Like most fans, I’m incredibly excited for the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Even after all of this time, I still consider Final Fantasy VII to be one of the top JRPGs out there and my third favorite game in the series. My favorite is, of course, Final Fantasy VI with its incredible second act where you have to scour the world and re-recruit your party members. Call me an oddball, but I actually like Final Fantasy VIII just a bit more than VII, just because I like the characters just a bit more and the CGI cinematics were incredible, for its time, anyway. Oh, and Final Fantasy VIII’s ending is still one of the most satisfying endings in video games, in my opinion.
You know what? Even though I consider myself a Final Fantasy fan, I haven’t played Final Fantasy XV. The realization shocked me because I do consider myself to be a huge fan of the long running JRPG franchise. Yet I’ve never really felt the urge to go pick up Square Enix’s latest entry in the series. Come to think of it, the last Final Fantasy game I really played was Final Fantasy XIII, the one with Lightning on the PS3. That was almost a decade ago! I never even bothered looking up the “sequels” from XIII. You can say that Final Fantasy XIII was my final fantasy. Pun intended.
I’m not saying that Final Fantasy XIII turned me off from the franchise. In retrospect, I can say I’ve kind of been losing interest in the Final Fantasy games since Final Fantasy XII. I can’t even remember if I finished it as it was the transition game from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3. I remember enjoying the story and all that but I do recall being bored from most of the exploration and the battles. I just didn’t get into the entire Active Dimension Battle system the game had. In fact, I never really liked Final Fantasy XIII’s Command Synergy Battle system as well. That what leads me to believe that, while it’s not the entire answer to why I basically quit Final Fantasy, the removal of the “classic” Active Time Battle system was a huge reason why I stopped playing this JRPG.
Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the Active Time Battle, or ATB, system that Final Fantasy used before, here’s a brief explanation. In most JRPGs before, combat usually revolves around a turn-based system. With a turn-based system, everyone gets a round where you can issue commands and, once everyone are issued their orders, each person, both your friends and enemies, will execute them. Once everyone has done so, the pattern repeats until you win or the enemy does. This makes it easy to think tactically as you can take all the time in the world while your issuing orders to your party.
The ATB mechanic turns that on its head as combat is generally done in real time. With this system, each character has a small time meter that fills up after executing their attack and you can only issue that character a new command once that meter is completely full. This means that you can’t relax as your opponent can attack you immediately while your selecting what to do. The ATB generally makes combat much more fun as you do have to think quickly regarding what to do in a short span of time. Also, as each member of your party’s ATB gauge fills up at different rates (depending on their stats), you also have to plan accordingly ahead of time. Should you use a healing potion and potentially waste that precious item or wait for the character that can heal take his turn and risk that character dying because his ATB meter didn’t fast enough? The choice is yours!
Now, I’m not what you call a longtime, hardcore Final Fantasy fan. Like a lot of gamers, my first entry in the series was Final Fantasy VII. And, in all honesty, I didn’t like the ATB system. I actually grew up playing other RPGs that used the “traditional” turn-based combat system so I initially just mashed the attack command when Cloud, Barrett or Tifa’s ATB gauge was filled. No tactics or finesse; just keep on attacking and occasionally cast a spell or two. That kept me alive for most of the battles, even the bosses. However, after playing Final Fantasy VII for a good number of days, I did notice the strategy side of the ATB system. I started directing most of my attacks to the guys that had healing or the ones the ones I knew had low HP. After a while (and defeating Sephiroth under the epic One Winged Angel soundtrack while spamming the Knights of the Round summon), I finally really got hooked on the ATB system and understood how great the system was.
I was glad to see the system return in subsequent releases like Final Fantasy VIII and IX. So, imagine my surprise when Squaresoft/Square Enix decided to ditch the ATB system in Final Fantasy X with the new Conditional Turn-Based Battle mechanic. You still gave orders to your comrades but this time, each one took their turn on a list. It was still good but, after using the ATB mechanic, battles in Final Fantasy X felt… easy. That was mostly because I could see who’s turn was next. That made it incredibly easy to “game” the system, so to speak. I could rush the foe who’s turn was coming up or I could even cast slow on them, enabling my party to get more turns before they even could get one attack in! Sure, it was fun to dominate battles in Final Fantasy X but that didn’t mean I felt I wasn’t cheating. I mean, I could literally see the future and know who was going to attack first! Thankfully, its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 went back to the tried and true ATB system, which I really appreciated.
Next came Final Fantasy XI… which we’re not going to talk about since this was an MMORPG and I didn’t play it. While we’re at it, I’m going to mention ahead of time that we’re not going to talk about the battle system in Final Fantasy XIV as well since that was Square Enix’s second MMORPG Final Fantasy game. Suffice to say, I don’t think they used the Active Time Battle system with those games because that would be ridiculous as you would have a ton of players just running around in circles waiting for the ATB gauge to fill up!
The next “true” Final Fantasy game was Final Fantasy XII which used a totally brand new system, the Active Dimension Battle mechanic… which I didn’t like. Next came Final Fantasy XIII with the Command Syngergy Battle system… which I also didn’t like. While these systems did have its benefits, such as the removal of random encounters with the Active Dimension Battle system from XII and unused battle meter being carried over to your next turn, these battle systems had one fatal flaw: you only control one character! Everyone else is controlled by the AI, which sucks!
Not being able to control the rest of the party was a huge letdown for me as that was one of the biggest aspect of the Active Time Battle system. I mean, you have a team of badasses just syncing their attacks, albeit they are taking their turns while doing so, like some well-oiled machine. Gone are all of the tactical decisions you have to make during the heat of the battle. This also makes the battles more like an action game where its more fitting to just wail on the attack button and then cast spells once in a while rather than a thought provoking strategic match where you rely on the skills of your entire party to pull you through fights.
Sure, you’re the one telling them what to do, but in my mind and imagination, the team just instinctively knew what to do, focusing on each one’s strengths while covering their weaknesses. With the Active Dimension Battle and Command Syngergy Battle systems, it becomes a bunch of guys and girls just doing stuff! I know you can set the AI to do certain things based on the situation but it just felt so unnatural, as if you were programming a machine what to do, which is exactly what you were doing! From what I understand, the latest Final Fantasy XV uses the same action focused gameplay and, like I mentioned before, I don’t really care for it. What’s the use of having a party of four people if you can only control one of them? It’s like playing a basketball video game and you can only control the point guard!
Now, I’m not saying that this kind of battle system can’t be fun. What I am saying is that the Active Time Battle system just feels so right. It’s a great mix of tactical thinking and quick thinking decision making. I can appreciate Square Enix trying some new things but I just wish they would go back to making some JRPGs with this system. You may think I’m stuck in the past but there are a good number of us out there that really miss this kind of battle system! Also, the thought that all JRPGs in the future will follow the action game genre because “it’s what people want” is just dumb. If turn-based systems are crap, then we wouldn’t have gems like Braverly Default, Octopath Traveler and the incredibly beautiful Persona 5.
Back to the present and the Final Fantasy VII Remake. I will still undoubtedly get it when it’s eventually released. I know it’s going more of the action system with hack-and-slash elements. It’s probably going to play more like Kingdom Hearts and I get it. Having a more action focused game would make it appeal to those you find the Active Time Battle system slow and archaic. But it is disappointing that the “new” Final Fantasy VII won’t have one of the most integral parts that made it one of the most beloved JRPGs in history. Of course, there’s still time for Square Enix to announce an “Active Time Battle” mode but seeing them forego the system for so long, I’m not holding my breath.
Do you think Final Fantasy VII should use the Active Time Battle System? What do you think of the ATB mechanic? Let me know in the comments section below!