An RPG game involves many aspects to think about at the time of its creation. One of the most appealing is the combat system, since it comprises a large part of the gaming experience. Although as player one can say that there are as many types of combat systems as there are video games exist, the truth is that it is considered that there are only two main categories. The first is Turn-Based, which divides in-game actions in a series of distinct parts known as turns, and was born with the first JRPG as “Dragon Warrior (JP1986 / NA1989)”, “Final Fantasy (JP1987 / NA1990)” or “Ghost Lion (JP1989 / NA1992)”. The second is Real-Time, where all the actions take place in a continuous time-space and therefore characters act as fast as it takes for an action to be ready. “Final Fantasy XI (JP2002 / NA2004)” and “Tales of Arise (2021)” are clear examples of the latter.
The diversity of battle systems that one appreciates are rather the result of the modification or combination of those explained above, thus allowing the existence of subcategories.
This is why one can hear about, for example, the Active Time Battle (ATB), the Reaction Based Battle System, and so on. The goal of the birth of new subcategories is to create an attractive and satisfying experience for players, keeping them engaged and coming back for more. So, it is very likely that over the years, we will have the opportunity to enjoy more types of combat systems.
But now that we’re deep into this topic, there is one thing to consider when working on the idea of a battle system, and that is: the visual way to present it to make it work. This part is important since in a single screen the player must have access to all the information s/he needs to understand, continue and finish a battle. Within this, the subject of battle systems becomes even more extensive. However, it is best to discuss it little by little. Thus, this post analyzes a recurring component in video games with Conditional Turn-Based Battle (CTB) system or similar: the one that shows the turns of the fighters.
The Conditional Turn-Based Battle system, known as Count Time Battle system in Japan, does not operate in rounds, but uses an Act List that can be affected by various means, and therefore, does not guarantee that each participant in battle will have an equal number of turns. The order of this list can be altered by characters stats, such as speed, making that units with higher speed take more turns than slower ones. Similarly, the actions of other participants can cooperate in the alteration, either by interrupting attacks or changing the speed of teammates or enemies through magic.
Although this type of battle system or similar exist in other games, the term “Conditional Turn-Based” has only been used in reference to “Final Fantasy X (JP/NA2001 / AU/EU2002)”
With the arrival of the CTB, the need arises to create forms that show the user the order of the turns of the participant in a battle, allowing the player to notice the adjustments in the list and thus granting an extra layer of strategy during the encounters. So, let’s break down how this list is displayed in video games!
Before starting, although this visual component is seen more in games that use Conditional Turn-Based battle, there are a few exceptions and some will be mentioned in this post.
Even though “Final Fantasy X (2001)” is the first game to be referred to as CTB, some features of this combat mode are used in games released before, mainly in TRPGs. For example, “Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (1995)” handles an ordered list of turns that is dictated by a unit’s Wait Turn (WT) points that, depending on how many and what type of action is taken and on the unit’s weight and agility statistic of the unit, it is the amount that is earned in each turn. So, even though it is not considered as a CTB battle system, it is true that because the turns are affected by various conditions, it can be said that is like a precursor.
Another example is “Final Fantasy Tactics (JP1997 / NA1998)”. This has a turn list that can be altered through magic, such as “Haste” and “Slow”. Yet it is true that its creator described this game as a CT (Charge Time), is undoubtedly one of the first precursor games of CTB.
A few years later, the use of a conditional turn order arrives in non-tactical games and also, visually speaking, interesting ways of showing this order are born. The best example of this is “Grandia (1997)”.
“Grandia” had the peculiarity of having an animated IP bar that showed a row of icons represented the fighters. These icons moved along the bar as if it was a race in which they had to reach a destination point where an action was assigned to them and then carried out. The speed at which participants moved along the bar was determined by their initiative points (IP). Each character had a base IP, which cannot be changed outside of battle.
This bar was divided into three stages: “Wait”, “Command” and “Action”. “Wait” was the fragment through which the icons had to pass to reach the “Command” line, where the action to be performed was assigned. Finally, the “Action” block was the amount of time it took for this command to execute. For example, the “Combo” command took less time (being almost automatic) than a weak magic. Obviously, the more powerful the command, the longer it took. The curious part of this battle system and what can be seen as the conditional part of the turns, was that during the period that represents “Action”, the fighters were vulnerable to an opponent canceling their moves. When this happened, this action was reflected in the IP bar. In addition, to reinforce the characteristic of the CTB system, within the battle, the use of spells and items could alter the IP level and thus speed up or slow down the movement of the characters along the bar. This same technique is seen in all Grandia franchises.
This style served as inspiration for other games, which decided to improve it by applying a more noticeable separation between the icons of allies and enemies due to in “Grandia” there was little distance between them, causing their icons to overlap.
One of these games was “Child of Light (2014)”, which has a bar similar to the one explained above and is called “Timeline”. In it, the entities are represented with bubbles, and those of the allies are located at the top of the bar and the opponents below. In this way, overlapping is avoided.
The Timeline is this case is divided only in two, instead of three blocks: “Wait” and “Cast”. Although each character has their own natural speed, which affects the “Wait” time, there are factors that can modify it. For example, there is a firefly, called Igniculus, that can slow down anyone at the player’s choosing, assuming s/he still has some power to do so. Applying the slow effect generally cuts the speed in half. Some magical effects (from spells or items) can affect speed too.
There are more games that use similar ideas to the previous ones, but changing the position of the bar, its shape, among other details. Some that can be mentioned are “World Final Fantasy Maxima (2016)” and “Atelier Ryza Ever Darkness & Secret Hideout (2019)”.
2001 was the year the term CTB was officially recognized with the release of “Final Fantasy X”. This game employs a graphical bar positioned at the top right of the screen to reflect the turn order. The conditional adjective comes from the fact that various actions can affect said order, such as the number of spells, items and abilities that inflict status effects on controlled characters or enemies.
This component, in addition to containing the faces of the characters involved in the battle, adds a purple bar next to each face, which can have different intensities. This is to indicate the estimated amount of “time” (ticks) until each turn depicted in the window. These bar and ticks system are not used in other games because, I guess, it was a bit confusing (but if you are interested, a detailed description is provided in the Split guide on GameFAQs in the section A856).
However, the graphic idea of bars next to the faces of the characters continued to be applied yet differently, like in “MegaMan X: Command Mission (2004)”, where these serve to indicate the health points (HP) of the participants, except for the enemy bosses, where the face occupies all the space. This interface design allows the player to get a full picture of the battle just by looking at the turn block at the bottom right of the screen.
This same idea is also seen in “Ar tonelico: “Melody of Elemia (2006)”, only changing positions.
In other games, this type of bar next to the face served to distinguish allies from enemies, using different colors to do so. “Phantom Brave: We Meet Again (2004)” is one of those that applied this way.
One last way to use the Conditional Turn-Based Battle technique is when the battle is divided into rounds. Each of these rounds has a specific number of turns distributed among the participants. In this case, the player has the advantage not only of having time to make decisions, but of knowing the turn order that they will cause before the action begins. A game that utilized this technique is “SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (2016)” and it does so in a very interesting way.
It has a block at the bottom of the screen with spheres showing the fighter’s face. What is amazing about this block is not only how the spheres show the character’s face, HP, status (protect, poison, speed up, etc.) but also how there is an animation that communicates how a command changes the turn order and a text with the chosen command for each ally before the player’s confirmation to start a round.
Admittedly, this post only presents a small sample of all the games that use a Conditional Turn-Based Battle system to some degree, however, it does serve to communicate that just as there are many ways to develop it, there are ways to represent it. This makes each game have a unique charm that draws players’ attention.
And what do you think about the CTB system?? Are there any video games that you like that apply this battle system? Please let me know in the comments. Until then, see you in the next post!
- “Battle system,” Final Fantasy Wiki. [Online]. Available: https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Battle_system. [Accessed: May 05, 2022]
- “Combat Basics – Child of Light Wiki Guide,” IGN. [Online]. Available: https://www.ign.com/wikis/child-of-light/Combat_Basics. [Accessed: Jun. 01, 2022]
- “Conditional Turn-Based Battle (Concept),” Giant Bomb. [Online]. Available: https://www.giantbomb.com/conditional-turn-based-battle/3015-2432/. [Accessed: May 05, 2022]
- “Grandia (video game),” Wikipedia. Jan. 30, 2022 [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Grandia_(video_game)&oldid=1068912356. [Accessed: May 11, 2022]
- “IP bar,” Grandia Wiki. [Online]. Available: https://grandia.fandom.com/wiki/IP_bar. [Accessed: Jun. 01, 2022]
- “One thing I never understood about the battle system… – Final Fantasy X.” [Online]. Available: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/197344-final-fantasy-x/59694583. [Accessed: Jun. 13, 2022]
- S. Lagioia, “The 10 Best RPG Battle Systems, Ranked,” TheGamer, Nov. 27, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.thegamer.com/best-rpg-battle-systems-ranked/. [Accessed: Jun. 13, 2022]
- “Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together,” Wikipedia. Feb. 20, 2022 [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tactics_Ogre:_Let_Us_Cling_Together&oldid=1072899940. [Accessed: May 10, 2022]
- Types of combat system. [Online]. Available: https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/practical-game-design/9781787121799/a03fc183-a5b2-4c24-bf62-09f1f0d18f6f.xhtml. [Accessed: Jun. 03, 2022]
- zenosparadoxism, “Classification of RPG Battle Systems,” r/truegaming, May 18, 2013. [Online]. Available: www.reddit.com/r/truegaming/comments/1ejtf4/classification_of_rpg_battle_systems/. [Accessed: Jun. 03, 2022]