The Game Design Forum

Enemy Archetypes in FF7

Having seen all the phases and what they offer, I want to try reverse-engineering some design templates for non-boss enemies in FF7. The graphs in the previous sections only provide averages for each stat in a quest. Averages are useful for understanding what a whole quest is like in aggregate, but they don’t always explain how individual enemies contribute toward the overall feel of each battle, quest or the game at large. At the same time, it wouldn’t be useful to describe every individual enemy as a piece of unique content, because there’s too much noise in that. Instead, I’ve derived six archetypes of enemies found in FF7. These archetypes cover about two-thirds of all the non-boss battles in the game. There are some enemies which don’t fit into any category. Some of these enemies are gimmicky, like the Ying & Yang, Mover or Magic Pot enemies, who all have highly unusual abilities or defenses. Some of these enemies are extreme versions of game design concepts, like the Bomb and Grenade, who keep getting more dangerous throughout the fight. Some enemies are in place only to be hunted, like the Beach Plug. But the majority of FF7 enemies fall into some kind of archetype.

The One-Two Punch

The most basic enemy archetype is what I call the “one-two punch” type (OTP for short), and so I will use this type to explain how the template works. The first thing to notice is the behavior summary. The basic design idea behind the OTP is that it has a normal attack that does base damage, but it also uses a second ability—a special attack that does 1.25 to 3 times base damage. I call this ability the “signature” attack or ability, as it is the thing which defines most of the archetypes. The OTP tends to use its basic attack and signature attack interchangeably.

[90][91][92][93] [N.B. every archetype in this section is derived from these same sources]

The rest of the card is fairly simple. The top row shows the number of basic attacks required to defeat this enemy by Red XIII at the same level with the appropriate gear. Like everything else on the card, this row has a range of values, because not every enemy of an archetype is exactly the same. Note that although the range is displayed in highest-to-lowest order, that’s not necessarily chronological. As we saw in the discussions of phases two and three, different monster attributes peak at different times. The range simply covers the quests up until the final dungeon and optional content. The next row shows the component stat for the enemy’s basic attack, which is the most common attack all enemies use. Sometimes the basic attack is magical, but most of the time it’s physical. Sometimes an enemy’s basic attack is below base damage—it has a component stat of less than one—but usually it’s one or higher. The next row on the card shows the range of component stats for the OTP’s special ability, which is between one and three. Note that although the high-end for a special ability of the OTP is a component stat of three, this actually happens in phase three, not in phase four. On the other hand, the enemy with the highest component stat for this category (the Sculpture from the Whirlwind Maze) also has a low-end durability score of two. The enemy with the highest durability from this group is from the Northern Crater.

The Rabid Fox

Another simple type of enemy is the rabid fox family of enemies, which inflict the majority of the game’s debuffs. The typical setup for the rabid fox is that it has a basic attack which it mixes interchangeably with a signature attack that also inflicts a debuff.

Note that the signature ability still does damage. In phases one and two, the component stats for the debuff-inflicting abilities are below one, but by the end of the game these abilities grow to the point where they are even with (or sometimes slightly above) base damage. Interestingly, the basic attack for these creatures does not grow, and instead stays locked at base damage levels. Typically, the rabid fox type of enemy inflicts debuffs to which I gave a ranking of “1”—debuffs like poison, slow, frog and blind. Finally, although it isn’t listed on the card, I want to point out a trend in the AI of these enemies. Most enemies of this type use their debuff ability as part of a random mix of abilities that includes their basic attack. Sometimes, however, enemies of this type will continuously use their debuff ability until all party members are afflicted, even if this is an impossible goal because some party members are immune.

The Scatter-Shot

The scatter-shot type is built around a medium-low-strength attack which hits all party members. The component stat for this signature attack is almost always around 1.25. The most common durability score for these enemies is three normal attacks by an appropriately leveled and equipped Red XIII. The durability of this type of enemy varies a lot across the game, sometimes high and sometimes low, irrespective of how late in the game this enemy appears.

The up-and-down fluctuation in difficulty which is the bedrock of videogame design appears frequently in FF7, and the design of this enemy across the game is another example of that. Finally, the basic attacks for this type of enemy usually only do base damage.

The Magic Imp

The magic imp has three primary characteristics: relatively low durability, the ability to do high damage, and a large suite of abilities to choose from. The durability score for these enemies can range from one to five hits from an appropriately leveled Red XIII at various points across the course of the game. That fact can be a little misleading, however, because the only enemy in this class with a durability score above four is the Harpy enemy, which always appears as the only enemy in a battle. Its higher durability is probably a function of its solitude. For the most part the durability of these enemies is three or below. Additionally, these enemies tend to have attacks with component stats between two and five, meaning that they can deal large amounts of damage, although they only tend to do target one party member at a time. The last important characteristic of the magic imp is that they have a large suite of abilities to pick from, typically including at least one ability that inflicts a debuff.

Normally this means having several abilities with different component stats, different elemental affinities or both. With such a large set of abilities to pick from, combined with relatively low durability, a magic imp-type enemy will not always cast its debuff or strongest ability before dying.

The Titan

The titan type is an enemy that appears alone in battle, has a high durability score, usually has a powerful multi-target attack, and often uses low-level debuffs. Essentially, the titan enemy is an entire battle contained in one creature. The titan’s defining characteristic is its high durability score, always above nine physical attacks, but going as high as fourteen. Although there are plenty of non-titan battles in the game that have that same total durability spread across several enemies, the titan is more dangerous. Several enemies with medium durability can attack more often than one enemy with high durability, but one good multi-target spell can wipe many or all of them out, making the battle shorter and easier. There’s no shortcut around a titan; most of the time, the player will not have access to any spell powerful enough to instantly kill a titan at the same level as their party members. Because the titan is going to survive a few rounds, it will almost certainly use all of its abilities at least once. The first titan in the game has a weak basic attack, but after that the component stat for the titans’ basic attack is about 2. The signature attack is where the titans really deal their damage, however. Most of the titans use a multi-target spell that has a component stat somewhere between 3.75 and 6. Their behavior scripts are set up so that they cast this spell at least once, though they often cast it several times in a battle. Additionally, many of these signature attacks inflict a debuff, most commonly darkness.

If the signature spell does not inflict a debuff, the titan will usually have some other ability which does, although the debuff is always of a lesser 1-turn type.

One odd point about the titan type is that although it offers an above-average amount of EXP per battle, it actually offers a below-average amount of EXP per attack (i.e. per durability). I find this to be odd, because it means the hardest challenges give the least reward on a rate basis. This datum does at least give us the insight that maybe the designers of that time weren’t calculating by rate guidelines, even if the game balance came out as though they were doing so.

Killer Rabbit

The killer rabbit type is a weak enemy that comes in large numbers. Although the durability score for these enemies is always low, their primary characteristic is the low component stats of their attacks. Sometimes, the signature attack of a killer rabbit will apply a debuff, but more often it does not. On paper, this type of enemy can look a little bit like the rabid fox, but the lower durability and inconsistent debuff usage differentiate it. In actual usage, the killer rabbit becomes very distinct, as it usually comes in groups of four or more. This enemy type also demonstrates an unusual trend in EXP disbursement. The killer rabbit is a great source of phase-two EXP, not because it offers such a great per-turn rate of EXP, but because it comes in large groups and has a low durability. One low-cost multi-target spell can wipe a group of these enemies out in one turn. Thus, by driving down the amount of time per battle, the player can drive up EXP income per minute. Killer rabbits disappear after phase two, however.

As players gain an increasing number of powerful multi-target attacks toward the end of phase two, it would be too easy for them to plow through battles like these and collect a lot of EXP. Plus, the puny damage this enemy puts out wouldn’t fit with the design philosophy of phase three at all.

Enemies to Order

Enemies that fit into one of the archetypes listed above account for 70% of the total enemies encountered in phases two, three and four of FF7. (Phase one, being a tutorial, isn’t like the other phases in a number of ways and would unhelpfully skew any analysis of them.) That leaves a sizeable chunk of enemies that don’t fall into an archetype. These remaining enemies do exhibit some patterns, but these patterns don’t necessarily constitute a new archetype. I call these “enemies to order,” as they tend to fill in a wide variety of needs for the designer. The most common type of enemy to order is simply an archetypal enemy with an extra ability appended to it. The Nibel Wolf, for example, is an OTP-type with a revive ability added on. The Hell Rider VR2 is an OTP-type with the ability to move party members from front to back row and vice-versa. Another kind of enemy to order is one that simply combines the abilities of two other archetypes. The Custom Sweeper and Death Machine (which, interestingly, have the same enemy model) are both a combination of the OTP and scatter-shot types. A few enemies to order are reduced versions of archetypes. For example, a couple of enemies operate like the titan type in the way they attack, but lack the requisite high durability. A few enemies are like the OTP or rabid fox types except with the basic attack removed, leaving only the signature attack. The important thing to notice is that the archetypes are still the basis for most of the enemies in the game, even when those enemies technically fall outside the strictest definition of a type.

The only group of enemies which doesn’t somehow relate to an archetype is the one that relies on defensive tactics. This group does not belong to an archetype, because they are few in number and inconsistent in execution. Some of these enemies cast barriers on themselves like the Adamantaimai; some have gimmicky defenses which reduce damage greatly like the Yin/Yang. Some of these enemies have normal defenses and only ever counterattack. The thing that prevents them from being a defined group is that they lack attacks in common. Neither their stats, component stats nor attack types have any common theme, and therefore the player’s experience of these enemies isn’t the same as the player’s experience of the Titan. Moreover, although this entire group of enemies uses defense-oriented tactics, their durability scores can be either quite high or quite low. In other words, they rely on one-off gimmicks, and gleaning lessons from those is problematic in any game.

To see how these archetypes are implemented (and how they evolve) across the course of the game check out the eBook version of this text..

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