Note: a disclaimer must be made that I typically don't read game reviews and
haven't read anything on FF13. I also just arrived at Chapter 11 of 17. So, with that going forward:
I’m going to be talking about Final Fantasy 13’s combat; if you don’t know what
it is, look it up. I’m going to be using
some of the jargon and won’t stop to explain it.
After finally having time to sit down with FF13 this past weekend I have
come to loathe the combat system. In contemplation of why I found that it
was not one thing in particular, indeed, many of the individual components of
combat are interesting mechanics in themselves, but the combination of the
different mechanics makes combat feel like a stress inducing chore that leaves
me feel emotionally and physically drained.
There are three main components I am focusing on as being problems:
- Immediate player feedback and
- Combat speed
- Visual clutter
Player ratings (a.k.a. you need to go faster):
With a marked difference from previous Final Fantasies, FF13 has a new
combat system whereby they mark your performance with a 5 star rating
system. This system directly controls how much of your “TP” gauge (used
for summoning) is filled and the quality and rate of items you will get. This rating is based solely on the speed at
which you complete the battle.
I found that in giving a rating based solely on my speed it caused me to
want to complete battles faster, leading to a sense of urgency in every battle
I gained. As a result I began to see
every battle as a test of my abilities and feel very annoyed when I don’t get
Other people have talked feedback based on ratings alone; one from Gamasutra
can be found here: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4171/staying_power_rethinking_feedback_.php
This alone is not a reason why the combat is painful,
feedback can be very informative and over time with enough feedback I can learn
what I should be doing right and what I shouldn’t be doing. This takes us to our next point.
Combat Speed (a.k.a. no time for strategy):
As this section is titled the combat in FF13 is markedly
different from many of its predecessors by building on the truly real time
system that FF12 pioneered. As a result
enemies can attack at any point on anyone.
Combine this with the paradigm system and the limited roles your party
members can have and many times I found myself swapping to the wrong paradigm
at the wrong time, or simply not having the right one for a given enemy. Combine that with an enemy’s ability to do a
decent amount of damage at once (or having 3-6 enemies that do a lot of damage
at once) and what you get is a combat system whereby the ability to “win” feels
much more like luck than player controlled.
This gets even worse when combined with the player
feedback. The game is constantly giving
feedback with no hints on improvement, and the battles are too hectic to learn
what works and what doesn’t. It’s
particularly bad when in a boss battle and the battle team I’m playing doesn’t have
the paradigm to survive the battle, or I’m one hit killed by them.
Visual Clutter (a.k.a. what should I look at):
The last piece I am going to talk about is the amount of
visual noise that exists in the battles.
website has the best definition for this term.
Here is a screenshot of battle in FF13:
Here is a tame video:
The combat in FF13 has several things going on screen at the
camera is moving around to show off the flashiest part of the battle
Note: the damage numbers are also animated in that they
scroll up to the actual number.
These elements have existed in JRPGs and other games for
many years, even Chrono Trigger published in 1995 had many of these
elements. It is the combination of these
elements plus the speed of the battle and the stress that is felt due to the rating
system that makes it a problem.
Considering that the battles take anywhere from 15 to 57
seconds there can be a lot of animations going on at the same time, when all 7
items are changing at the same time it is difficult to figure out what is
important and what isn’t. Is the big
flashing bang important? Or the damage
numbers? Or the player health rapidly dropping? Or how long it is until your
next attack? All the while the camera is
spinning around focusing on different enemies like an ADHD toddler on sugar.
I am aware that the argument can be made for making the UI
of a video game difficult; in fact dealing with the controller is a major part
of any game. But I wonder if the clutter
that exists in battles in FF13 is by design like in Geometry Wars, or if the
focus in the battle is on the challenge of defeating the enemy?
This reminds me of a quote I heard from someone working on
Real Time Strategies; they said that RTSes became so complex that the games
were economically infeasible to develop; only a handful of people in the world
can multitask on the level needed to really do well at them.
I feel that it is not one single component of the battle
system that can be seen as a problem; all of these components independently
could be an interesting experience; it’s the combination of them together that
leads to a frantic, visually distracting, stress filled mess.
I wonder how many people had problems in user testing for
FF13? Was there any long term testing of
more than 30 minutes conducted? Chrono
Trigger got around this problem by having two different modes: one that paused
the game each time it was your turn to select an action, and one that was full
People might mention that you can slow down the battle timer
in FF13 thus making them slower but I’ll also mention that the aerosol sprays
that benefit your party don’t last as long as they’re on a separate internal