This is where I rub my hands together, laugh maniacally, and wonder how the hell I’m going to explain this to you without giving you a step-by-step explanation on how much I hate the gameplay of this game, with breakdowns and examples, so I will try to be brief. Seriously, I could write 10 pages explaining WHY the gameplay sucks, but I’ll try to keep it short.
The battle system is, like all Final Fantasies before it, unlike any Final Fantasies before it. Like 12, there are no random battles, only pre-scripted battles; not only do we get a series of narrow corridors, but pre-determined battles, making the game even more linear. The actual battle system is both very simple and exceptionally complex.
The game has an active time battle system, but it’s incredibly fast paced, and is horribly executed. In theory, it sounds good: you control the leader, giving “roles” to your teammates that dictate what abilities they have and what they do. Sentinel is the defensive class, Ravager is the magic attack class, Commando is the physical attack class, Medic is the healing class, Synergist is the support class, and Saboteur is the status ailment-inflicting class.
You decide what combinations you have and who has each role. This is called a ‘Paradigm”. “Relentless assault” is made up of two ravagers and a commando, “Solidarity” is made up of a sentinel, medic, and commando, etc. Each one has it’s own uses and can be changed on the fly. The issue? You can only chose six of them, and they come in packages. You can’t just say “Okay, this paradigm works, but I just want to change to a medic and leave the other two the way they are.” Instead, have to chose another whole package from your list, one that hopefully works to your advantage. Some would say this adds a level of strategy to the mix, I say it just limits you and makes the game frustrating if a battle shows up that needs a synergist, and your pre-existing paradigms don’t have the right one.
Now, the issue is that you control only one person, and simply chose what others do. This wouldn’t be an issue, except for about a dozen reasons. First and foremost, if the leader dies, you die, end of story. And you will die to the point of frustration. On some battles, I died dozens of times, resulting in me rage-quitting. Also, when you’re a certain role, you ONLY have the abilities of that role. If the character I’m controlling is a commando, I attack…and only attack. I can’t just heal myself quickly, I have to change my whole paradigm to one where I am a medic. Again, this wouldn’t be so bad, except the paradigm changing animation takes a few seconds to go through: a few seconds where my ATB gauge does not increase, I cannot defend myself, but the battle doesn’t stop, so the enemies can still kill you. This means that, if you’re going to heal yourself because the party leader is low on health, it takes just a sneeze to kill them.
So, again you die, by no fault of your own. You die a lot! The one good design choice here is that, at least when you die, there’s no punishment outside of having to start the battle over again….except some bosses have millions of hitpoints and can literally take 20-60 minutes to defeat, only to have you die due to some simple mistake…because party-leader dead=game over.
I agree 100% on all of these, but just let me point out that you skip the paradigm shift animation if you change at the end of an ATB sequence, that is, right after the very last of the three or four attacks or spells. Doing this also fully recharges your ATB bar. I'm not sure whether this was intended or not - keep the pressure on and stack "combos" like Dante in DMC changing behavior - but I think it was, just poorly implemented and never explained.
I actually learned this as I replayed the game, but even then I'm sticking to easy mode because, as you say, every random battle takes ages.