The Pros and Cons of Different RPG Battle Systems

I can't say that The Last Remnant is a great game, but I can say that I've never seen a fight system like the one in it before.

I can’t say that The Last Remnant is a great game, but I can say that I’ve never seen a fight system like the one in it before.


Ready for some elementary thoughts on RPG design?

What is an ATB System?

ATB stands for “Active Time Battle”, referring to an RPG’s combat system where the characters are allowed to act when a bar fills up. If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy IV-IX, this is the system for those games. Different characters have different bars with different speeds. This allows certain characters to act quickly while others act slowly. Additionally, it keeps the battle moving quickly and with a sense of urgency, with enemy actions often taking place at specific intervals rather than at set periods of time.

Once that

Once that “TIME” bar fills up, you can attack. Just like in real life.

This is all in comparison to the original system most RPGs used in the 80s and early 90s, where a turn began with selecting each character’s moves and then having the actions fire off according to player speeds. Even modern games like Bravely Default still use this original system rather than an ATB system.

You attack. They attack. You attack. They attack. Pretty much my daily life too.

You attack. They attack. You attack. They attack. Pretty much my daily life too.

Other systems include those like Grandia and Child of Light’s action bar and Final Fantasy X’s CTB system, both of which allow you to see exactly when actions will take place and whose turn comes next.

You can see whose attacks come next!? So unrealistic. (But seriously, Child of Light is great!)

You can see whose attacks come next!? So unrealistic.
(But seriously, Child of Light is great!)

Why Bring This Up?

As I’ve been working on a short RPG, I’ve been thinking about the battle system for it. My gut reaction was to put an ATB system in the game. I always liked the feel of ATB systems, at least in memory. In fact, I haven’t played a game with ATB in a while.

So I went around searching for an ATB system and found a few that could be implemented relatively easily. Upon their addition however, I noticed a bit of a problem. The ATB felt slow. While the battle system that comes with RPG Maker is the “original system”, the advantage to that one is that there is no time waiting. You select actions. They fire off. You select more actions. They execute. The battle is over. No waiting.

So I decided to create a personal pro-con list of the 3 battle systems.

Original ATB CTB
Pro Con Pro Con Pro Con
-Simple to implement

-Easily understandable

-No waiting

-Battle command timing easy to implement

-Lots of breathing room

-Very RPG-ish; potential turn-off

-Character speed stat more interesting

-Potentially more tense fights

-Lots of waiting

-Some screen clutter

-Worse with small casts

-Character speed stat more interesting

-No waiting

-Visually seeing turn order helps with strategy

-Slight learning curve

-Lots of breathing room

-Significant screen clutter

-If not animated well, can look very rough

I originally listed “unoriginal” in the original system con section. Aside from the funny word connections, I decided to scrap it. After all, all 3 systems are, at their core, no longer original.

In spite of the fact that the cons outweighed the pros with the CTB in terms of number, the more I thought about a CTB, the more I wanted it.

Truth Be Told


The more I thought about the whole thing, the more I realized that this was a very short game and the fighting is secondary to the story—merely helping to flesh out character’s  personalities and offer a difference of kind to the gameplay. More important than the battle system itself is probably the upgrade system, which is slightly non-conventional. And even then, minor.

So, I decided to just go with the original system for its simplicity, even though I’d already added a simple ATB system. I think the ATB system at its current state just slows things down. Though it will require some work to remove it, it will require even more work to make it fun. The original, for all its lack of flair, isn’t really so bad.

Edit: It took about 5 minutes to remove it. It’s so much better without it, in retrospect.

In a long game, with lots of fights, the battle system needs to be interesting. It needs to be worth coming back to time-and-time again. But in a short game, a system that might get boring after 50 fights doesn’t matter when the game only has 30 fights. Most people playing RPGs care more about the meta-game of stats and upgrading than they care about the battle specifically. The fighting is just a way to test the customization they’ve done in the background—a visual reward for doing things right.

Active Time

And even though I set out to complete this mini-project in 3 months (by November 10th), the release of RPG Maker MV this winter has made me question whether I want to finish this in RPG Maker VX Ace. After all, MV will allow porting to web browsers, which is how I’d like the game to be played; not with a tedious download as it currently requires. Short games benefit from ease of acquisition.

There’s also that lingering desire to focus entirely on Unity.

But! For fear of thinking that the above might just be an excuse I’ve mentally created, and for the purpose of sticking to deadlines, I’m going to go and finish this project. Give it an initial release. If I then think it’s worth it, I’ll remake it in MV and give it the web release it will hopefully deserve.

Time’s counting down. It’s time to finish the game. We can tweak small things like the battle system when all else is said and done.


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