Final Fantasy XIII Battle Mechanics
We break down the unique battle mechanics for you in Square Enix's highly anticipated role-playing game.
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Less than a month to go before the release of Final Fantasy XIII, and I finally got a chance to play the English version at a Square Enix event held here in San Francisco and it's also being shown at Microsoft's X10 event. My fellow UK editor Mark got a chance to play as well, and you can read his hands-on preview of the different locations that he explored. The demo I got primarily focused on the battle mechanics, so I thought I'd break it down for you, because it's a lot more hectic and crazier than I had initially thought, especially late in the game.
I was given free rein to roam around the rolling hills in Pulse in Chapter 11, where I had access to all the playable characters and could freely switch them around to form my own team of three. Almost everything was unlocked, so I was able to see what it was like to just beat up on some neighboring jelly-like flan. From the many gameplay videos that have been posted, you probably know that you play as a team of three and you control only the leader. The active time bar has returned, but it fills up so fast that it can sometimes feel like it's in real time. The battle system is also different from any other Final Fantasy that you've played, because the ATB comes in segments (you start off with two and eventually can have up to eight), where you can assign multiple attacks in a turn to chain them together. I'm sure that if you've been playing from the beginning, you can ease into the battle system a bit better, but I had to use the autobattle option a few times because being thrown into battle against a behemoth king was a little daunting. The autobattle option is handy if you don't feel like doing all the work, but this isn't going to help you much if you're up against a boss.
There's a lot of strategy involved in FFXIII's battle system, and it primarily revolves around paradigms. You can think of a paradigm as a setup for your party. You don't level in the traditional way in FFXIII; instead, you assign one of six jobs to your characters or you can have the game autogenerate some offensive, balanced, and defensive setups for you. You can have up to six paradigms at once to rotate through during battle, meaning that you can have six different job configurations that you'll have to spec out in advance. The six jobs include commando, ravager, sentinel, saboteur, synergist, and medic. Commandos are your melee fighters, and ravagers are the spellcasters and also act in a supporting role and can chain with the commandos. Sentinels are essentially meat shields, whereas saboteurs are your debuffers, and synergists buff your party. Medics are self-explanatory.
For example, you can have an aggressive paradigm set up with two commandos and a ravager, and another paradigm with two medics and a sentinel. In battle, you can swap paradigms on the fly, so that's what happens when you see paradigm shift flash across the screen in the videos. Having the right paradigms at your disposal is critical, because a party of medics isn't going to get you anywhere. Support jobs like medics, synergists, and sentinels don't attack the enemy, so you're in for a never-ending fight. It might seem easy, because there are no magic points and you heal after every battle, but how you perform in battle will affect how many crystal points you earn, which can be turned in for new skills in your crystarium. Just because you survived the fight doesn't mean you did well.
Similar to the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X, the CP you earn can be traded in for new skills, spells, and abilities, depending on the job you are working on. Your job only goes up to level five, so it's not about gaining levels anymore, but it's about collecting CP to customize your character. Each of the playable characters has strengths and weaknesses, so it's not always efficient to have everyone level a commando role, but you can if you really want to.
I also had a chance to play around with a few summons and saw Brynhildr, Sazh's summon, for the first time. Summons are now assigned to each character, so you're not doing side quests around the world collecting them anymore. All summons transform into a vehicle when they enter Gestalt mode, which lets you control your summon directly. A list of commands will appear, which will let you push a few buttons to pop a wheelie or swirl around the battlefield in your hot rod, leaving ice in your tracks. Summon animations can be skipped if you start to grow tired of all the flashiness, but hey, if you want to see the Shiva sisters transform into a motorcycle every single time, you can.
Other than looking really good, the game has some small additional details to make life a bit easier. When you die in battle, you can restart before the last battle so you don't get bumped back to the last save point. Autobattle, which we've mentioned, is a great feature for when you're just trying to get past a few weaklings that don't do much except get in your way. Once you have eight segments to manage on your ATB, it can take a bit of time to assign all your attacks each turn, but there's a repeat command in place if you just want to do what you did in the last round. I was told that the battles are well paced, so you won't have to spend much time grinding to face the next boss--it's all about your strategy. I ran into a giant elephant-like creature, which took me out in a couple of seconds with one stomp. The key here was to chain my attacks so that I could stay in the air to avoid getting hit, so timing is also critical in battle. There's a stagger meter for every creature you face, which starts to fill as soon as you do damage. Your damage multiplies as the stagger meter increases, so it's to your advantage to hit hard and fast before the enemy gets its balance back. In some cases, you can't do any real damage until you fill up that stagger meter and then throw everything you've got at your enemy.
The battle system is unique, and I'm pretty excited to mess around with it a bit more when the game comes out. Part of the fun will be setting up the most efficient paradigms for the variety of foes and boss battles. It has been a long wait, but we'll have a review for you as soon as the game is released on March 9.