Less is More is a series of articles that looks at games mechanics, gameplay elements, locations and other such design choices that weren’t needed and how they detract from the overall experience of the game.
The flash and pop of games are what can make them exciting. Explosions and massive attacks are thrilling. They make everything seem dangerous and that, you the player, are under real threat. This gets the adrenaline pumping and makes you feel involved in a game. But can spectacle go too far? When there are special attacks flying everywhere, spells whooshing across the map and massive summons raining fire from the sky. What do we end up with then?
The answer, unfortunately, is Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. This is a port of a Japanese arcade game which itself is a sequel to the Dissidia PlayStation Portable games. You control heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy games. It is a fighting game, but unlike traditional fighters like Tekken or Street Fighter, Dissidia gives players a full range of movement. Rather than fighting along a single plane, characters can jump, glide, and zoom around the map in almost any direction. They have their iconic moves and combat style from the games transposed for a 3D fighter.
Throughout each match is that you want to gain bravery points. These are gained through bravery attacks. HP attacks unleash your bravery as damage. When a characters HP reaches 0 they faint. What you end up with is a beautiful ebb and flow as you trade bravery points back and forth, waiting for an opening to execute a devastating HP attack. This boils down to using bravery attacks to accumulate bravery points and then cashing in those points for damage with an HP attack. Determining when to use an HP attack is important as it can leave you vulnerable and exposed due to the animation that plays out. However, wait too long and your bravery might dwindle, or receive a hit by an HP attack yourself
This interesting risk-reward system is what made the original Dissidia games so compelling. You can see a lot of this DNA in Dissidia NT. The original Dissidia games had a lot of levelling and equipment complexity that the new game has removed entirely. It is also far smoother and easier to control – mostly thanks to access to a second analogue stick. However, Dissidia NT shoots itself in the foot through the sheer amount of clutter on the screen.
There has never been a better case for less is more. Dissidia NT has a complex and overburdened UI. There is so much happening to keep track of on the UI that it takes up far too much of the screen. This might not be a massive issue if the things happening on screen weren’t quite so chaotic. Dissidia NT has removed 1v1 battles and is exclusively 3v3. This means that you can have 6 people on screen at one time. They can all be throwing spells, special moves, and all kinds of other things. This quickly becomes overwhelming and the game’s UI doesn’t help.
The 3v3 combat is fun. I won’t say that it isn’t. But trying to keep track of everything happening on screen is a chore. You need to lock on to characters so that you can effectively chase them down and attack them. Without this, you are moving aimlessly. Target the wrong enemy and you will fly off in the wrong direction. I’m not sure removing lock-on altogether would improve the game but switching between enemies swings the camera around wildly. It feels like the game trying to simplify the combat but ends up adding more chaos.
As the battle goes on, a crystal will appear. You need to attack this crystal so that you can charge your summon gauge. Once this hits maximum, the greatest offenders in the game rear their heads. The summons, while beautiful to look at, turn a chaotic game into a hot mess. Not only do they break the flow of the game with a cutscene, but they then proceed to perform attacks across the level. In games like Street Fighter, a cutscene attack often means the match is over, and if it doesn’t, then you can pick up right where you left off. There isn’t that much information on screen beyond health bars and enemy location. Whereas in Dissidia NT, there is so much information to hold in your head that a break in the game means that you lose track of enemies or come out a summon scene right into an attack because you were falling through the air. The summons feel arbitrarily added because ‘this is Final Fantasy’, and not to enhance how the game plays.
All of this traces back to the game’s roots as an arcade game. Arcades are noisy and busy, so you want your game to stand out from the other cabinets. You want it to be a spectacle for people to watch so that they will drop money on your arcade game. It doesn’t 100% matter whether the game itself is a chaotic mess, you have gotten the customer’s money by this point. Dissidia NT is a game that looks better than it plays.
It is unfair of me to keep comparing Dissidia NT to 2D fighting games. Instead, let’s compare it to a 3D fighter like Dragon Ball Xenoverse. This is probably the closest relative of Dissidia NT in that they are both anime-style fighters with numerous characters on screen unleashing powerful attacks. One of the first things you will notice about Xenoverse is that they don’t have summons. There nothing that fundamentally changes how the map works with attacks coming from your feet or the sky. The map might change due to an attack, but that is like changing levels mid-fight. The combat system is also simpler and only flashy when it needs to be. In Dissidia NT every move feels and looks amazing. This results in everyone doing fantastic things all the time. The result diminishes each attack and makes them feel like clutter. In Xenoverse, special attacks are spectacular. Normal attacks are exactly that, normal attacks. This way, it can emphasise the power of the special moves. Dissidia NT, on the other hand, gives you no way to gauge each attack. Is this more powerful than that? They both look amazing, so they must be equal? Are they? No idea.
In Dissidia NT’s case, less is most definitely more. It is a game that runs at 100% for most of the fight and then, slamming on the breaks for a summon cutscene before ramping back up to 150% when a summon is in play. This makes each battle exhausting and incredibly unclear. It includes all of that, but at no point does it explain the move set of each character. The player must figure out each of these distinct and unique heroes and villains themselves. I had to have Bartz to me explained across 3 full tweets and that was just the basics without any real clarity about how the character works.
Dissidia NT is not a bad game, but it drowns the player in clutter due to its arcade roots. There is fun to had here. If you love the Final Fantasy series, then you will enjoy playing as your favourite characters. You will get to see gorgeous animations of their classic moves and see huge summons devastate the battlefield. However, to you have to be willing to embrace the chaos.
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As a visual spectacle – running on an appropriately beefy PC – Dissidia NT is a sight to see. I’ve had the game since its debut on PS4 and then bought the Deluxe package on Steam when it came to PC (amazingly). I wouldn’t consider myself a FF fanboy, but – man – do I love the artwork of Dissidia NT. It looks so good. But the gameplay? The gameplay remains almost as opaque, impenetrable, confusing, frustrating, and just beyond me as it was when I first started playing. I honestly don’t have much of a clue what’s happening, how it happens, or why. I vaguely understand a few key basic button prompts on my controller, and I kinda get how summons work… and that’s about it, in terms of my technical comprehension of this game.
I’ve never played this game online, preferring to earn rewards by playing the AI in custom 6-part tournaments or following the (surprisingly good) ‘Gauntlet’ mode. I get trinkets, prizes, treasure. It’s all good.
The in-engine cut-scenes this game unlocks are the real draw for me. Pretty, pretty pictures… I imagine if one is a FF nut these cut-scenes are to die for.
BTW, this game now has £666.81 worth of DLC available for it on Steam. Nuts. I wonder if anyone has actually ever bought everything..?
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