First of all, the terminology is a bit different from the usual JRPG terms. Enemies have HP, but party members have DME (Divine Materialise Energy, which is what Lenneth uses to give them corporeal form) instead. Two other new-fangled stats are RDM (Reduce Damage), which can best be equated to Vitality, and RST (Resistance), which can best be equated to Spirit, and represents a character’s resistance to magic. Oh, and MP stands for Materialise Points (the ‘currency’ used by Lenneth to purchase items), rather than Magic Points.
Combat is a mix of turn-based and real-time mechanics. The active team consists of four characters, Lenneth being mandatory. You can swap them on the World Map or at Save Points. Each character is assigned to a face button (triangle, square, O or X), pressing which will make them attack. Melee characters will only be able to attack targets at the front of an enemy formation. Sorcerers and Archers, however, will be able to attack enemies in the back.
Enemies appear alone or in groups, but are represented by a sprite which doesn’t always correspond to what will show up during the encounter (e.g. if you see a dragon sprite, you’ll encounter a dragon, but if you see a nondescript black blob, it could be a number of things). You can either make Lenneth bump into them or slash at them with her sword to initiate the encounter. If she catches them with their back turned, the party will get the first strike; if they bump into her from behind, the reverse will happen. If the encounter happens head-on, the odds are 50-50.
With the exception of Sorcerers, each character has three unique attacks, which you can re-order at will in the menu. Depending on their equipped weapon, they’ll be able to execute one, two or all of these attacks. This is represented by Os and Xs on the weapon’s menu description. So, say you’ve got an ‘OXO’ sword. This means that a character wielding it would only be able to use their first and third attack (and not that the sword is made out of stock cubes). Ideally, you’ll want to find a balance between attack power and number of attacks; there are several weapons that hit hard, but only have one attack enabled, which may not necessarily be better than a weapon with a lower attack power, but all three attacks, due to combo potential.
Pressing a character’s face button once will trigger their first attack, twice their second, etc., keeping in mind that you can reorder these attacks in the menu as you see fit. The remaining number of attacks is indicated next to the face button, and the team’s turn will last as long as they have attacks left; once they’re done, it’s the enemy’s turn. Different attacks do different things: push the enemy away, draw it closer, lift it into the air, hit it from behind, etc. Some attacks can even miss entirely, depending on what the team is facing, or how they are chained together: e.g. Arngrim will have trouble hitting small enemies, while Jayle’s Gleam Charge may miss flying ones. Your goal is to execute a seamless combo between your characters. This is particularly problematic with Aelia, Jun, Brahms and Freya, but it’s nothing that some strategic reordering and/or timing won’t solve. Also note that it’s perfectly possible to keep hitting an enemy after its HP bar is depleted. The game will notify you that you are in “Over Attack” if that happens, but you can keep going as long as your characters have attacks left. Why would you want to keep hitting a dead foe, you ask? There’s a good reason for it.
Comboing is the most important combat mechanic in the game. Attacks must be executed in quick succession to keep the combo going. Each attack generates a certain amount of energy, measured by a semi-circular gauge at the bottom left of the screen. The idea is to fill that gauge to 100 within one combo. If you do that, you’ll trigger a Purify Weird Soul, or PWS, sequence at the end of the combo. The screen will darken, a depleting meter will appear (along with a prompt to “step on it”), as well as the face buttons of whichever characters participated in the combo; it’s possible to fill the gauge without using every character, in which case, the ones that didn’t participate will have their face buttons greyed out. A PWS is a powerful attack specific to each character (again, with the exception of Sorcerers) and generates varying amounts of energy, just as regular attacks do. Triggering the first PWS will drop the energy gauge to 80. If this PWS fills the gauge back up to 100, you can trigger a second one. This will drop the gauge to 60, and so on and so forth.
The game also keeps track of how many hits the party has dealt during a combo, also displayed at the bottom left of the screen. The more hits, the higher the damage (each hit raises the damage by 1%). So it’s in your best interest to a) rack up as many hits as possible by using multi-hitting PWS, like Senko-Jin, first and b) save powerful PWS that deal only one or two hits, like Extreme Void, for last, to maximise their damage. Each PWS also has its own Charge Time, or CT, which is displayed on a separate meter, under the character’s DME. Each segment of the meter represents one turn, and, in order to use a PWS, the CT needs to reach 0. However, there is a way to reduce it more rapidly than just waiting.
Depending on what an attack does to the enemy, it will produce one of three things: magic gems (blue and diamond-shaped, 20 small ones make one big one), purple gems (round and iridescent; they’re not always purple) or a treasure chest, and these are why you want to keep hitting an enemy even after its HP are depleted. Magic gems grant additional EXP at the end of the battle (5% per gem, up to a maximum of 40 gems or 200%), purple gems reduce CT (one gem = one point of CT) and treasure chests contain various items. Hitting an enemy that’s been knocked down produces purple gems (which the A.I. then distributes among the characters who have CT), while hitting one that’s been launched into the air produces magic gems or, sometimes, a treasure chest. Each enemy carries two possible items, but you can only obtain one chest per enemy per battle. There’s also an added difficulty in that enemies can sometimes guard against attacks (represented by a gravestone appearing in front of them), and you’ll need to break that guard in order to inflict any damage at all. Some attacks, like Lucian’s Shining Bolt, automatically break guard, but otherwise, repeated attacks on the same enemy or attacks from behind (e.g. Jun’s Koei-Zan) will usually do the trick.
Sorcerers function a tad differently. Instead of unique attacks, they have ten spell slots. You can teach them new spells with tomes picked up during exploration, and, if their ten slots are full, you can replace a spell with another. There are curative, beneficial, debilitating and attack spells. The first three categories can only be used via the menu, and only curative spells can be used outside of combat. You can assign one attack spell as ‘active’. This will map it to the Sorcerer’s face button and make it their default, single-target attack. However, you’re free to cast any other spell from the menu instead, especially since this allows you to multi-target some spells. The catch is that a spell cast via the menu won’t count for that turn’s combo. A Sorcerer can only use one spell per turn, and each spell has its own CT, meaning that they won’t be able to attack every turn, unless you get busy with purple gems. As for participating in PWS sequences, it depends on the Sorcerer’s weapon. Some wands allow Great Magic, some don’t. In the latter case, the Sorcerer’s PWS will consist of a beefed up version of her/his active spell cast three times in a row. If Great Magic is enabled, the Sorcerer will cast a different, very powerful spell instead. Each attack spell has its own corresponding Great Magic: e.g. Fire Storm triggers Ifrit’s Caress, Mystic Cross triggers Celestial Star, etc. All Great Magic spells are multi-target, but apart from that, they behave like any other PWS.
Finally, each character comes with a number of Skills and can learn new ones by using tomes. Learning and upgrading Skills requires Capacity Points, or CP, which are earned upon gaining a level. Skills are classified into four categories: Reaction, Support, Attack and Status. Status Skills (e.g. Survival, which permanently increases DME) are always active and thus don’t need to be set up. Oddly enough, this category also includes the Counter Skill, which allows any non-Sorcerer to counterattack with one of their three regular attacks, but does require you to press a button at the right moment. As for the other categories, you can assign two Reaction Skills, one Support and one Attack Skill per character. Reaction Skills, as their name implies, trigger in reaction to enemy attacks (e.g. First Aid, which can heal part of the damage taken by a party member). Support Skills enhance a character’s performance and activate automatically (e.g. Splash, which makes physical attacks deal more damage and generate a little more energy). Finally, Attack Skills grant additional offensive moves, but require you to press a button at the right time (e.g. Slanting Rain, which will multi-target an Archer’s attack if you press the Left button immediately after their face button). The most useful Attack Skill is Wait Reaction. This allows a Sorcerer to have a familiar (doves or cockatoos for most of the ladies, small dragons for the gents, and a bat for Mystina), which will launch a ranged attack whenever they have CT, and are thus unable to cast. This reduces their combat downtime and, what’s more, since it’s considered as a magic attack, it never gets blocked or misses.