So today I was looking at this article on PSU, which was reporting on an apparent leak of information on the Final Fantasy VII Remake from 4chan and which is pretty transparently false --Final Fantasy vs. XV? Are you kidding me?—anyway, while the leak should be disregarded, there was one portion that got me thinking about the combat in the remake and the nature of modern battle systems that try to walk the line between the strategy of command based systems where you control multiple party members and the excitement of action based systems.
Before we jump into that though, let’s take a look at what the 4chan post has to say about the Remake’s combat.
Again, don’t believe a word of what you’re seeing here, just wait for an actual reveal. That being said, I kinda like this idea. The thought of a combat system that moves in real time, but also allows you to select commands for the other party members and even switch between them is promising. That’s essentially what I’ve been wanting from this modern take on Final Fantasy combat for a long time. Now the question becomes how can that be executed in a way that is both strategic, exciting, and avoids being too overwhelming to the player.
Here’s where the biggest issue lies in my opinion. I put this really crude graph together in about two minutes but hopefully it will demonstrate the point.
On one side, you have traditional turn based combat, which I would define as slow-paced, party-oriented, strategic, and procedural. On the other side, you have action based combat, which I would define as being fast-paced, single character focused, exciting, and skill-based. I’ll venture to say that the aspects of turn based combat that are most important to fans of that style are the party-oriented and strategic parts. That said, I’d say players value the exciting and skill-based facets. So, if we’re creating a hybrid of these two very different gameplay styles, I’d say we’d want to create something that incorporates all four of those—meaning we’d want the combat to feel party-oriented, strategic, exciting, and skill-based. Sounds simple enough, but in reality it’s actually very difficult to pull that off.
This is especially true of the party-oriented part of that equation, which I think is the most problematic in a real-time battle system. The issue here is simply the limits of the human brain. Imagine you’re playing Dark Souls for instance, except you’re actually controlling three characters at the same time, trying to position them in different places around a boss, to dodge, block, attack, retreat, move in, cast spells, heal, etc., for three different characters all at once. Just the thought of that is a nightmare, our brains can’t handle it, nor should they be expected to. This is why games like Final Fantasy XII and XV allow you to control one character at a time. However, in Final Fantasy XII you have the option to select every party member’s actions manually in real-time. I would say that attempting to play that way would be incredibly overwhelming for the majority of people, but maybe we have some prodigies in the audience who can pull it off. In any case, for most people, a sacrifice has to be made there. Do you turn on wait mode and sacrifice the fast paced nature of the battle system to give yourself more control of the party, or do you let the AI take over for the party, sacrifice your control, and enjoy fast-paced combat? Are you starting to see how these two gameplay styles are diametrically opposed?
Now, personally I’m okay with sacrificing fast-paced combat for full party control, because I believe we can still retain the excitement of action battle systems with slower-paced combat. This is why I like to play Final Fantasy XII with wait time on. I also want to point out how this was handled in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where you could pause the battle and give commands to your allies in a more traditional, Obsidian CRPG-like point and click system. I love that idea, that you can fight in real-time, blocking, dodging, timing your attacks, etc., while also stopping battle at any time to direct your allies. Adding on top of this the ability to switch control among the party during combat is just amazing. In my opinion being able to swap party members during battle is a HUGE must for the FF7 remake, but I say this with one important caveat. Do NOT do it like it’s been implemented in Final Fantasy XV and Type-0. I do not want to have the party member I’m switching to fly over to my current position. I really want to see a system where positioning is key, and where I can direct the AI controlled characters to specific spots on the map, switch over to them, and remain in the position where they were. I understand that in real-time combat, moving the camera quickly to a different position could be disorienting and dizzying for some players—which may be why it was disregarded for games like Type-0—so perhaps they could tie the ability to stop combat to a face button like triangle or something to compensate for those players.
However, we have to realize that if Square Enix goes this route, it would mean we’d be leaning more on the command based side of the spectrum, and we’d primarily be sacrificing fast-paced action. Personally I’m happy to do that if we can retain party-oriented strategy, but perhaps there are others who care more about fluid combat. If that’s the case, then having the option between real-time and wait-time would be a good way to please both sides, and if they added a gambit system of some kind to dictate how the AI would act that would be even better. However, what I’m primarily hoping to see is a way to work in exciting skill-based combat—where timing your attacks, dodging and blocking with skill, and reading the enemies—can co-exist with feeling in control of my entire party, and being able to switch between them at will. While I haven’t played Dragon Age: Inquisition myself, it seems to me that Bioware was onto something with the combat system in that game, and I think Square-Enix could take some inspiration from that and continue to build on it in exciting ways.
For instance—and I can’t take credit for this idea, this one comes from a viewer called Hian—imagine if there was a slider control between real-time and wait-time that the player could adjust. On one side, when let’s say Barret’s ATB bar fills up, battle would stop entirely while you gave him a command, and on the other side the battle would continue at full speed. However, if you put the slider somewhere in the middle, you would get this bullet time slow motion, and the rate of that slo-mo could be customized with the slider. Additionally, rather than having a command menu pop up, you could have the player hold down the R2 button which would transform the face buttons into pre-selected materia slots, sort of similar to how its done in Ys VIII. You could expand that a bit by making the d-pad buttons into materia slots as well. That way you wouldn’t have to navigate any menus at all. There are definitely a lot of interesting possibilities there.
In any case, the truth of the matter is that because of the fact that these two gameplay styles are in many ways incompatible, there are going to be people on one side or the other that will feel unsatisfied with a hybrid system. Some people just don’t want to have their party members controlled by an AI at any time, and if that’s how you feel then an action system simply isn’t going to work—you can’t control more than one character in real-time, it’s not possible. At the same time, if you can’t handle having the battle pause for a moment then you also won’t be able to control a party.
So, where do you guys fall? Do you want full control of your party at all times, more party control with wait-time but mixed with skill-based combat, less party control with real-time but super fast-paced combat, or straight up skill-based action where you only control one character? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments, and let’s hope the reveal for Final Fantasy VII Remake comes sooner than later.