From a commercial standpoint, it's somewhat galling that it took Square-Enix two decades to go the Super Smash Bros. route with Final Fantasy. But 2008's PSP exclusive Dissidia Final Fantasy was better late than never. And while it's true that legions of fans have waited a considerable interval to smash Tidus in the face with Cloud's inexplicably blunt Buster Sword, in true Square fashion, the resulting game defied description, combining the flashy fisticuffs of its parent franchises' famously-lengthy supermove animations with a 3-on-3 combat system that owed more to action-RPGs like Kingdom Hearts than the familiar quarter-circles of Street Fighter. Now, with the series making its way to PS4 with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT next year, Glixel caught up with director Takeo Kujiraoka and producer Ichiro Hazama to discuss their vision for the game, how to balance a team-based fighter, and which character would triumph in a brawl.
How did Dissidia get started?
Well, more than anything, we wanted to make a Final Fantasy game with an all-star cast. We also wanted to make a Final Fantasy fighting game. When we made Kingdom Hearts 2, we thought it would be really cool if you could take that same battle system and make it a competitive game. That ended up becoming Dissidia. We wanted to establish it as a franchise on its own, removed from the core Final Fantasy games. This new game, NT, is the next step on that journey.
What inspired the changes to the core fighting game template? Compared to, say, Street Fighter, Dissidia definitely stands out of the pack, at least mechanically.
The Final Fantasy franchise, at its core, is all about building a party and embarking on a journey. So it would have been strange to make a solo fighting game. In Dissidia, you can fight one on one, but that's not the best way to play, at least in our view. The battle mechanics of MMORPGs also inspired us, since you always have to play your class and gel with each other to kill the big bad boss. Also, it just wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without summons and things like that.
You guys are working with Koei Tecmo on this game. How did that came to pass?
The timing was just perfect, honestly. We knew we wanted to do a new Dissidia game, but the producer from Koei Tecmo, Yosuke Hayashi, reached out right around the same time. They're one of the few companies in Japan still making quality action games, and they seemed like a logical partner.
Are there any characters you personally would like to put into the game that just didn't quite make the cut?
Every single character in the franchise can make it, if the fans want it. There's nobody in particular that I want, to be honest. If a character is popular enough, we'll put it in the game. It's as simple as that.
Can you describe how the balancing process works in a game as unique as Dissidia?
In a one-on-one fighting game, the ideal is that each character has an equal chance of beating another. Some matchups might differ, but it should average out to be about the same. We purposefully made Dissidia in a different paradigm, where teamwork matters more than just raw power. Each character belongs to one of four unique "types" which correspond to their strengths and weaknesses. For us, it's more about balancing those types against each other than worrying about individual characters. It's more about playing your class.
A lot of people associate the Final Fantasy name with pure narrative. Will NT have a story mode?
Unlike the PSP version, we decided not to include an RPG-like story mode where you're going on a journey. Creating a mode like that to the standards of Final Fantasy and the PS4 would have really strained our resources. We wanted to focus more on the quality of the fighting itself, as that's the core of Dissidia. There is a story in the game that's told through cutscenes, but the structure doesn't really exist in the same way it did in the PSP original.
Do you see Dissidia as a tournament-quality fighting game? Do you want it to be at Evo, for example? Or is it more for Final Fantasy fans? Or, in your mind, is that a false dichotomy?
I wouldn't call it a false dichotomy. It's more that we're greedy enough to go for both. The fighting game community can't thrive unless the number of people who actually care about fighting game increases, so we want it to be accessible for both pick-up-and-play consumers and the true enthusiasts. What sets
How do you assign the "types" to the various characters? For example, Tidus is a speedy character in Dissidia, even though he was fairly average in Final Fantasy X.
We look at the original titles, of course. But, a lot of us working on the game are Final Fantasy devotees ourselves. We've grown up with them. We have our own ideas on how these characters should move and behave. We discuss it among ourselves. When we find that characters seem to overlap, we accentuate aspects of characters that maybe didn't come up in the original game.
Does it feel strange to make a game with all these iconic characters? Do you ever feel like you're playing with somebody else's toys?
I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, since these characters were made by different creators, who I respect and cherish. We insist on talking to those people to make sure these characters align with their original vision. It's all about respect. We work in the same company, but Square-Enix is massive. I'm just glad we're able to make a title like this. It's only through the respect of those creators and the players themselves that I'm able to be confident in Dissidia as a franchise.
What facet of Dissidia most excites you?
For me, it's just the ability to control these characters and have dream matches between them. That's really what makes it fun. Yesterday, a man told me that he thought Dissidia was like a basketball game, where one guy is good at defense, one guy is good at shooting, and one guy is good at handling the ball. It's never really been done in the fighting game genre, and I think that's what makes it really interesting.
If all these Final Fantasy characters actually did throw down, who would come out on top?
I really do think that the cast from Final Fantasy XII could just wreck everybody. Although, maybe Shantotto could just copy herself until she beat you. She hasn't ever really had an opportunity to use all of her power yet, so who knows? It's one of those, though, for sure.