Riddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy XII
I can feel the flames already, but I frankly don’t care. Final Fantasy XII is one of my all-time favorite RPGs, and one of the main reasons for that is its battle system.
Final Fantasy XII marked the first time in the series that encounters weren’t random. Enemies are clearly visible on-screen, and engaging in battle doesn’t take you out of exploration mode – it’s all seamless, and all beautiful. People compared it to Final Fantasy XI and other MMO battle systems, which is fairly justified, although it’s hardly “FFXI Offline.” Rather, it’s just a seamless, more streamlined version of the same ATB system we’ve enjoyed for years.
The reason why I love Final Fantasy XII’s battle system so much is because it removes all the clunkiness of a turn-based system, but retains all of the strategy. The Gambit system is still the best example of player-programming ever featured in a game; individual character strategies can be programmed in-depth, to the point where many normal encounters can be overcome by simply sitting back and watching the slaughter. Sound shallow? Well. Hardly more shallow than pressing the X button every couple of seconds, wouldn’t you say? Also, the fact that Gambits can be accessed and modified at any time – even during intense boss battles – makes them that much versatile.
But Final Fantasy XII’s battles also maintained this crucial aspect: the ability to issue commands to any character, at any time. If you don’t like how the tide of the battle is turning, not only can you adjust your gambits – you can step in and issue manual commands. And it’s an immediate override – anything you command takes precedence over gambits. This is exactly what Final Fantasy XIII failed to implement in its super-streamlined, super-flashy encounters. Final Fantasy XII’s battle system is, and remains, the best of the series.
Runner Up: Final Fantasy X
I’m tempted to give this to Final Fantasy VII, but X barely outdoes it, in my opinion. The new ability to switch characters in and out on the fly, coupled with the heavy focus on specific battle roles resulted in some of the most rewarding, strategy-intensive I’ve ever fought. Without a doubt, the greatest take on the traditional turn-based model.
Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy XIII
I hate to seemingly strip Final Fantasy XIII of the one honor it has, but unfortunately, I only do what I must. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is extremely well-designed, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s very good at what it sets out to be, and it’s certainly not an entirely mindless affair. But despite that, it’s undeniably more shallow than its predecessors. The Paradigm system is cool, yes, but it’s just a very simplified version of Gambits. The inability to issue manual commands is sorely missed. Oh, and the fact that you can’t control who’s in your party for the first 30 hours or so doesn’t help its cause. Is it mindless? No. But it is very watered down.