The battle systems in Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Chrono Trigger look very different, but their mechanics are almost identical. You have basic attacks, magic attacks, and items. The ATB gauge determines when you can attack. You also have to mange each character’s health. Most of the time, in both games, you’re watching your party members’ ATB meters, then setting off spells or abilities when the meters are full, and using healing items or abilities as needed. FF7R looks very different from Chrono Trigger but most of the time, you’re focusing on a little box in the corner of the screen which shares many resemblances to Chrono Trigger’s battle information. They both list HP, MP, and have an ATB gauge for each character.

The actual experience of interacting with these mechanics is surprisingly similar, despite the vast differences in their graphics and the fact that these games were released 25 years apart.

In FF7R a battle goes like this: You enter the fight, rush up to an enemy and start mashing your basic attack button, which builds up your ATB guage. Meanwhile your ally’s ATB guages are slowly building on their own. You watch your health bar to make sure it doesn’t get critically low. Your ATB guage eventually fills up the first bar and you set off a spell or ability with a shortcut by holding a trigger and hitting a face button. You hit left or right on the d-pad to switch to a different character. You start mashing a basic attack button to build your ATB gauge. Meanwhile, your ally’s ATB guages are slowy building on their own. Your current character’s guage is full. You pause the game and select an ability or magic attack from a menu. You check your character’s health, notice someone was hit with a big attack. You switch over to a character with a healing spell. You mash the attack button to build their ATB guage in order to set of the spell. And so the fight goes until the enemies, or you, are defeated.

In Chrono Trigger a battle goes like this: You enter the fight and no one is doing anything, it’s a stand off to see who will make the first move. Everyone is waiting for their ATB guages to fill. Eventually, a split second later, one charcter’s ATB guage has filled and a menu appears, allowing you to choose what you want the character to do. As fast as you can, you navigate the menu to select an attack or spell to set off. While you’re navigating this menu, your other party members’ ATB guages have filled as well. As soon as you’ve set off the first character’s attack, you’re navigating the second and third character’s meus in order to get their attacks, so that their ATB guages can start filling again. Each character only has a single ATB bar, so any time spent not letting it fill up is generally time wasted. The enemies wont’t sit around when they could be attacking. Your focus shifts briefly to your party members’ health, making sure no one is critically low on HP. While you’re looking at HP bars, all three of your party member’s ATB guages have filled and are waiting for attacks to be set off. And so the battle goes until the enemies, or you, are defeated.

Both of these experiences are frantic in their own ways. Both require your focus and action at specific points in time. Both have slight amounts of down time, allowing you to get a higher level view of the battle. Both are fun to play.

Wikipedia lists nine final fantasy games plus Chrono Trigger as using the ATB system. That is a lot of games! Also intereting, Wikipedia notes the ATB system was created by Hiroyuki Ito who first worked at Square as a debugger and then a sound effects artist. He initially designed the ATB system for Final Fantasy IV. He later took on a director role for many other Final Fantasy games. That is a cool career progression.