels like something's missing from the overall experience. Whether it's the chaotic nature of the battles, the messy UI or the whole 3v3 experience, Dissidia NT looks and feels like it's appealing to a completely different audience. Time will tell, and we'll have the full verdict on the game when it releases in the West on January 30th.

E3 Hands-On Preview
"Dissidia Final Fantasy NT could very well mark Square Enix's entry into the world of eSports."

Hard to believe it's been eight whole years since Dissidia Final Fantasy, the dream fighter seemingly birthed by the collective schoolyard fantasy of every RPG-inclined kid who grew up in the 1990s, originally launched on the PSP. I poured easily over a hundred hours into the game and its awkwardly-titled sequel, tuning my favorite characters (Prishe, represent) to limit-breaking perfection. "What I wouldn't give to have this on the big screen," I mused. Nearly a decade later, my dream is finally coming true.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is based on the Japanese arcade version that released in 2015. As such, it uses a modified system that pits two teams of three fighters against each other. This turns Dissidia into a team-centric brawler where cooperation and coordination are pushed to the forefront. It's flashier than ever, too, sporting brilliant particle effects that fill the screen as combatants clash in iconic locales like Final Fantasy XIV's Porta Decumana and Final Fantasy XII's City of Rabanastre.

New to NT is the inclusion of classic Final Fantasy summons. These serve as powerful tide-turners for one lucky team to utilize in the heat of battle. Partway through a match, a "Summon Core" will appear somewhere in the area. Think of it like a Smash Ball from Nintendo's ubiquitous brawler; the first player to break it open gains the ability to call forth a powerful being like Ifrit, Shiva, or Odin. These familiar faces unleash devastating attacks that raze the battlefield, and each functions differently.

All participants get to vote on which summon will appear in a match, if any, adding an interesting wrinkle to pre-battle preparations: Is Exdeath too slow for a match where Alexander might appear? Can the Emperor use his traps to pin a foe in Ifrit's Hellfire? I'll need more time with the game to determine just how much of an impact summons will have on the meta, but I appreciate their inclusion from a theoretical perspective.

If there's one major area of concern, it's that NT's user interface is entirely too busy. Between HP and BP gauges, a party tracker, a map, and a litany of other meters layered over the game's bombastic visuals, it's extremely difficult to know where to look at any given moment. I understand that NT needs to provide the right tools for players to analyze their movements in order for it be a truly competitive fighter, but as it stands, it's something of a visual mess. Even after taking a step back and observing from the sidelines, I found it difficult to track the action. I've heard talk that Square Enix is taking feedback on the UI in particular, so here's hoping it's streamlined prior to release. And with Noctis from Final Fantasy XV joining the fray, NT promises to bring the playable roster up to speed, if nothing else.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT could very well mark Square Enix's entry into the world of eSports, and it's a strong contender in the fighting game arena besides. At present, it toes the line of being overly complex for complexity's sake, but there's still time for tuning before it launches in 2018. In the meantime, I might just fire up Duodecim for one last hurrah.

© 2017 Square Enix, Square Enix, Koei Tecmo, & Team Ninja. All rights reserved.