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