When you think of Japanese role-playing games, the odds are it's Final Fantasy that first pops into your head. One of the longest running series from the land of the rising sun, its epic stories, charming characters and memorable music have won it many a fan. And of course, with fame comes myriad spin-offs - whether it's the female-focussed sequel FFX-2, a chibi-styled cutesy adventure in World of Final Fantasy or handheld musical rhythm-action game Theatrhythm, there's been plenty of Final Fantasy action outside of the fifteen main-line titles. For those looking for more of a beat 'em up themed spin-off, though, there's been little to really fall back on, bar the long forgotten Ergheiz on the Playstation 1, and the upstart series known as Dissidia. A rather involved beat 'em up that first debuted on the PSP, Dissidia NT marks the third entry in the series, with a new developer at the helm (Dead or Alive's Team Ninja), a new 3 on 3 battle system, and even more complexity for you to try and get your head around.
At its most basic, Dissidia is a Final Fantasy-themed beat 'em up, where good guys and ne'er do wells alike duke it out in frantic, flashy battles for… reasons. In the case of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, such brawls are the key to saving an ailing world from destruction, because apparently its universe is powered by battles, or something - and only when the world is saved will the miscellaneous Final Fantasy characters be allowed to return home to their respective universes. It may not make much sense, but it doesn't especially have to either, as all it really is is an excuse to bring everyone together for a good old fashioned brawl.
The main difference between NT and past Dissidia entries, is that NT focuses almost entirely on three on three battles, rather than the more traditional mano-a-mano - or womano-a-womano - of the previous PSP games. Putting together a team of your three favourite Final Fantasy stars, you'll hack, slash and firaga your way to victory in mad cap, everyone-fighting-at-once six man brawls, as you try to decimate your opponent's team of three, in battles that are every bit as fast paced as they are complex...
And perhaps that's the game's biggest problem. For what should have been a fairly straightforward beat 'em up, Dissidia isn't exactly the easiest of fighting games to get your head around - or at least, not if you go by the in-game tutorials, which have a nasty tendency of glossing over the most important parts of the game, to go into incredible detail about the bits that don't really matter.
At its most basic, every character in Dissidia has two main types of attack - Bravery attacks, and HP attacks. Bravery attacks are your standard sword swings, ice spells and the like, and are a simple matter of hammering the circle button - but rather than doing damage to your enemies, they instead work to build up your Bravery points, as you pinch your opponents' points to rev up your own meter. Your HP moves, on the other hand, will actually damage your enemies - but you'll only do as much damage as you have Bravery points. If you have enough Bravery points to defeat your enemy in a single hit, the gauge will start glowing purple - if it's not purple, you can still attack, but you'll need to land two or three blows (each with just enough of a recharge time that your enemy will undoubtedly have dodged out of the way) in order to take them down.
Unlike most fighting games, defeated enemies will respawn once defeated, with each team essentially drawing from a shared pot of three 'lives', as shown by the chunks of their team's health bar - for each enemy you defeat, one segment will be lost, regardless of whether you're repeatedly killing one particular weak link, or taking the enemy team out evenly. Destroy your opponents enough times, and victory will be yours.
With just two types of matches to choose from, though, it's fair to say there's not exactly much scope for variety in Dissidia either. Outside of Standard Matches, the only other option is for a Core Battle, a more objective-based fight that sees you trying to defend your base whilst destroying your enemies'. However, should even a single member of the defending team be in the vicinity of their core, it will be invulnerable. In order to deal out any real damage, you'll need to use your Bravery and HP attacks to throw enemies away from their crystal, and exploit the opening to deal some damage to the core, repeating ad infinitum until their core is no more. Although it does add at least a little bit of variety, it's let down by the fact your AI companions aren't too hot on the defence part, so it'll usually fall to you to keep away intruders, and pray your other party members can find their way to the enemy core and deal damage to it in your stead.
You see, variety is something that Dissidia Final Fantasy NT sorely needs, as there really isn't a great deal to do here. Yes, there's an impressive array of familiar Final Fantasy faces, from leads Lightning, Cloud and newcomer Noctis to the more niche Final Fantasy Tactics Razma and a handful of bad guys, like Sephiroth and quirky clown Kefka Palazzo (who has the best walk!) - but there's precious little to actually do with them, save endless online battles or fights against the CPU. The 'Story Mode' on the menu isn't really any more than a glorified cutscene viewer, where you can gradually unlock new cinematics by exchanging the 'Memoria' crystals you earn from battling it out in the game's offline battles. And that's basically it.
It might have been okay if the core game was solid, but Dissidia is a game that's riddled with flaws and irritations. With so much going on so much of the time, all too often you'll find yourself being attacked from behind by unseen enemies, throwing off your combos at critical moments, and sending you flying across the map. Or, you'll find one enemy really takes a dislike to you and turns your fortunes on a dime, as it's all too easy to go from being massively in the lead to being defeated in just a couple of enemy attacks. While one on one might have been OK, three on three just feels too chaotic, and there's far too many counters, cancels and co-op attacks that are borderline impossible to pull off when out on the battlefield in a scrum of swords, summons and fireballs. Oh, and did we mention everyone can fly, too? Just to make things even more confusing, rather than having a high, middle and low layer to do battle on, everyone can essentially be at a near infinite number of levels, meaning that when you do go for your deadly HP attack, far too often you'll find yourself missing the target you're standing right in front of, presumably because they're ever so slightly higher or lower than you are. Sigh.
However, it's the Gauntlet Mode that really takes the biscuit. The closest thing Dissidia Final Fantasy NT has to a single player story mode, the Gauntlet Mode is where you'd expect you'll be spending most of your time - but seemingly, the game really doesn't want you to play it. Essentially a series of back to back standard battles, the whole idea here is that you need to clear the series of five in one sitting, back to back, without failing. And that, my friends, is easier said than done.
You see, the Gauntlet Mode gets very hard, very quickly - by which we mean, two missions in. We've been beating our head against this for hours, and we still haven't managed to get past the third stage. To make things even more infuriating, there's no way to retry the fight you just fluffed up, either, as one defeat is all it takes to send you straight back to the beginning with a game over. There's a very pronounced difficulty spike at around stage two or three that sees your enemies turn from punching bags into unstoppable warriors, in turn making them nigh on impossible to get past - unless you're significantly better at fighting games than everyone here at Everybody Plays towers. It's sad, really, because a proper Final Fantasy-themed beat 'em up sounds pretty fun in theory, but Dissidia is just too complex to fill the void.
In all, then, while there's no doubt that Dissidia Final Fantasy NT will appeal to the hardest of hardcore Final Fantasy and/or fighting game fans, for the rest of us, this is a game that's just too complex, and too difficult for its own good. With no real story mode or single player to speak of, paired with an incredibly steep difficulty curve, obtuse tutorials and chaotic three-on-three battles, this is a game that's incredibly hard to get into when you're just starting out, and that really should have been so much more. As it stands, Dissidia is a game aimed entirely at its existing hardcore fans only.