Final Fantasy X: Battle System

By Shamus
on May 8, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

In previous iterations of Final Fantasy, they had the Active Time Battle System, or somesuch. This was a turn-based game, but it was “real time / turn based” game. How it worked was this: Each character (and each foe) had a “time” guage that slowly filled.

Final Fantasy 7 battle system

When the time guage filled up, a menu would appear…

Final Fantasy 7 battle system

…which would let you choose what action you wanted to take. The menu started out simple at the beginning of the game, and as things progressed it became more complex. Eventually you could attack, cast lots of spells, use special powers, abilities / skills, use items, and summon powerful monsters to fight for you. The list of items grew to be quite large.

But while you’re fiddling around in the menus looking for the thing you want to do, your foes are taking their turns. They are controlled by a computer and thus don’t have menu lag like you do. Your other characters (you can control up to three at a time) are also charging up their turns as well. If two people are ready for their turn now, one of them must wait while you give orders to the other one.

Sometimes the guages charge quite slowly. Sometimes it’s nobody’s turn, and the combatants on both sides just stand there staring at each other until someone’s guage fills up. Then two or more characters fill up at the same time and it’s a mad dash to rush through the menus and assign actions.

This sucks a lot of strategy out of the game. You can have things all planned out, which characters will need to take what actions, but while you’re hunting around in the list for the thing you need, the situation changes. Another character is bady injured and suddenly instead of using an ability like steal, you need to heal them. So you back out of the sub-menu and start hunting around in the magic menu for a healing spell. Oh no! While you were doing that they were knocked out! Now you need to back out of the magic sub-menu and find an item to get them on their feet again. Both of your characters are idle and waiting to take their turn, and all of your careful planning and strategy is out the window because you’re not a menu master.

The net result is that strategy is still important, but it takes a backseat to having the menu memorized so that you can hammer away at the buttons and get to the desired action without looking. Down, right, down, down, down, X to heal. Down, down, right, down to summon Bahamut! Oops! Wrong button! You just wasted your turn! Ha ha! Meanwhile, the enemy is pummeling you with grim efficiency, unimpeded by menus.

The whole system got on my nerves in a profound way. It was like trying to look up a phone number while someone repeatedly slapped me in the forehead screaming, “Come on! What’s the number? Huh? Huh!?!”

Enter Final Fantasy X. They retained the same gauge system, but it was hidden under the hood. It used the guages to figure out who’s turn it was, but it didn’t actually linger waiting for the bar to fill. It just moved to the next turn in the sequence. If it was the player’s turn, the game waited for them to select their choice from the menu before moving on. Studying your options wasn’t going to give the computer the edge. This put the human and the computer on more or less equal footing, since menu navigation speed was no longer an asset in combat.

Final Fantasy X battle system

This eliminated the boring (and odd-looking) gaps in combat, and made battles a lot less irritating. In the image above, the vertical bar on the right shows the various time bars and what turns are coming up. Starting from the top, I can see the turns will go Rikku, Auron, Tidus, Rikku, Auron, Monster, Tidus, Rikku. I can suddenly plan several moves in advance. Battles are now very strategic. I love it.

So of course the die-hard fans hate it. People who had played previous versions didn’t like it at all, and wanted their forehead-slapping menu game back.

This is a killer problem for developers. I really do believe that for newbies, the newer system is more interesting and more fun than the old. People who have been playing this game for a decade underestimate just how troublesome it is for a newcomer. New players are far more likely to become a fan of the new. But for old-schoolers, it’s no longer the game they fell in love with.

I know that for this the old-school fans will brand me a heretic, and I’m ok with that. People invest a lot of themselves into these games, and its hard to citicize the game without offending the fans. In this case, the die-hard fans won. The upcoming FF game will have the Active Time Battle Thingy instead of the system FFX uses.

Sigh.

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20525 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Bogan says:

    I’d like to say I agree with you Shamus. It is really the same thing, but without a bar that increases. Also I’m pretty sure you can set it up to pause as soon as its one of your characters’ turns at least I know there is in one of them. Of course my more important reason for replying is to allow all to know that I did do the butterfly game again and beat it in about an hour. So it took half as much time for me to get it then the chocobo race and that’s just the catcher one I’m counting not all of the extra ones before. All I want to know is who would make this mini-game for the least used character in the damn game.

  2. Bogan says:

    Oh yeah and one more thing. If you are still looking for 4 slot armor Wantz is at the southern exit of Macalania Woods and he sells empty 4 slot armor and weapons for everyone at a thrifty price of 100000 a piece.

  3. Shamus says:

    All I want to know is who would make this mini-game for the least used character in the damn game.

    What *I* want to know is what kind of lunatic would actually PLAY that game.

    Wait. Oh… sorry.

    What drives me nuts about the butterfly game is even though its hard to grab the blue butterflies – it’s EASY to bump into the butterfly that starts the blasted game. In fact, the sucker is hard to avoid. It makes me mad when I’m just passing through and I end up triggering it.

    Some fun facts about my chars:

    Rikku: Has auto-protect and auto-haste. Also knows quick hit. She hits for 100k. She can usually slap the bad guy around for half a million damage before he gets a turn. :)

    Auron: Knows almost all of Yuna’s spells for whatever reason. Has 26,000 hit points

    Kimari: I made a weapon for him. Not bad, but I’m sure I’ll never see the spirit lance. That #@$! dark matter is hard to come by.

  4. . says:

    I think the thing people didn’t like about the FFX system is that certain actions would disrupt the displayed ordering. If you use Quick Hit your character will move up in the priority. If you use a summon your character may move down (I don’t quite recall).

    I didn’t mind either system, but I’d prefer it if the displayed order didn’t change. In any case, Square makes a large number of changes to each game for no particular reason other than to make them play differently. It doesn’t really mean anything other than Square wants to keep things fresh to keep you buying their games.

  5. Eric says:

    Bogan’s right you can set it to pause when ever your it’s your turn. In the main menu go to settings and then ATB, and that’s where you can change it so that when your characters turns come up, battle time stops. Sorry If that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but that’s how you can tweak it so you can actually strategize your battles, at least from FF4 to 9.

  6. Bogan says:

    The most interesting thing about my char is that Auron was the first to get quick hit even before Tidus oddly. The great thing is that he has quick hit, spells and abilities cost 1mp, double ap, ap-overdrive, and I’m at the point where he’s the only one to hit for 10k. Poor guy is almost guaranteed two levels per battle in the omega ruins.

  7. Shamus says:

    I. Am. Stupefied.

    ARG! I really, really, wish I had known about that option. That would have changed the entire game for me. In fact, once I kill FFX I’m seriously thinking about trying again with FF7 now that I know this.

  8. Shamus says:

    Your Auron got QH first? Man, that is some unorthodox sphere grid pathing.

  9. Bogan says:

    Well he happened to just finish his specified path with a couple spheres left and Tidus was that many short of quick hit so I thought I’d just teleport Auron over there first. Dealing 10k damage twice in the time it takes every other character to do about 4k once has just made me giddy all over. Now for the next challenge….the Thunder Plains. I’m really starting to think my wireless controller may have an effect on my timing since I can’t get past 10 damn strikes…

  10. . says:

    Yeah, I was going to mention, usually in FF games you can set it so that time pauses once you’re in a menu. To be honest I’ve never cared much about the time system used in the game (although FFX-2 does have a nice somewhat dynamic combat system that allows you to string together combos in realtime). A much bigger concern to me is whether the characters will have unique features or if, in the endgame, they’ll all end up with all of the powers.

  11. Dan says:

    I knew about that (because of Eric) but i still opted (if thats how you spell it) to leave it on.
    I enjoyed the challenge and it makes more sense than the beasts just sitting there waiting to get their ass kicked. They’re monsters they care nothing for sportsmanship.

    Monster 1: I’m executing my fire breath attack

    Monster 2: Whoa! slow down there the player is still picking his attack

    Player: hmmmmm what to use?

    Monster 1: come on dude you know he’s just gonna pick Knights of the Round and i won’t even get a chance to attack.

    Monster 2: you don’t know that for sure maybe he’ll try to steal your hi-potion

    Monster 1: are you completly mad he has 9999 HP why the hell would he take my hi-potion

    Monster 2: maybe he wants it to sell to some shopkeeper at a 1/3 of the price that he could buy it for.

    Player: I will now cast Knights of the Round

    Monster 1&2: Fuck!

  12. Andrew Irwin says:

    Well, the “Wait” option doesn’t do anything if you sit on the top-level menu. It’ll pause if you’re picking a spell, an item, or a target, but not if you’re trying to choose between casting, item use, or attacking.

    My biggest gripe with the ATB was NOT the menu rush. It was that the computer cheated, bumping the queue, at least in FF8 & 9. You could enter your entire team’s actions during a given monster’s attack, and then before they were done executing (the actions) that same monster would get to act again. Consequently, haste(ga) became a useless spell, since most of the time even slowed characters acted just as often. It also made you wait for each of your own characters to act, so that the character you were commanding would act immediately and, more importantly, relevantly.

    This was pretty much a non-issue in FF 4 – 7, whether through a change in how the system worked or just the less time-intensive actions.

    The battle system for FF12 isn’t exactly appealing, assuming the demo is anything to go by. It combines the worst features of the ATB system with action that appears to superficially resemble the Legend of Mana series. If you can actually have a second player control one of your party mates, it could be nifty. Otherwise, far less so.

  13. Phaedrus says:

    I’m about 160 hours in to FFX right now and I’ve powered up every ones celestial weapons other than the spirit lance. That freaking butterfly game is a pain in the rear! One thing about this many hours is all my characters have completed the sphere grid and now I’m working on stat maxing. I figure for my second time through the game I should really try to do it all.

  14. Vegedus says:

    I always found the FFX system to be a vaaaaaaaaaaaast improvement over the others, mostly because it actually speeded up the combat (turn-based faster than (semi)realtime?! Preposterous!) because you never had those “Looking into the air” moments and my first FF was FFIII/VI, so I should have been biased towards the old system.

  15. Felblood says:

    You’ve been able to set the ATB gauge to pause in almost every game that used the ATB gauge.

    Back when I was first starting with FF games I always did that as soon as I started a game, but I no longer do because it makes the battles take longer and increases the number of pauses. The trick is to not load out a single character with too many options and memorize only the locations of the spells you actually use. This is vital if you want to grind experience at a meaningful rate anywhere outside of the Gelnika.

    Speaking of Gelnika, I never did max level Cait Sith… Maybe it’s time to drag the old PS1 back out of it’s drawer…

  16. Michael says:

    your saying that the butterfly hunt mini-game is hard, but from what i can remember, i found it quite easy, well it was stressful at times but after you get the jist of it, and after you work out where they all are i found it easy. they take the same path every time if you know what i mean, you just need to know yours and theres positioning.

  17. Sonia says:

    can anyone help me with this stupid butterfly thing… I have been patiently running the course and appear to have caught all 7 butterflies (I got the ‘ching’ noise on the 7th) yet the chest has not appeared – this if for both the north and central hunts. Anyone any idea what is going on? thoughts/advice appreciated…

  18. captain ninja says:

    can anyone tell me where the damn butterflies are ive got six but i cant find the seventh in the central game

  19. Bayek says:

    Why does my dvd game of final X does not work on the first battle. It was the battle on the bridge. It take me days to set my ps2 console for taking chances that it will continue to go on and have my first battle. I have played this game on my friends console and it does not have problems like mine. I love this game but so much.. hahays. pls help me. I bought another dvd just to contibue the game but still i end up with the same problem… please send me your ideas and help me with this problem… Here’s my email darkerick007@yahoo.com

  20. Emily says:

    I actually quite like the new system =]there’s no need to rush with decisions and the game can actually plan moves ahead! my first final fantasy game was VII but i gave up with it after 12 came out =/ in my opinion they ruined it after X-2…

  21. Fusilier says:

    I’ve been playing FF games since the first for NES, so I’m definitely an “old-school fan”. However, I actually liked FFX’s battle system the best. I wasn’t much of a fan of the characters/story though, but I had LOADS of fun playing this game. It also held my husband’s interest enough for him to watch me play through the entire game. Much fun was had!

    Mind you, I also loved FF8, which seems to be a you-love-it-or-hate-it game, more leaning towards hate. I enjoyed its darker side, whereas FFX was a little too surfer-themed and Yuna drove me NUTS (but I think that was due to her voice actress). Lulu was boring, but Rikku was cute, so she made up for the lack of good female characters, I guess. :B

    /has no point and is just rambling now.

  22. SKD says:

    Necromancy!!!!

    Never liked ATB and always turned it off myself for that very reason. A better iteration of ATB would be to let you build and modify a queue according to your strategy rather than having to pick individual actions on the fly as your turn comes up and hoping that you can find the option you wanted before you get creamed by the enemy.

  23. Miguel says:

    I read this post a long while ago. I agreed with it, from the way Shamus described it (having never played a Final Fantasy game before then), the ATB system was a frustrating mess. Then my sister’s boyfriend (technically husband if you count common-law) loaned me Final Fantasies VII and X, and something I never saw coming happened. I gave up on X and gave it back to him, but am still ploughing through VII.

    The ATB system came as naturally to me as jumping in a Mario title. There was no special trick to it, combat was just so simple that it boiled down to selecting Attack every turn, using a Restore-All combination when appropriate.
    Though I guess it helped that I spread out the different Materia. Lightning on one character, Fire on another and Ice on the third, branching out from there. The only time it really deviated from Attack/Cast the right elemental spell, healing when necessary is when Vincent had a gun with an Attack% (Odds of your attacks hitting or missing) of, like, two hundred and twelve or something and I gave him Death Blow (an Ability Materia that either scores a critical hit or misses, so it’s a given that it misses often with weapons with average Attack%).

    With X’s CTB System, on the other hand, if I wasn’t being frustrated to death by the navigation between targets, I was so low on resources that I was constantly getting killed and was sick of the setting, horrible field controls and Yuna. (Not sure if it’s the writing itself or just Yuna’s completely incompetent English Voice Actress, but I frigging hated Yuna. I liked Rikku a lot better, and I’m NOT just saying that because I’m a huge fan of Tara Strong.)

  24. Thomas says:

    Following the habit here of waiting a few years before inputting, I agree the CTB is much better than the ATB, but NOT because of the skill check, the skill check felt irritating and clunky, but the real advantage of this system was the fact you could see how future turns were going to pan out and how each move would affect that.

    It’s just a plain deepening. If I cast haste in a no X FF game, I know my character will get more turns, but how many? And what do I lose by taking a turn to cast haste?

    Whereas in 10, the turn order was an important part of all combat decisions. You could choose to heal, knowing you would have one more turn to finish off the monster, or hit him with a delaying attack because you know it would delay him just enough for your heavy hitter to get in a turn before the monster. You could attack him hard, but if you attack him with a softer attack you have enough time to possibly get another attack him and you have to balance that up with the risk of not finishing off and having less options before he attacks again.

    If there is a monster with stone gaze, can you kill off his friends before they attack you, or should you just suck up the damage and stop the stone gaze going off?

    All these choices were hazy when you couldn’t see progression beyond the next term. FFX quantified it

  25. Von says:

    I find it very interesting to imaging playing this (or FFVII) as a strategist. Planning out your moves in advance in a (relatively) quick-moving game does seem a recipe for head slapping.

    I enjoyed both FFVII & FFX for the same simple reason: It was reflex-fighting, but slightly more complex than ‘mash X’. ‘Attack’ was a good standard but you kept one eye on the falling stats of your team, healing before they got in danger zone. You didn’t bother with overdrives for baby enemies (except FFVII, which I think only gave you new ones after you used the old ones X amount of times?) and characters who had steal always opened with steal, removing the need to try and remember to fit it in later on. Any other special attacks or whatever, well, it took half a second to select them and if the enemy was capable of murderising you in that half a second you flick your eyes down to the menu then you’re probably not very good at it in the first place.

    I chuckled a bit as I read the above post because it really did sound, sorry, like an old fuddy-duddy complaining about newfangled systems moving too fast.

    Also I think both games offer a ‘wait’ option.

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