Early in our conversation Toriyama said that this new system may seem foreign at first to those used to past Final Fantasy titles. "You feel like you need to input these [battle] commands or you feel like you're not doing anything," he explained. "But the paradigm shifting is going to become the main task for you. People that can manually put in the abilities and commands, and also control the paradigm system toward the end are of god-like skill. It's almost impossible to do that."
It's that sense of the combat moving by too quickly that's thrown some who see the game off. But in the context of playing the game as a whole, the team paid close attention to ramping things up slowly such that it always feels under control. When I asked Abe what tips he'd give to players for getting started he said, "Instead of trying to go into learning all the different character's abilities and using those commands, first get used to the paradigm system. Figure out for yourself what kind of combinations are possible, what works for you, when it's best to switch and to what form. And once you have that down, all the rest will fall into place."
So how does the battle director play Final Fantasy 13? Abe started by telling me that he's not an all out attack style of player. He prefers to use a synergist and a saboteur for support while he attacks with the character under his control. He has two favorite combinations for this setup. In the first he plays Lightning with Fang and Hope in those support roles. Later, after you get this style of fighting down he suggests switching out Fang and Hope with Sazh and Vanille. With this combo he said, "the speed at which you can defeat enemies is amazing."
Abe's chosen balance may reflect his intimate understanding of everything going on behind the scenes during combat. About the battle system in general he told me, "it's mainly a reactionary one," describing the key to it as figuring out the elemental weaknesses of an enemy and going after them. That makes using the scanning skill Libra more important than ever and in fact doing so will improve the battle efficiency of your entire party. After scanning enemies your AI partners will know exactly what weaknesses to exploit and take best advantage of them. Toriyama hopped in at this point to assure me that you don't have to get into this detail if you don't want to. "Except it's not a requirement to use it. Even if you don't use it the AI characters will grow and learn on their own as well," he said.
And scanning also ties back to the effectiveness of the character you control as well. The auto-battle command you come to rely on functions the same way as the combat AI. Here's how Abe laid it out:
For example, if there was an enemy and his weakness was thunder attacks, a normal person might just use a series of thunder spells and chain that. But actually, what's more effective in battle is to alternate that with Sparkstrike [an elemental attack]. Going back and forth between those two is the most effective way to fill up the chain gauge. So if you chose the auto function it will calculate that and fill in the most accurate and efficient way to defeat enemies.As Toriyama told me at the start of our conversation, Abe similarly wrapped things up by telling me, "the enemies become so powerful that all you'll just be concentrating on the paradigm shifting and that's what you'll do to manage the battle." Whether or not it all falls into place for you as he hoped still depends a lot on your taste, but for those it does, there's plenty to learn and master in this new system.