Part 64: Recitation Notes 10: Strategies for Multiple-Choice QuestionsRecitation Notes 10: Strategies for Multiple-Choice Questions
Speaking of Chaos, elemental damage has been a staple of the Final Fantasy series since its first iteration on the original Famicom, and it was already kind of a mess even then. Thanks to the general density of programming errors in FFI, the elemental properties of various special weapons did not work, while the elemental magic available to mages of the Black or Red persuasion became obsolete in the end-game in favor of exploiting the medicinal properties of helmets and casting FAST on characters whose attacks actually became stronger as their stats increased.
Elemental damage has remained something of a quagmire ever since, partly because, I would argue, Square-Enix basically never does it the same way twice. Often there are eight major elements, a throwback to the series' 8-bit roots, but sometimes not. Fire, Ice, and Lightning, featuring prominently in the first game, are now well-represented in every game thereafter as a matter of tradition, but sometimes they have the same attack strengths and sometimes they're staggered. Sometimes Poison, Quake, Gravity, and Holy are elemental damage types, and sometimes they are some combination of non-elemental, fractional, and/or status attacks. Sometimes Earth, Wind, and Water are Black Magic, and sometimes they're relegated to the junk drawer of Blue. Sometimes Fire is weak to Ice, and sometimes it's weak to Water, and sometimes both. Sometimes robots are weak to Lightning, and sometimes they're weak to Hammer or Larceny.
If anything, the most consistent parts of the series' use of elemental properties are its problems. It's usually the same two, depending on whether we're talking about a fighter or a mage. The problem for fighters is that elemental weapons are typically tied to a specific weapon strength, such that they'll usually eventually grow obsolete even against enemies weak to that element. The problem for mages is one of poor magical discretization -- you typically get three spells, at most, with the same elemental type, usually also with fixed strengths, which are expected to carry the mage through the entire game's difficulty curve, often leaving them underpowered during the second and fourth fifths of the game, and typically for the end-game as well. And the games that have tried to fix these common problems usually screw something else up in the process.
XII does okay with regards to elemental properties. Elemental weapons, armor, and magick are still largely tied to fixed strengths, but at least physical and magickal elemental attacks both use roughly the same damage formulas. Six of the eight elements are available on interchangeable ammunition for ranged weapons, although many of the enemies for which one might want elemental damage inherently Resist Guns. Most importantly, though, the attack power of elemental Magick is typically on par with or stronger than that of current-tier weapons, making it actively worth using throughout the game against vulnerable enemies. The transition to IZJS was a mixed improvement -- elemental damage benefited from the lifting of the damage cap and the availability of stronger ranged weapons, as was demonstrated by impressive numbers like the one in the screenshot above, more accessories carry elemental resistances, and spell-casting items got a boost as well. On the other hand, many elemental weapons actually got weaker, each individual Job is more strictly limited in its available effective elemental attacks, and the icons indicating elemental properties went from self-explanatory pictographs to color-coded circles, in particular making Ice and Water difficult to distinguish at a quick glance.
Out of personal curiosity, I whipped up a quick chart of the attack powers of the various sources of elemental damage in vanilla and IZJS -- weapons, magick, and motes. (For those of you who like units on your axes, the bounds are from 0 to 200.) The long, half-transparent bars represent the range of attack powers of ranged weapons, since one could load elemental ammunition in any strength of weapon. Fire, Ice, and Lightning are relatively unchanged for IZJS, if a bit more evenly spread. There are extra data points in Water, Wind, and Earth, representing the Iga Blade, Aeroga Mote, and Koga Blade respectively. The Holy Mote's attack power is boosted up close to the strength of actual Holy Magick, while Dark looks rather decimated. Finally, the addition of stronger top-tier Bows and Guns is evident in the lengths of the ranged attack bars (I didn't include the Seitengrate because it is cheating). This isn't a perfect comparison -- different weapons depend on different stats with different growth rates, and this doesn't take elemental boosting effects, enemy defense, or attack speeds into account either -- but, aside from Guns, these all use the same basic damage formula, so it's an acceptable rough approximation.
The way to get the most out of elemental attacks is to treat them like compound interest, stacking the multipliers as high as you can. Hitting a weakness is good for a multiplier of 2.0, element-boosting equipment gives a multiplier of 1.5, elemental weapons can be boosted with Bravery, Berserk, Focus, and/or Adrenaline (1.3, 1.5, 1.2, and 2.0 respectively) while Motes and magick benefit from Faith, Serenity, and/or Spellbreaker (1.3, 1.2, and 2.0). Casting Holy on an undead enemy while under Faith, at critical health, and using a Holy Rod? Congratulations, you just dealt 780% damage.
Now there's one last source of multiplication factors for elemental damage; weather and terrain. File this under "using the entire bison" -- if you're going to code a dynamic weather system and context-appropriate footstep noises for atmospheric purposes, you might as well make them have gameplay effects as well.
Regions with dynamic weather can have up to three weather conditions, somewhere on the spectrum between fair and hazardous. Every region has its own rules on how the weather is determined -- the weather might be set randomly when entering the region or crossing a zone boundary, certain zones might force specific weather conditions, and the game clock, plot advancement, or sidequest completion might also be taken into account.
Weather and terrain can boost elemental damage by 1.2 or penalize it by 0.5, and most of the relations are intuitive. Windy conditions boost Fire and Wind and hinder Water, rain hinders Fire and boosts Lightning, heavy fog boosts Water, heavy snow boosts Fire, Ice and Wind and hinders Water, and sandstorms boost Fire, Wind and Earth and hinders Water. (Water really gets the shaft when it comes to weather, doesn't it?) On top of that, sandy terrain boosts Earth, snowy terrain boosts Ice, and standing in water boosts Lightning and Water and hinders Earth. Multiple weather conditions and terrain multipliers can stack with each other, such that Fire damage winds up with a multiplier of 0.6 when it's raining sideways. Stacked weather and terrain multipliers can be as dangerous to the player as the enemy, though, as many enemies that only appear in certain weather, particularly elementals, cast magicks that are boosted by that weather.
The big impact of the changes in IZJS is that long-term capacity for elemental damage becomes a significant factor in selecting Jobs, which I alluded to at several places in the Job overview video back in Module 1. Black Mage, of course, is easily number one in this category, having equipment that can boost seven elements and magick that inflicts five of those. Red Mage stands in solid second, adding Dark to the magick list but missing out on most of the boosting equipment. Machinist stands third with elemental ammo and boosting Measures, and Archer just behind cursing the poor damage scaling of Bows. Samurai, Lancer, and Hunter all have decent arrays of elemental weapons and can score lucky hits on Shades of Black. White Mage and Knight get Holy attacks late in the game, which remain useful against high-end undead, but grow out of everything else they could do. And Breaker, Monk, and Time Mage get basically zilch.
The damage formulae vary in stat dependence and weighting factors, but they all can be expressed in the form
Since all base stats increase linearly with level and boosts from equipment and Licenses are limited, you can roughly reduce the damage formula for any non-Gun/Measure weapon to
DMG = [ATK x RANDOM(RANGE) - DEF] x [B + STAT x (Lv+STAT)/C]
where P is some quadratic polynomial.
DMG = [ATK x RANDOM(RANGE) - DEF] x P(Lv)