I like the Paradigm system in Final Fantasy XIII. It’s taken me a while to get used to it, but I’ve finally decided that Paradigms are a good thing. It’s similar to the Dresspheres from Final Fantasy X-2 though you’re controlling all of your characters at once, as opposed to just one at a time.
Setting up your Paradigms effectively is an important part of the game. If you’re in the middle of a big battle and discover you don’t have the right combination of roles, it might be a long and painful fight. Despite there being only six slots for Paradigms, it’s still a minor pain to get everything setup correctly. And – here’s my primary issue with the system – every time characters are switched in and out of your party, all your Paradigms are reset, and they all have to be configured again.
How Paradigms work
If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, a Paradigm is a set of roles that your party takes on during a battle. Each character in Final Fantasy XIII starts with three different roles they can use – there are six in total, and are the typical roles you’d imagine in an RPG. So an example Paradigm is called “Relentless Assault” and consists of one heavy damage dealer (the Commando role) and two magic users (the Ravager role).
The game calls a set of Paradigms a “Paradigm Deck”, and here’s what it looks like:
You can (and need to) switch Paradigms mid-battle, and having all this stuff setup beforehand and being able to efficiently change Paradigms is a big part of the game’s strategy. If you’re getting hammered, it’s time to switch to a Paradigm that contains a medic (or two).
It sounds simple, but there are a lot of combinations to choose from, and the game only allows 6 combinations to be setup at any one time. Each character only starts with three available roles, so figuring out what party members are needed adds another layer of complexity. Sure, it’s not the most complicated mechanism in the world, but there’s definitely decisions to be made, and I often find myself wishing I had more options in the middle of a battle.
Know your role (and your Paradigm)
Okay, let’s talk about the problem. You’ve got six characters, and each of them has a different set of roles they can use. So when you swap one character out for another one, all of your preset Paradigms are removed. This makes sense, because at least some of your Paradigms won’t be possible anymore. You could make an argument that the game should preserve any that could be still valid, but whatever.
However, since each character in the game has their own strong point, if you have a set of three characters in the game, you’re probably always going to use a similar set of Paradigms with those three. So, what the game should do is recall the Paradigm Deck that was setup the last time those three characters were together.
For example, in my game at the moment I’m rolling with Fang, Lightning, and Vanille. I’m using Fang in the Commando or Sentinel roles, Lightning as Commando or Ravager, and Vanille as Ravager or Medic. Occasionally, I might want to swap out Fang for Snow. But every time I have Fang, Lightning, and Vanille in the same party, I basically want to have the same Paradigms setup. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t remember what my Paradigms were and I have to go about setting them up again each time.
Here’s a short video showing Final Fantasy XIII crushing my Paradigm Deck when swapping between characters (and back):
For me, it’s easy for RPGs to border on being tedious with all the fiddling that has to go on in the various menus. It’s a double-edged sword I suppose, because managing my characters is part of what I love about the genre. Having to go back and re-setup Paradigms all the time though, is not fun at all, and it feels a little bit like backtracking. As a result, I avoid changing characters as much as possible – and that’s too bad, considering I still spend a lot of time upgrading each one’s stats and weapons.
Honestly, for a game that I’ve spent 45 hours on so far, having to re-setup my Paradigm Deck when switching characters probably shouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, the fact remains that when I’m using the same three characters, I’m probably going to have a similar set of Paradigms set up, so there’s no reason the game couldn’t remember that and save me a little bit of work.
Did you notice the same thing about Paradigms in Final Fantasy XIII? Or maybe you think it’s better to force the player into making new decisions each time? Let’s discuss in the comments!
I consider the mechanic to be fundamentally weak. My reasoning is clearly defined in another post somewhere else,
“FFXIII has a great enemy. You have to go to SEN to defend yourself from it’s big attack and RAV to build up chains and COM to sustain them chains and launch and it’s sometimes so fast and dangerous you hit up MED to heal and if you’re not fast enough with defense and healing you die. Sometimes, you can SAB to maintain a chain while weakening it and sometimes, SYN is a good idea, especially when attacking has the risk of a counter or isn’t so useful. Sound familiar? It’s the whole game. That’s really bad. I can’t imagine fighting one enemy for a whole game, no matter how supposedly challenging it may be.”
“Like FFX which had the best combat imo of the series, all your attacks could consequentially influence the turn order. It’d start with key and lock gameplay at first, Tidus for fast enemies, Wakka for flying, Rikku to dismantle machina and etc, but it only used this as a basis and as it branched out became more about creative solutions. Like you may summon an Aeon for it’s non-elemental command to deal with a Flan and conserve MP or want to fight off a group of Machina with a grenade.”
Paradigms go in the face of all that an RPG is invested on representing, and that is logic and reasoning. Razor sharp lightning fast responses tailored from a select few options are more of an action based feature, and when adapted to a menu format like Xenoblade after this have an issue wherein all enemies are approached nearly the same way since traditional hitboxes aren’t something you harness to your opponent’s undoing like in an action game; Enemies and their attacks embody a set of ‘statistics’ rather than physical properties and this leads to every enemy being a carbon copy of each other with only variations in stats. Dark Souls is this game’s point of comparison. It’s paradoxically an action RPG with opponents you defeat through logic and reasoning, while ironically epitomizing the test of them that the genre is known for.
Turn based has it’s place. But it’s meant to facilitate long periods of thought about what’ll happen next.
Hi, thanks for the comment! I do like the Paradigm system, but you’re right, it introduces some weird mechanics where you’re trying to select actions as fast as you can from the menu. I probably spent about 40% of my time with the game mashing on the X button. And yeah, I used just a couple of strategies throughout most of the game – which is why it was so irritating that I kept having to reset those couple of important Paradigms.
I also agree with FF X being the best combat of the series. Being able to swap in and out characters was so fun – I remember more than one battle where nearly everybody was dead, I just kept swapping out KO’d characters for live ones. Having the whole party die when your leader dies was a way for the game to score really cheap wins, which is stupid.
But that said, I still think the Paradigm system brought an interesting strategy to the game, it streamlined combat somewhat, and it was way simpler than the shenanigans that went on in FF XII with gambits (although comparing the combat systems in those two games hardly seems fair).
FFXII had it’s problems too, yes. I wish this game wasn’t just a streamlined and simplified FF that vowed to strip it to the bare essentials, but let you expand outwardly from that. I’m ok if the game played closer to FFX or the Midgar sections of FFVII, which it does more poorly than them, and I don’t mind that it streamlines event to even the way it tries and I feel fails to… My problem is that you can’t magnify your adventure by exploring around it.
It’s true, even when the game finally opens up, there’s not a lot of exploring to actually do. And trying to make your way around the world was so cumbersome with a mish-mash of weirdly located teleport devices…