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Why Final Fantasy Combat Sucks
Yes, another editorial discussing what's wrong with Final Fantasy. Not that I get my kicks from pointing out Final Fantasy's flaws, but it would be very boring if I wrote about how amazing FF is. So, I write about its problems instead. Makes for more interesting reading. That's why my title here is "Resident Jerk." Hehehe.
And my topic for today is the COMBAT SYSTEM! Yes, I know, people rag on Final Fantasy's combat system every day, so it's not the newest topic in the world, but I'm going to cover everything that's wrong with it in detail, and what needs to be changed. And even though I haven't played FFX yet, just reading about the new combat system I can tell that it doesn't address the most important problems.
A) Overly powerful physical attacks. Many times, a fight consists of the player just smashing on the X button until the opponent dies. No strategy involved whatsoever. This is because physical attacks can do enough damage to seriously harm even very tough opponents. This is worse in some Final Fantasys than others. For example, it wasn't as bad in FF8, as in order to do serious damage you'd need to junction powerful spells to your strength, and have a good weapon. In FF6 and 7 it was particularly bad - in FF6, with the Genji Glove, Offering, and the right weapons, you could dish out 80K damage with each physical attack. In FF7, with a mastered 2X Materia, you could do 40K damage with each attack. Obviously, this is a bit of a problem. Even very tough enemies could be taken out easily in these situations.
B) Maximum damage. This is a BIG problem. At first, it may not seem to matter that the most damage attacks can do is 9999. And at the beginning, it doesn't, because your attacks will never do nearly that much damage. Then you start getting the first really powerful attacks, summons and such, that do 5000-7000 damage. Before long, they are powerful enough to do 9999 damage. No problem yet, because the ability to do maximum damage is valuable. But then as your characters get even more powerful, even weak attacks start doing a lot of damage. After a while, your basic attack does 9999 damage. Now we have a problem. Why? Because suddenly those ultra-powerful attacks are useless. They can only do as much damage as your physical attack, so why use the cool attacks? Just bash the enemy's head in and you do the same amount of damage. In order to get around this problem, the most powerful attacks (Knights of the Round, Omnislash, and Lionheart being a few examples) must hit the enemy again and again. Then, even though each individual attack only does 9999 damage, the total is much greater. The problem is, the only the most extreme attacks are effective at this point. All of the other attacks that are SUPPOSED to be powerful - summons, mostly - are now useless. But if there was no maximum damage, this wouldn't matter. Why use a physical attack that does 9999 damage when you can summon Bahamut and do 50,000 damage? But, since Bahamut only hits once, and damage from a single hit can't exceed 9999, this will never happen. Note that there are rare cases where maximum damage CAN be exceeded. In FF8, Eden could exceed maximum damage. I've read about items that allow you to exceed maximum damage in FFX. This is a cheat solution to the problem. There should be no maximum damage at all, and having rare exceptions isn't a real fix.
C) Low character HPs. While we're on the topic of maximums, having 9999 HP as a maximum for characters is another big problem. When you are throwing around attacks that literally do hundreds of thousands of HPs of damage, your characters are terribly vulnerable with a mere 9999 HP. And this that also just happens to be the maximum damage the game allows, they are frequently taken out with a single hit by powerful enemies. But since it would suck if your characters constantly dropped, even superpowerful enemies like Omega Weapon generally don't do more than 3000-4000 damage with their normal attacks. Thus, your characters, throwing out 300K-damage attacks left and right, have MUCH more firepower than their enemies. The result is that the characters have few HP and do huge damage, while the enemies have huge HP and do little damage. Sense a little bit of an imbalance here? And this creates another problem. Your characters tend to be a lot more devastating to themselves than anyone else. If one of your characters get confused, God help you, because they will start hitting each other with attacks far more powerful than anything your enemies can muster.
D) Lame enemy AI. C'mon, people, we're past the 1990s now. In fact, lame AI should have disappeared with the 80s, but by now it should be LONG gone. Not so. It's a little amusing fighting Raijin and Fujin and watching Fujin cast Haste on herself over and over, even though it only works the first time... but it's also annoying. Can't the enemy act intelligently sometimes, for cryin' out loud? And why don't the enemies heal themselves very often? Why do they only rarely enhance themselves with status boosters? Wouldn't the game be more interesting if the enemies were more intelligent and therefore more difficult?
E) Bosses fighting alone. This one isn't mentioned very often. Why do the heroes' arch-nemeses go up against them solo so often? By mid-game the villains should realize that the heroes are ungodly powerful killing machines. Yet they still throw themselves at the characters one by one to get chopped into confetti. There are some exceptions to this rule. The Turks in FF7 attacked together, and Raijin and Fujin in FF8 acted as a team. But far more often, the enemies go at it by themselves. Why doesn't Seifer ever wait for Raij and Fuj to help him out? Why doesn't the sorceress attack with Seifer instead of waiting for him to die before she does anything? Why don't Kuja and Garland join forces long enough to fight the heroes together before they turn on each other? Why doesn't Kuja fight alongside the Silver Dragon instead of sending it in alone to die? The list goes on and on. Things would be more interesting if the bad guys fought in teams more often. You never see the heroes breaking off from the main group to challenge the last boss one-on-one.
F) No freedom of movement. This one is HUGE. The characters are fixed into place, and leave their designated spot only long enough to strike the enemy or cast a spell before quickly jumping back into place. Movement in battle is limited to switching rows. Hello? I'm pretty sure in real combat, the combatants are constantly moving around, switching positions. Now in early Final Fantasys, the processing power to do this simply didn't exist. But with today's hardware, there is no excuse. Ever played Grandia 2? That game has full range of movement, and the battles are AWESOME for it. The era of dealing with 16K of RAM is over, and the era of fixed-position combat should have died with it. Come on, Square. Get with the program.
G) Way too many random battles. Nothing is more annoying than exploring some exotic locale, with beautifully rendered backdrops, and ethreal background music, only to be interrupted every 5 seconds by a bunch of suicidal monsters who die after a few seconds of X-button-mashing. At the very least, you should be able to see your enemies onscreen while exploring dungeons so you can decide if you really want a fight or not. And having more fights that are planned out would be nice, too. Battles are much more interesting when they have significance for the story.
H) Difficulty level is much too low. Most battles - even "tough" boss battles - are pretty easily won, even with the really low HP maximum for your characters. Just cast a few protective spells on your party and unload with your most powerful attacks and most enemies bow out of the fight pretty quickly. This is due to insufficient enemy HP, weak enemy attacks, and lame enemy AI. Beef up their HP, make their attacks stronger, and give them some decent intelligence. We've spent enough time in Lollipop Land, Square. Time for the gloves to come off. Throw a little challenge our way once in a while.
And the list goes on. All of this combines to make combat in Final Fantasy much less than it could be - and should be. Square is the best company in the RPG industry, so we have every right to expect more out of them. But they are being left behind as other companies continue to upgrade their battle systems. And they got it all wrong with FFX - they changed all the wrong things and fixed stuff that isn't broken. I had no problem with the ATB gauge, and now we're back to more primitive turn-based combat for some reason. And we have a little table showing us who acts when. If anything, this is a step backward, not forward, for the combat system. I just hope maybe battles in X are a bit more challenging than its predecessors. Maybe FFXII will make some decent changes. (Note that I don't even count FFXI, since an online-only Final Fantasy is Square's biggest mistake ever.)