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The Paradigm battle system in Final Fantasy 13 continues to spark discussion from gamers. It’s a significant departure from past Final Fantasy battle systems, and to find out why Square Enix took this direction, we asked FF 13 Battle Director Yuji Abe 13 questions about it.
Bitmob: Which Final Fantasy battle systems have you worked on in the past?
Yuji Abe: Final Fantasy 13 is the first.
Bitmob: The Paradigm system is a significant departure from previous Final Fantasy battle systems. How did its concept develop? How did it get its name?
YA: The Paradigm system was developed based on the main battle concept for this game: speed and tactics. We wanted to create a system in which players could intuitively manipulate their entire party with as little variance as possible when switching between A.I. The Japanese name, Optima system, comes from the English word “optimize.”Switching Optima implies switching between optimal choices based on the battle conditions. For players overseas, we wanted to accentuate the dynamic changes in battle and decided on Paradigm, which I believe indicates major upcoming changes.
Bitmob: Who came up with the original idea for the Paradigm system?
YA: Toshiro Tsuchida, who was the battle team lead for Final Fantasy 10, came up with the basis of the idea mentioned above. I was in charge of the structural implementation and gameplay associated with those elements.
Bitmob: How long did it take to develop and refine the Paradigm system? How early do you start working on the battle system in the development of a Final Fantasy title?
YA: I don’t know the details on how other Final Fantasy titles were developed, but with Final Fantasy 13, concept formulation for the battle system began when I joined the project in April of 2007. We were able to get something up and running around June 2008, once the Crystal Tools engine was far enough along in development. Post-September, we made drastic structural changes after receiving feedback that players were too caught up with the controls and couldn’t concentrate on the Paradigms. The suggestion to provide automatic command input emerged around this time, and with that, we were able to bring the game to its current playability — including Paradigm switchover frequency and enemy tuning — by April 2009. The amount of time spent focusing on and configuring the actual Paradigm system was more or less a year.
Bitmob: Did you discard other battle systems in development before settling on the Paradigm system? If so, what were they like?
YA: For a while we considered a gameplay mechanism in which the player could move in superspeed — able to move freely while everyone around is in extreme slow-mo — but the relevancy diminished, so we scrapped the idea. These are minor, but other things that were discarded include coordinated attacks between party members and ability transformations based on chain attacks. We eliminated them because the effects overlapped with existing ones, or the actions became difficult to understand at the current battle tempo.
Bitmob: The Paradigm system feels like it has roots in the “Dress Sphere” system of Final Fantasy X-2 — the switching of Paradigms reminds me of switching dresses in Final Fantasy X-2. Others point to Chrono Cross, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and even the Tales series. Did the battle systems of non-Final Fantasy games influence Final Fantasy 13’s development, and if so, which games?
YA: I would probably get in trouble for admitting this, but I have actually never played any of the games mentioned above. So it’s safe to say nothing I had a part in with Final Fantasy 13 was affected by them. There are no games in particular that directly inspired the Paradigm system. We did look to fighting games for reference on thought process and speed in combat.
Bitmob: In Final Fantasy 12, players could control the movement and direction of their characters in combat, much like in Western RPGs like World of Warcraft. In Final Fantasy 13, players are torn from the Overworld and thrown into the encounter. While this is, technically, a return to form, many would argue that it's less engaging. What led you to remove movement control over the character during battle?
YA: In hindsight, Final Fantasy 13 battle system is a result of my pursuing everything I wanted to do with the game. We focused solely on building an interesting and fun battle system based on our original concept, rather than referring back to the previous titles.
Bitmob: How did you come up with the six classes? Are they based off roles you defined early in the process, or did you take some classic Final Fantasy abilities, such as Protect and Fire, and build classes around those?
YA: We simply categorized the fundamental RPG battle elements and initially came up with five roles:
— Commando: Combat mainly through powerful attacks.
— Ravager: Follows the attacker with concentrated attacks.
— Sentinel: Functions as a shield.
— Synergist: Uses auxiliary magic: strengthens, defends, weakens, obstructs.
— Medic: Assists in recovery.
We originally had set up the system so that roles only dictated ability inclinations, and characters could use their full range of abilities. For example, Commandos could heal themselves in a pinch, and Medics could attack when there was no need for healing. We then included the chain aspect and Paradigm shifting, began differentiating abilities as A.I. were developed, and ultimately created the six current roles with specific abilities.
Bitmob: The MMO “paradigm” of “Tank, Healer, Damage-per-Second character” is influencing the combat systems of many RPGs. How much influence did it have with Final Fantasy 13’s Paradigm system?
YA: There were no influences. Similar to the answer above [about game influences], I’ve never played a MMORPG.
Bitmob: How difficult was it to work in summons to the battle system?
YA: It was very difficult. The summons couldn’t be too strong or too weak, so the challenge was trying to find a good balance.
Bitmob: How did you decide to give direct control over one player instead of the entire party in combat? How much did your decision to allow players to change characters’ Paradigms affect this?
YA: The decision was made once the Paradigm system was confirmed as part of the battle system. It was too difficult to combine speed with strategy while inputting commands for all three party members.
Bitmob: Have you ever wanted to bring back a previous Final Fantasy battle system? If so, which one, and how would you make it better?
YA: Final Fantasy III. When I played as a child, I was sad that I ended up unable to use all of the Jobs. I’d like to try altering the system so that all the jobs come into play somehow.
Bitmob: How do you feel about criticism that Final Fantasy 13’s battle system puts the player on “autopilot” or “on rails”? Do you feel this criticism is inaccurate, and if so, in what ways is it inaccurate?
YA: Players have the option to manually input commands as well, which may be more enjoyable for those that are not too fond of the auto battle function. But this method can prove difficult, since it requires fast command input and quick thinking. I don’t think there is really a right or wrong answer here; a player’s criticism implies his or her preferences, and the choices regarding a game’s system reflects the developer’s preferences. With FINAL FANTASY XIII, we wanted players to experience the paradigms first and foremost, and decisions were made based on the needs of the system. If we didn’t do this, I feel like most of the praise we received in regards to the battle system would be washed down the drain.