Dual Progression Part 1: Character Levels in Final Fantasy Tactics

POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 4.  LEVEL 3 - 1 POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 4.  LEVEL 3 – 1

Final Fantasy Tactics has two progression schemes: One that causes core character stats to increase according to parameters defined by the Job the character has when they level up, and one that is used to buy skills within the Jobs that the character has access to.

The article is about that first progression scheme: character levels.

A character levels up when they reach 100 XP, then the character’s XP resets to 0. XP is gained when a character uses an ability or attack successfully, either doing damage to HP or MP, adding or removing a status effect, or modifying some stat of a friend or foe.

The basic formula for XP gained from a successful action is 10 + (Target’s Level – Actor’s Level). Killing the target for the first time grants a bonus 10 XP. If a character is resurrected and then killed again, the second time the character is killed there is no kill bonus. Subsequent deaths incur penalties to XP granted to the killer for that action.

Target’s __ Death XP Modifier
1st +10
2nd 0
3rd -4
4th -5
5th -6
6th -7
More than 6 -8

Example: The player’s level 5 Archer hits the opponent’s level 5 Knight with an attack. The Archer gains 10 + (5 – 5) +0 = 10 XP. If that archer were level 3, and killed the level 5 Knight for the first time with that attack, the archer would gain 10 + (5 – 3) + 10 = 22 XP. Now if that Knight were resurrected, and a level 7 Ninja came by and finished him off for a second time, that’d give the Ninja 10 + (5 – 7) + 0 = 8 XP.

Thus it takes at most ten successful actions against same-level targets to level up.

 

The player is seldom in a position where their characters will earn extra XP from fighting higher-level opponents, especially considering that the player can fight in some random encounters between story battles to overlevel for upcoming missions. In order for it to take one less attack to level up the attacking character must be two levels lower than the defender.

Typically there won’t be more than eight opponents and five player-controlled characters in a battle, and a character takes 3 to 5 successful attacks to kill (I’ll show the work behind this number in later articles). Half the friendly characters in a battle are likely to get 2 kills, so for those characters that’s a total of 8 attacks to level: 6 earn 10 XP and 2 earn 20 XP. Characters that mainly use status effect magic and are unlikely to deal sufficient damage to kill an enemy will take at least the full 10 successful actions to level. They’ll on average need several more actual attacks, because the success rates of status magic can be as low as 50-60% whereas physical and magical damaging attacks have much higher average success rates.

This scheme leads to a relatively swift pace of leveling up, and rewards the player with several level-ups per combat in typical battles.

So far we have the outline of a serviceable leveling system, consistent with other games in the genre, like Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem. Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis on progression in Final Fantasy Tactics–next up is Job progression!

Morpheus at E3

Marcus says: When trying to sell a new hardware-specific product, getting the product into the hands of consumers is often the best way to convince them of its merits. From the comfort of my home, miles away from the E3  show, Morpheus is as far away from my hands as Dallas is from LA (yes, a literal distance. no need for metaphor here).

Without getting hands-on with Morpheus, I have to rely on the testimony from show goers and Sony PR. To my surprise, Sony didn’t attempt to sell the spectacle of the coming VR revolution. Instead, in trailer after trailer, I saw typical footage of typical games in typical gameplay scenarios. The only difference in the trailer for the VR games is that they feature first-person surveying; a not so subtle indication that, yes, a virtual head moving could be controlled by your literal head moving once you step into the realm of VR. The Kinect-like hovering prompts might also tip you off to the fact that these are indeed trailers for VR games.

Richard says: Nintendo is known for game presentations that focus on charm, creativity, and most of all gameplay. They typically don’t present footage without images of gameplay or content that is representative of the final product. Nintendo usually encourages their audience at E3 to go to the show floor and gets hands-on impressions. They even used the phrase “playing is believing” when they launched the Wii controller at E3 2006. I know the gaming industry has rapidly changed over the last 15 years, but I’d like to think actually playing games is the best and only way to understand what they are. Is it any different with Sony and Morpheus?

Reblog: Statistically Speaking Part 1

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 1.  LEVEL 1 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 1.  LEVEL 1 – 1

In Statistically Speaking, It’s Probably a Good Game Tyler Sigman gives a primer on probability from a game design perspective. He covers some basic mathematical facts of probability, but also talks about common misunderstandings.

Mike says: Randomized elements are so common in games that this article is more than worth a read, even if you think you know all it might have to say. I learned a bit more by digging through wikipedia after being inspired by some of this piece, particularly the fleeting mention of Binomial Distributions.

Richard says: The “quiz time” questions are thought provoking and even got me to laugh a bit. And no, the math isn’t the funny part. The last two paragraphs on page 1 describes the role and challenge of a game designer well.

“It’s pretty common to hear designers debating or waxing poetic on the finer points of linear or non-linear storytelling, human psychology, control ergonomics, or the integration of non-interactive sequences; less often do you catch them mulling over the bare bones details of the hard sciences like calculus, physics, or statistics. ” ~ Tyler Sigman

I don’t know how common it is for designers to talk about “control ergonomics,” but I like the point Tyler makes. The math part of game design is one of the hardest aspects to discuss among players and designers.

Reblog: How the Survivor Bias Distorts Reality

In How the Survivor Bias Distorts Reality Michael Shermer says for complex subjects many sources offer their advice based on analyzing success. He says that this is dangerous because if one only analyzes the successful one will not investigate the unsuccessful for its successful traits and qualities. This “survivor bias” leads to advice of severely limited value.

Credit: Izhar Cohen Credit: Izhar Cohen

Mike Says: I see this all the time in the analysis of game design. Analysts take a game that they love and tell us how great it is, but speak in terms that don’t actually differentiate the game from other much less successful games in any way. It’s important when coming up with principles of good design to examine unsuccessful games with a clear eye and see if they exhibit the design principle–if they do, more analysis and attention is needed.

Chris Says: I wonder how much more successful a converse approach to analysis of game design might be: start with a design failure and attempt to analyze why that design failed or why a particular design feature isn’t working. This approach seems to be used when working out the kinks of a game’s design during playtesting, and for good reason: often it’s easier to tell what’s not working that what is. Though a comparative analysis would obviously be the best, this approach is an easier one for beginners doing any sort of design analysis to take, and avoids some of the pitfalls of survivor bias.

Richard says: Hey, Mike. Didn’t you have a blog called “that’s a terrible idea” that specialized in understanding the many flaws of MMO game design? Sounds like you did the method Chris described. 

Uncharted 4: Chase Set Pieces

It’s E3 week! Here at Design Oriented we’re skipping the speculation and the hype. We’re focused on bringing you the details from E3 that are design-oriented. Keep an eye on our twitter feed and keep coming back here for features that zoom in on games from the show.

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 1 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 1 – 1

Making an E3 trailer or demo is a complicated. A few short minutes is all companies have to thrill, intrigue, and possibly make good on their promises. Naughty Dog promised there would be more ways to move through the levels of Uncharted 4 and this live stage demo chase scene makes good on that promise.

It starts with a sweeping vista and the destination far off in the distance.

How do Drake and Sully get to the tower below? Sully chimes in “We just keep heading down hill”. While a cinematic ride down roads and back alleys seems like a linear experience, the E3 demo hinted at something more. At every turn when Drake was cut off by the pursuing van, there were always at least two other paths the he could take to evade his foe.

The whole experience is subtly a dynamic set piece. As NeoGaf’s mrklaw notes, the whole scene is a clever use of winding roads that fork and then meet up again later. The interwoven paths funnel Drake and the pursuit van towards each other and down the hill towards the destination no matter which of the many paths they take.

Richard says: I think the biggest difference between this Uncharted 4 chase scene and this one from Uncharted 3 is that there are few to no dead ends. When young Drake takes the wrong jump in Uncharted 3, it’s game over. I couldn’t see any areas where the player car in Uncharted 4 would get stuck at a dead end.

The Uncharted 4 set piece flows pretty nicely. The scene also keeps up the pace by eliminating loading screens. Gameplay-wise, the decisions look just as simple as other Uncharted chase set pieces: Steer left, steer right, and you’ll make it. Contrast Uncharted 4 with this scene from The Adventures of Tintin, and you’ll see what I mean. Tintin features driving, shooting, grabbing, jumping, and punching.

Non-Vlambeer Games Scored

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 4 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 4 – 1

Previously, we applied the Vlambeer Scale of Quality to Vlambeer’s games. It turns out Vlambeer has been slowly increasing the score for their character action games over time, and Nuclear Throne has earned the highest score of all the games we’ve scored! To get a better idea of how effective the Vlambeer Scale of Quality is for measuring game feel, we have to apply it to non-Vlambeer games.

Games series that date back to the NES era tend to have lower Vlambeer Scores.

Super Mario Bros. series

  • Super Mario Bros. : 13
  • Super Mario World : 14
  • New Super Mario Bros. U : 16
  • Super Mario 3D World : 14

From 1985 to 2013 the Vlambeer Score, and therefore the look and feel, of these Mario platformers has stayed relatively stable. In fact, the scores are more consistent than with Vlambeer’s games. This is likely the result of a very conscious effort from Mario’s developers.

“Of course, when we were making Super Mario Bros. 3, it was important to add in lots of new elements, but I also think Super Mario Bros. has stayed popular precisely because we have preserved the original foundation.”  ~ Tezuka Iwata Asks

Screen Shake: The POW Block was first introduced in Mario Bros. (1983), which is the first example of screen shake in the series and, from what we can tell, in all video games. The POW Block was introduced into the side scrolling games with Super Mario Bros. 2, but was surprisingly absent from the 2D Mario platformers from then until the New Super Mario Bros. series 2006. Screen shake is often used when large enemies crash into the ground. (e.g. Super Mario Bros. 3 final Bowser battle)

Gif from Scroll Back by Itay Keren Gif from Scroll Back by Itay Keren

Camera Lerp: The 2D Mario platformers use the camera design that was established in Super Mario Bros. for the NES. The camera keeps Mario oriented slightly off center so players can see what’s up ahead. The camera will also accelerate to catch up to Mario when he speeds up. Camera lerp is used to smooth out the motion of the camera view. See Reblog: Scroll Back by Itay Keren for more details on camera design and terms.

Enemy Count: Since Super Mario Bros., 2D Mario platformers’ challenges are a balance of overcoming level elements and and enemy elements. Enemies are mostly used as a dynamic obstacle while not being the focus. In other words, Mario gameplay is primarily about moving and jumping not enemy combat. Mario games generally don’t ramp up the enemy count as the main way to increase the challenge for players. There are a few notable levels in each game that feature many more enemies than normal. Examples from New Super Mario Bros. Wii include 1-4, 4-1, 7-Tower, 7-6.

Faster Enemies: The fastest horizontally traveling enemy element in a Mario game is typically a kicked Koopa shell. Most Mario enemies move at a brisk walking pace. Mario enemies don’t amp up in speed as a means of increasing challenge. This is mostly because Mario’s challenge comes from the layered design combining level and enemy elements. Because enemies also interact with the level in dynamic ways (falling off platforms, destroying platforms, etc.) it works best to keep their movement relatively slow in order to give players time to react and plan their actions.

Mega Man series

  • Mega Man 2 : 9
  • Mega Man X : 14
  • Mega Man Zero: 17
  • Mega Man Powered Up : 12
  • Mighty No. 9 : 10

Mega Man, unlike Mario, has underwent various reboots and reinventions, tailoring the main character of the series to suit each generation of consoles and players. As his appearance changed from classic 1960’s classic anime, to radical 90’s humanoid, to Ghost In The Shell-like cyborg, Mega Man’s game design also adopted the trends of the times. While Mega Man classic can only power walk, Mega Man X and Zero can dash and wall jump, mechanics that turn a steady march through robot baddies into a kinetic romp. Mega Man can only shoot. When Zero entered the series he featured his Z-Saber melee attacks along with the Capcom game feel technique of hit pause [sleep]. Every new power and movement mechanic made these games faster and more diverse while increasing the visual flare.

As the Mega Man series grew its Vlambeer score increased. It is interesting to note that Mega Man Powered Up and Mighty No. 9 are throwbacks to classic Mega Man games and scored lower because of the homage. Mega Man Powered Up for PSP translates the 8-bit Mega Man style as cute “chibi” 3D models while keeping the gameplay as close to the 8-bit games as possible. Mighty No. 9 features a new character, new mechanics, and a new graphical style, however the gameplay looks like a mix between classic Mega Man and Mega Man X.

Various Games:

Richard says: A big take away from our examination of the Vlambeer Scale for game feel is that some points convey the Vlambeer style more than others. Lots of games have permanence, sleep, hit animations, and other effects from the Vlambeer Scale. But it’s the bigger bullets, more enemies, explosions, camera lerp, and screen shake that most effectively give a game that Vlambeer game feel.

Every game has its own style. 3D games in particular achieve their game feel differently from 2D games. Bloodborne and Splatoon both scored a 19 on the Vlambeer Scale. 3D games use many of the same game feel techniques but they don’t “feel” the same. Getting 3D cameras to work well for 3D games is incredibly difficult that often requires so much fine tuning that elements like screen shake and large (explosive) special effects are kept to a minimum.

Below are the points from the Vlambeer Scale of Quality that I feel are the most important to feature in a 2D action game in order of importance with a priority on creating good gameplay.

  1. Basic Sound and Animation. If your game doesn’t have these, then it’s probably not a 2D action video game.
  2. Impact Effects are important for communicating to the player what happens to projectiles and moving objects when they interact with other objects. This effect is usually a small pop, spark, mark that appears when bullets collide with enemies or walls.
  3. Lower Enemy HP works well in action games because the lower HP correlates with fewer actions needed to take the enemy out. The fewer the actions, the better players can mentally keep track of their damage over time because the value is well within our short term memory capacity. A common trope of boss design is the 3-hit-KO.
  4. Strafing comes in many different varieties. I love strafing in action games because it creates an asymmetric relationship between offense and movement. Being able to move and shoot at the same time at maximum effectiveness allows for simple solutions. Simply move well and shoot well. When offense comes at the expense of movement more interesting choices have to be made because there is a tradeoff between both types of actions.
  5. Sleep along with impact effects are very important for communicating to the player exactly when interactions take place. Impact effects alone are good for projectile interactions, but for certain collisions, like melee attacks, localized “hit pause” or global “sleep” is incredibly effective at communicating when collisions occur and seeing how the hitboxes overlap.
  6. Hit Animation are specific effects and animations played for when two game elements interact. The more complex the interacting elements, the more specific hit animations help communicate the game actions to the player. Look very carefully at a fighting game like Street Fighter, weak, medium, and strong hits cause characters to recoil with different animations. Also, fiery and electric attacks have a unique hit animation. The classic and perhaps most common type of hit animation is when elements flash a color (usually white).
  7. Bigger Bullets. Making informed decisions while playing an action game requires the game to communicate its actions well and also to have fewer actions on the screen to consider. Along with lower enemy HP, bigger bullets help players keep track of how many projectiles they launch. This design tip applies to melee attacks and other kinds of actions. It’s important to be able to count each individual action and potentially see the result of each.

Reblog: Combat Turn Design Decisions by Thorin

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 1 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 1 – 1

In the article Combat Turn Design Decisions Thorin makes the case that designing how a combat round works in a tabletop RPG has to balance keeping everyone involved and attentive, and actually letting players do substantial things on their turn. Quick turns mean less can get done, but players stay more engaged because they’re acting more often. Longer turns allow the players to have a lot of positive feelings of agency, but those who aren’t currently taking their turn tend to have their attention wander. Thorin suggests a simultaneous planning system in an effort to compromise.

Mike says: Thorin brings up a critical point in the design of tabletop RPGs, and his attention to player psychology is very well-placed. My concern with this article is an absence of detail in what actions actually mean and how much time they tend to take. When analyzing this topic, I would look closely at exactly what kinds of things players have to do to plan and resolve actions. I’d carefully take notes on where players got hung up, and on how engaged other players were during off-turn periods.

From my experience with tabletop RPGs, playing and running games, Thorin’s approach seems somewhat reductive and overly-simplistic. Much more work could be done here to make a convincing argument. As it stands, I’m not convinced his dichotomy is necessarily the case, nor am I remotely convinced that his suggested solution effectively addresses his concerns without opening up further cans of worms.

Richard says: I agree with you, Mike. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around Thorin’s ideas because they’re in an awkward space between abstract game design analysis and concrete examples. He doesn’t break things down into design parts like mechanics or difficulty design. And he doesn’t pick a specific tabletop game to illustrate his point. The result is a collection of thoughts that presents a vague issue and suggests a few game design knobs to twist in search of the solution. There are so many factors in a games design and outside its design that can create the negative effects Thorin outlined. 

Vlambeer Scale on Vlambeer Games

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 3 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 3 – 1

It’s time for the judge to be judged. We’ve nearly come to the end of our Vlambeer Scale article series. So far we’ve used the Vlambeer Scale of Quality to measure the Vlambeerian game feel of Ridiculous Fishing, Ninja Fishing, and an upcoming indie game called Downwell. Now the question is how do Vlambeer’s games measure up?

The following is a list of Vlambeer’s games in chronological order and some of the points from the Vlambeer Scale of Quality that each game does not have.

Super Crate Box

Muzzle Flash, Impact Effects, Enemy Knockback, No level of permanence, Lerp (no camera manipulation at all), Sleep (only for katana), Strafing Muzzle Flash, Impact Effects, Enemy Knockback, No level of permanence, Lerp (no camera manipulation at all), Sleep (only for katana), Strafing

Serious Sam: The Random Encounter

Enemy Knockback, Level 2 and 3 permanence, Player knockback, Sleep, Gun delay, Camera kick, Meaning Enemy Knockback, Level 2 and 3 permanence, Player knockback, Sleep, Gun delay, Camera kick, Meaning

Ridiculous Fishing

Hit Animation, Player Knockback (guy is in a boat), Strafing Hit Animation, Player Knockback (guy is in a boat), Strafing

Luftrausers

Less Accuracy: No random spread with “Spread” weapon, Hit Animation,     Enemy Knockback, Player Knockback (you are a plane), More Bass Less Accuracy: No random spread with “Spread” weapon, Hit Animation,     Enemy Knockback, Player Knockback (you are a plane), More Bass

Nuclear Throne

    Random explosions, gun kickback, Player knockback     Random explosions, gun kickback, Player knockback

Marcus says:

  • Nuclear Throne The highest scored Vlambeer title with a 28 out of 31. It’s also the highest game of all the games we’ve scored!
  • Not every game has guns to fire to create camera kick or recoil. Some games seem to start off not even being able to to achieve a perfect Vlambeer Scale score. However, with a little creativity “gun based” elements of game feel can be applied to just about any action. Just look at what Death Note does to the action of writing down names on a piece of paper.
  • Player Knockback is only in Vlambeer’s first game Super Crate Box. In general, player knockback makes platforming gameplay more difficult. Most players want to push ahead when they get hurt like in Mario, rather than worry about how they will be pushed back like in Mega Man. Likewise, they want their gunshots to not affect their positioning.
  • Nuclear Throne is the only game with 3 distinct levels of permanence: bodies, bullet casings, and level destruction.
  • The element of “meaning” is in every Vlambeer game but the first two. Perhaps this is a lesson they picked up as they continued to create games. Whether from thematic setting or bits of story, a little meaning goes a long way.
  • Luftrausers embraces common tropes of flying combat games, which weakens its score.
    • With the most complex movement out of all the games, Luftrausers is about balancing moving with dodging and aiming.
    • To match the style of shmups, the bullets travel the slowest compared to the other Vlambeer games. Also, there is no random player bullet spread.
    • Luftrausers does not feature a heavy bass component. Keeping the soundscape in a higher register makes Luftrausers sound more like old arcade games.
  • The three avatar-based shooting games scored higher.
  • Serious Sam is the only game with “random” explosions. The random explosions come from firing into a large mob of enemies and hitting the “bomb” guy.
  • The three games with strafing achieve it in three different ways.
    • Strafing in the only MOVE mechanic in Serious Sam as the player characters are always running on their heels up and down the right side of the screen.
    • Strafing in Nuclear Throne is possible because the aiming is independent of a character’s movement.
    • Strafing in Luftrausers happens due to the inertial systems when the nose goes one way and the tail the other.

Richard says: back in 2010, I wrote a blog post on Super Crate Box on Critical-Gaming. Here are three points I made. Key words are bolded and Vlambeer terms are added in brackets where appropriate:

  • …because of the high game speed, it’s more difficult to judge the hitboxes and other interactions in the game. Sometimes I thought that I dodged an enemy, but I died. Other times I survived without being able to see how. And because the game doesn’t pause [sleep] (even slightly) when you die (like in Super Mario Bros or DKCR), sometimes the exact cause of your death is mysterious. Or my difficulty in understanding the interactions could be due to the way the hitboxes are designed. Either way, I feel that something should be tweaked.
  • [Super Crate Box has] excellently tuned weapons with an excellent coverage of the design space. Nice sound effects and unique feel created by screen shaking and other visual effects.
  • The 3 enemies and their speed upgrades [faster enemies] create just enough contrary motion that layers together nicely to create varied challenges.

Looks like the game feel of Super Crate Box is an important part of the experience and an important talking point. After all, I wrote this 5 years before we started the Vlambeer Scale of Quality here at Design Oriented.

Three Pillars of Combat Design: Characters

POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 2 - 1 POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 2 – 1

To get a full view of the systems design of Final Fantasy Tactics requires an examination of the many ways that characters, enemies, and maps vary. For this first article, let’s take a look at the composition of a character. We can start by taking a look at Ramza, the hero of Final Fantasy Tactics, at the very start of the game. Below is a screenshot of Ramza’s status screen in the first battle where the player has full control.

This screenshot shows most of the relevant attributes of a character–there are 34 in total spanning stats, equipment, and abilities. Analyzing these attributes, we can gain a handle on the design space of characters in the battles of Final Fantasy Tactics.

All battles have an objective of either killing a specific enemy unit, or killing all enemy units. Since reducing a character’s HP to zero is the most common way to kill it, HP earns a special place in the design space. All successful strategies have unit preservation (through minimizing HP damage) as a key consideration. Though the player can win battles through spending all of their effort dealing damage via attacks and abilities, many strategies also take advantage of powerful status-inflicting spells to temporarily hamper opponents, or take them out of the fight permanently (regardless of their HP total) by turning them into statues, frogs, or outright killing them by directly inflicting the “Dead” status.

I’ll cover the 33 different status effects in depth in a future article. For now let’s focus on what we can see on the status screen and understand the statistics that make up a character by taking a tour of combat.

The Basics of Combat

As a player of a turn-based game the first two questions that come to mind are “when do I take a turn?” and “what can I do on a turn?”

(From HCBailly’s Let’s Play. If the player were to select “Time Magic” or “Black Magic” here, a further submenu would open letting them choose the specific ability they’d like to use.) (From HCBailly’s Let’s Play. If the player were to select “Time Magic” or “Black Magic” here, a further submenu would open letting them choose the specific ability they’d like to use.)

Final Fantasy Tactics has an interleaved turn system where the player gets to take a turn for each character in an order determined by the characters’ statistics. Characters go individually when they’re ready.

A character’s Speed stat determines how often they get to take a turn. On a character’s turn (called AT by the game) the player can have the character MOVE, ACT, or both, or neither. Choosing not to MOVE or ACT makes the character’s next turn comes faster.

A characters can MOVE at most a number of tiles equal to their Move stat, and any vertical distance between two tiles along the path of movement can’t be higher than their Jump stat.

When the player chooses to ACT with a character, they get to choose to Attack with their weapon or use an ability. Some of these abilities are resolved immediately, while others may take some time during which other characters may take further turns.

Abilities used offensively, i.e. to deal damage or inflict status effects, can be magical (like the Wizard’s spells), physical (like the Monk’s martial arts), or neither (like the Mediator’s talk skill). There are a number of different formulas to determine hit chance and damage for different abilities, but understanding if the ability is physical or magical keys you into what stats the game takes into account when doing the calculations.

Many abilities have a base 100% success rate, like physical abilities, but others have a success rate based on some formula involving the relevant attack stat (Physical Attack, Magical Attack, Speed, and Weapon Power, typically), some constant, and Zodiac compatibility. (I’ll be covering Zodiac-related rules in a future article.) After the die roll for success rate succeeds, then the ability is subject to the defender’s evasion depending on what kind of ability is being used and some other conditions.

Think of evasion as layers of defense. The attacker has to pass each layer by rolling a 100-sided die and getting a result higher than the defender’s evasion percentage. If any die rolls end up lower, the attack misses.

If a magic attack is used, the defender uses their Shield’s (“S-Ev”) and Accessory’s (“A-Ev”) magic evasion percentage to try to cause the attack to miss.

If an attack is physical, the process is slightly more complicated. Which evasion percentages apply to a given physical attack is based on the relative position of attacker and defender. If…

  • the attacker is in front: all evasion stats apply;
  • the attacker is to the side: shield, accessory, and weapon evasion apply;
  • the attacker is to the rear: only accessory evasion applies.

 

If the attack passes all of these checks, it takes effect on the defender by dealing damage or applying a status or both. Damage formulas for the ATTACK action are based on the weapon involved and usually include some combination of Weapon Power (WP) and Magic Attack (MA), or Physical Attack (MA). Guns only rely on WP, squaring it to determine their damage, and there are a few weapons, as mentioned earlier, which use Brave as a part of their damage calculation.

Damage calculations for magical and other attacks typically depend on MA or PA and some constant factor. Magic attacks damage is additionally multiplied by the Faith of the caster and target as a percentage. I.e. Damage * (My faith / 100) * (Target Faith / 100).

Jobs

Final Fantasy Tactics has a relatively complicated battle system, where characters are throwing damage and status effects around to try to gain the upper hand–but how do they get these abilities? They get them through the Jobs they’ve had.

Jobs are akin to classes in most RPGs, but act a little differently than you might expect if you’re familiar with how classes tend to work games that borrow from Dungeons & Dragons.

The player can select one Job for each character, and change each character’s Job between battles. This Job determines the character’s stat growth when they level up and provides percentage bonuses to HP, MP, Speed, Physical Attack, and Magical Attack. For example, a Knight has more HP and Physical Attack, less MP and Magical Attack; a Wizard has lots of MP and Magical Attack, but not much HP and Physical Attack; a Ninja has great Speed, good Physical Attack, but low MP and middling other stats.

Each job has a base Move stat and Jump stat, as well. Ninjas are much more mobile than Knights not only because their Speed is higher, but also because they can Jump and Move one tile more.

A character gets a group of abilities from their Job. Knights get “Battle Skill” abilities which let them break opponents’ equipment; Wizards get “Black Magic” abilities which let them deal elemental damage at range; Ninjas get “Throw” which lets them toss various items at enemies to damage them based on the item’s stats. Characters can use these abilities during the ACT part of their turn. But before a character can use such an ability, the player must unlock it for that character by paying its cost in Job Points (JP) between battles. Each character has a JP pool for each job. A character gains JP for a Job when they successfully ACT while they have that Job–abilities have to hit their target, friend or foe, for JP to be awarded.

The player can equip each character with an additional ability group from another Job, as well as the “automatic” ability group granted by the Job the character currently has. This secondary ability group can be used just the same as the ability group given by the character’s current Job.

Abilities

Abilities are what really bring the characters to life in battle–the abilities the player equips to his characters, and the abilities that appear on the various AI-controlled enemies, are the main source of variety in the battle system.

In addition to the two job ability groups mentioned above, the player can equip each character with one Reaction Ability, one Support Ability. and one Movement Ability. Below is a screenshot of the Summoner’s Active Ability set, known as “Summon Magic”.

(The Summoner’s Active ability set. From SnapWave’s Let’s Play.) (The Summoner’s Active ability set. From SnapWave’s Let’s Play.)

Reaction abilities have a percentage chance of triggering their effect based on the character’s Brave stat when the character has certain kinds of abilities used on them. Reaction abilities give the character a chance to immediately react to being hit by, say, countering a spell with a spell of their own, or doing a physical attack in response to an enemy’s physical attack. Other reactions include increasing the character’s speed stat by 1, adding a positive status effect, and automatically using a potion to restore its health.

Support abilities are a motley assortment of passive abilities and a couple of active abilities. Examples: Increasing physical or magical attack power, granting the ability to throw curative items to nearby allies, and granting the ability to go into a defensive posture that doubles all evasion. Support abilities can also do much more unusual things, like unlocking more powerful abilities for nearby monsters, and “poaching” rare items off of monsters killed by this character.

Movement Abilities give the character some benefit each time they MOVE during their turn, or somehow enhance their MOVE action. Benefits can include finding hidden items, increasing the jump or move stat, ignoring height all together, or gaining HP, MP, JP, or XP after each MOVE action.

Equipment

Below I’ve enumerated the stats and bonuses for the equipment on two late-game characters, so you can get a sense of what role equipment tends to play.

(From GetDaved!’s Let’s Play.) (From GetDaved!’s Let’s Play.)

Equipped Item Effect
Kikuichimoji 15 Weapon Power, 15 Weapon Evasion
Crystal Helmet +120 HP
Genji Armor +150 HP
Bracer +3 Physical Attack

This Ramza is configured to be able to absorb physical attacks. His high HP allows him to take the hits that his relatively high evasion doesn’t prevent outright. The Kukuichimoji sword allows Ramza to deal PA * Brave / 100 * WP damage, which in this case works out to 225 (This is lower than you would expect from the equation because the PSX doesn’t support floating-point math and will drop the remainder of PA * Brave / 100 before multiplying that result by WP.) Having the sword also allows Ramza to use a Job ability which deals MA * 16 = 144 damage to enemies in a line eight tiles long from either Ramza’s front, one of his sides, or rear.

The only way the player can increase the HP and MP of his characters, short of leveling them up or changing jobs to something tankier, is to equip them with different items. Typically body and head items provide the most HP and MP. Ramza, who is built as a melee combatant in the screenshot above, gets 270 of his 398 HP from his equipment. In this particular case, it’s clear how armor plays a large role in Ramza’s ability to absorb damage, since it accounts for two-thirds of his HP.

Ramza’s Job, Samurai, contributes 20% to his evasion rate (listed under “C-Ev”) while his katana contributes 15% (listed under “Weap.Power” after the slash), meaning an opponent physically attacking him from the front will only hit 68% of the time. Meanwhile, Ramza has no magical evasion whatsoever, so he’ll be quite vulnerable to magical attacks. He could put on an accessory, such as the Feather Mantle–the best such item in the game–which gives 30% magic evade and 40% physical evade, to improve his survivability against magical attacks. Remember that evasion granted by an accessory such as the Feather Mantle applies to attacks regardless of where they’re coming from–even if an enemy is attacking Ramza from behind he’ll get that 40% physical evasion!

(From HCBailly’s Let’s Play) (From HCBailly’s Let’s Play)

Equipped Item Effect
Blaze Gun 20 Weapon Power, 5 Weapon Evasion
Thief Hat +100 HP, +2 Speed, prevents Don’t Move and Don’t Act status effects.
Black Costume +100 HP, prevents Stop status effect.
Germinas Boots +1 Move, +1 Jump

Mustadio, like Ramza, relies on equipment for a significant chunk of his HP–in fact, even more than Ramza–but Mustadio’s build has more of a focus on staying away from enemies and hitting them with his gun. Guns are unique among weapons in that their damage is entirely based on the gun’s Weapon Power and has nothing to do with the wielder’s Physical or Magical Attack stats. Guns also can strike from the longest distance of any weapon attack in the game, with a range of 3 to 8 tiles. In contrast, crossbows tend to have a range of 3 to 4 and longbows have a range of 3 to 5. Mustadio’s gun, the Blaze Gun, is a magical gun, which acts more like a magical attack in that its damage is proportional to the Faith of the caster and target–its effectiveness still has nothing to do with PA and MA stats, though! Another important, unique detail about guns is that they ignore evasion entirely. They typically do less raw damage in exchange for hitting more often. It’s a great way to counter evasion-rich characters like the Ramza we just took a look at.

To stay away from enemy combatants who can take advantage of Mustadio’s woeful evasion of 5% from his weapon and 5% from his class, Mustadio relies on both his modest Move and good Jump, as well as his equipment’s capacity to prevent the most common status effects that would pin him down: Don’t Move would hold him in place and Stop would prevent him from taking turns all together.

 

This is Just an Introduction

It took many words just to give you the basics of the way characters are designed in Final Fantasy Tactics, and there is still so much to talk about. Over the next month expect  a number of articles breaking down in detail many of the design facets discussed here. Stay tuned!