Good day, LusiEspers! Our Final Fantasy VI playthrough is in full force and while I am still not far enough along to feel comfortable writing up a character study, I do have some thoughts about the battle system, and the things it focuses on compared to other Final Fantasy games. There has been some great discussion about the Final Fantasy VI battle system and I want to leave specific in-depth analysis to the comments on the feature, but I will say that I feel that FFVI has a battle-focused battle system. And I mean that in contrast to other games in the series that I feel have a menu-focused or hybrid focus battle system.
I am only going to look at games in the series that I feel familiar with enough to discuss their battle systems. So that essentially means from Final Fantasy V onward excluding the MMO games and bunching Final Fantasy XIII-2 in with the original.
If Final Fantasy VI , X, and XIII have battle-focused battle systems – and I will get to that in a bit – then I would say that the opposite end holds Final Fantasy V, VIII, and IX as the games with menu-focused battle systems. With V‘s job system, VIII‘s junctioning, and IX‘s ability system tied to equipment, most of a player’s success comes from the way he sets up his party in the menus. A certain level of strategy is still required in the battles themselves, and VIII‘s awful “drawing” mechanic must happen in battle, but it is far more important that the player pays attention to his jobs, junctions, or set of learned abilities.
The benefit from this system is the satisfaction a player can get from spending a lot of time in menus and then being rewarded with how the battle plays out on screen. The strategy is based around a macro perspective and on forward thinking. Which abilities will be most helpful in the long run? What is the best junction set-up to get a certain party through a certain area? Which job set-ups will be effective over time for the party? These are the common questions a menu-focused mentality will bring forward.
Battle-focused battle systems are almost the opposite. There are still decisions to be made in the menus, but the more important choices are held inside the actual battles. While Final Fantasy VI turns into a more hybrid system once Espers play a factor, at first it is almost entirely battle-focused. Each character is so distinct that the strategy is all in exploring how each character works and mastering the almost mini-game feel of the cast in battle. Final Fantasy X has a similar mentality. It returns to a class-based system and each character has a role to play that is already set. The sphere grid has choices, but not as important as which character should attack which enemy and in which manner. The battle focus is strengthened by the new battle order system, causing players to pay close attention to how their commands will affect the line-up. All status elements disappearing after each battle is another part of the game’s battle focus.
Final Fantasy XIII has classes that are less set in stone than X, but the system is even more battle-focused. Decisions in battle have far more of an effect on a player’s success than his very few choices in the menus. This focus is completely confirmed by the party regaining full health after every battle.
I consider Final Fantasy VII, X-2, and XII to be hybrid systems. There is an equal focus on menu strategy and battle strategy. X-2 brings back status ailments that continue after battle, and designing dresspheres plays an important role in the party’s success in battle. However, decisions made in battle matter just as much. Choosing how to swap between classes and how to attack enemies is as important as mastering the deep menu system.
Setting up materia is crucial to success in Final Fantasy VII and while it is closer to a menu-based system than X-2, the decisions in battle still matter more than a game like FFIX. Final Fantasy XII would be considered a menu-based system if it were not for the boss battles, marks, and other generally difficult battles. The game can be close to running on auto-pilot with thorough menu choices, but with certain battles it is only in-battle choices that will save even the most diligent gambits user.
The question after all of this is – of course – which system is the best? I personally do not have an answer. I enjoy systems from all three. One could argue that a hybrid is the best of both worlds, but another could counter that it does not have enough focus. More important than what sort of focus a Final Fantasy battle system should take is that the series continues to create unique battle system experiences. While some of us might yearn for the days of old, I actually believe that Final Fantasy has had its best three battle systems in their most recent single player experiences in Final Fantasy X-2, XII, and XIII. What sort of battle systems do you prefer in your Final Fantasy games, LusiTerras? Or do you prefer systems in other RPGs entirely?