The third option between Real Time and Turn-Based Combat: Instead of acting simultaneously or in discrete turns, each Player Character and enemy mob is, upon entering combat and after performing any action, put on a "global" Cooldown that determines how soon they will be able to act again. In contrast to the ordinary ability cooldowns (where only individual abilities are locked during their respective cooldowns), combatants in this setup cannot act at all while on cooldown, but have access to every ability in their arsenal as soon as it elapses.
The duration of the cooldown after an action usually depends on the character's Speed or an equivalent Stat and on the type of that action: basic low-damage attacks, for instance, often put the character on a much shorter cooldown than powerful Special Attacks. This creates situations where a quick skirmisher can attack twice in the time it takes for a slow hard-hitter to do so once, differentiating this system from turn-based combat, where every active combatant gets to act once every turn. This setup also makes a Visual Initiative Queue a mandatory feature, in order to keep track of who goes when. If Cooldown Manipulation is available, it can be used to achieve this Game System's variant of a Stun Lock.
Depending on whether the game pauses when it's a Player Character's turn (letting the players give them their orders without hurry) or not, this system leans more towards the turn-based or the real time combat, respectively. Compare/contrast Real-Time with Pause, where battles play out in real time but the player can pause them at any moment to give/revoke orders.
Subtrope of Cooldown, obviously.
- In the RPG Maker series of Game Makers, RPG Maker 2003 had this as the default (and only) type of battle system. Although later games in the series reverted back to Turn-Based Combat for its default battle system, it's still possible to program it using Ruby to use this type of battle system. (In fact, many do. They're often called "Active Time Battle Systems", after the battle system found in the Final Fantasy series.)
- OHRRPGCE has a battle system in which every character has a meter that fills up according to their speed stat and lets them perform an action once it's full. More recent versions of the program also allow for a classic Turn-Based Combat.
- For the King: Characters are slotted into the Visual Initiative Queue in increasing value of ([Current Round]÷[Character Speed]), which can let characters with a much higher Speed stat take more turns in the combat than slower ones. This can be manipulated by speed-boosting effects and attacks that slow an enemy.
- Combat in Anachronox consists of characters filling up two meters, one that allows them to perform an action and another one that is used up to execute a special move once said action meter fills up.
- Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout differs from the previous games in the series by using an ATB-style system, where the enemies continuously attack on their turns. While normal attacking, the player can build up a boost meter that allows them to force a character's turn instead of waiting.
- Bonfire uses a system very similar to Final Fantasy X's CTB system: Characters gain "energy" points between turns based on their Speed stat, and get a turn once it hits 100. Stunning abilities delay turns by reducing energy, and "quick" abilities generate a little energy after the turn is finished, making the next turn come faster.
- Chest: The game uses an ATB system that is always semi-wait, which means time passes in the outermost menu, but not in skill and item submenus.
- Child of Light features a battle system similar to the Grandia games, with a Visual Initiative Queue subdivided into a long Wait and a short Cast segment, and both Player Character and enemies' icons sliding across it in real time. Special attention is paid to the manipulation of said sliding: hitting an enemy just as it is about to act pushes it back towards the Wait end, so it is entirely possible to Stun Lock the opponent (naturally, enemies can also do this right back). Additionally, one of the heroine's companions, Igniculus the Firefly, has the ability to blind an enemy, slowing down its cooldowns.
- In Dragon Ball: Fusions, turn order is determined by a visual timeline, an arrow going from left to right with all characters depicted on it as portraits. After a turn ends, each character moves along it, and the next one to reach the end is the one that moves. After a character performs their move, they are moved back to the beginning of the timeline. How fast each character moves on the timeline depends on multitude of factors, such as their individual speed stat, how many teammates are left, racial multiplier, different passive abilities, stat multipliers from moves, and what kind of move they have performed, for example some moves can leave a character moving slower for a while. Besides plain moving on the timeline, turn order can be manipulated by attacking the enemy, damage done to a character will always knock them back a little in the timeline, depending on the damage and their passive abilities, and if you manage to ring them out, they are forced back to the very beginning of the timeline.
- Chrono Trigger allows you to choose this trope without or with pausing. The former is more challenging because the timer isn't shown, and because it keeps ticking during menu selection, so if you take too long to decide which technique to use, the enemy will keep attacking.
- In Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, the higher a Digimon's speed, the more often it's able to attack.
- In Dubloon, each combatant has a meter that allows them to perform an action when filled up. The game doesn't pause them when one of player characters gets their meter full, which means that it's possible for slower members to act beforehand, or to wait for some bosses to quit their Counter-Attack mode.
- The Active Time Battle™ and its many derivatives from the Final Fantasy series are a variation that doesn't pause when a character's cooldown (represented by the filling of the ATB gauge) is over, and the AI enemies can act while the player selects their next action (though some games like VII may allow disabling this). This also means that multiple party members can be waiting for orders simultaneously, and the player may be forced to give commands in the order the individual characters reached the end of the cooldown if no "skip" option is provided.
- Final Fantasy X boasts a polished version of the ATB known as the Conditional Turn-based Battle (CTB), named from the ultimately similar system with same abbreviations from the Tactics series mentioned below. It can be a lifesaver for those who prefer realistic turn-based fights yet are overwhelmed by the fast paced action-like elements of the classic ATB.
- Forever Home allows the shift key to be pressed to fill ATB (or Stamina) gauges without taking action, though the shift key is also used to switch between multiple ready characters.
- Fuga: Melodies of Steel has a timeline bar on the top of the screen that shows when each combatant is able to attack, with the positioning able to be manipulated depending on if a combatant has been hit with a delaying attack or if they buffed themselves with a speed boosting skill that allows them to attack more frequently. Highlighting a skill will show how far back on the timeline it will send a child after using it, and enemies that are affected with Shock will lock in place on the timeline until the effect wears off.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Stray Rondo and Sonata of Memories use an ATB-like system. To order a charcter to act, the player must wait until the gauge next to character's HP fills up with yellow. Normal attacks and items can be used right away, but skills must be additionally charged, represented by the gauge filling with green.
- Get in the Car, Loser!: Each character has three actions, each with their own real time cooldown. Pressing the "Next" button switches everyone to their next available action. When all actions are exhausted, Grace uses her Sword of Fate on the currently targeted enemy and the cycle begins anew with the first set of skills. The Options menu also allows the player to choose between Active or Wait Mode, where the latter pauses time when selecting Sam's healing target.
- Golden Sun: Djinn have three states: set, standby and resting. A set djinn provides its individual bonuses to stats and equipping certain combinations of djinn may change a character's class and spells. Set djinn can be used in battle to deal damage or provide a status buff; once used, a djinn goes into standby, where it no longer provides those bonuses (and may suddenly cause a character's class and spells to change). Standby djinn can be used to power Summon Magic, with more powerful summons becoming available when more djinn are on standby. Once the summon is complete, the djinn involved begin resting; resting djinn provide no bonuses and can't be used for a number of turns, after which they will return to being set one at a time.
- The Grandia games feature twofold combatant cooldowns: each Player Character has a "Wait" cooldown and a "Command" cooldown. The duration of the Wait cooldown depends only on the character's Speed stat (and speed-enhancing buffs), and the game pauses after a PC's Wait cooldown is over, letting the player select their next action, which is carried out after the subsequent Command cooldown, whose duration depends both on the Speed stat and the type of selected action (e.g. it's shorter for basic attacks than for massive Area of Effect spells). Furthermore, as the battles basically take place in real time (except for pausing to select commands), executing the selected action also takes some time: e.g. a melee attack requires an attacker to actually run up to the target before they can strike it. After the action is completed (or canceled), the PC is placed back on Wait cooldown. Unlike the PCs, AI enemies have only a single-phase cooldown whose duration is determined by their Speed stat.
- The combat system in Helen's Mysterious Castle runs entirely off this. Each action (such as Helen using a weapon or a monster's attack) comes with a "Wait" timer that ticks down once both combatants have chosen their move. Once an action hits 0, that action is performed and the combatant may choose a new one. Combat involves carefully juggling cooldowns so that you're defending when your opponent's attack lands and attacking when your opponent's guard is down.
- Lufia & The Fortress of Doom, released in 1993, was one of the first JRPGs to use this system. Characters would act in initiative order (based on AGI and somehow affected by equipment weight) and there would be a small delay between issuing a command and the character executing it, with more complex commands (like using magic) taking longer to execute than simpler ones (like using a basic attack). Since the details of the system were never actually explained anywhere in either manual or game, it proved a bit hard to get a handle on, and Lufia II dumped it for standardised Turn-Based Combat.
- Nocturne: Rebirth has an ATB system, but with an added feature of holding down the shift key to fill all ATB gauges even if one of your party members is already full. This essentially allows players to have the ease-of-use of "wait mode" and the finer timing of "active mode".
- Panzer Dragoon Saga uses a system similar to the aforementioned Active Time Battle. During battle, you are given three gauges you can put to use attacking, using items or using Berserk attacksnote . Making either the dragon or Edge attack, or using items, cost one gauge; using a Berserk attack costs two. They gradually recover over time, and during the battle, you can also move your dragon around the enemy, which halts the gauges' recharge until the motion is completed.
- Pokémon Legends: Arceus makes use of an action initiative system where it is possible for a Pokémon to act out multiple times in a row. This is influenced not only by each Pokémon's Speed stat, with faster Mons going more often, but also whether you choose to augment a given attack with one of two stances: a "Strong Style" that increases its power but lowers your initiative, and an "Agile Style" that does the opposite.
- Septerra Core had this, with a slight twist: the cooldown bars were divided into three segments, more powerful abilities required more segments, and when abilities were used, partially filled segments were lost. A lot of gameplay consisted of figuring out quickly which attack you wanted to use next, and then clicking that character right as a segment filled.
- A more methodical version is the bread and butter of the Trails Series. The AT Bar is the visual indicator of ally/enemy turns by Delay which widely varies between attacks, Crafts, and Arts. Crafts always hit first, but tend to have longer cooldown, attacks have small Delay, and Arts take longer to charge. The higher a character's Speed, the faster and more often their turn comes up. The more strategic elements are the random icons that appear called Turn Order Bonuses which grant buffs and debuffs, and S-Breaks which can be used in real time at the front of the Bar, but have the longest Delay. The later games especially require the player to abuse and make use of the turn order to snag buffs and weaken the enemy, such as obtaining a critical, hitting an S-Break to steal an enemy's turn before they grab it, and landing them on a debuff such as a zero damage icon, because a boss might do it first.
- Final Fantasy Tactics features a Charge Time Battle system, which leans toward turn-based combat instead of real time (like ATB of the main series). Each unit has a Charge Time meter, which is reset to zero after it acts (unless it uses the Wait command, in which case it is reset to 20), and it may only act again after their CT points go back to 100. CT points are gained at different rates, so a unit with a high Speed stat may act more often than one with low Speed, which effectively acts as the cooldown duration modifier.
- Gungnir has an interesting twist on this. For enemies, they have something that works similar to the CBT from Final Fantasy X, which also applies to your turn. Your turn, however, has you select one out of the number of units you fielded for an attack, after which the cooldown for your turn will start again. However, your individual characters have their own individual turns that determines whether or not they can be selected next time your turn is up, to prevent overuse of that unit. You can end their cooldown immediately by selecting them anyway, but it gives a cut to maximum HP for the rest of the fight.
- Namco × Capcom has a system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics—a unit is able to act once it has earned 10 AP, which accrues at 1 per turn for each unit on the map. The player can estimate the initiative order by looking at the numbers above each unit; whoever shows a "1" is the next to act. Different actions cost different amounts of AP, so a unit that only moves will act again sooner than a unit that moves and attacks. There are other special actions to spend and earn AP; for example, units may spend AP to reduce damage from enemy attacks and time Action Commands during enemy attacks to regain AP.
- Phantom Brave has units take turns in an order determined by their Speed stat. Sufficiently fast units can take multiple turns before the enemy gets to act. With Rocket-Tag Gameplay in effect at high levels, Speed becomes the most important stat in the post-game content, especially considering some objects and weapons actually use the Speed stat to determine their damage, too.
- Neoquest II decides turn order based on how many seconds a character or enemy has until they can make another attack. Investing in the Increased Melee / Casting Haste skills can reduce the cooldown time between turns, while using Area of Effect spells or Mesmerize will delay your next turn. Several other Haste and Slow spells, as well as the aforementioned Mesmerize, can manipulate the recovery time.
- In Pillars of Eternity, the Recovery mechanic basically facilitates this. After every action in combat that is not walking, characters are put on a Recovery before they can attack or cast spells again (moving during this time just pauses the Recovery). Its duration depends mainly on the type of action (weapon attacks are faster than spells) and the weight of the armor they wear and can be further shortened with special abilities. The duration of the action itself is also variable and depends on the character's Dexterity score.
- Tyranny uses a recovery system, where each character has a cooldown period determined by stats, gear, and the action that was used. One of the common complaints about the game is that the recovery periods tend to be quite long (usually on the order of several seconds), which makes the combat slow and cumbersome.
- Kung-Fu Chess operated this way. It was an online variant of Chess with no turns. Each individual piece had its own cooldown counter which was triggered when that piece made a (legal) move. There was no check or checkmate and victory came by capturing the opposing king.
- Exalted is a Tabletop RPG example. Each action has a Speed, which is the number of turns until that character's next action.
- The 2014 German Tabletop RPG system Splittermond uses a Visual Initiative Queue in combat, subdivided into 30 "tics", with player and non-player characters' tokens placed onto it in order of Action Initiative (lower initiative is better, since it lets you act first). The character on the lowest "tic" field acts first, then their token is moved clockwise by as many tics as indicated by the rules governing their action (e.g. simple movement or a dagger attack are worth 5 tics, while a two-handed swing can cost as much as 12), wrapping around at 30. The character with the new lowest initiative acts next, and so on, until the encounter is resolved.
- Loren: The Amazon Princess has an implementation that leans heavily towards Turn-Based Combat: each combatant has a (slightly randomized) "initiative" score and is placed on the Visual Initiative Queue accordingly. The combatant with the lowest initiative (on top of the queue) acts first, then their old initiative score is subtracted from everyone else's, and the second-lowest gets to act, and so on. Each action resets the combatant's initiative score to zero, then adds a new number dependent on its type (strong/AOE attacks add a lot, quick but weak jabs add a little) to it, effectively acting as a global cooldown for them. The game also keeps track of "turns" for the duration of Status Effects, which occur after a certain total number of initiative points has been subtracted—as a rule of thumb, each combatant can carry out one basic attack per turn.