November 22, 2012

Paradigm Tuning and AI Behavior

Since you can't control but one character at a time and you can't control the actions of monsters at all, it's important to know how you can manipulate control over the AI, which will be controlling all characters that aren't under your direct control.

Offensive Roles
Generally, the AI will test out a variety of different abilities the first time it encounters a new enemy or when the Bestiary information of a foe is incomplete, in order to determine the extent of the of the enemy's resistances. This is why most first encounters will involve the AI (and the Auto-Battle option, which is controlled by the AI as well) selecting a combination of Attack and Ruin as a Commando or a seemingly random string of spells as a Ravager or Saboteur. 
Once the AI has determined the enemy's affinities, it will proceed to select the most effective abilities.

Commandos will always choose the ability that deals the most damage based on their own stats and the target's resistances.

Ravagers will set up up abilities that best serve to maximize the Chain Bonus. If Enemy Intel indicates that an opponent is completely immune or absorbs certain types of attacks, the AI will refrain from using those kinds of attacks.

Saboteurs will use Enemy Intel to weaken opponents. If you identify an enemy as being susceptible to certain ailments under the "Notes" section (shown in-game), the AI will attempt to inflict that ailment first. Once all ailments have been inflicted, the AI will default to the Wound spell if available, or in certain cases, use Endless Nightmare to sustain existing ailments.

Defensive Roles
For defensive roles, AI behavior is less dependent on Enemy Intel.

Sentinels will always default to Provoke, unless the enemy is immune. Then, they will use their           -guard abilities and will continue to do so until Provoke wears off. The AI will lean more towards counterattack abilities such as Entrench and Vendetta when HP is high, and then more towards defensive abilities such as Steelguard and Mediguard when HP is low.

Synergists will make use of Enemy Intel to strengthen allies. If an enemy sheet lists a favored type of attack under "Notes," the AI will focus on applying the corresponding Buff. 
For example, if an enemy "delivers devastating physical attacks," the AI will first cast Protect on its allies and then continue to add more Buffs, giving priority to defensive Buffs when there are numerous enemies and then more to offensive Buffs when there is only one enemy. 
Synergists in the Normal formation will first apply any all-target enhancements before refreshing them with single-target variants. Synergist monsters will use the Endless Blessings ability to refresh automatically refresh enhancements before they expire.

Medics will always prioritize the restoration of HP to over 70% (the point where HP is green) before reviving KO'd enemies or removing ailments. They will always prioritize the party leader over all other members in the party. If everyone is alive and in good health, the Medic will continue to heal by using a single Cure spell as needed. The gradual accumulation of Wound damage in difficult battles can make AI controls less efficient during drawn-out battles. Its focus on restoring health to over 70% can lead it to cast spells that are relatively useless since the Wound ailment has cause the overall amount of HP to decrease. They will also ignore more pressing concerns, such as status ailments. In these instances, manual control of a Medic can make a big difference.

Tuning Paradigms
In Final Fantasy XIII-2, you have the ability to tune your Paradigms so that you can have better control over AI-controlled characters. When you tune Paradigms, you can only tune the Paradigm as a whole, not the individual components of the Paradigm.

The Cross formation tells all AI-controlled allies, and the Auto-Command option, to focus on the same target. This is helpful when you want to apply status enhancements on a single ally, build Chains, or inflict status ailments on a specific enemy. Paradigms in the Cross formation are represented by the suffix -X (such as Relentless Assault-X or Cerberus-X).

The Wide formation tells all AI-controlled allies, and the Auto-Battle option, to focus on different enemies or allies. For Commandos and Ravagers, this option is very effective in fights with a large number or enemies. It's also useful in short fights where you want to use a Synergist's -ga Buffs, which give enhancements to all allies but don't last long. An AI-controlled Medic in Wide formation will focus on healing the entire party at once, which can be preferable in some battles. Paradigms in the Wide formation are represented with the suffix -W (such as Aggression-W or Delta Attack-W).

September 11, 2012

Maximum Combat Efficiency

Since the AI can't adjust sufficiently in different scenarios, it's best that you gradually start to move away from auto- commands as you get more experienced with the battle system. Manual control is important when controlling battle efficiency.

When you encounter a new enemy for the first time, the AI likes to alternate between physical and magical attacks to test out the enemy's resistances. While it may not interfere much with the speed in normal battles, it can waste a lot of time in the harder ones.

  • Say an enemy is weak against Fire. An AI-controlled Ravager will auto-input something along the lines of Fire - Flamestrike - Fire - Flamestrike in order to take advantage of the weakness-induced bonus to Chaining, as well as the bonus for alternating abilities. However, it's much more important to place emphasis on speed (since the rank you get is based on speed alone) rather than these bonuses by using a single consecutive ability instead, like Fire - Fire - Fire - Fire or Flamestrike - Flamestrike - Flamestrike - Flamestrike. This will be a lot faster than alternating the way the AI does.
  • In a focused Saboteur assault where you only need to inflict specific debuffs or when you need to inflict certain ones (like Poison), it's best to inflict them manually. The AI will apply debuffs in the same way that it would in a normal situation, and may inflict the one(s) you want last or not at all.
  • Against a Launchable enemy that is resistant against physical attacks, the Auto-Battle queue will consist of Attack (to Launch the enemy) and then a string of Ruins (something like Attack - Ruin - Ruin - Ruin). If two allies attempt to Launch the enemy at the same time, the slower of two will leap up into the air and start to attack from there, slowing them down considerably in comparison to if they had just stayed on the ground. Since it only takes one ally to Launch an enemy, having two enemies in the air trying to do this is pointless and will slow you down. You can prevent this by letting the AI Launch the enemy (which it will do by default) and then let your manually-controlled character unleash a string of Ruins from the ground.

Outside of battle, you can raise your party in ways that will force the AI to do more of the specific things you want it to.

  • Focus stat growth, either through the Crystarium, equipment, or infusion, towards Strength or Magic. This lowers the chance that the AI will alternate between two different damage types in battle because if Strength is considerably higher than Magic, or vice versa, the AI will go towards using attacks that utilize the stat with highest amount, therefore making your AI-controlled allies more efficient.
  • Avoid the carryover of unnecessary abilities when infusing monsters. This will enable your monster to focus on its strengths. For example, there's little need for a monster with low Strength stats to inherit Ravager -strike abilities (which are Strength based).

September 4, 2012

Animation Speeds

Raw stats don't determine everything in battle. Since the basis of the entire battle system is speed, you have to take attack animations into account. These attack animations have a huge impact on how quickly actions are implemented in combat.

Serah is generally faster than Noel is most aspects. This compliments her generally higher Magic ability and her suitability for Magic roles.

Animation speeds can vary significantly between monsters. For example, Chocobos are pretty fast while the more Western species are slower in comparison, despite their impressive stats. Another thing to realize is that Serah, Noel, and every species of monster have different physical attack animations. This is more than just an appealing-to-the-eye feature.

Noel's physical attacks have the distinct feat of landing two consecutive hits instead of one, with the properties of a single attack split in two. This split applies to the amount of damage inflicted as well as the effect on the Chain Gauge. It's not significant, but two hits are better than one, especially when it comes to maintaining the Chain Gauge.

Serah's weapon can take on the appearance of a bow or a sword. You can actually control which one she uses by tuning your Paradigms appropriately. In a Normal tune Paradigm, Serah will seem randomly switch between the two. In a Cross formation, she'll stick to the sword. In Wide fromation, she will stick to the bow.

Also, Serah's physical actions with the sword have a much faster animation speed than those with the bow. This doesn't apply when she is casting spells, so if Serah is your main spell caster, this information may not have much impact on your playing style. However, this is another reason to pay attention to the tuning of your Paradigms. For example, against a single magic-resistant enemy, Cerberus-X will likely quicken Serah's damage output as a Commando opposed to the regular Cerberus.

Another thing on physical attacks is that Serah and Noel both have kind of special 'finishers' that occur after they execute a full command queue of abilities once they reach an ATB Level of 4 or higher. These finishers tend to deal slightly more damage but are slower.

It's always faster to string together a sequence of the same actions rather than combining multiple different actions. In other words, switching between physical and magic in a command queue takes a lot more time than sticking to all physical or all magical abilities in a single command queue.

Serah and Noel also have different animations when airborne. Casting animations become much slower when they are in the air. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Normally, the lack of speed will extend the time that an enemy will remain Launched.

Speed is also more important in some roles than in others.

Medics and Ravagers benefit the most from quick animations. For Medics, faster animations mean they will be able to heal their targets faster. For Ravagers, since their main purpose is to fill the Chain Gauge, the faster they can attack, the faster the Chain Gauge will fill, and the faster the enemy will be Staggered.

Speed for a Commando is also important. They faster they are, the more damage they can do in a shorter amount of time.

Part of a Synergist's efficiency depends on how quickly they can apply Buffs. This is especially important in a race against time when an enemy is about perform an especially strong attack.

While it's good for Saboteurs to inflict Debuffs in a timely matter, their efficiency is based more on persistence rather than speed.

For Sentinels, animation speeds don't matter. Their main purpose is to distract the enemy and take damage for the rest of they party. Even the slower monsters can fulfill this role sufficiently.

September 3, 2012

Physical Attacks vs. Magical Attacks

There are some advantages to casting magic spells over using physical attacks.

Against more agile enemies, physical attacks can prove to be somewhat erratic. This is because there is a form of hit detection used in the game where if an enemy goes outside of the 'hit area' when the attack is executed, that attack will miss. However, magic spells will always hit their target. Magic spells come in two types: immediate impact (such as the Ravager's Ice and Lightning elemental spells as well as most Saboteur spells) and tracking projectiles (such as Ruin, as well as Fire and Wind spells).

Notice that it also takes time for a character that is using physical attacks to literally run up to or chase an enemy before the fighting actually begins. Characters using magic don't have to run or chase after their enemies and their spells tend to reach their targets faster than a physical attack that's being forced to reach the enemy by foot.
Also, the animation speed for a magic attack tends to be faster than the animation speed of a physical attack.

While Strength is only used to calculate the amount of damage inflicted, Magic affects other variables such as the healing power of a Medic and the duration of a Synergist's buffs. This can make boosting Magic stats more useful in general across the different roles.

However, this doesn't mean that physical attacks are worse than Magic ones. Physical attacks have a higher damage multiplier, and therefore cause more damage than spells do. They also have higher Cut and Keep values, giving them higher priority in the heat of battle. And the majority of the most powerful offensive abilities are physical attacks, such as Noel's Meteor Javelin or the Feral Links used by many of the strongest Commando monsters.

Juggling Enemies

Certain abilities have a hidden stat called Rise. This stat causes the enemy to be propelled into the air. The most common ability is Launch, which modifies the Commando's basic Attack ability. The    -ga spells (such as Firega) of Commandos and Ravagers also have the capability to Launch foes.

The value of the Rise stat determines how high the enemy will be Launched and can be combined with multiple other abilities. Once an enemy has been Launched, you can continue using -ga spells to hoist them even higher into the air, preventing them from falling back down to the ground. Any other attacks given to the enemy will also keep them airborne. Enemies that are Launched become immobilized, and cannot attack or defend themselves.

For Launching to work, generally, the attack used must have a higher Cut value than whatever Keep value the enemy has.

Many enemies cannot be Launched until Staggered while some are completely immune to Launch, Staggered or not.

September 2, 2012

Interruptions (Cut and Keep)

There are two hidden stats that determine the priority of conflicting actions:
Cut and Keep

When an ally and an enemy are attacking each other simultaneously, the game uses the Cut and Keep stat of their abilities to determine who will prevail. 

The Cut value is the value that determines if an ability has the power to 'cut', or interrupt, another opposing ability. The Keep value is the value that determines how well an ability can 'keep' its prowess against another opposing ability.

If the Cut value of one action is greater than the Keep value of the opposing action, then the first action will prevail. If the Keep value is greater than the Cut value of the opposing action, it will continue uninterrupted. This is the main factor that is behind the basic principle of ability interruptions.

Both Cut and Keep have values from 0 to 100. Below is a table of the base values for all actions in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Cut and Keep Base Values
Action                                                      Keep Value         Cut Value
None (idle)                                                     5                       None

Defensive spells                                             15                      None

Saboteur spells (cast by ally);
Offensive spells and ranged physical                15                        10
attacks (by an enemy)

Other offensive spells and ranged                    15                        15
physical attacks (by an ally)

Melee attacks (by an enemy)                          20                         20

Melee attacks (by an ally);                             25                         25
Strong attacks (by an enemy)

Special attacks (used by an enemy)                40                         40

Sentinel -guard abilities                                 90                        None
(Steelguard, Mediguard, etc.)

Sentinel Provoke abilities                              90                          10

Sentinel counter abilities                               90                          25

Ultima Arrow (Serah);                                 90                          50
Meteor Javelin (Noel)

The Cut value of physical attacks is generally higher than that of Magical attacks, therefore, physical attacks will often interrupt magical ones.

The higher Keep values (those over 90) belong to special abilities such as Meteor Javelin and Ultima Arrow, as well as the abilities of the Sentinel. The high Keep values of Sentinel abilities are an additional bonus to their already strong defensive abilities.

As long as an action's Cut or Keep value is under 90, its Cut or Keep value can be modified by the status effects of Vigilance and Curse, the passive abilities Immovable and Presses, and by Staggering. If an action's value is already at its maximum of 90, it cannot be modified.

Modifiers of Cut and Keep Values
Effect                                Modification
Vigilance                              +20 Keep
Curse                                   -20 Keep
Immovable (ally)                    +5 Keep
Immovable II (ally)               +10 Keep
Pressure (ally)                       +5 Cut
Pressure II (ally)                  +10 Cut
Pressure MAX (ally)             +15 Cut
Stagger (on an enemy)          Keep drops to 0

NOTE: some enemies, such as the Pulsework Soldier, have a special ability that raises the Keep of all their basic actions to 85 before they are Staggered. 

Properties of Paradigm Shifts

ATB Refresh
This concept began in Final Fantasy XIII to subtly encourage the use of multiple Paradigms during battles and has carried over into Final Fantasy XIII-2. It isn't mentioned explicitly anywhere in the game so it's a bonus to those observant enough to notice it.

With the ATB Refresh, when you shift Paradigms, the ATB Gauge will refill itself completely. This means that you don't have to wait for the ATB Gauge to refill every time you shift Paradigms. The first ATB Refresh will always occur after the first Paradigm Shift
After that, you can obtain refreshes if you fulfill at one of two conditions:
  - You've previously fully recharged the ATB Gauge
  - 12 seconds have passed since the last ATB Refresh

When you don't need a full deck of six Paradigms, particularly in regular (non-boss) battles, shifting between duplicate Paradigms (like two Relentless Assaults) will enable you to attack faster without you having to wait as long in between turns. 

Once you've gained more ATB Segments and you're comfortable with the timing of your party's actions, you can reliably use the ATB Refresh approximately once every other turn. This will enable you to speed up battles, get higher scores, and be more efficient when farming monsters for specific spoils, gil, or CP Rewards.

When you shift Paradigms, you have the ability to Buffer moves. This allows you to apply the bonuses of other roles to another ability by shifting to another role right after your character begins to execute that ability. For this to work correctly, you have to make sure the character has actually begun to use the move and it's shown visibly on-screen.

The most obvious example is a shift from Ravager to Commando after using Serah's full ATB ability, Ultima Arrow. While it's not normally used as a main method to deal damage, its power can raised quite a bit by Buffering it into a shift of Commando.

While Buffering can be useful, know that by Buffering, you're giving up the originally intended role bonus for the original ability. For example, a Synergist is casting status enhancements and sees that the enemy is about to use a strong attack and therefore switches to the Sentinel. By doing this, the Synergist Buffers their last spell by shifting to the Sentinel role. Therefore, the bonus duration that would have been applied to the last spell that the Synergist would have cast is lost and the Synergist role bonus will not be applied in exchange for the defensive strength of the Sentinel.