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'Dissidia NT' tries to add MMORPG dynamics to a fighting game

The appeal of the character roster helps with that testy learning curve.
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Fighting in Dissidia NT, coming to the PlayStation 4, is mayhem. Six characters from the Final Fantasy universe, of varying levels of popularity, are rushing one another, launching giant magical projectiles, charging up summons attacks and watching their backs as they do it. While the first two Dissidia games on PSP were one-on-one affairs, this time you're part of a trio. And similar to Overwatch and other competitive team games, characters are meant to work together in unison. Each is assigned to one of four classes, and that decides their play style, weaknesses and strengths. You can also choose your attacks, buff skills and summons on top of that. In short, the demo I played was a complicated introduction -- even for someone who had played the last two Dissidia games to death.

Director Takeo Kujiraoka told me that the UI has been simplified from the arcade version, with Koei's Team Ninja helping to ensure the battle system is a balanced one. But with three times as many players on screen, Dissidia NT is a now a competitive team fighter, and there's an awful lot to take in all at once.

Dissidia battles were already slightly different from your typical brawler. While there is a health bar, battles are won by accumulating "bravery" (i.e., hitting your opponent with certain attacks) and then delivering that payload with HP attacks. In short, you have to use both. When your rival attacks with bravery techniques, your own bravery gauge decreases but your health does not, and those HP attacks are the only way to knock your opponent out. Barring that base rule, Dissidia NT has been pretty much redesigned from the ground up: Move sets are reimagined, and characters are noticeably slower -- moves take longer to both launch and land.

Then you add in the classes: heavy-hitting Vanguards, agility-based Assassins, ranged attacking Marksmen and Specialists -- which can't quite be categorized so easily and often mix up talents of the others. You'd do well to vary your squad with several types -- I think that was how I crushed my gracious rival during a few rounds of the demo. I already get a sense that unraveling how those classes interact will be key to winning matches.

Characters can buff their own stats and debuff rivals, while powered-up versions add an area of effect to all of your allies -- or all of your enemies. Kujiraoka explained that he sees the game less like a one-on-one fighter and more like Final Fantasy XIV, an online RPG where you have to work alongside your allies to win the day -- hosing aforementioned buffs, looking out for your teammates and securing your summon spells to ensure your entire team hits harder, or at least shrugs off a few hits. My main impression is that the game is chaotic, but I'm willing to learn.

The good part is that many of these characters have been around for decades -- plenty are instantly recognizable and arrive with a weighty backstory that comes from being the star of their own RPG. For this Final Fantasy fan, it makes battles intrinsically more thrilling. The game, however, is definitely a multiplayer fighter first and a single-player experience second: There's no dedicated story mode; this time, new story cut scenes are revealed as you accumulate points won in battle either in ranked online play or against AI.

The team has said in other interviews that the character roster could swell to around 50. (Dissidia Duodecim totaled 28 playable characters.) This means there's a strong chance of your Final Fantasy favorite making the grade -- as long as it's not that spoony bard. He never was much good in a fight anyhow. Dissidia NT arrives on PS4 on Jan. 30th, 2018.

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