Why FFVII Remake Should Keep Turn-Based Battles
Most old school fans of Final Fantasy VII are worried, and justly so, that Square Enix is all amped up to blow a hole in the tried-and-true active time turn based battle system of the original.
Trust me I am among them, especially after they claimed they would be making “drastic changes” to said system. However, there was also that moment of self awareness from SE when they saw that fans really loved the turn based mechanic that was on full display in Bravely Default.
Whenever I execute a turn based battle I'm always struck by the drama of it all that has more “Woah!” and eyebrow raising than the gnashing of teeth that action battle systems raise. There is sheer tension when I have put together a system of commands and then put them into motion with the hope that I have also read the battlefield properly and the enemy won't have a better counter-strategy. When that act gets played out there is heavy focus on the summons, on the magic special effects, on the camera angles that show the special moves, and on the satisfaction that can come only from watching a master sequence of moves unroll like multiplying death on my enemy. This is often in stark contrast to the spray n pray moves of an action system a la Final Fantasy XIII.
FFXIII did try to accomplish something that action systems pretty much cant: controlling more character than one. The way it was accomplished was by arbitrarily separating the characters even though they were on the same mission in the same 20 hour hallway and letting you control that one for awhile. This made the whole team building exercise fairly difficult.
Now, we had more of actiony tint to Final Fantasy XII but you still had to automate most of the battles with gambits. Even then the distance you ran away from or near to the enemy didn't make any difference and in the end you wound up with an MMO-style system that, having to take place on the map, disallowed the drama of special moves, the better graphical capabilities of a special spot in the engine for battle, and putting a dagger through the heart of the dramatic camera work nobody can deny exists in FFVII. That MMO-style battle with its gambits or the removal of control in FFXIII ultimately mean you have less connection with your team. How many people complained about the characters in XIII? How many forgot why Vaan and Penelo existed, or wanted more Balthier time in XII? If you aren't with your people, making a lot of live or die strategy decisions for them then connection is hard. Aeris didn't say a lot, or have big FMV parts, but we all still cried at her death.
We want to reconnect with Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, Barrett, Yuffie, Vincent and the rest. Much of this is done with that great story, but all those parts should remain mostly in place. If you think you can recapture the magic of the Air Buster fight, the elevator fight, or the One-winged angel fight by having Cloud running around on-map hacking away like Dante then I've got news for you. Want to toss in some action for the newbs? I dunno, maybe toss in some system to swap materia on the fly. If ya do, then make it take part of a turn and show an awesome scene where Cloud tosses it to Aeris and she jams it in her staff. That kind of thing only works well on a specially placed battle screen made for active time old time goodness.
11/17/2015 David D. Nelson