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Opinion: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Auto Battle

When August Ferdinand Mobius discovered the Mobius Loop while toiling away on some polyhedra-related theory like a goddamn nerd, I wonder if he ever thought about the practical uses of the topological concept outside of the realm of theoretical math. Did he know that they would make excellent and stylish accessories? Or maybe their resemblance to musical dyads? He, at the very least, wouldn’t have guessed that it would be strapped to a Final Fantasy spin off over 150 years later.

I’m making assumptions, but a straight shooting mathematician like August would recoil into infinite loops like a Midgar Zolom when if when he’d heard that such bold effort (and budget) was going into a mobile title bearing the weight of that decades long role playing legacy. “Why can’t Square just make a normal Final Fantasy?” he’d ask incredulously. Maybe not. I don’t know, I’m not his mother.

He might, at least, admire the infinite malestrom loop of the random battle, debuting in games like the original Dragon Quest shortly before Final Fantasy hit the scene, but forever popularized in the Coca Cola of JRPGs. “You can run around on an overworld or in a dungeon and just infinitely encounter enemies!” he’d exclaim, watching Karl Mollweide’s face contort in existential pain. Probably. I mean, I wasn’t there.

Though, why wouldn’t he be absolutely taken with this feature? What better way to reinforce the importance and safety of towns, while emphasizing the chaotic danger of the uncivilized world, than the random battle. Back before we were cutting rats in half in a very 3D Ferelden, the concept of players actually encountering (and possibly avoiding) each of these monsters individually was something that would make the poor Nintendo’s Ricoh 2A03 processor data leak struggle tears.

There’s something intrinsically tedious about the process, though. The approximation of the dangers of wild life outside of civilization should make me constantly on edge and fearful of any trek into the great unknown when moving from place to place. In older Final Fantasies, this was absolutely the case. I have deep seated nightmares regarding the long walk from Elfheim to the Marsh Cave, only to have to travel through three floors of dungeon, random groups of Piscodemons, and eventual trek back.  Survival relied heavily on how much money I was willing to drop on a Cottage.

The answer was all of it.

Later Final Fantasies lacked that gusto. You pretty much never feel threatened by nature in Final Fantasy 8. Running in circles and sucking magic out of them like Tom Cruise in 18th century Louisiana isn’t exactly fright-inducing. Random battles in Final Fantasy 6 were exercises in how quickly I can scroll through menus to find the one or two attacks each character had that was worth using on things that didn’t deserve it. More often than not, the Final Fantasy random battle is menial busy work, and an excuse to give you money and experience because you’ll need it.Killing things just so happened to be the only way to get it.

Square Enix, always a staunch protector of their legacy, created a new entry in the hallowed Final Fantasy series that is tailor-made for mobile devices that asks the question that we all secretly wanted answers to: why can’t we have a Final Fantasy game that is literally just random battles?

I mean, Mobius: Final Fantasy is rife with story—about empty Blanks fighting to claim their identities, about old veteran guardians with shifty alliances, about women in freezers crystals—I just couldn’t actively care about any of it. Much of it is so contrived and convoluted that it almost doesn’t want you know what’s going on. Which is fine, knowing is literally none of the battle in Mobius.

When not skipping fully animated (or partially animated), fully voiced (or partially voiced) cutscenes, you spend time moving between nodes, and fighting things in them. Nodes are a lot like Battle Zones in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, except every node is a battle, and these battles are not avoidable in any way.

Battles occur in waves, anywhere between three and five usually. Tapping on an enemy during your turn spends an action point to do a basic attack to them. Attacks generate energy from one of five elements, each can be spent to cast abilities that you equip previous to battle in the form of cards.  When you run out of action points, your turn is over.

Battle mostly consists of balancing the elements you can have at once (limited to your equipped class) and leveraging strengths and weaknesses against the enemy. In tough battles, like with bosses or in special dungeons, this can be a surprisingly rewarding practice exercise in tactical thinking and strategic planning. For 90% of the game’s combat, it’s a mindless waste of time.

But in an ironic and self-effacing stroke of genius, Mobius introduces an auto-battle feature. It literally does all of the work for you, and makes adequately intelligent decisions about the best uses for your energy. It takes the game’s primary system, that is also among the most banal recurring game mechanics of all time, and makes it so you don’t have to do it. When Mobius is at it’s best, it’s a game you set and forget. Ron Popeil would be so proud.

Literal months have passed since I finally stopped obsessively checking into the game—upkeeping my expansive and utterly unimpressive card collections, completing “special” events that never felt unique or special at all, spending poorly balanced currency to buy chances to get cards that I ultimately hated. Before then, though, I spent months stealing minutes from my day job to perpetuate this nonsense, because all I was really here for was the mediocre reward, and I was enabled and empowered to get it by skipping all the actual work.

There’s no coincidence present in the adoption of battle-altering settings in the recent PC Final Fantasy ports. Automatically being able to make your party invincible, or just turning battles off entirely, are the brainchildren of a most enlightening series of old mechanics/modernity and happiness ideology intercourse.

“Everything people love about our games,” began some pretty wise guy in a Square Enix office “is everything that’s not our fucking combat!” Man, is this nameless, faceless scion of truth ever correct. I always want to revisit the whimsical world of Terra, and never want to fight 1100 sentient houses or random bat snakes or lettuce rabbits ever again. Tell me I can flip a switch and Zidane will call the very-easy-to-navigate shots for me, and you can consider my childhood successfully exploited.

At least then, though, I would have a properly defendable excuse to sink 60 hours into that game again. I look at my time with Mobius, and I can feel August shaking his damned head in shame at me from some boring, but highly logical and scopophilic heaven in the sky.

I couldn’t care less what happens to my character in his journey to reclaim and validate his identity. I don’t even know what Garland wants, or why this stupid moogle is so into me. I do know that I like checking boxes in a game that is punching way above its weight in the graphics department, especially if it takes extremely little effort to do so.

I’ve been waiting for days. Waiting for my integrity to return my calls.



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Author: Jarrett Green View all posts by
A game enthusiast since he could walk, Jarrett prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups, and his god-like Bushido Blade talents. He provides insightful commentary from experienced eyes out of the deep darkness of South Jersey.

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