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How American Football And F1 Racing Inspired Final Fantasy's Battle Systems

The "Final Fantasy" franchise is comprised of over a dozen unique worlds. Where other JRPGs, such as "Dragon Quest," have refined their worldbuilding and gameplay over the generations, Square Enix prefers to completely reinvent the franchise with every new title. That means new designs, new lore, and brand-new combat systems for each and every game. Needless to say, all of that game design is a lot of work. Transforming the way each new game plays while also making sure it's up to the standards of a AAA franchise is no mean feat. But this constant need for innovation has led the developers at Square Enix to draw inspiration from some rather unorthodox places.


While it obviously isn't easy to draft a completely new combat system from scratch, many fans of the franchise might be surprised to learn that "Final Fantasy" creators have gotten a few of their ideas from the world of Western sports. In fact, two of Square Enix's most legendary developers have stated that some of their ideas came from American football and Formula 1 racing. Here's how these sports impacted the gameplay mechanics of one of the most influential JRPGs of all time.

American Football inspired rowed combat

Anyone who's played one of the "Final Fantasy" games from back when they were in the single digits probably remembers that combat used to look very different from the three-dimensional battles that can be seen in its newer additions. In the older games, the hero and their allies would be lined up on one side of the screen while enemies would be lined up on the other. Despite the fact that the original "Final Fantasy" was a last-ditch effort, this format has been formative for the JRPG genre and has been used in several other titles in the years since.


In an interview with 1Up (via Nintendo Life), game creator Hironobu Sakaguchi claimed that he created this combat system. When asked what the inspiration for it was, he said, "Basically, there's no one inspiration that I got that battle system from. It was just a logical process, where I thought, 'How can I create an efficient battle system for a role-playing game?' That's the answer that I came to. At the root of it all, though, there's a basic kind of system that comes from professional sports."

The interviewer then asked if there was a particular sport that he had in mind. Sakaguchi stated that the NFL was the closest to what the team ended up doing. So while the developers at Square certainly drew from several sources, it seems like good ole American pigskin was at the heart of it.


F1 racing inspired the active time battle gauge

Another feature that old-school "FF" fans might recognize is called the active time battle gage (or ATB). Unlike simple turn-based combat where players could set the controller down, go make a sandwich and then come back and decide what their next move was going to be, the ATB gauge added a degree of urgency to the player's decisions. There would be a bar next to each character's name that would slowly fill, indicating when that character would get to their next turn. This is why so many "Final Fantasy" players had to become experts at navigating combat menus quickly. This system was first conceived by Hiroyuki Ito for "Final Fantasy 4," but variations of it persisted throughout the series all the way until "Final Fantasy 13."


"FF4" game designer and scenario writer Takashi Tokita talked about the game's development for the official North American "Final Fantasy" website where he claimed that Ito got the idea for the system from Formula 1 racing. "Apparently he came up with the ATB system when looking at the cars behind on laps, realizing that if someone was fast they could attack twice in one turn, while slower characters would only attack one time per turn," Tokita said.

F1 racing might initially seem like an odd source of inspiration for a JRPG gaming mechanic, but there is a certain thread of logic that comes to light in the context of Ito's rationale.

American Football also inspired gambits

Things changed quite a bit in "Final Fantasy 12." Rather than random encounters that transitioned to separate combat maps, battles took place in the open world. This was a unique mix of ATB and Real-Time Battle that came to be known as the Active Dimension Battle system. There was one major downside to this system, however. Players would only be able to control one character at a time for it to flow naturally. That's where gambits came in.


Gambits are a system of prioritized commands that players can give to each member of their party in order to dictate what they do when they are not in the direct control of the player. The player could, for instance, make Penello their healer by setting a gambit so that she uses potions or casts Cure on any party member whose HP falls below 50%.

Ito, who directed "FF12," stated in an interview on the game's bonus DVD that American Football was the source of inspiration for this system as well. "In the NFL, each play is carefully planned with players acting based on the most likely outcome of a given situation," he said. "Gambits are a similar concept. You have an idea of what will happen and what the result will be, and the fun lies in refining the desired result." This system made it possible for players to exercise a fine degree of control over their companions' actions without having to micromanage every single battle — and it's all thanks to the NFL.