F F V I I I
A L P H A
Initially, the battle system bears a lot of similarity towards that of FF7. Magic and GF attacks are far more important than before, and you will also spend a lot of time drawing magic from the enemy.
The fights do tend to drag on, especially if your characters are rather low in level and fighting before they've learned the Guardian Force system. After receiving the GF Cards, though, some battles are ridiculously easy if you use the GF attacks - this will affect your SeeD ranking early in the game, however.
The battle arena camera changes angles randomly, which doesn't affect much except special attack timing, such as Squall's R1 button while slashing attack which fires the gunsword for extra damage. Experience is awarded to the entire party, with the person who had the killing stroke getting a bit more experience than the rest of the party. Running away from battle doesn't necessarily mean no experience, if you've fought, but running away after nearly dying, you get some exp. points (just not very many).
Special attacks happen infrequently during battles, though the frequency goes up tremendously when your characters' hit points get very low. While quite similar to the Limit Break system of FF7, some of the characters have a new twist added - you have to push button combinations, or simply the attack button in time to on-screen messages.
Each character has different methods to their attacks - Squall's requires you to hit the attack button every time a message comes up. Zell's is like a fighting game - it asks for a sequence of buttons and direction moves (d-pad). Zell's can get very annoying, especially if you are in the real-time battle bar mode (a feature you may finally want to turn off). Some of the other characters' special attacks are rather simple, one-off affairs.
When you access the Draw menu during battle, you will be given a choice of which enemy to draw from, if there are multiple enemies, and then will be given a choice of what magic to draw, if there are multiple magics.
Also, a "????" will appear on the enemy menu, especially with bosses. This usually indicates a magic that the characters do not have at this point - it's especially important to concentrate on drawing the ???? options first. Also, sometimes the ???? will be a GF Card, another good reason to concentrate on that first.
One of the GF Cards' special abilities is the Card battle menu option. This allows you to convert a targeted enemy into a monster Card, for use in the Card battle game. It's a safe bet to say that getting this AP-enable ability right away is important to the game.
There is another Battle menu option, enabled by the various GF Cards' special abilities via AP points. A lot of the traditional options, like the theft/attack option, are built up this way.
Remember Materia or Espers? It's similar, with some twists here and there; called GF Cards (GF standing for Guardian Force). The Cards are important because they have to be equipped for you to have any ability in battle besides Fight. GF cards are equiped in the Menu screen. The very first option in your Menu is Junction. The Junction system is the major part of the game. After selecting the Junction menu, you will then be faced with a menu with 4 options, the first being Junction (again), Hazusu (?), Saikyou (?), and Ability.
Selecting the Junction menu will take you to a screen showing all of the current GF Cards that you posess. You then can select the Cards, and equip them to your character. More than one Card can be equipped at a time. Equipping a GF card will then enable other menus. Under the Maho (magic) menu, you will have various abilities (hit points, strength, etc) highlighted, depending on the abilities of that Card. You then can select from the current Draw magics that the character posesses, and depending on what Draw magic you have, can change your stats. The magics selected will show up on the battle menu Maho (magic) screen with a little card icon next to it.
The other menu option is for Abilities. Until your character has a GF Card equipped, the character has no battle menu options besides Tatakau (Fight). Equipping a GF Card will eventually put you into a screen for Abilities. You will have 3 slots to fill, with the basic Abilities. These are Maho (magic), Draw, Item, and GF (summoning the GF Card monster). You can only use 3 of these 4, so some strategic thought is necessary as to which character equips what Ability.
Additionally, under the initial Ability choices are two more, special Ability slots that can be filled if the Card has any special Abilities enabled. Every GF Card has special abilities that are enabled via AP (ability points) gained by winning battles.
Depending on the special abilities, anywhere from 10 to 200+ AP points are needed to enable the ability. These special abilities are quite diverse, but some are fairly important to enable quickly, such as the Card battle menu option. There are 6 ability types: Junction Ability, Command Ability, Character Ability, Party Ability, GF Ability, and Menu Ability. In the main Menu, there's another menu called GF. Selecting this menu will bring you to the GF Cards, which you can select. Selecting the GF Cards will bring you to another Menu that will allow you to set what abilites the AP points are going to.
GF Card Monsters
When you first receive a GF Card, you will notice that they have levels and hit points, sort of an abbreviated version of your characters. The GF Card's will go up in levels after battles, just like the Characters. Going up in levels factors into a number of areas, such as hit points, attack strength, and possibly other areas. GF Cards hit points are important, because when you summon a GF Card, a battle timer appears, and while that battle timer is in operation, the GF Card takes damage, instead of your character(s?). When the GF Card's hit points run out, you can no longer use the GF Card in battle. In fact, at various shops (pet shop, for one), there is an additional set of purchase item menus that are similar to the characters. The menus include: Potions for healing your Cards, Tents for the GF Cards, and a large amount of other items necessary for your Card maintenance.
Very Special Thanks to Final Fantasy Extreme