Wednesday, 11 February 2015

FFXIII Combat

An interesting but seemingly meaningless system in Final Fantasy XIII is the system of assigning you a score and a star ranking for each battle. I'm not sure if your score or the number of stars you earn actually affects the game at all, I'm also not sure I totally understand why you get a higher ranking or a lower one, but the dominant factor is how much time you take.

Each fight has a target time. If you beat that time you'll get three to five stars. If you don't you'll get zero to two stars. It tells you the target time and your time at the end of each battle, so you know how long they expected each fight to take. Some fights have target times in the four to five minute range, I think some bosses go to eleven or twelve.

Those are very long fights for a Final Fantasy series game. In most of the games you can end the fight in just a few actions and a typical random encounter would be under a minute. I don't mind longer fights, because longer fights are usually more interesting fights.

In Final Fantasy XIII you fight enemies by hitting attack over and over and over until they are dead.

What's strange, though, is that the combat system is probably one of the more deep and compelling RPG combat systems I've played. Each of your characters has a role in combat. There are two different attacker roles, a tank role, a healer, a debuffer and a buffer role. You can have up to six "paradigms" set up and change them between battles. Each paradigm assigns a role to each member. So you might have a paradigm where you have an attacker, a tank and a healer. Another where you have a buffer, a debuffer and a tank to start off tough battles. Another paradigm would be three attackers for the easy fights. You can swap between your paradigms at any time. You only control the actions of the lead character, the other one or two characters in the party act on AI.

So while in another Final Fantasy game I might say, "Wow, this boss is rough, I better cast Protect" I instead say "Wow, this boss is rough, I better swap to the tank, buffer, healer paradigm to get my buffs up, then go tank, attacker, healer". It's exactly what I'd be doing if I were controlling the characters myself, but with fewer inputs.

In fact, you can select the "auto-battle" option for the character you are controlling and relinquish control entirely aside from the paradigms. Unfortunately, this often isn't the right thing to do because your character will mix physical and magic attacks despite having a much higher strength than magic or vice versa. Therefore, you end up pressing attack over and over again as you direct your character to swing their stick.

I think the tactical element of battles in FFXIII combat are probably second only to Final Fantasy X, and having an exlicit timer that tells you whether you beat the time or not makes the tactics much better. I could just stay in attacker, tank, healer mode all the time and win everything but the hardest boss fights, but I want to get five stars so I need to push it a little. Start fights in all attacker mode and try to kill an enemy before having to swap someone to healing; deciding to burn out the last guy instead of tanking him when people are at low health, figuring I can make it; stuff like that. It's all the same tactical decisions I'd be making in other RPGs, but with less choosing things from menus.

Now the thing is that choosing things from menus is one of the big reasons I play this kind of game, so I don't think it's an entirely positive change. But I do think it's an improvement over the classic Final Fantasy ATB system where you feel forced to auto-attack because anything else is wasting too much time in menus.

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