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Love the System: Our Favorite RPG Battle Systems

Can't get enough of these fights.

Argue all you want about which RPG has the best characters and story, but neither of those things matter nearly as much as a game’s battle system. Since we typically spend upwards of forty hours in an RPG, the bulk of that time is spent fighting foes within the rule set the designers created, so it has to be compelling enough to keep pulling us along. Sometimes, a combat system is formulated with just the right amount of intricacy, a satisfying splash of spectacle, and exactly what was needed to get in our heads and keep us plugging away until we save the world on the brink of decimation. We’ve picked our favorite RPG battle systems and wanted to explain why we love them so dearly. Maybe you’ll gain an appreciation for a combat system you felt was a drag or you’ll decide to dig into a game you never tried before. Maybe you’ll think we’re daft and forgot the real greatest system around. We’re bound to have a big assortment of faves, so read through our picks and tell us what yours is too.

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09/23/2013 at 06:34 PM

Good feature.  I like all of these games and battle systems except Panzer Dragoon.  I would love to play it, but will have to wait until it gets re-released, if ever.  Tales games have my favorite overall, which is one reason the Tales franchise has become my favorite jrpg series.  If I had to pick my favorite, it would have to be Graces or Xillia.  I also like Shadow Hearts.  It was a traditional turn-based series, but the ring meant you had to pay attention.  Another favorite, though I realize I am probably alone, is FFXII.  I loved the customization of the party's ai.  As long as you don't set gambits for the character you are playing, you are always busy in a battle.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/23/2013 at 06:45 PM

i liked 12 too, even though at first I was like "What is this?!?"  I've played that game like five times. 


09/26/2013 at 02:17 PM

FFXII is freaking awesome. Cool


09/26/2013 at 05:17 PM

Agreed.  Final Fantasy XII was fantastic.  It is my second favorite Final Fantasy title.  I loved how the combat system worked.  It didn't interfere with exploration. 


09/29/2013 at 05:02 AM

Great to see the FFXII love here. It is my second favorite FF title as well, surpassed only by VII.


09/23/2013 at 07:46 PM

I actually really enjoyed the Paradigm system of the FFXIII series. It was so fast and smooth and addictive. Both, in the original game and the sequel.  I also loved XII and the the dress gear system of X-2.


Travis Hawks Senior Editor

09/23/2013 at 08:43 PM

I really like XIII's battle system a lot too. I understand the gripes, but it put me in a nice Zen state that was pretty enjoyable. I never felt like I wasn't having to pay close attention either. Throw in the impact of the somewhat relative position of characters and enemies on the battlefield and I was on edge and having fun most of the time.


09/23/2013 at 10:37 PM

Also, if devs unlocked the 3 character parties and all paradigms in the first hour of the game, we would have all rage quit. Think Resonance of Fate. As bad as it may seem, slowly showing you the battle system and then releasing you into the open world seemed logical. The game got very hectic in the end and bosses were nightmares!

I can't wait for Lightning Returns!

Nick DiMola Director

09/26/2013 at 02:31 PM

Same here. It's pretty much the only Final Fantasy game I've ever really enjoyed.


09/26/2013 at 05:22 PM

XIII had a great battle system and some cool characters (Fang and Lightning).  It was atrocious at world building though. 


09/26/2013 at 02:18 PM

The only thing I liked about FFXIII is the battle system.  


09/23/2013 at 07:50 PM

I always liked the interactive nature of the Mario and Luigi games, which took the battle scheme from Paper Mario and extended the dynamic beautifully. Evading and countering via the Brothers' jump and hammer attacks was not only incredibly intuitive, but also faithful to their personalities and movesets seen in other titles.

Our Take

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

09/23/2013 at 09:57 PM

Great to see so many different opinions. I've never played Legends of Legaia, but that system does look pretty interesting.

I did want to point out an honorable mention that I was really close to choosing. Thats the Battle System(s) for both Baten Kaitos and Baten Kaitos Origins. Both were card based, and pretty unique to this day. The deck building and combo aspects of that system made it one of my favorite battle systems of all time. 

Chris Yarger Community Manager

09/24/2013 at 06:54 AM

Legend of Legaia is a great game!! It's a tad expensive ($40 used I think...), but it's worth it!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

09/23/2013 at 10:18 PM

Somehow, I was not aware of this feature and didn't get to participate.

I think that Final Fantasy X-2's battle system is the true evolution of FF combat.

It was the ATB system on speed, with the blend of tactics, strategy, and speed that should satisfy people of all types of combat preferences. It was possible to chain attacks together, you could change jobs on the fly, and even though it was fast-paced it wasn't such a crazy speed that you were spending 90% of your time watching meters.

Too bad people hated it because you play as a trio of women and it has something called "Dress Spheres".


09/23/2013 at 10:41 PM

The game is still awesome (X-2). The HD version will be awesome as well. The evolution is as fast paced as it can be without turning into a full on action game, like XV and FFs after are more likely to become. Sigh. Undecided


09/29/2013 at 06:38 AM

Hey, I really liked FFX-2, its 6th-gen take on ATB and FF5's job system, and the sexy costumes. I wish it maybe hadn't recycled so many assets from FFX, but then again, I knew what the game was about. It's too bad they don't reuse that engine for an all-new FF game.


09/24/2013 at 09:13 AM

With how much I loved the Xenogears system, I am very curious about Legend of Legaia.  I hope it finds its way onto the psn.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

09/24/2013 at 09:31 AM

It's a great game man, I'd definitely recommend it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any plans to release it on PSN.


09/24/2013 at 09:41 AM

So will have to bight the bullet and spend the 40 on a used copy...  still isnt as bad as the 100 for Xenoblade only for it to drop in price 2 weeks later.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

09/24/2013 at 10:02 AM

That's probably the best way to go. It's definitely worth it though!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/24/2013 at 01:58 PM

that's what I did!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

09/24/2013 at 02:37 PM

Legaia 2 was really good, too, and might be cheaper to come by.


09/24/2013 at 03:01 PM

Grandia! Suprised these got left out, they were famous for their engaging and dynamic combat systems that focused on player & enemy position. They also allowed you to create combos. The Lunar games also had a really cool TBC that also used party and enemie placement. FFVI & VII I think still have the best comat systems in the FF series. Legia's system really was impressive, I just got bored with the story and bland enemy designs. I would also add Suikoden 1 & 2 , 6 member parties with tons of combonations to work with. Everything from affiliation of characters for team attacks to magic, to ranged weapons to close quarters effected your paries line up and style. Plus there were duels and whole army battles.



09/26/2013 at 05:26 PM

I loved Grandia 2's combat system.  It was great.  I never got around to playing 3...


09/27/2013 at 09:49 AM

I never actually finished Grandia 3, got got kinda weird late game. But the comabt was really fun. You could knock ememies up into the air and do juggle combos on them. Its worth hunting down.


09/29/2013 at 04:10 AM

I played Grandia 3 and the battle system seemed confusing at first, but once I understood it, I thought it was great.


09/29/2013 at 06:41 AM

From the developers of Grandia also came the Lunar games, which I actually liked better than Grandia. The 2-D battle system in those games allowed for positioning of both player characters and enemies, and each character had a specific role in combat.


09/29/2013 at 01:59 PM

That would explain the similarities between the two. Lunar was much less frantic than Grandia but Lunar required more strategy, which I personly prefer. That is one of the main reason I like TBC is being able to take your time and plan each move vs twitch timing. Stil both are very fun games.


09/24/2013 at 03:42 PM

I thought FVII's system was limited compared to 6. Materia is essentially the same as Magicite, yet it's a crafting system instead of a character growth system. There were no classes and no critical differences between characters outside of Limit Breaks, meaning that there is no reason to choose one character to hold certain materia over the others. Since, along with that, Materia is swappable and not permanent, you don't have to make any hard decisions about who has what according to their strengths and weaknesses.  In general in FF6, unless you wanted to spend a lot of time grinding, you would attach Espers to appropriate characters, like giving high MP characters like Celes most of the elemental spells and/or summons, while in 7 everyone has similar MP pools by default. If you weren't careful, you could find that you wasted time leveling skills that were not the best fit for your class, or that that time could have been used getting those skills sooner for characters that could make better use of them. You could also decide to either boost the characters' key strengths further or shore up their weaknesses. The classes and Relics add even more layers to your party configuration.

IMO, 7's battle system was like going back to FF1, after the richness that 5 (job system) and 6. offered.  It felt very primitive and shallow. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/27/2013 at 12:40 PM

yeah I wouldn't say FFVII has the depth VI does, but there's something about the snappiness about it that I like that I keep coming back.  It might be more shallow than some other FF games, but it is pretty fun, and I think it's definitely the best out of the PSONE trilogy, though like I said, I enjoy the game of FFIX more. 


09/29/2013 at 05:07 AM

I liked the individual skills that VI had for each character, but I also found that the characters were seriously overpowered to the point where there was really no wrong character for any situation, especially with a couple of choice relics. I made Gau, a character everyone else usually hates, into a damage-dealing bastard quite easily. I once killed Final Kefka in five attacks! V did have a good battle system, and I've grown to appreciate the game more and more over the years. but I think it showed to much better effect in Final Fantasy Tactics than in FFV.

Nick DiMola Director

09/24/2013 at 04:00 PM

Persona 3/4 all day for me. Wish I had time to write something up for this, but man, those games had a fantastic battle system that had so many unique threads running through it, I don't think anything could ever match up to it.


09/26/2013 at 05:28 PM

Great feature.  I'm sorry I missed it when it was first posted.  I would have voted in Final Fantasy X and XII over VI and VII, but it was still a great list.  

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

09/26/2013 at 10:28 PM

You're not that late! Those are some good picks. Lots of FF love in here, even for XII and XIII, which is interesting since they are fairly divisive.


09/27/2013 at 01:19 AM

XII deserves all the love that it gets, and XIII doesn't deserve all of the hate.


09/29/2013 at 04:12 AM

I played FF IV and thought the active time battle system was really cool. Putting a timer on each turn makes even older turn-based battles a little more exciting. You could block for another player in your group too.


09/27/2013 at 07:03 PM

Legend of Legaia is one of my favorite games of all time. I agree with all of these. If I could add two more it would be Persona's battle system and Star Ocean's- even though it's similar to the Tales games. :D

Chris Yarger Community Manager

09/30/2013 at 06:01 AM

Legaia is also one of my favorite games of all time as well! It was very stereotypical in some sense, but I still loved it more than most games!


09/29/2013 at 05:09 AM

The Tales series probably has the best combat of conventional RPGs. FFVII and FFXII would rank right behind them.

Were tactical RPGs discussed for ths article? Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, Tactics Ogre, and Valkyria Chronicles would all have been worth a mention. Valkyria in particular was a nice step up from previous generations of grid-based tactical RPGs even if it could have used a bit of tweaking. That game has been my favorite of the whole generation.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

09/29/2013 at 12:46 PM

We focused on traditional (non-tactical) RPGs for this one. Perhaps there is another installment in the future...


09/30/2013 at 11:47 PM

Tales of Vesperia was my fav of the list you all named I love the complex battle system that was implemented into this game not to mention the beautiful artwork etc.

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