Editorial - Raising the Bar: Were Limit Breaks a Bad Idea?

AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#1
I am considering putting this on the front page as my next editorial, but I'd appreciate some feedback on it as I'm not confident that it is as valid as my Black Chocobos article.

Raising the Bar: Were Limit Breaks a Bad Idea?
By: Jason Tandro

One of the timeless joys of the original Final Fantasy was the level of customization it afforded players. While the NES version had some problems, the remastered Origins version (and subsequent Dawn of Souls version) delivered an experience which, while simplistic, is still fun to play with to this day. It requires strategy and serious forethought before you begin your adventure. Do you want a magic heavy party that will struggle in the beginning but become nigh unstoppable in the end? Do you prefer the balance of the Warrior/Thief/White Mage/ Black Mage party? Do you want to just be four warriors and absolutely dominate?

Strategy and planning have always been a core component of RPGs, and Final Fantasy takes this very seriously. Even in the earliest games, knowing enemy mechanics, elemental weaknesses, and your odds and landing a debuff or status effect are sometimes crucial to victory. But when Final Fantasy VII came out, something drastically changed which would alter the course of Final Fantasy combat forever.

The innovation of the Limit Break.

True we’d seen something similar to the modern Limit Break in Final Fantasy VI with the rare “desperation” attacks. Until we see one for ourselves the only hint we have of their existence is a piece of dialogue that advises us to try using the “Fight” command when we’re on our last leg. However it is completely possible to complete the game without ever seeing a desperation move. In Final Fantasy VII, it is almost impossible not to see your first Limit Break in the very first boss fight.

The idea was simple. Take enough damage and you will gain access to a super attack which can help you change the tide of battle. These start out innocent enough with skills like Braver and Healing Wind just seeming like fun bonuses to help you out of a tight spot. But they evolved, they got stronger. And while it took a bit more bite to summon up the energy for one of these higher level Limit Breaks, the payoff was devastating.

In a game that featured the revolutionary Materia system, where true developmental control was ours down to the skills and spells we learned and direct and indirect methods of affecting our stats and stat growth, the Limit Break turned into a sort of rallying standard in our battle strategy. Yes there were curve balls, like Seal Evil which is really only handy in one boss fight, but for the most part when we heard that chime sound and saw those glowing Technicolor letters replacing the word Attack with the word Limit, our heart skipped a beat and we knew it was time to wreak havoc on this enemy.

Before long we began adapting our strategy around the Limit Break. Powerful spells and skills like Ultima, Magic Breath, Comet2 and Flare became secondary concerns. We would actually save our limit break to unleash upon the next boss, even if that next boss was an entire dungeon away. We were conditioned to pick characters not on who had the best stats, but who had the most useful Limit Breaks. And I have to wonder… did Limit Breaks break the battle system?

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Omnipotent Rage – Final Fantasy VII’s Powerhouse Moves
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One of the great early secrets and most coveted rewards of those who undertook the Chocobo Raising side quests of Final Fantasy VII was the “Knights of the Round” Summon Materia. We hold this up as a legendary repeatable spectacle of insanely chaotic damage. At a base magic stat, each of the spells 13 hits can deal around 4,000-5,000 damage a piece, meaning this thing is capable of dealing around 65,000 points in damage. If you really bump up your magic stat it is possible for this summon to one-shot the final boss.

But this isn’t a Limit Break, so why do I mention it? Well for all our glorious wonderment at the impressive power of this supposedly ultimate attack, two character’s final limit breaks deal more damage. They can’t be repeated to be fair, but with the damage they deal, you generally won’t need to.
Omnislash, Cloud’s ultimate Limit Break, hits 15 times, and it is possible to get each of these strikes to deal max damage with enough strength training.

Cid’s ultimate Limit, Highwind, hits 18 times, though at 11/16th of normal damage so they’re on more or less the same footing damage-wise. Now I want you to think of the hardest bosses you had fought in the first six Final Fantasy games. Remember how satisfying it felt to, after multiple attempts finally figure out a good strategy with which you gradually crushed your enemy (before seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentations of their women no doubt)? Well now with this game it was possible to go into a boss fight with fully loaded Limit Breaks, unleash your payload, and then emerge from the other side virtually pain free.

But, for what it’s worth, that didn’t happen too much. Since the highest level Limit Breaks required not only mastering all other Limits first, but then obtaining the tome to teach you the Ultimate Limit Break (a task as easy as finding it hidden somewhere to as challenging as obtaining high marks in the Battle Arena), the power was controlled. I feel that Final Fantasy VII handled Limit Breaks about as well as you possibly could handle them. They were end-game catharsis for early struggles. No, Limit Breaks didn't truly get broken until Final Fantasy VIII.

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Better Battles Through Suffering – Final Fantasy VIII
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I love Final Fantasy VIII, but it made some really poor battle decisions. The removal of MP in favor of the Draw system and the complaints about Junctioning are well known arguments, but the hack job they did on the Summoning mechanics for Guardian Forces was a particular treat. They had two ideas that could have worked very well:


1) rather than using MP, your guardian forces can die while being summoned allowing the enemies a unique opportunity to stop you from casting.

2) To improve your cast time, you can increase your Compatibility with your summoned monsters.

And then they threw both of those ideas together and a perfectly good battle system was brought to its knees. While sure it is possible to start seeing your GF die in combat, raising Compatibility is as easy as using easily obtained items or just using them a lot. So long as you don’t stack opposite elements (Shiva and Ifrit don’t get along) you will be fine. And for the short time they are being summoned, you have a damage body double. How did they think this was a good idea?

But what kills it is the Limit Breaks. Rather than having a limit bar which must be filled up, you are able to use Limit Breaks (with a certain probability) if your HP is sufficiently low. If that’s not enough for you, you can eventually learn the spell Aura which lets you use Limit Breaks as much as you like so long as the effect remains. And the Limit moves themselves? Even more overpowered if you can believe it. Almost everybody has an attack capable of hitting multiple times. While the damage done on average does tend to be less, the repeatability more than makes up for it. And then you have Squall’s ultimate move Lionheart which basically gives a balanced encounter the middle finger. While Lionheart itself appears at random, it comes after a string of his Renzokuken which itself can hit anywhere from 4 – 8 times. Stack on some Strength+ abilities and it is absurdly easy to deal 9,999 damage per hit. And did I mention that, while difficult, it is theoretically possible to obtain Squall’s Lionheart during the events of the first disk?

All this would be bad enough, but everything really came together nicely in a crapsack battle system on this game. Because of the Junction system which has your spells dictate your stats, you find yourself locking away some of the best spells in the game. The one thing that might dissuade you from relying solely upon GF and Limit Breaks gets locked up in the stats. So you have to choose between using a spell that will be not as good as the other two options or keeping your stats the way they are.

But surely this was just a horrible aberration. Maybe the next game would handle it better?

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What Limit Breaks? – Final Fantasy IX
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Well, kinda.
On the plus side, the new Trance mode in Final Fantasy IX was more of an enhancement than a special attack (with the exception of Zidane who got access to a new menu of skills). Steiner would hit harder and his defense was buffed. Vivi could Doublecast. But they felt like buffs instead of game-breakers. So what was the downside? Well, you had zero control over that buff.

The limit bar returned from VII, but rather than filling it up and being able to hold it for a boss fight, the second you earned a Trance mode, it activated right away, which can be particularly infuriating when it happens during a normal enemy encounter. Perhaps Square was afraid of leaving these out altogether but still wanted the game to rely more on a traditional combat structure. Or else they saw how poorly VIII handled and were overcompensating. But taking away player choice is rarely the solution.

Those who were reliant upon the Limit Break style were now finding themselves playing a balancing act- trying to get their Trance bar just high enough to not get full until they enter a boss fight. Those who didn’t care would still get annoyed to see Vivi go into trance mode literally moments before he cast Firaga to polish off the last bit of a Whale Zombie’s HP. It wasn’t a bad system, but an ungraceful system that felt more like a tacked on extra than something that could be substantially relied upon- again calling back to the Desperation Moves from Final Fantasy VI perhaps.
But we gamers had adapted to the way things were now- Limit Breaks would always exist in some form and we would learn the new mechanics and exploits to control them.

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The After Years – Limit Breaks Grow Up
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Final Fantasy X briefly redeemed Limit Breaks, offering not only a controllable but also controlled experience, but having the Overdrive abilities deal proportional damage. If anything they were a touch under-powered, Blitz Ace notwithstanding. It also added the nice feature of being able to control how your Overdrive Gauge filled, be it through the standard taking of damage, to dealing out damage, killing enemies, winning battles or even just taking turns. It was a nice system and probably the most balanced Limit Breaks had ever been since their initial introduction in Final Fantasy VII
Practically every game since VII has incorporated this element- from Final Fantasy XII’s Mist abilities, to Final Fantasy XIV’s Limits which were basically battle finishing moves (at least when used by a proper DPS at the right time). While the focus on Limits has been slowly shifting they remain a facet of our Final Fantasy experience and something we equate with the “easy button” for boss fights.

But for all this, do Limit Breaks worsen the gaming experience?

Well, it’s difficult to say one way or the other. Because everybody games differently. Maybe you used Limit Breaks sparingly, didn’t care about Trance popping up when it did, and preferred to play a balanced GF game in VIII (assuming you played it at all, of course). Even if you chose to rely heavily upon Limit Breaks it’s difficult to say for certain that this ruined the experience of the game for you. Over-utilization of Limit Breaks can effectively shatter the challenge and balance of some bosses- that much is true. However I can’t speak authoritatively on whether or not it actually makes for a worse gaming experience. However, despite my article up to this point, I don’t think that it does.

I think the developers added it as a tool in your combat repertoire. And, like any tool, you found ways to utilize it to its full potential. It’s not like in Final Fantasy VI we weren’t discovering glitches (look up the Vanish / X-Zone trick). It’s not like we didn’t have parties that fared much better than others in the original (again, four warriors).

We will always find new tricks, cheap abilities and tools to exploit our enemies- but unless you use a walkthrough every time, you won’t know these abilities on the first go around. You’ll learn an easy way to defeat a boss and then on a second play-through come back to him and absolutely demolish him. So whether or not we choose to utilize (or over-utilize) Limit Breaks I really a subjective matter. We each develop our own play style, and as long as we’re having fun that’s all that matters.


I know it sounds silly to ask about the validity of an opinion but there's valid to have this opinion and then there is valid to share this opinion on the front page. Just wanted some feedback, and any and all pointers / corrections are welcome.
 

Flintlock

Pro Adventurer
#2
I like it, but I think it could do with quite a bit of editing. :P I'd be happy to help out if you want to put it into a Google Doc and send me a link.

I'm not going to say any of your opinions are wrong or invalid, because that would nullify the whole point of writing an opinion piece, but I do have one quibble that goes beyond copy editing: your claim that Overdrives, aside from Blitz Ace, are generally "a touch underpowered".

Attack Reels is better than Blitz Ace, hitting up to 12 times rather than nine. Mix gives you access to Quartet of 9, Trio of 9999 and dozens of other useful things. Both Kimahri and Auron have access to moves that can eject non-boss enemies from battle instantly. Aeons' Overdrives are the most powerful attacks most players have access to until they get the airship, and Grand Summon lets you pull off an extra one with any Aeon you want. Lulu's Overdrive ability is probably the weakest in the game but it still has situational usage against enemies weak to certain elements.

My own opinion is that a Limit Break (or whatever it happens to be called in a particular game) should reflect something meaningful - usually that your characters have taken a pummelling and are ready for some revenge. Being able to save a limit break you got from fighting rats for the game's toughest superboss just makes no sense thematically, even if it is really useful in gameplay terms.
 
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AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#3
^ You know i didnt even consider aeon overdrives. Perhaps thats a sentence that should just be stricken as it really adds nothing.

And by all means edit away. just highight any changes if you would! :) ill drop it in a google doc later today.
 
#5
Um, you're kind of relying on the assumption that all your readers are munchkins (powergamers), since lots of those techniques involve taking a couple of hours off to grind, and/or reading the strategy guide to find the obscure method of doing something earlier than normal.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#6
Um, you're kind of relying on the assumption that all your readers are munchkins (powergamers), since lots of those techniques involve taking a couple of hours off to grind, and/or reading the strategy guide to find the obscure method of doing something earlier than normal.
Not really. I'm stating the possibilty exists. My conclusion acknowledges that everybody games differently. And what tactics are you referring to? With the exception of the Lionheart in disk 1 trick which i acknowledge as rare.
 

Starling

Pro Adventurer
#7
I never get tired of hearing about how broken FF8's gameplay apparently is. Personally, I think there will always be a handful of game breakers and overpowered stuff to exploit with or without Limit Breaks but as long as the gameplay in general is somewhat balanced, it's really up to the player to decide how they want to play the game.
 
AKA
The Engineer
#9
FFVIII is broken way more then you make it out to be... Triple Triad ensured that a lot of people never had to worry about drawing magic in the first place. The Meltdown spell set the Def and MDef of an enemy to zero and it worked on every enemy in the game including final bosses. The Pain spell cast Blind, Silence and Poison at the same time and it could be junctioned to weapons for free casts.

And when it came to limit breaks... well, Rinoa with Meteor as her only offensive spell with 255 Speed and Auto-Haste. You don't even have to worry about inputting anything or the RNG.

Also... some of this comes off as a tad critical of "Perfectionist Exploiters" aka people who like playing games by taking advantage of game breaking bugs as a general playstyle... but that might just be me seeing things.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#10
FFVIII is broken way more then you make it out to be...
I just didn't go over those elements as they generally didn't relate to limits.

Also... some of this comes off as a tad critical of "Perfectionist Exploiters" aka people who like playing games by taking advantage of game breaking bugs as a general playstyle... but that might just be me seeing things.
Not my intent. If anything I don't hate the player, hate the game lol.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#12
Many thanks Flint!

And yes i really should stop writing stuff in the middle of the night. It turns into word vomit lol. This is why i like a second set of eyes!

Edit: I have implemented every one of your changes. While I don't know that I agree about the double-spaces after periods being antiquated in writing I'll trust your grammatical judgment over mine, especially since you seem to be much more up on modern journalistic convention.

Thanks for taking the time to edit this insane jumble of mine.
 
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The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#13
Good read. I enjoyed it.

And yeah, FFVIII is broken to hell and gone once you know how to exploit it. That's what makes playing it again so fun. A lot of folks, myself included, still had a hard time our first playthrough, though.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#14
^ Final Fantasy VIII is my personal favorite / guilty pleasure for a couple of reasons outside the broken gameplay which I still have fun exploiting:

1) I love the school days aesthetic / military academy. It's the same reason I like anime like Str.A.In.

2) It has one of the stronger soundtracks in the series that sounds like a great mix of fantasy wonderment and 90s action movie.

3) I found the settings to be incredible since this game put it into my head that a great fantasy can be found even in a familiar setting and something that looks mostly like the real world.

4) I really like the characters, haters be damned.

Oh and Triple Triad. That's a lot of fun.
 

Ryushikaze

Deus Admiral Parsimonious, PHD, DDS, MD, JD, OBE
AKA
Tim, Ryu
#15
You left out the Proto-limit breaks from 6. You should probably include those, as a preface if nothing else.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#17
Me Editorials on the front page now, it is. I followed Lex's bible on article design and of course I owe a great deal of thanks to Flint who edited my garbledegook into something readable. So hopefully this is good as is, but if you notice something off just let me know!


Read the article here
 

trash panda

---m(O.O)gle---
AKA
Howl
#18
I tried replying to this today but I kept getting interrupted. :D

Alls I have to say is: *feels silly now for always choosing my party based on limit breaks*

Well, that wasn't the case with FFIX because I found the limits to be sort of useless since they came at the most inopportune moments. (And as much as I loved Quina, I always found myself using the initial ZidanexGarnetxSteinerxVivi setup since it was the most well- rounded imo.

I haven't played FFX in a long time but I remember enjoying the Overdrive system much more than previous limit break setups. I had a *lot* of fun experimenting with Rikku's mixes.

When it comes to FFVIII, well....character stats are irrelevant because of the junction system so I thought it best to choose parties based purely on limits. I didn't like Selphie too much but found myself using her a lot because of full-cure, but even that was a pain in the butt because you had to sit there shuffling through magic before full-cure became an option. Zell had a powerful limit but I found it to be a little too much trouble so I usually settle for Irvine. That fecking game. I like it a lot but it has so many issues. I do agree that they had a good concept with GF compatibility.

With FFVII, I disregard limits all together and I always choose my party based on, well...just favorites. Ususally, my lineup is CloudxBarretxRed or CloudxRedxTifa. :D

It's also been a very long time since I played XII so I don't remember the limit system.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#19
Well, that wasn't the case with FFIX because I found the limits to be sort of useless since they came at the most inopportune moments. (And as much as I loved Quina, I always found myself using the initial ZidanexGarnetxSteinerxVivi setup since it was the most well- rounded imo.
Literally all of this I agree with. They gave us the perfect party from the get go. Think about it. What is the "standard" party in FF1 (at least since the remakes released) - Warrior, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage.

They then gave us a B-team of characters to fill similar, but different archetypes. Heavy Damage Dealer - Freya, Fast Damage Dealer - Amarant (
while Amarant is basically a Monk / Ninja character I feel like Freya should have been a Red Mage rather than Dragoon in order to fulfill the 6 original job types. I mean she's even dressed like a Red Mage.
) White Mage - Eiko, Offensive Magic-ish - Quina *though really she's more of a lethal joke character.
 

Pixel

The Pixie King
#20
Im not sure if its just my browser, but the images seem to be scaling weirdly. When I narrow the window, the images only scale in the x-axis, rather than shrink all around. Not sure if it does that on all articles. I know there was a problem with scaling before, so im not sure
 
AKA
The Engineer
#22
^I used Dagger because I had Amarant in the party and he can make enemies weak to random elements. So long as it wasn't Holy, Dagger's Summons worked as well as Black Magic and the healing was good enough... for the record, my party was Zidane/Steiner/Dagger/Amarant. Steiner was on Def, Zidane and and Amarant were damage dealers and Status Debuffs and Dagger was Black Magic and healing on the side.
 
AKA
Jason Tandro, Doc Brown, Santa Christ, FearAddict, Thibault Stormrunner, RN: Micah Rodney
#23
Im not sure if its just my browser, but the images seem to be scaling weirdly. When I narrow the window, the images only scale in the x-axis, rather than shrink all around. Not sure if it does that on all articles. I know there was a problem with scaling before, so im not sure
Can't say for certain about that, I've viewed it on my mobile and it appears okay (Except one image for some reason reverts to its original aspect ratio which was smaller than what I forced it to). Because of the issues with importing images in visual editor I had to use HTML tags and I made them all width=640 height=480 (Only chose that over HD sizes for the sake of dealing with mostly non-HD quality games / screenshots).
 

trash panda

---m(O.O)gle---
AKA
Howl
#24
ZidanexGarnetxSteinerxVivi setup
Who keeps using Garnet once Eiko learns Holy and Full-Life? :monster: I always felt like Garnet/Dagger became useless after that point, because she can't learn Full-Life.
I was looking for the right .gif reply for this but all I found was a strong desire to crawl inside of a bear and live in it thanks to this:

So I'll just say poppycock and leave it at that. :monster:


I think Eiko's abilities use way too much MP, so :offended:
 
#25
I think Eiko's abilities use way too much MP, so :offended:
Sorry I just couldn't resist teasing with you. :glomp: <3 *all the wuvs*

@Jason

Great article that really tickles my inner game-design gland. I think that "breaking the limits" is an essential part of many J-RPGS, FFVII in particular. To start out the game dealing less than 100 damage per hit, only to end up with rolling countless 99999s on your foes. Having the option to become overpowered should be there but the trick is to make the experience still fun and engaging even at that point.

Crisis Core contains an example of failing at making the overpowered experience a satisfying one: Your super-move becomes Costly Punch for dealing maximum damage over and over. This is NOT fun. There is nothing flashy with the move (no limit break animations) and the iconic Buster Sword immediately starts collecting dust in your gameplay experience. Both the appearance of the move and the fact that it doesn't involve Zack's sword not only makes it boring, but creates a disconnect between the story character and the gameplay character. Not only that, but the DMW limit breaks which are supposed to be the central element for fusing gameplay and story become useless damage-wise AND they get annoying when you can't skip these cutscene attacks.

With Cloud's Omnislash, the move is not only flashy but it involves Cloud using a sword (NOT punching things) and the badassery is increased because you associate this move as the one you use to finally get revenge on Sephiroth. Using the Omnislash, even over and over with the help of Mime, feels satisfying pretty much all the time (for me). Costly Punch is only fun for...one minute, in my case. After that I start yawning.
 
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