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.

Properties of the ATB Gauge

The ATB Gauge recharges at a faster rate as you add more segments.

Basically meaning that a six segment ATB Gauge doesn't take twice as long to fill as a three segment ATB Gauge. It actually fills almost twice as fast.

Approximate ATB Recharge Rates
ATB Level         Full Recharge Time     Recharge Rate per Segment       Recharge Speed Increase
3                         4.32 seconds                   1.44 seconds                                  100% (baseline)
4                         4.46 seconds                   1.11seconds                                   130% faster
5                         4.66 seconds                   0.93 seconds                                  155% faster
6                         4.79 seconds                   0.80 seconds                                  180% faster

The ATB Gauge recharges continuously while menus are visible. It will pause once an action or action queue (such as Paradigm Shifting and using items) is being set and will resume once those actions are complete.

Things that Modify the Rate of ATB Recharge
Ability                                       Effect on ATB Recharge Speed
ATB Rate +XX%                      +10%~50%
Haste                                         +33%
Slow                                          -33%
Leadenstrike                              -50%
Ironstrike                                   -33%

There are also several special auto-abilities that grant immediate bonuses to the ATB Recharge speed.

ATB Recharge Speed Bonuses
Auto-Ability                           Bonus to ATB Recharge
Lifesiphon                                +1 segment upon slaying a target
Faultsiphon                              +0.2 segments upon attacking a target with a status ailment
Fearsiphon                              +0.1 segments upon attacking a Staggered target
Siphon Damage Lv. 1              +1 segment for every 1000 damage received
Siphon Damage Lv. 2              +1 segment for every 950 damage received
Siphon Damage Lv. 3              +1 segment for every 900 damage received
ATB Advantage                      +1 segment at the beginning of a battle
Kill: ATB Charge                    +0.5 segments per enemy death
Attack: ATB Charge               +0.1 segments per hit on each enemy
Attack: ATB Charge II            +0.2 segments per hit on each enemy

September 1, 2012

Wound Damage

Serah and Noel take Wound damage; shown in the dark red text on the game screen.

New in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is Wound damage.
Wounds are a special type of injury that reduce the target's maximum HP, and can be inflicted by both party members and enemies.

Wound damage can't be healed by conventional methods (such as using Potions or a Medic's healing spells). Instead, you have to use Wound Potions or Elixir in order to restore the damage caused by Wounds.

Wounds Inflicted by Allies:

  • All Saboteur spells cause damage as well as the status ailment they may inflict. A portion of this damage is turned into Wound damage, depending on the enemy's Wound Resistance.
  • The Wound spell cast by the Saboteur doesn't inflict a status ailment. Instead, it deals more damage than any other Saboteur ability and because of that, increases the amount of possible Wound damage that can be inflicted on the enemy. The Wound spell isn't as powerful as an attack made by a Commando, but is comparable to the damage inflicted by a Ravager.
  • An AI-controlled Saboteur will repeatedly cast Wound once all possible status ailments have been inflicted.

Wounds Inflicted by Enemies:

  • Enemies that cause Wound damage convert a certain amount of the normal damage they would inflict into Wound damage.
  • Wound damage may seem insignificant at first, but if a battle goes on for a long time, it can become a big problem as it accumulates.
  • Having at least one Sentinel deployed against strong Wounding attacks will increase the party's overall defense against Wound damage as well as regular damage. The Bloodguard line of accessories are also effective at preventing Wound damage.
Paradox Alpha, the first enemy in FFXIII-2 that employs Wound attacks.

Status Effects

Status Enhancements
Status enhancements, also called buffs, are beneficial conditions that improve the defensive or offensive powers of the user. They can affect both party members and enemies and can be a major deciding factor on a battle's difficulty, duration, and final outcome.

Buffs can be applied by:
- a Synergist
- equipped certain accessories
- learning passive abilities via the Crystarium for tamed monsters
- certain Feral Links

You can increase the duration of a status enhancement by:
- Synergist role bonuses
- having a high Magic stat
- equipped certain pieces of equipment (either alone or combined)
- the certain abilities learned by monsters

Types of Status Enhancements:
Enhancement      Effect                                                             Opposing Ailment
Haste                   +33% ATB Gauge speed                                 Slow
Bravery                +75% Strength                                                Debrave
Faith                    +75% Magic                                                    Defaith
Protect                 +25% resistance to Physical attacks                 Deprotect
Shell                     +25% resistance to Magic attacks                    Deshell
Vigilance               +33% resistance to Wound                             Curse
Veil                      +50% resistance to status ailments

Enfrost                 These buffs add additional attributes to attacks.
Enthunder            Good against enemies with element weaknesses and Imperil.

Reraise               When the user's HP reachers 0, they will automatically revive themselves.
Regen                 Gradually restores the user's HP

Status Ailments
Status ailments, also known as Debuffs, are negative conditions that can affect both party members and enemies.

Some enemies are difficult to defeat unless you weaken them with debuffs throughout the battle. A sudden onset of debuffs all at once on party members can severely disrupt momentum and can be dangerous during the brutal follow-up attacks.

Status ailments can only be cast by Saboteurs, but they can also occur as side effects from Feral Link abilities.

Aside from using items and the Medic's spells, status ailments can also be healed by using the opposing status enhancement, making Synergists an option to cure ailments. A capable Synergist can be used to target a specific ailment and can be more efficient than a Medic's Esuna spell.

Many enemies have some form of resistance or immunity to one or more ailments. Using a Librascope will immediately expose those resistances, while the AI will spend several turns experimenting with different debuffs to slowly reveal their vulnerabilities.

When an enemy is not immune, various factors such as the Chain Bonus, role Bonus Boosts, or the Veil status enhancement, can affect the time it takes for a debuff to stick.

When you party is greatly afflicted by status ailments, you'll have to quickly assess how dangerous those ailments are. While a Medic's Esuna spell is the most obvious solution, a Synergist can also be used to cancel out status ailments with the opposing status enhancment.

Types of Status Ailments
Ailment             Effect                                                                                         Cure
Slow                  -33% ATB Gauge speed                                                             None

Daze                  Stuns the target and the target takes double damage;                    Foul Liquid, Remedy,                                                                                                                                                                
                          Removed once the target is hit; enemy-only ability.                      Unicorn Horn, Esuna  

Debrave             -50% Strength                                                                            Remedy, Unicorn Horn,
                                                                                                                            Bravery, Bravega, Esuna

Defaith               -50% Magic                                                                               Remedy, Unicorn Horn,
                                                                                                                            Faith, Faithga, Esuna

Deprotect          +30% damage taken from Physical attacks                                  Remedy, Unicorn Horn,
                                                                                                                            Protect, Protectga, Esuna

Deshell              +30% damage taken from Magic attacks                                     Remedy, Unicorn Horn,
                                                                                                                            Shell, Shellga, Esuna

Pain                  Disables the target's Physical abilities                                            Painkiller, Remedy
                                                                                                                            Unicorn Horn, Esuna

Fog                   Disables the target's Magical abilities                                           Mallet, Remedy,
                                                                                                                           Unicorn Horn, Esuna

Curse               +33% damage taken from Wounds;                                             Holy Water, Remedy,
                        -20 "Keep" to all actions                                                              Unicorn Horn

Poison             Cause target to gradually and constantly lose HP;                          Antidote, Remedy,
                        Very effective against enemies with high HP                                  Unicorn Horn, Esuna

Imperil             Reduces the target's elemental resistance by one tier.                     Remedy, Unicorn Horn,
                       (Resistant to halved; Normal to Weakness)                                   Esuna

Doom              Causes a timer to appear above the target. When it runs out,         None
                        the target is KO'd instantly. Enemy-only ability.

Refreshing Effects
It's best to refresh status enhancments before they expire.

When someone has multiple status effects (ailments and enhancements), reapplying any of them will move it to the end of the display sequence, showing it as the most recently afflicted effect. It will also flash.

With enhancements, it's harder to see how much time is remaining when there's only one.