Final Fantasy VII has a pseudo-turn based battle system based on Active Time Battle (ATB). Players control three party members who can act when their ATB gauge fills. At this point, a menu opens for that party member to select from a variety of abilities, magic, and summons provided by their equipped Materia. Party members also have a Limit gauge that fills upon taking damage; once full, the Limit Break replaces the basic Attack command, and the character can unleash Limit Breaks that are unique to them.
The player can customize their characters' weapon, armor, accessory, and Materia. The Materia they can equip is determined by how many Materia slots are available on their equipped weapon and armor. Since the Materia-provided abilities determine the party member's skills, and by extension their role and functionality, party members can be heavily customized to any playstyle, and their individuality derives mostly by their unique Limit Breaks, their stat differences, and later in the game, their ultimate weapon.
The ATB system in Final Fantasy VII is based on the combat system introduced in Final Fantasy IV. Final Fantasy VII is the first to utilize this system with only three party members, rather than four or five. The Limit Break system is also similar to Desperation Attacks from Final Fantasy VI, with a different mechanic (where Desperation Attacks appear when a party member is on low HP, rather than being determined by a gauge). Most of the magic spells, summons, and special abilities were introduced in previous titles. Later, the battle system in Final Fantasy VII Remake adopted many of the battle mechanics from Final Fantasy VII, while fusing it with real-time combat.
Final Fantasy VII makes use of the Active Time Battle system with three controllable party members at a time. Both party members and enemies have an ATB gauge (only the player party member's gauges are visible), and are able able to act once their gauge fills. By default the actions for party members are Attack (performing a basic physical attack), Item (using an item in the player's inventory), Defend (guarding to reduce damage until their next action), and Change (to change to the front or back row). The player can also hold two buttons to try to Escape from the battle, receiving no rewards.
There are three modes to ATB: Active, Wait, and Recommended; the third is the default. In Active mode, ATB continues to fill regardless of what is happening in-game. In Wait mode, time stops when the player is navigating sub-menus to select an Item, Magic, or Summon command, or during a battle animation. Recommended is a blend of the two, where time stops only during battle animations. These settings are effectively difficulty settings, where Wait is the easiest, Recommended is medium, and Active is the hardest.
The player arranges a party formation in the menu, and can change each member's row. Party members in the back row halve physical damage taken, but also deal 50% less physical damage than in the front row unless their attack is classed as long range, provided by certain weapons or abilities. For some party members, all or the vast majority of their weapons are long range, while for others, long range can only be achieved through Materia. Limits, Magic, Summons, and Items are unaffected by row.
Battles begin as random encounters in certain fields, or when boss battles occur, usually at the end of a story beat. Depending on the randomly encountered enemy formation or the boss battle, a battle may occur in one of five attack formations: a normal formation (three party members face down enemies of an opposing side), Preemptive Strike (same as before, except the player's party attacks first), Back Attack (where the party's row is reversed, and the enemies attack first), Ambush (where two groups of enemies surround the party either side), and Side Attack! (where the party is split in half, but surrounds the enemy). This can be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on the player's strategy.
When a party member reaches 0 HP, they are KO'd until revived by a spell, summon, item or actions taken on the field. If all party members are KO'd, it is Game Over, and the player must return to their previous save file.
Different field areas (such as in dungeons) and the different areas on the world map (for which the name of the area appears in the menu) have different encounter rates. Each area can support up to six normal battles and four special formation battles (of three types: Back Attack, Side Attack!, and Attack from both sides!). World map areas can support a further four Chocobo battles.
When moving in an area on the field, a variable called the
Field Danger Counter increments, and a battle check occurs. This happens roughly three times per second when moving, but the rate at which it increases depending on the area's
Encounter Value, where higher values are safer and lower values have more frequent encounters. Walking increases the
Field Danger Counter by per battle check, and running increases it by per check.[note 1]
The higher the current
Field Danger Counter, the more likely a random battle will begin once the battle check occurs. The battle check performed is if
Rnd(0..255) (a random number between 0 and 255) is less than . The
Enemy Lure Value is a fraction between 2/16 to 32/16, and is 16/16 (100%) by default, but can be increased or reduced by equipping the Enemy Lure or Enemy Away Materia, respectively. When a random battle occurs, the
Field Danger Counter is reset.
The world map has its own
Danger Counter variable, incremented by per check. The
Enemy Lure Value doubles if it is greater than 16/16 (twice has much as it does on the field). Compared to normal location fields, battle checks occur less often on the world map, but the
Danger Counter has a higher increase. A random battle begins if
Rnd(0..255) is less than . The
Danger Counter on the world map resets when leaving or entering it, or when submerging while in the submarine.
Random encounters occur throughout most of the world map, aside from the forest around North Crater, the forest around Bone Village, the coral area between the Sleeping Forest side of the Corel Valley and the Forgotten City, or on the bridges in Wutai. Random encounters occur while riding the buggy, but not on a Chocobo, submarine, the Tiny Bronco, or the Highwind (Ultimate Weapon battles in its resting spots are the only exception). Encounters are divided by the world map area one is in (displayed in the menu), and each area has four sets: for grass, dirt or snow, beach, and miscellaneous. Miscellaneous terrain is often used for forests or deserts, though it is also used for the canyon terrain in the Cosmo Area and the Great Glacier Snow Field terrain considered a part of the Icicle Area.
When a random battle occurs, the following are considered in order:
- Unique battle
- Pre-emptive chance
- The base chance of getting a preemptive battle is 16/256.
- A mastered Pre-Emptive Materia boosts this up to 64/256. The maximum is 85/256, roughly a 1/3 chance.
- Some boss battles can be fought as pre-emptive battles if they have been flagged as "pre-emptive attack is possible, escape is impossible, battle finishes with a victory fanfare". As the only screens allowing a pre-emptive attack are those where random battles can occur, it is impossible to pre-empt boss battles such as Rufus, since no random encounters can be fought in the screen where he is fought (even if the battle itself is flagged to enable pre-emptive).
- 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, Turks:Reno, and Turks:Rude in Midgar winding tunnel.[note 2]
- Special formations
- On the field: if the area has any special formation battles (Back Attack, Side Attack!, or Attack from both sides!), the chance of getting them is calculated. The game rolls a
Rnd(0..63)(random number between 0 and 63) to go through all possible formation battles for the area in the following order: Back Attack, Side Attack!, and Attack from both sides!. The number determines if a special formation occurs, and which one.
- On the world map, instead of a single random value being used for all types of special attack formations, they are checked individually. Therefore, the chance of not getting a special 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 an Attack from Both Sides multiplied together.
- On the field: if the area has any special formation battles (Back Attack, Side Attack!, or Attack from both sides!), the chance of getting them is calculated. The game rolls a
- Normal battles
- If neither a special formation battle nor Chocobo battle happens, normal battles occur. A single
Rnd(0..63)is rolled to decide which battle is chosen.
- If the same battle formation is rolled as last time, the game will reroll once for a new normal battle. If it lands on the same battle again, no further rerolls are done. This means the chance of getting the same battle twice is reduced, but not eliminated.
- If neither a special formation battle nor Chocobo battle happens, normal battles occur. A single
Due to the inescapable battles glitch, some random encounters are impossible to flee from. Battle encounters are skipped if the player opens the menu right when the battle was meant to initiate. This can lead to the repeating boss glitch, where the skipped random battle results in the player fighting a boss twice. Although not a random encounter, if the player skips the Diamond Weapon boss, they will become stranded, unable to finish the game, as the scene where the Sister Ray is fired never triggers.
Encounter rates were higher in the original Japanese version, and in following releases all areas' encounter rates have been reduced by varying amounts. Also in all later releases, random encounters have been removed from the square area of Sector 8 at the start of the game, and outside of Holzoff's cabin at the base of Gaea's Cliff.
The typical formation in a normal battle is the player's party stands in a line facing the opponents. In addition to this, areas have a number of possible special formation battles, and when a random encounter begins, the chance of getting these is applied first. The special formations mostly put the player at a disadvantage, though a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia can halve the chance for the disadvantageous formations; detecting an equipped mastered Pre-Emptive Materia will cause the game to apply a bonus when cycling through special formations.[note 3]
After checking if the Pre-Emptive Materia's bonus is applied, when checking for formations, the game goes through all four possible special formation battles for that area in the following order (rolling a
Rnd(0..63) to cycle if a special formation occurs, and which one):
- Back Attack #1 and #2: The party begins facing away from the enemy (unless equipped with Sprint Shoes) and thus taking double damage from the first attack, with their normal formation reversed (party members in the back row start in the front row, and vice versa). The enemies always get the first attack, and there is no chance for it being a pre-emptive battle. A mastered Pre-Emptive Materia bonus halves the chance of this occurring, and by holding the Escape buttons and trying to escape, the party can immediately reverse.
- Side Attack!: The party is split in half, surrounding the enemies in the middle. Pre-Emptive battle chance is normal for this formation; the player can get a pre-emptive attack and begin with all ATB bars filled while the enemies have theirs delayed.
- Attack from both sides!: The party is surrounded by two enemy groups on either side. The party begins with their ATB bars empty, while enemies gain a slight boost to their ATB bars. A mastered Pre-Emptive Materia halves the chance of this battle formation occuring.
Some special encounters and boss battles have unique formation rules:
- Back Attack rules still apply in some special battles that are not Back Attacks, and 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.
- Though most enemies take double damage from back attacks, some bosses take more: 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 Attack! or Attack from both sides!, however, the attacks can only target one enemy or ally party.
Party members and enemies each have a level, HP, MP, and a set of stats that determines their performance in combat (namely how much damage they take and receive). Party members level up by earning EXP to fill the requirement for the next level (which is slightly different per party member). Enemies' stats and levels are pre-determined. HP refers to how much damage can be taken before being KO'd, and MP refers to how many spells or summons can be cast.
Party members have a unique set of primary stats, most of which are used to determine their core derived stats that are used in battle. The primary stats, along with the HP and MP, increase on leveling up. Stats can also be permanently increased by using stat-upgrading items, or by certain equipment, including Materia. The primary stats are:
- Strength: Determines the Attack stat, meaning characters with higher Strength have stronger physical attacks. Increased by Power Source.
- Dexterity: Determines the Attack% stat, meaning characters with higher Dexterity are more accurate. Increased by Speed Source.
- Vitality: Determines the Defense stat, meaning characters with higher Vitality have stronger physical resistance. Increased by Guard Source.
- Magic: Determines the Magic atk stat, meaning characters with higher Magic have stronger spells (both in terms of damage and healing). Increased by Magic Source.
- Spirit: Determines the Magic def stat, meaning characters with higher Spirit have more magic resistance. Increased by Mind Source.
- Luck: Used in calculations to determine if one of three things occur: a "Lucky Hit" (compare attacker's Luck with target's Luck; if reached, 100% chance the target will be hit with a normal physical attack), a "Lucky Evade" (compare attacker's Luck with target's Luck; if reached, 100% chance an attack will be evaded, if evadable) or a "critical hit" (if reached, deal approximately double damage). Increased by Luck Source. Enemies have pre-determined Luck stats.
Both enemies and party members have a core set of stats used in damage calculations. For party members, this is derived both from the equipment and from their primary stats; for enemies, this is pre-determined. These stats are:
- Attack: Determines the strength of a physical attack, in the following formula: .
- Attack%: Determines the accuracy of a physical attack, in the following formula: .
- Defense: Determines the resistance to a physical attack and reduces base damage from a physical attack, in the following formula: .
- Defense%: Determines the chance of evading a physical attack, in the following formula:.
- Magic atk: Determines damage dealt by a magic damage, in the following formula: . After this, the spell's own ability power is taken into account to determine final damage, in the formula: .
- Magic def: Determines the resistance to a magic attack and reduces base damage from a magic attack, in the following formula: .
- Magic def%: Determines the chance to just avoid an attack entirely. Unlike other stats, Magic def% is a pure percentage-based stat, with no formula involved.
Other effects and statuses can increase or reduce damage outside of the damage formula determined by stats. For instance, Hero Drink can increase damage dealt beyond stat values, as can a variety of effects from weapons, while Barrier can reduce physical damage irrespective of status.
Final Fantasy VII has a number of elements that apply to attacks. The element of an attack determines the damage it deals based on if the target is weak, resistant, immune to, or absorbs damage of an element.
There are two types of elements: magical and physical. Magical elements are usually associated with Magic and Summon Materia have elements innate to their attacks, or that can be applied to the attacks or resistance of the wearer when paired with Elemental Materia. Physical elements are applied to characters' weapons, which each have a physical element that relates to their weapon's damage type. Both magical and physical elements apply to the attacks dealt by enemies.
The magical elements are as follows:
- Fire, associated with the Fire Materia, as well as Ifrit and Phoenix. Strong against Ice enemies.
- Ice, associated with the Ice Materia, as well as Shiva. Strong against Fire enemies.
- Lightning, associated with the Lightning Materia as well as Ramuh. Strong against aquatic enemies and machines.
- Earth, associated with the Earth Materia as well as Titan. Though Earth-elemental spells deal stronger damage than spells of equivalent elements, they typically miss against flying enemies.
- Wind, which has no associated Magic Materia, but is associated with Choco/Mog and can be used from a few other abilities. Effective against flying enemies.
- Water, which has no associated Magic Materia, but is associated with Leviathan and can be used from a few other abilities.
- Poison, associated with the Poison Materia as well as Hades. Poison is closely associated with the damage of the Poison status effect.
- Holy, which has no associated Magic Materia and can only be used from the Alexander summon.
- Gravity associated with the Gravity Materia. Gravity deals damage based on the percentage of the target's HP, and is typically ineffective against bosses but strong against normal enemies.
- Restorative, referring to any ability designed to cure HP, such as spells from the Restore Materia, rather than deal damage. Most targets simply recover HP when Restorative spells are used on them, but some undead enemies instead take damage from them.
- Hidden, an element which is never officially named. A few enemy abilities deal damage based on the element, and pairing Elemental Materia with any Materia of no element grants a party protection against these attacks.
Physical elements are as follows:
- Cut, associated with blades and slashing. It is the sole damage type for Cloud's weaponry, as well as a few of Barret's and one of Cid's weapons.
- Hit, associated with blunts and trauma. It is the sole damage type for Aeris and Cait Sith's weapons, the damage type for all but one of Red XIII's weapons, as well as the primary damage type for Tifa's weapons, two of Barret's weapons, and one of Cid's.
- Punch, associated with piercing weapons. Tifa and Barret each have three weapons that use the element, namely Tifa's claws.
- Shoot, associated with ranged weapons. It is the sole damage type for Yuffie and Vincent's weaponry, the primary damage type of Barret's, and is possessed by one of Red XIII's.
- Shout, associated with sonic attacks. No characters' weapons use this element, and only some enemy abilities deal damage based on the element.
Though most attacks have at least one element, some abilities, and a lot of Limit Breaks, deal entirely non-elemental damage.
Party members and enemies can be afflicted with certain status effects, which can be both positive and negative depending on the status in question. Enemies can be immune to certain statuses, and certain equipment, including various accessories and the Added Effect Materia, can provide party members with the same immunity. Added Effect Materia can also be used by party members to inflict several statuses. A number of spells can remove statuses: Esuna removes most negative effects, DeBarrier removes a few positive effects, and DeSpell removes any positive effect.
The status effects are as follows:
- Death, when a party member reaches 0. It is associated with the Destruct Materia and Odin.
- Near-death, when a party member's HP is below 25% max health. This typically only has an aesthetic effect, where party members' HP digits turn yellow and they appear exhausted in their animations, though it counts as a status effect for Tifa's Master Fist and Powersoul weapons, doubling her damage.
- Sleep, which renders a target unable to act until awoken (by a physical attack or by curing the status), but their ATB is not frozen. It is associated with the Seal Materia.
- Poison, which causes a target to take 1/32 of their Max HP in Poison-elemental damage every 2.5 units of time in-game. It is associated with the Poison Materia.
- Sadness, which causes a party member to take 30% less damage from physical and magical attacks, but halves the rate their Limit gauge fills. This is opposed to Fury, and indicated by a blue Limit bar.
- Fury, which reduces the character's hit rate for both physical and magical attacks by 30%, but doubles the rate their Limit gauge fills. This is opposed to Sadness, and is indicated by a red Limit bar.
- Confusion, causing a target to lose control of their actions and use random attacks against their allies. It is associated with the Mystify Materia.
- Silence, which renders a target unable to use the Magic or Summon commands (as well as the associated W-Magic and W-Summon). It is associated with the Seal Materia.
- Haste, which doubles the rate a target's ATB gauge fills, but also doubles the speed at which time-based effects run out. It can be applied by a number of abilities, including the Time Materia's Haste spell and the Big Guard ability from the Enemy Skill Materia. It is opposed to Slow.
- Slow, which halves the rate a target's ATB gauge filled, and halves the speed time-base effects run out. It is associated with the Time Materia.
- Stop, which freezes the the target's ATB gauge, as well as time-based effects. It is associated with Time Materia, Contain Materia, and Choco/Mog.
- Frog, which prevents all commands except Attack, Item, and the Toad spell, and reduces damage to a quarter of their base damage. It is associated with the Transform Materia.
- Small, which reduces a target's Attack stat to 1, causing them to only deal 1 damage with an attack. It is associated with the Transform Materia.
- Slow-numb, which causes a target to enter the Petrify status after 60 seconds. It is only used by enemy attacks.
- Petrify, which flags a target as defeated (similar to Death) unless it is cured before the battle ends. It is associated with the Contain Materia.
- Regen, which heals a character by 1/32 of their max HP every 4 seconds. The status is irrelevant to the Restorative status, and can still heal undead enemies. It can be applied by a the Regen spell.
- Barrier, which halves all physical damage taken. It can be applied by the Barrier and Wall spells from the Barrier Materia, along with a variety of other abilities including Big Guard.
- MBarrier, which halves all magical damage taken. It can be applied by the MBarrier and Wall spells from the Barrier Materia, along with a variety of other abilities including Big Guard.
- Reflect, which causes most spells cast against targets to bounce off onto the opposing party, up to four bounces. Reflect can be positive in preventing enemy spells from hitting the party, but will also prevent healing spells from working. It can be applied by a variety of sources, including the Reflect spell from the Barrier Materia.
- Dual, a dummied status effect which does nothing.
- Shield, which causes all physical attacks to deal no damage, and absorbs elemental damage. Targets can still be damaged by special non-elemental attacks and items. It can be applied by the Shield spell from the Shield Materia.
- Death-sentence, which causes a target to be instantly killed after 60 seconds. It can be applied by the Death Sentence Enemy Skill, and is automatically applied by Curse Ring (which can be beneficial to quadruple Tifa's damage with Powersoul).
- Manipulate, which allows a party member to control an enemy's actions. It can be used by the Manipulate Materia.
- Berserk, which increases a target's physical damage by 50%, but causes them to only perform physical attacks against a random enemy, and be unable to control their actions. It is associated with the Mystify Materia.
- Peerless, which makes a character immune to all physical and magical attacks for a short time, including ones that remove MP. It is only used by Aeris's Planet Protector and Great Gospel Limit Breaks.
- Paralyzed, which causes a target to freeze, unable to act. It is shorter than Stop, and party members' Limit gauges do not fill when they are attacked while Paralyzed. A number of enemy attacks, a few items, and Cloud's Cross-slash can inflict the status.
- Darkness, which halves the accuracy of target's physical attacks. This mostly applies to the party member's abilities, and has little impact on enemies. The status is mostly inflicted by enemy abilities.
- Seizure, which causes a party member to lose HP over time. It is inflicted by the Waterball attack from Bottomswell.
- Death Force, which prevents all forms of Instant Death for the rest of the battle. It is used by the Death Force Enemy Skill.
- Resist, which locks in a target's current status effects (both positive and negative). It is granted by the Resist spell from the Heal Materia.
- Lucky Girl, which causes all party member's attacks to be critical hits. It is granted as a possible combination from Cait Sith's Slots Limit Break.
- Imprisoned, which immobilizes a target and flags them as defeated (though their current HP is retained). It can only be applied by certain boss abilities, and removed from destroying the entrapment.
- Back Row, when a party member is placed in the back row, and thus physical damage dealt is halved, but so is physical damage taken.
- Defend, when a party member uses Defend. It halves physical damage taken until their next turn.
- All Lucky 7s, a rare effect when a party member's HP is 7777. This causes all their attacks to automatically deal 7777 damage.
After the battle's end, a results screen displays the gained EXP, which fills up a gauge with the character's menu portrait next to it. When full, the character levels up. Gained Limit Breaks are also displayed on the screen. The Materia gain AP, which can boost their level to either grant them a new ability, or improve an existing one. If a Materia reaches its maximum level, it is mastered, an an identical unleveled Materia is split off from it. When a Materia levels up and gains a new ability, it is displayed in the rewards screen. The party also receives gil from battles that displays on the screen.
In addition, there is a chance that an enemy will drop an item, and players can choose to take specific ones, take all, or reject some. Typically, items dropped are recovery items (such as Potions and Ethers), offensive items (such as Grenades), or Chocobo breeding items (nuts and greens). Enemies never drop Materia in the results screen, but may drop one onto the field after the battle for the player to pick up. Enemies drop an item if they are killed (and not taken out with Remove) and the battle is properly finished, as long as the enemy has not been successfully stolen from, and the battle has a results screen (battles at the Battle Square have no screen[note 4]).
An enemy that can drop items upon winning has a list of items with separate chances of being dropped. The numerical chance of each item, and the order in the enemy's list, are both relevant to the item dropped. For example, a Razor Weed has the following list:
When an item drops, each item in the list is looked at, and will be awarded if
Rnd(0..63) <= Chance of Item (if a random number between 0 and 63 is greater than the chance of that item), meaning there is a probability that the item being looked at drops. It will then be looked at in the following order:
- : Tranquilizer drops
- : Moves to next item
- : Hi-Potion drops
- : Move to next item
- : Loco weed drops
- : No item drops
As such, the overall chance of each item is:
- Tranquilizer: 9/64 chance, 14.06%
- Hi-Potion: 495/4096 chance, 12.08%
- Loco weed: 27225/262144 chance, 10.39%
- Nothing: 166375/262144 chance, 63.47%
This is because, even though each item has the same individual percentile chance, the earlier items in the list are more likely to drop. Some special enemies (including Mover, Magic Pot, as well as the storyline boss Proud Clod, and the optional bosses Ultimate Weapon, Emerald Weapon, and Ruby Weapon) have guaranteed item drops.
If the player defeats Emerald Weapon when there are eight seconds left on the timer, the Battle Results screen will overlap with the Game Over screen, resulting in the Emerald Weapon countdown glitch.
There are nine party members in Final Fantasy VII, and one temporary party member:
- Cloud, a melee attacker who wields broadswords in battle. He has strong and balanced stats, meaning he can be viably played in any role, and has powerful Limit Breaks focusing on physical damage, though they take longer than others to level up. Cloud is the party leader throughout most of the game, and during said times is a required member. His ultimate weapon is Ultima Weapon, dealing more damage the higher his current HP is.
- Barret, a ranged attacker who wields gun-arms (but can occasionally equip a melee weapon). Barret has the highest HP of any party member and has high Strength. His range allows him to be played in the back row, meaning he can play a defensive role and protect the party with Cover Materia. Barret's Limit Breaks primarily focus on physical damage to multiple targets. His ultimate weapon is Missing Score, which deals more damage based on the AP of the Materia equipped on the weapon, meaning he should equip multiple powerful Materia to deal more damage. Though it requires a lot of investment, Missing Score gives Barret the potential to perform the overflow glitch and kill a target in one hit.
- Tifa, a melee brawler who fights with her fists and equips knuckles. Tifa has high Strength and Dexterity, and all her weapons boost her critical hit rate, meaning she is best played as a physical attacker. Her Limit Break is unique and works on a slot mechanic: rather than using one of her Limit Breaks, Tifa uses all Limit Breaks she has unlocked in a combo together, where landing "Miss" on the reel does not perform the attack, "Hit" performs it at normal strength, and "Yeah!" makes it a critical hit. Tifa's ultimate weapon is Premium Heart, which deals more damage the fuller her Limit gauge is, meaning she benefits from Counter Attack Materia. She also has two weapons, Powersoul and Master Fist, with unique mechanics that allow them to reach the damage of others' ultimate weapons.
- Aeris, a melee character who uses staves and is focused primarily on spellcasting. Aeris has the highest Magic stat of any character in the game, and is the only character without any offensive Limit Breaks. Instead, her Limit Breaks provide healing and a variety of unique effects that support the party throughout battle.
- Red XIII, a melee attacker who uses headdresses to empower his physical attacks. Red XIII is the fastest character, and most of his weapons provide strong boosts to his Magic stat, making him a potent spellcaster while still being a viable attacker. Though most of Red XIII's Limit Breaks are physical attacks, some provide positive statuses to himself and the party. Red XIII's ultimate weapon is Limited Moon, which deals more damage the fuller his MP gauge is.
- Yuffie, a ranged attacker who uses shurikens in battle. Yuffie's stats are average across the board, meaning she can be viably built towards any role, and her weapon being long range allows her to be safely placed in the back row. Her Limit Breaks have unique properties: most are physical attacks that hit multiple enemies, though Clear Tranquil is a powerful healing ability similar to one of Aeris' Limit Breaks, and grants Yuffie unique utility. Yuffie's ultimate weapon is Conformer, which increases damage based on the level of the enemy, thus making it consistently useful and very powerful against stronger enemies. It also deals full damage with Morph.
- Cait Sith, a melee character who uses megaphones to command his Mog to attack enemies. Cait Sith has a very strong Magic stat, and many of his weapons have a good number of Materia slots, making him a strong spellcaster. Cait Sith also has two unique Limit Breaks in the form of Dice and Slots. The former deals random but potentially powerful physical damage independent of Cait Sith's stats, while the latter can lead to one of a number of very powerful effects, including the ability to fully restore the party, deal devastating damage to all enemies (above that of other Limits that charge equally fast), or even defeat all enemies and end the battle. Cait Sith's ultimate weapon is HP Shout, which deals more damage the higher his HP is.
- Vincent, a ranged sharpshooter who uses guns in battle. Vincent has fairly low stats, but one of the best Magic stats, making him well-suited to spellcasting. His ranged weapons also allow him to be safely placed in the back row. Vincent's Limit Break turns him into a berserk monster that will continue attacking enemies until the battle ends. His ultimate weapon is Death Penalty, which deals more damage the more enemies Vincent has killed. Though it requires a lot of investment, Death Penalty gives Vincent the potential to perform the overflow glitch and kill a target in one hit.
- Cid, a melee lancer who uses spears in battle. Cid has high defensive stats and good Strength but fairly low Magic, gearing him more towards being a physical attacker. His Limit Breaks comprise of jumping attacks that either hit multiple enemies or hit an enemy multiple times. Cid has several weapons that provide strong AP growth, making him useful for leveling Materia. Cid's ultimate weapon is Venus Gospel, which deals more damage the fuller Cid's current MP is.
- Sephiroth, a temporary non-controllable party member. While in the party during "The Tragedy of Five Years Ago", Sephiroth will defeat all enemies near instantly, and has access to very powerful spells.
Party members by default have the Attack, Item, Defend, and Change abilities. A large variety of abilities are then provided by equipped Materia. Equipping Magic Materia adds the Magic command, giving access to any spells provided by the equipped Magic Materia. Similarly, equipping Summon Materia adds the Summon command that allows them to summon monsters in battle. On top of this, a wide variety of abilities can be provided by Command Materia, each of which provides either an additional command to the menu, or replaces the default Attack command.
The only abilities unique to a character are their Limit Breaks. When a character's Limit gauge is filled, the Attack command is replaced by Limit, allowing them to unleash one of their unique Limit Breaks depending on their current Limit level. Higher Limit levels are more powerful, but at a higher level, the Limit gauge takes longer to build.
Party members have three pieces of equipment: a weapon, an armor piece, and an accessory. These are acquired throughout the story when they are purchased from shops, dropped from enemies, or when completing quests.
Weapons are unique to each character, and provide stat boosts and Materia slots. Some weapons also have unique properties and mechanics to do additional damage, especially ultimate weapons, which can define a characters' playstyle and Materia build entirely. Characters can only equip weapons of their weapon type, though most characters have rough equivalents of a lot of weapons throughout the game in terms of similar stats and Materia slots.[note 5]
Armor and accessories are not unique, and provide different roles. Armor provides Materia slots and increase in defensive stats, and sometimes provides unique properties (such as absorbing or reducing an element). Accessories provide unique effects and properties, which can come in the form of stat bonuses, immunities to statuses, or other improvements.
Materia is used to customize and tailor a party member's abilities, and thus their role and playstyle. Materia either provide them with command abilities, or other enhancements. This means the player can entirely alter the way a party member functions in battle, and determine how they are used. The number of Materia available to a party member depends on their equipped weapon and armor; when wanting to equip more Materia, party members must find a weapon or armor piece with more slots. Materia are either purchased from shops or earned from various quests.
There are five types of Materia:
- Magic Materia, used to grant spells for the Magic command. Spells cost MP to cast, and can come in the form of restorative spells such as Cure, offensive spells such as Fire, and spells applying statuses, such as Haste.
- Command Materia, used to grant abilities to a character. These can either be entirely additional commands on the menu, such as Steal, or ones that replace the Attack command, such as Double Cut. The One Command Materia is the unique Enemy Skill Materia, allowing skills learned from enemies to be used.
- Support Materia, which can be paired with other Materia in a linked slot to enhance the linked Materia or take advantage of its properties.
- Independent Materia, granting passive effects to the user which can come in the form of improved stats, such as HP Plus, or providing new passive abilities, such as Counter Attack.
- Summon Materia, granting the ability to summon a monster in battles, which has its own summon animation that lasts longer than a normal spell. Practically, they function very similarly to Magic Materia.
When a battle begins, a group of enemies is fought from one of a set number of enemy formations. This determines if the attack is a special formation, and which enemies are fought in that encounter.
Enemies each have a set of stats that determine the damage they deal and receive. In addition, enemies have elemental properties including resistances, weaknesses, and immunities, as well as possible immunities to many status effects. Enemies also have items that can be dropped, stolen, or earned from morphing them.
- As running is four times faster than walking, the distance covered will be about the same. However, the number of times the battle check is called is lower over the same distance, meaning the number of enemies encountered while running may be marginally smaller.
- 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.
- Two checks are used to detect a mastered Pre-Emptive Materia: a single character check and a global check. The single character check is performed whenever Materia or equipment are changed on a character, and none of the other characters are looked at. If the character whose Materia was changed does not have a Pre-Emptive Materia equipped when the menu is closed, the game decides the party does not have one and removes the Pre-Emptive bonus, irrespective of if another party member has it equipped. The global check is used when entering the menu from the world map or field screen, or when exiting PHS. This one checks the last character (bottommost) for the Pre-Emptive Materia. Therefore, it is best to place the Pre-Emptive Materia on the third character in the party.
- As an example, the regular Tonberry is programmed to drop a Phoenix Down, yet, being a Battle Square only opponent, it can never drop one.
- Though each character will have a different weapon purchased at Kalm, the weapons all have three Materia slots, and roughly a 23 Attack stat boost. This applies to a lot of weapons available at most stages of the game, though some are entirely unique.