Final Fantasy has changed their combat system numerous times. Victor takes a fond look back at the best battle system of them all, the Active Time Battle system.
Like most gamers my age, Final Fantasy VII was my first introduction to JRPGs. That game definitely made a huge impression on me. The characters were vibrant and unique (well, before we knew they were JRPG tropes). The graphics were gorgeous (for their time). And the music was brilliant (even though… well, I can’t say anything bad about the music).
The thing I absolutely loved about Final Fantasy VII was the Active Time Battle system, or ATB for short. It wasn’t the regular turn-based system I was used to. You couldn’t take the time to plan out your attacks like before because your enemies will attack you when they can. Every encounter was exciting and tense. It brought a sense of urgency to combat. It was the battle system used from Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy IX.
But, in Final Fantasy X, Square-Enix decided to mess with the formula and released the game with the Conditional Turn-Based System (CBT). The system was a departure from the ATB. For me, each random encounter didn’t feel as exciting as a result. The same can be said for the succeeding entries of the series that didn’t use the ATB system.
For those that don’t know how the original ATB system worked, here’s a quick explanation. When you get sucked into a random encounter of battle, each character has his/her own ATB gauge that has to fill up before that character can perform an action. Once you commit to an action, the ATB gauge is emptied and the cycle repeats. Now, how fast the meter fills is dependent on each characters’ Dexterity or Agility stat. So, it’s possible for one party member to get off 3 actions before the other even get to perform one.
What made me like this system a lot was the different strategies you can employ! You can simply mash out attacks once you’re able to do so for easy battles. For boss battles, you can leave your ATB gauges filled for your entire party so that you can quickly heal once your opponent unleashes a powerful attack. I loved the fact you can always have to make quick decisions on how to use each characters turn because of this battle system.
I felt the other battle systems of the newer Final Fantasy games don’t match up to the ATB. Final Fantasy X‘s CBT was more of a one-sided turn based system. Final Fantasy XIII Command Synergy Battle (CSB) is probably the worst battle system the series ever produced since you only control the actions of one player!
The Active Dimension Battle (ADB) of Final Fantasy XII seemed to be the one that closely follows ATB and it should have been great… except for one flaw. Although all of your party members can more around freely (instead of sticking to one side of the screen), you can only control the Party Leader. I always felt a sort of disconnect with my other party members because of this. Also, the screen can get busy will all those lines sprouting out from the different characters! It just looks… messy.
Actually, it seems like Square Enix is slowly making each installment of their flagship franchise like this. Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, is a solo adventure so you can concentrate on just performing straight up attacks. The upcoming Final Fantasy XV‘s battle system seems to be more like a Kingdom Hearts game rather than a regular RPG.
I guess this is the current trend now. And I don’t really like it. I will keep on playing these new installments of Final Fantasy because they are great games for the most part. But it doesn’t mean I won’t complain about this new direction.
Square Enix, I’m pleading with you: please bring back the ATB system. It may seem antiquated to you but it was one of the reason why I loved Final Fantasy in the first place.