Editorial: Final Fantasy Battle Systems

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.

Set-up and see what happens.
It’s all about the menus.

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.

Pretty much the only good part of the game.
Very fast. Very battle-focused.

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?

6 comments

  1. Very insteresting stuff. My favorite battle systems in the series are from V, X and X-2 so I don’t have a style preference so much as I like how they’re implemented (V does a much better job than III in the Job system for instance) but I do vividly recall having a blast with X-2 battles. It’s a marvelous system and it’s a shame that it was attached to that game.

    Outside of FF, I enjoy the battle systems of Tales and Star Ocean.

  2. On the line of favourite battle systems, VII, XIII-2, XIII, VI, IX, and IV are examples of what I have liked best–a list which ranges from extremely traditional to very ‘modern’.

    Playing XIII/XIII-2 several times has fundamentally changed the way I think about video games (and what I expect from them) more than pretty much any game since the original Final Fantasy was released. It is for this reason that the XIII metaseries is now my second-favourite FF game. Who knows, it may even pass VII one day. The battle system is fantastic, and I am hard pressed to think of a game which has a system which is better implemented.

  3. @Lusipurr – Funny you mention XIII so specifically. Writing this article made me really crave its battle system so I went out and bought it for 15 bucks. I know those games will never be my number one – I have too many issues with the writing and tone and XIII’s design choices – but I am in COMPLETE agreement about the battle system.

  4. I rather disagree with the battle system of XIII and XIII-2… while -2 is better than the first it just doesn’t feel like I’m making choices.. Sadly you never mentioned IV which had probably the most strategy even in some parts of the easy mode that required you to makes plans of attack. (IE: The Magus Sisters) I do agree that X was probably the most battle focused instance as far as strategy goes, but you can still just power through some sections with enough time and SP. (or summoning a monster)

    I agree that VI didn’t do a good enough job of challenging you after you got the Ragnarok Sword but it did sometimes force you to come up with plans and battle strategy that could hold off hordes of enemies. (I really wish they played that up more as the series went on but alas…) Even later in the game they would force you to split up and form equally competent teams which meant you couldn’t just let one character or two power their way through without some serious challenges. More importantly it gave you choices without becoming overly complicated

    VII was just a quest to find and build up the best materia and if you never skipped a battle you would stay on par most of the game. (Or you could cheat in the new PC release)

    VIII was a disaster- nothing more needs to be said on this you said it all.

    IX True enough wasn’t exactly challenging for the main storyline but there were a few bosses here and there that required either a min-max party or some serious strategy or maybe blind luck.

    V I save for last because it was a unique event… it returned to it’s much earlier roots and I think while it was a fun idea it suffered the same problems of Final Fantasy Tactics without the reward of actual tactical planning playing a roll in your class and skill choices.

  5. I loved the X-2 battle system – it had a lot of micromanagement in terms of battle system. You could choose which ability to train up on each dressphere, and the garment grid made the battles quite fast-paced. But I do agree with Korusi in that it was just as easy to not worry about all that and stick to a dressphere for each character, never having to make a choice about anything.

  6. Actually I meant 5 but yes actually I agree with your idea on X-2 It did have the same thing as 5 did where you could just build up a single class… I do think X-2’s ATB was the best ever. 12 tried something interesting but it was too autopilot for me to really enjoy.

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