Final Fantasy 9's battle system brings back a great deal of the old, and intertwines it with a great deal of the new. Many of the controls and battle sequences are very similar to previous games, though there is some variation.
When in battle, a specific set of controls will do a specific set of things, different from that of the world map. These button configurations can be changed from within the options.
Battles begin at random times on the world map. By running around from place to place, certain "random encounters" will force themselves upon you. Unlike Final Fantasy 8, monsters in specific areas are always the same level throughout the game (until Disc 4). The choice to fight these monsters or not is up to you.
When a random encounter or boss battle begins, a specific theme will begin playing. On most occasions, this theme will be the normal "random encounter" or "boss battle" theme. However, while in forests you may sometimes run across Friendly Monsters or the Ragtime Mouse. These creatures will not attack you. Instead, they will either begin a quiz event (Ragtime Mouse) or ask for a specific stone (Friendly Monsters). Taking part in their requested activities is beneficial in the long run.
Battles can begin in one of two ways: Either things are completely normal, or your party (or the enemy) are facing backwards. When your party (or the enemy) are facing backwards, this is called a back attack. Back attacks switch the row each of your party members are in (front to back, back to front), and halt your ATB guage for a short amount of time. If you run into a battle with a back attack, the first thing you should do is switch rows. This can be done by pressing the left directional button, and selecting "Switch". Alternately, if you have the Alert support node selected, you will not run into back attacks.
Once a character's ATB guage is filled, they can perform an action.
You can select a "type" of ATB from the config menu. Your options are:
Understanding the ATB is a vital component to winning battles! Keep an eye on each character's guage.
Once you're aware what enemy you will be fighting in a battle, it's worth coming up with a suitable battle plan to kill them. For example, if you have Dagger and Steiner and you're fighting a Crawler in Gargan Roo, it would be a worthy decision to have Steiner do the bulk of the attacking, and have Dagger heal and cast Protect. Having a good battle strategy is key to killing some of the harder enemies in the game.
As with enemies, when you're up against bosses it is absolutely essential to come prepared. Particularly in the beginning of the game when you don't have many spells, potions and phoenix downs are, quite literally, life-savers. Running low on HP? Need someone revived to help turn the tide? Just chuck a potion or Phoenix down and you'll most likely be set.
Combination of characters is also an important factor. For some of the game you will be forced upon specific characters (Treno, for example). However, in most other portions you will be able to choose your own characters. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. If you value your party's life, however, we recommend you have at least one White Mage. The rest is completely up to you, and there's no "right party" for the job.
Last but most certainly not least, the row your characters are in is extremely important. Characters in the front row always deal more damage, but also take more damage from enemies. Characters in the back row, however, deal less damage and take less damage. It is, clearly, a good idea to keep Mages in the back row.
As far as damage goes, there are a number of different "text prompts" that can appear when you attack an enemy. A list can be seen below:
Damage can also be dealt by status effects. Please see the status effects page for more information.
Once all of the enemies are killed or have been inflicted with Stop or Petrify, the battle is over.
If you've successfully won the battle (if you didn't you'll get a "game over" screen), the trademark victory dance will happen and you'll be taken to a new screen. The first thing you'll see on this new screen will be the party members in your group, and an EXP count at the bottom. By pressing X (confirm), that EXP will pass over to your characters. At specific intervals, your characters will level up.
After the EXP screen, another screen with the items / gil that your enemy / enemies had will appear. Pressing X (confirm) twice will speed through this screen.