The future of competitive Dissidia Final Fantasy remains murky

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT introduced a 3-on-3 combat style.

 Courtesy of Square Enix

Rise and Fall -- the final tournament for the Dissidia Final Fantasy Duodecim community -- took place in December 2017. Fans and competitors had been convening on the Dissidia forums since the late 2000s, but with the looming release of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT the following month, Rise and Fall would mark the end of the Duodecim era. Zaire "Uw2K" Langley and Matt "Dz" Helget, the two best players from the Western Hemisphere, faced off in the grand finals.

It was a hard-fought series that ultimately came to the last match point. In the final seconds, Uw2K slowly depleted Dz's health and walked away with the win. And that was it. The two logged off their PSP emulators and shut down their PCs. Barely anyone knew this community existed. And barely anyone was there to witness the final spectacle.

Dissidia Final Fantasy was first released in December 2008 in Japan and then the following August in North America on the PlayStation Portable. It was a 3-D fighting game that featured a deep cast of Final Fantasy characters -- and players could throw out massive attacks and fly headfirst into their opponents.

"I have been a huge fan most of my life of the series," said Justin Thompson, admin for the Dissidia Facebook and Discord groups. "Then add the fact that I spent most of my time on fighters that were 2-D -- such as Street Fighter -- this game offered a new aspect with the 3-D environments."

Dissidia Final Fantasy and its 2011 sequel, Duodecim, never had online play, with only localized play available. But as fans started to convene on Dissidia forums, calls for competition began to spring up. While there was some interest for local competition, given the wide swath of international Final Fantasy players around the world, the logical solution was online play. As a result, fans began looking for third-party systems to facilitate online competitions for an offline game.

XLink Kai was the first solution, an online gaming network that simulates a local area network (LAN) environment. But XLink Kai was a stopgap to Sony's solution, ad hoc Party for the PlayStation 3. The app allowed PSP games to connect online via the PS3. This was a more streamlined system, but users were required to own a PS3 to participate, an expensive prerequisite.

As computers became more powerful, and emulators more sophisticated, the Dissidia community migrated to the PPSSPP emulator, which allowed for native online play. Due to the ease of pirating PSP games, the community started running tournaments through PPSSPP, recording matches, and uploading it to YouTube.

Even with the online solution, fans eagerly awaited a sequel that would contain native online game play. In February 2011, series producer Tetsuya Nomura said in an issue of Dengeki PlayStation that there would be no next Dissidia. This meant that the competitive community would have to rely on the PSP version for the foreseeable future.

But in 2015, a new version of Dissidia Final Fantasy was released for Japanese arcades. Fans on Dissidia forums were in a fervor of speculation, digging up any information they could about the game. But it wouldn't be until 2018 that fans outside of Japan would be able to play the new Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. The game brought with it a new 3-on-3 combat style. This meant that the game was completely retooled for team-based game play, something that has left longtime Dissidia fans divided.

New game, new challenges

Wednesday Night Fights, a weekly fighting game series at the Esports Arena in Santa Ana, California, has started featuring NT. But logistically, it's a difficult game to set up. It requires teams of three, meaning six PlayStation 4s -- with a seventh PS4 to broadcast the stream -- along with six gaming monitors and everything unlocked for each copy of the game. At the moment, there isn't a built-in LAN mode, meaning that all PS4s must connect online to Square Enix's servers, adding unneeded latency.

"I believe Dissidia NT can survive based purely alone on just how plain fun it is to play once you get matches going," said Austin "Austy" Nolte, esports commentator and statistician. "If certain quality-of-life patches get implemented and an online circuit kicks off with Square support, I could see the game growing steadily over time."

However, the game itself hasn't been a blowout success. In its third quarter earnings, Square Enix announced that Dissidia performed below expectations, and viewership on Twitch has been in the tens to hundreds. A new patch update introduced a spectator tool, but there are no plans to add LAN support for the game. However, after witnessing the excitement from local competitions, NT director Takeo Kujiraoka and Square Enix seemed interested in keeping the scene alive.

"While we are unable to confirm anything at this time, we are in discussions with the goal to hold more events both physically and digitally," said Mat Kishimoto, senior product marketing manager at Square Enix America. "Our ambition would be to have events not just in Southern California but all over North America and South America. We want to make sure the game is as accessible as possible to everyone."

As of now, Square Enix is tweeting out events and tournaments and offering small prizes to winners. The Final Fantasy Twitter account is also encouraging local scenes to organize their own tournaments.

But Nolte, who's part of both the Super Smash Bros. and Dissidia communities, knows that a hardcore scene doesn't spring up overnight.

"It took Smash 10 years to start to establish itself as a huge scene, and that was entirely on grassroots," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see on Dissidia."