A pincer attack in Final Fantasy VII.

Attack formations are the types of battle formations that an encounter can begin with in games where battles take place in a different plane than field gameplay. Usually it determines who gets to attack first.


  • Normal formation: Player characters and opponents have an equal shot at getting the first turn.
  • Preemptive attack: Sometimes also called First Strike, Strike First, and Preemptive Strike. The player party gets to strike the enemy first, and the characters' ATB gauges always start filled up. In later titles the enemies face away from the party members, allowing physical attacks to deal double damage for one turn.
  • Surprise attack: Sometimes also called Ambushed, Surprised, and Sneak attack. The enemy gets a chance to strike the party first, and the party's ATB gauges start empty.
  • Back attack: Sometimes called Attacked from behind. This is similar to the surprise attack, however, the party is attacked from behind, and each character is in the opposite row. For example, a physical fighter in the front row would be placed in the back row.
  • Side attack: The party surrounds the enemy, with two members lining up on each side of the battle screen (or two and one if there is a three-character party). Any party member who hits an enemy with a physical attack while its back is turned deals extra damage. Most spells that target all allies will only target allies on the same side of the battlefield. All characters' ATB gauges start filled up. Some fights, such as the Goddess in Final Fantasy VI, are always side attacks. Side attacks only appear in Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII, although the battle against Tros in Final Fantasy X also features a side attack formation.
  • Pincer attack: Sometimes also called Surrounded. The party is surrounded by the opponents and characters' ATB gauges start out empty. Any character physically struck from behind takes more damage, and spells that usually affect all opponents only affect those on one side of the battlefield. During a pincer attack the party cannot flee. Some fights, such as the Cranes in Final Fantasy VI, are always pincer attacks. Pincer attacks only appear in Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII.
  • Turn-Based attack: Prominent in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, both teams start with a number of members and when the battle begins, the fastest unit goes first and so on down the line. Faster characters usually get in more turns than slower ones. The accuracy of the attack is determined by what direction the unit attacks the target from (side and back attacks are more accurate than ones from the front). Final Fantasy X somewhat follows this formation.
  • Brave attack: In Bravely Default, it means the battle starts with an additional Brave Point.


Final Fantasy

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Final Fantasy II

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Final Fantasy III

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Final Fantasy IV

In a normal encounter, characters begin in their normal rows and their ATB gauges begin depleted and instantly begin filling. In a preemptive strike, the ATB gauges begin filled. In a surprise attack, their ATB gauges begin empty and do not begin to charge until all enemies have attacked. If the party is attacked from behind, their rows are reversed and their ATB gauges begin empty and will not charge immediately, as in a surprise attack. Uniquely, the second battle with Scarmiglione (2D and 3D) is always a back attack.

Final Fantasy IV -Interlude-

The same attack formations returns in the sequel of Final Fantasy IV. It function is no different from the original.

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

Like the previous two titles, the attack formations function the same way as it did previously.

Final Fantasy V

Back Attack.

Not all enemies can be preempted; it depends on the enemies and their precoded battle formations. Some enemies always back attack the party unless they have the Thief's Caution ability equipped. The Ninja learns First Strike, which doubles the party's chance of preemptive strike from 32/256 to 64/256. If the party is back attacked, they can use the Return spell to start the battle over, usually without the back attack.

Final Fantasy VI

Back attack.

A random battle's attack formation depends on which types are allowed in the area the battle takes place. If any character is equipped with an Alarm Earring, pincer and back attacks are disabled. Not all enemy formations can be battled in all attack formations; most formations allow all types, some disable surrounded attacks, and a few disable other types. Most boss battles disable all but normal attacks, while some other battles will always result in a surrounded or back attack.

Surrounded and back attacks will never be a preemptive strike. For a normal attack there is a 1/8 chance of a preemptive strike. Side attacks have a 7/32 chance of being a preemptive strike. If any character is equipped with a Gale Hairpin the chances are doubled. Certain enemy formations (mostly bosses) disable preemptive strikes altogether.

Due to the pincer attack glitch the row command still works in surrounded attacks, even if the battles have no rows. Another surrounded attack glitch has single enemy "surrounding" the party in a surrounded attack which should not be possible.

If Gau is learning a new Rage on the Veldt, he will not return to the party in a side attack, back attack, or surrounded attack.

The Tyrannosaur enemy can back attack even with an Alarm Earring equipped, and a fight with two Tyrannosaurs always results in a surrounded attack, Alarm Earring or not.

Final Fantasy VII

A normal formation.

Each area has a set number of possible battle formations during a random encounter, and even for some boss battles. When a random encounter is about to start the game performs a check to see if any of the "special attack formations" apply. There is a base chance of 16/256 of getting a preemptive battle, but a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia boosts this up to 64/256. The maximum is 85/256, roughly a 1/3 chance.

Preemptive Strike.

If the area has any special formation battles (Back Attack, Side Attack and Pincer Attack) the chance of getting them is calculated first. These battles have the player at a disadvantage, but a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia helps protect against these battles by halving the chances of the disadvantageous ones. The game uses two types of check to detect whether or not a party member has a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia equipped: a single character check and a global check. The single character check is made whenever the player changes Materia or Equipment.

If the character does not have a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia the game will remove the "Ambush Alert" bonus, which halves the chance of Back and Pincer Attacks, and it doesn't matter if another character does actually have a mastered Pre-Emptive equipped. The global check is used when entering the menu or exiting the PHS screen by running the single character check on each character in the party in turn, starting from the top. What this means is that only the bottommost character in the party counts for whether they have a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia equipped.

A Back Attack.

After the game has ascertained whether the player gets the Ambush Alert bonus or not, and a random battle is about to begin, it will go through the four possible special formation battles for the area in the following order:

The game first checks for the Back Attack formations. It's impossible to get a preemptive attack with these battles, but the Ambush Alert halves the chance of Back Attack. The next check is for the Side Attack, where the enemy is in the middle and the player characters on the sides. The final possible battle is a Pincer Attack where the player characters are surrounded by enemies. Ambush Alert halves the chance of Pincer Attack. The game rolls a random number between 0 and 63 to determine if a special formation battle occurs and which of the special battles it is.

The way encounters are decided on the world map are slightly different: instead of a single random value being used for all four types of special attack formations, they are checked individually. This means the chance of not getting a special attack formation on the world map is not the sum of the chances, but instead the three chances of not getting a Back Attack, not getting a Side Attack, and not getting a Pincer Attack, multiplied together.

A Pincer Attack.

When the party is being back-attacked the characters are normally facing away from the enemies, unless they are equipped with the Sprint Shoes, in which case the character never faces away at the start of battle. Characters facing away from enemies don't take double damage when attacked from behind, however, so the effect is merely cosmetic. By pressing L1 and R1, as if trying to escape, will also immediately reverse the characters' direction at a back attack.

Some boss battles can be fought as preemptive battles if they have been flagged as "preemptive attack is possible, escape is impossible and the battle finishes with a victory fanfare". However, the only screens that allow a preemptive attack are those where random battles can occur. That's why the player can never preempt Rufus, for example, because no random encounters can be fought in the screen where he is fought, even if the battle itself enables preemptive.


FF7 The only five preemptive boss battles

Likewise, if random battles are temporarily disabled on a screen, the player will never get a preemptive attack for any battles until random battles are enabled. As such, the only boss battles that can have a preemptive attack are Aps in the sewers, Jenova∙BIRTH in Cargo Ship, Turks:Reno with Turks:Rude in Gongaga, Snow in the Great Glacier cave, and Elena, Reno and Rude in Midgar winding tunnel.

The three fixed battles on the first screen in the Cave of the Gi with the Gi Spectors should also have made use of the 'Pre-Emp OFF' flag, seeing as the other randomly encountered Gi Spector cannot be back-attacked. The same applies to the forced encounter with the Attack Squads at Mt. Corel's reactor on Part 2 that can also be pre-empted.

A Side Attack.

In a few special battles that are not back attacks, some of the back attack rules still apply: the Change command to change row is grayed out, the enemies start with an empty ATB gauge, and one's first physical attack will deal double damage. This happens in the battles fought as Yuffie in the Wutai Village pagoda, and Cloud's final showdown against Sephiroth.

Some enemies take more than double damage from back attacks: Air Buster takes five times normal damage, Aps quadruple damage, and Acrophies eight times normal damage.

The battle with Ruby Weapon will always start as if the party has been back-attacked. Although no back attack message will appear, the party starts with an empty ATB gauge and Ruby Weapon gets a double physical damage bonus until it is successfully attacked.

Cait Sith's Slots Limit Break has two outcomes that usually end the battle: Death Joker and Game Over. Death Joker usually kills all allies, and Game Over usually kills all enemies. If the battle is a Side or Pincer attack, however, the attacks can only target one enemy or ally party.

Final Fantasy VIII

The player can guard against back attacks with Cerberus's Alert ability, although it does not protect against fixed encounters, such as the second fixed Ruby Dragon battle at Deep Sea Research Center before fighting Bahamut. The Initiative ability allows the party member to begin a battle with a full ATB bar, but there is no ability to increase the rate of preemptive strike.

Final Fantasy IX

Preemptive Strike.

Freya can learn the Initiative support ability that boosts the party's chance to get a preemptive strike from from 16/256 to 85/256.[1]

The Alert ability removes the chance of back attacks from 24/256 to 0%.[1]

Zidane's ability What's That!? can be strategically used to have enemies turn around, allowing for constant back attacks.

Back-attacking 30 times in the Steam version earns the Backstabber achievement.

Final Fantasy X

Without the Initiative ability, there is a 12.5% chance of being Ambushed, and a 12.5% chance of getting a Preemptive strike. With Initiative, there is a 25% chance of Preemptive strike and all Ambushes are eliminated (except certain enemy encounters), as long as the character with Initiative is in the active party. The player can use the First Strike ability to always get a turn first, even while being ambushed. This is especially useful because characters can be swapped during battle.

Three enemies always ambush the party regardless of equipment: the Great Malboro (Omega Ruins and Monster Arena only), the Malboro Menace, and the first battle against Dark Yojimbo.

In the Tros battle, the player can use a Trigger Command called Pincer Attack to surround the boss from both sides.

Final Fantasy X-2

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Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning leading a preemptive strike.

The player can begin a battle with a preemptive strike by engaging enemies before an exclamation mark appears above them, indicating the player has been noticed. Engaging enemies outside of their battle zones, however, won't count as a preemptive strike. Unlike other games, enemies cannot ambush the party.

When a preemptive strike takes place, the party leader starts with a full ATB bar, and all enemies have their chain gauges filled up to roughly 95% with a 10 second chain duration. The preemptive strike animation at the start of a battle, in which the party leader strikes each enemy individually to fill their chain gauges, does not add to the target time. Getting a preemptive strike also multiples the battle score by 1.2.

Chapters 4 and 10-12 feature three-way battles, in which two groups of enemies are engaged with each other. If said enemies don't detect the party, a preemptive strike will occur, and the enemies may concentrate on each other until one side is dead before attacking the player party. In these battles, area-of-effect abilities and Quake will only hit one group.

The player can use a Deceptisol to make themselves invisible to enemies, and thus always get a preemptive strike, with the oretoise and ochu enemies as exceptions.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

Serah and Noel launching a preemptive strike.

A preemptive strike is performed using a new gameplay element called Mog Clock. Both Serah and Noel will attack the surprised enemies in a preemptive strike with a wide slash. These battles begin with full ATB gauges for the party as well as Haste, but the enemies' chain gauges will only fill up to 120.0%.

Starting a battle with preemptive 50 times earns the player the Quick Draw achievement/trophy, and if the player gets 100 consecutive preemptive strikes with the Mog Clock, they earn the Clock Stopper achievement/trophy.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Enemies appear on the field and the player can strike at the foes as long as they haven't depleted their action meter by sprinting for too long. If the player strikes at an enemy after being spotted, they start the battle at "Good" battle condition with the enemy starting with 10% of their HP already lost. If the player strikes at an before being spotted, the enemy starts with 25% of their HP already lost. If the player comes into contact with an enemy without striking them with their weapon, they are considered to have been ambushed, and start the battle with 5% of their HP lost.

Final Fantasy Type-0

Random battles engaged on the world map can start as ambushes or as first strikes, in the addition of normal engagements. If the party pre-emptives the enemies the opponents either start with a disadvantage—such as with Killsight on them, dying in one hit if one is fast to hit them—or the player party begins with a random buff. If the enemies ambush the party, the opponents start with an advantage, such as the Rage status, or the party starts in a disadvantage, such as in the Killsight or Stop status. If the option to replay the battle against higher level enemies comes up, the attack formation from the first battle does not carry over.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Certain battles will always constitute an Unexpected Attack or a Strike First. A certain Battlefield north of Focus Tower consists entirely of Unexpected Attacks.

The Final Fantasy Legend

Any unit with the Stealth, Warning, or Forseen (sic) skills may give first attack to its party. Because of space limitations and translation errors, this is displayed as "[LPMU] initiate an attack" or "Enemy initiate an attack", where LPMU is the name of the lead unit. This is the only advantage formation possible.

Final Fantasy Legend II

Random battles have a chance of starting with either a Strike First or an Unexpected Attack.

Final Fantasy Legend III

Random battles have a chance of starting with either a Strike First or an Unexpected Attack. It should be noted that boss battles can also start a battle with an Unexpected Attack. Strike First and Unexpected Attack are governed by the party's average level versus the enemy's average level. If the party's average level is higher, First Strike will occur more frequently. But if the party's average level is lower, Unexpected Attack will occur more frequently.

Final Fantasy Dimensions

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Bravely Default

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