Items are very important in Another Star, in no small part because they’re just about the only way to heal your party. Making sure you have enough Herb Dust on hand before setting off into the next dungeon is essential to your survival.
For most of the game’s development, using items was the same as any other battle command, and the item would get activated whenever the party leader’s turn in battle came around. Turn order each round is based on a combatant’s agility stat, but it’s not fixed. While faster characters have a higher chance of going first, it’s still possible for a slower character to get a lucky RNG roll and get a move in before them.
Because of this, it was common for the enemies to whittle your party’s HP down in one round, and then finish you off the next round before your party leader’s turn came around to heal everyone. This problem was only made worse by the fact that Tachi (the main character) is your party leader so long as he’s up and fighting—but Tachi is by far the slowest character in the party. This means that he often goes last each round of battle, making him the worst possible candidate to use an item. But the player had no choice in the matter. Unless Tachi was knocked out, he would always be the one using the item. This led to common situations where the entire party would go from over ⅔ health to dead before the player could get a healing item in, even if they were perfectly leveled and equipped for the area. You’d get wiped out before you even had a chance to react!
I realized that this wasn’t fun at all. There was no strategy to it, just luck. So I began to think about ways to address it. One solution was to average all the character’s agility and use that to determine when the item got used. But that seemed arbitrary and counterintuitive, so I came up with something better.
In the current version of the game, if you decide to use an item in battle, you will always go first. It’s actually worked out pretty well. It’s made limited-use attack items like bows and throwing stars even more valuable, since they’re guaranteed to deal damage before the enemy can attack, and it’s also given battles a bit of a gamble mechanic because you can decide to risk letting your HP drop very low, knowing that so long as they don’t get knocked out you can heal the party right back up again. Thus if you get killed, it’s usually because you flew too close to the sun in your gamble, not because of the whims of chance.
Even though it seems battles are just there to slow you down and pad gameplay time, please remember that they’re actually a core part of the game experience, and because of that a lot of thought went into them.