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Thread: The RPG Sanctum - #19: Battle Systems

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    Host of The Sectorcast Rosestorm's Avatar
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    The RPG Sanctum - #19: Battle Systems

    In this episode of the Sanctum we discuss our favorite battle systems, as well as our least. Listen in for the verdict of which battle system rains supreme.

    Listen: http://www.rpgamer.com/rpgsanctum/sanctum19.mp3
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    itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-...um/id416583261
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    Angel-Possessed Priestess Administrator Strawberry Eggs's Avatar
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    I know this is a long episode, but I do wish I spoke up about the uniqueness of Knights in the Nightmare's battle system. Or mentioned how broken Sands of Destruction's battle system is (though I still kind of like it). Oh well.
    Last edited by Strawberry Eggs; 09-04-2011 at 06:22 PM.
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    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    I'm not even a quarter of the way through yet... so I'll edit this post if I have more thoughts...but I just got through the rant against Final Fantasy Tactics.

    First, let me say, I couldn't quite understand everything...there were audio issues. And I forget who started the rant...but he's exaggerating quite a few points.

    The game can certainly be hard at times. And, that difficulty can certainly be made a lot easier by using certain hero characters and/or training them really high up in certain classes. That's part of what makes a tactics RPG a tactical experience! Choosing the most powerful people, training them certain ways, etc, make your battles easier or harder. Taking the time to startegize how are going to be your key players, and how you are going to train them up is part of the experience.

    With that being said, I didn't use the 'hero' characters any more than I had to. I liked the idea of building my team from scratch. So, most of the time I had Ramza and 4 hand made dudes in my team. And, I used magic, alot. It does have it's place. Especially when you combine various magics with other classes. Calculator + Black Magic = Fun. And lots of it! I got through the game with this 'non-optomized team.' (I didn't even use Cid). I don't feel I had to cheat the system at all.

    It was also stated that the speaker doesn't like to grind in Tactical games. Well, first, that's a staple of RPGs. Second, the center of most tactical games is the battle system. If you like tactical games, (and assuming the system is well designed), you're not going to mind fighting some extra fights to make your characters more powerful. If you don't like the genre, the grinding is going to make you very cranky. FFT did require SOME grinding to optomize your team (depending on your approach), but it certainly wasn't massive. More often, I just had to do some silly things to level up my classes...such as hitting my allies or doing buffs over and over that didn't really do much in battle to get that class JP. Anyway, it could still be completed in a reasonable amount of time. In a perfect world, a tactical game gives you the option to grind if you need the future battles to be easier... but optional if you're really good with strategies. It's not always that way.

    I can understand if tactics games aren't your thing. Personally, I'm terrible at first person shooters (I never have the reflexes required), so I understand how you can feel. You're totally entitled to your opinion... I just think some of the statements made were way out in left field. With that all being said, I will never claim that FFT was the best tactical RPG experience or anything like that. I could point out a number of weaknesses (such as requiring research outside the instruction manual to figure out how to unlock advanced classes, which are needed to win outside of using the hero characters all the time). However, it is one of the better ones out there, and yielded a satisfying experience to those inclined towards tactical RPGs.

    FF Tactics Advance games are, in fact, easier. Most tactical players, myself included, felt it was too easy. And when a tactical game doesn't have a challenge, it's a snooze fest. A tactical game that's too hard is easier to forgive, assuming that it has ways for your to grind up, obtain more powerful party members/equipment, etc. etc. Clearly, balance is a huge factor in any TRPG.

    ------------------
    Addition : Simple vs Complex. I agree that it's more about balanced difficulty than whether or not a battle system is simple or complex. However, if a battle system is really simple, I'm not sure how much a balanced difficulty is going help out. My main example I always use is your traditional JRPG where you have the standard "Attack, Magic, Item, Defend" actions, especially when the magic system is shallow. Most of those battles come out to "Attack, Magic Attack, Heal." If that battle is really hard, it looks like "Attack, Heal, Heal" intead. If it's really easy, it just "Attack, Attack, Attack." Such simple battle systems were acceptable 25 years ago when consoles couldn't handle much more than that. Now, a JRPG simple battle system absolutely kills a game for me. Conversely, a game can certainly be too complicated for its own good. We don't see too much of that nowadays since more and more "RPGs" are going with a simpler First Person / Third Person real time approach (ala Fallout 3). The point being that if its too complicated, you'll turn off a number of players before they even start (read comments on Resonance of Fate, for example). I play Pathfinder Pen & Paper RPG, and I'll be the first to admit that it's very deep system is a big entry in the negative column to many potential players. As with most things, you'll find people who don't mind the extremes (I Like complication, for example), but they're the exception and not the rule.

    ------------------
    Addition: I agree regarding Shadow Heart's Judgement Ring. I really like it too. It's a really simple mechanic that makes the traditional JRPG battle system a lot more interesting. It forced the player to be involved througout the entire battle rather than just taking 3 seconds to choose attacks, and 60 seconds watching it play out (over and over and over)
    Last edited by jcservant; 09-04-2011 at 11:03 AM.

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    NEEDS MOAR UNDERBOOB! Oyashiro's Avatar
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    RoF battle system wasn't that complex. It seemed like it at first but then you realize how it really works and you can blast thru it like nothing. But The last boss was insanely hard. I remember my party was around levels in the 90's. I did everything you could, all side-missions and such so that I wasn't that low of levels. Then I see that last boss is about level 230... It took me about 20 tries but I finally beat him. its was the only difficulty spick i could remember in that game...
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    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    Interesting episode. Like JC, I listened to about half the episode but had to stop there for various reasons. You probably should have mentioned how stupid Sands of Destruction's battle system could be, Strawberry. Its one of the strangest I've ever seen the way some attacks do 1 damage, turn order is calculated, and how some bosses have no HP at all, where as others can take like an hour to kill. Also, I agree with your sentiments on Simple vs Complex, JC. Typically I can live with a mundane battle system with Attack, Attack, Magic, Heal, but there has to be something else to capture my interest. Conversely, however, I can't really stand overly complex and "unique" battle systems. I'll probably catch alot of flak here, but I thought RoF's battle system was Tri-Ace's worst to date, and generally can't stand everything made by Sting such as Knights in the Nightmare. My experience with RoF's final boss was very similar to Oyashiro's above.

    Worst Battle System: By FAR Xenosaga 2. Honestly, its not even a contest. When a game makes you dread every single encounter, you know you're doing something wrong. I've tried to block out from memory everything about this one, but I do remember the break mechanic made even routine battles needlessly complex and far too time-consuming. Some combination of my lack of understanding and the game actually being rather difficult also made you REPEAT many of these fights upon death which is just inexcusable. The most infuriating thing about the whole ordeal is just how long fights take as well, ranging from literally 5-7 minutes per battle in many cases. Lost Odyssey, although it doesn't share most of the same problems, does have the same issue of battles taking far too long. I often wonder why anyone people hate on Black Sigil, in which most battles can be wiped in 30 seconds, yet praise stuff like Lost Odyssey and XenoSaga 2 when random fights take as much time as 3 or 4 battles of another game.

    Best Battle System: Extremely tough question. Typically what I enjoy is lots of action, whether its on-screen or player induced, a good challenge, exhilarating music, and battles that don't take too long. Boss fights of course can be long if they are engaging enough. Its also important to make battles worth fighting in some capacity, otherwise what is the point? Probably the best examples of a turn-based battle system for me is Digital Devil Saga, Persona 4, or FF13. They have all the important elements I like, except maybe flashiness for SMT, which is where 13 wins out. Points to 13 as well for awesome enemy design. Valkyrie Profile and Dragon Force for best "unique" battle system.
    Last edited by ChickenGod; 09-04-2011 at 04:12 PM.
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    Member Just Doug's Avatar
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    I'm also only halfway through the cast so far, but I'll be sure to finish it here in a bit. So far I have some of the same thoughts as previous posters and a few opinions of my own...

    In general I'm not hard to please when it comes to battle systems. I like turn based, I like ATB, I like strategy/tactical RPGs. Real-time battle systems I'm not nearly as keen on--Star Ocean games' battle systems are far from my favorite (and in fact are a source of frustration for me at times when playing Star Ocean games--I probably just suck at them), and didn't really get into Dragon Age's system either. Some action RPGs, like Kingdom Hearts or NIER, had me enjoying their smash-em-up type systems though at the end of the day it's basically just a matter of flailing the weapon around quick enough with the right spells and a little dodging. I also enjoyed Crisis Core as well if you'd consider that a real time system.

    I do love job class systems--sometimes they're the main reason I play/enjoy a game (*cough* FFX-2's battles *cough*), and I almost never dislike a game because of its job class system. Actually it's rare for me to enjoy a game solely on the merit of its combat, since I prioritize character/setting/plot, but FFX-2 is a notable example. It was like comfort food, if that makes sense--a decent iteration of your classic FF-type battle system, with a job class system and some interesting, challenging (and occasionally aggravating) battles. I suppose FFXIII and Valkyria Chronicles 2 are also games that for me were primarily about enjoying the battles, more on that later.

    I'd agree that tactics games walk a razor's edge in terms of difficulty/balance (and that Tactics, while it had its shortcomings, walked that tightrope well enough for me--and I'm not the best strategy game player either). I'd imagine tactical RPGs are a tough subgenre to make considering how much more the game hinges on the battle system--a battle system that in some ways might be considered more complex than a regular RPG's battle system, on average (if only by virtue of the fact that a tactical RPG generally has more units onscreen, more types of units, more abilities, has to take terrain into account, etc.).

    I'd also agree that FFXIII had a fun, engaging battle system. It was half the fun of the game for me, and good thing too since battles are in fact half the game! It made buffing and healing less of a chore (though when your main character is on buffer or healer it can be quite boring if it's protracted beyond a couple seconds), brought challenge/tactics to even normal monsters on the field, and made some bosses/optional bosses absolute doozies.

    FFXII was interesting because it was reminiscent of FFXI, which I play, and "gambits" were a neat idea even if their execution wasn't as good as it could have been. There were some annoyances with FFXII's battles though--certainly summons were useless, and the slowdown/standstill caused by casting/using some of the high-end magicks/items was dangerous and so it was better to avoid spells like Scathe.

    Xenosaga, across all three episodes, was all over the place. Episode One's battles were meh-to-decent, and Episode Two's battles were bad to oh-god-no, while Episode Three had decent-to-good battles (in my opinion). One thing that stood out to me--mostly in the third game, but to a lesser extent the other two as well--was that some of the boss battles were pretty darn epic. Even if they were tough or frustrating, sometimes they were just so cool that I liked them.

    Now some LOVES and HATES.

    LOVE: BLiTZ, Valkyria Chronicles' battle system, which gets better with every iteration. It's a pretty seamless combination of strategy and tactics--or in other words, turn-based and real-time--and it made WWII-era type combat work for an RPG, in a very fun way. Valkyria Chronicles 2's story was boring and the main characters were mostly vapid, but man did I love doing the hundreds of battles in Valkyria 2, recycled maps and all. I've just started Valkyria 3 (the tough Japanese vocabulary--mostly military jargon--make it slow going for me), and I'm having just as much fun with the battles so far.

    HATE: Above all else... HOSHIGAMI. Oh my god--take what I said about TRPGs having to walk a fine line and imagine an RPG that completely ignores such a line. That game... was horrible. It was horrible for many reasons, but most of all I couldn't stand the randomness in battle, where an enemy turning 90 degrees was literally the difference between 2 damage at 20% accuracy or 50 damage at 90% accuracy. And since it was a game where death was permanent, having unforgiving and seemingly random chances to kill or be killed was the absolute worst battle system they could have gone with (i.e. characters I put hours and hours into developing gone forever because of a single misstep, there's nothing more frustrating than that, I swear--even if you reload, you waste a lot of time fighting battles you have to undo).

    I also strongly disliked Resonance of Fate. That game made me feel stupid, and I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I just couldn't get a handle on that game. I wanted to like it, really, I did, and I honestly think I gave a good solid effort to learn and enjoy the game, but I just couldn't do it. The tutorials are essential of course but even those gave me trouble--and after I did the tutorials, the first random encounter in the game killed me. It went downhill from there. At my highest point in that game, performance-wise, winning battles was a matter of applying the same basic maneuver over and over and over, which was far from fun. I know some people enjoyed that battle system, or at least got good at it, but man let me tell you listening to someone talk about something being so simple and easy (not referring to anyone on the cast or in this thread when I say this) when it was horribly and utterly opaque to you is not fun and is a surefire way to make you give up on and hate a game forever.
    Last edited by Just Doug; 09-04-2011 at 05:46 PM.
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    Angel-Possessed Priestess Administrator Strawberry Eggs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChickenGod View Post
    You probably should have mentioned how stupid Sands of Destruction's battle system could be, Strawberry. Its one of the strangest I've ever seen the way some attacks do 1 damage, turn order is calculated, and how some bosses have no HP at all, where as others can take like an hour to kill.
    Yes indeed. While I find the battle system kind of fun, it's crazy imbalanced. I can't hate it, but I can hardly call it a favorite either. Most battles are too easy, but some bosses are strangely difficult and take too long to beat. Then one buffing move can make the boss fight too easy. :P In general, I have a love/hate relationship with this game.
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    Veteran RPGamer watcher's Avatar
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    My favorite battle systems are, in generally descending order: the Star Ocean series (the ones that have made it stateside anyway), Valkyrie Profile 2, Tales of Symphonia and Vesperia, the PS1 & PS2 SaGa games, Dragon Age, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, SMT: Devil Summoner, and Dragon Quarter. Oh, and the Arc the Lad series. Clearly, I generally lean towards ARPGs.

    I generally find the battle systems that play themselves pretty damn boring. Radiata Stories gets to a point where you can sleep through battles and win, even boss battles, so I can't stand it. Likewise, I didn't like FFXIII. Strangely though, I didn't mind FFXII, as you actually have to pay attention much of the time. The truly bad ones, though, are the ones I couldn't tolerate to play and can no longer remember.

    RE: Hoshigami, the gameplay was fine, the balance was terrible. Poorly balanced games in general are pretty bad.

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    Member Just Doug's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by watcher View Post
    RE: Hoshigami, the gameplay was fine, the balance was terrible. Poorly balanced games in general are pretty bad.
    To be fair, I'm going off of maybe 15 hours' worth of experience from some years ago so practically all I remember is my loathing. Balance being terrible would explain everything I hated. Its game mechanics could have been divinely inspired and it wouldn't have mattered with imbalance and randomness screwing me over repeatedly every battle.

    As for my comments on the rest of the podcast... I was quite fond Legend of Dragoon when it came out, and as PSX RPGs go it would possibly be in my top 5 list (more because of design, story and aesthetics rather than gameplay, not to say I didn't enjoy the gameplay). I got the hang of timing the moves pretty well, and it was more fun to me than just spamming an attack button. Yeah the dragons were pretty wacky--I think of them looking like some kind of organic military vehicles, or like something you might see in an anime/manga like Evangelion, RahXephon, or Shadow Star. And hey, if you really needed someone for a Legend of Dragoon backtrack, I could probably fill a spot if I brushed up on it (it's been so long since I played it!).

    And lastly, while I don't really have a most memorable boss fight, I can say that boss fights that were particularly difficult/frustrating stick with me (e.g. one or more of the Barthandalus fights in FFXIII, Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts, a few bosses throughout the Xenosaga games, and believe it or not the fight vs. the Ronso in FFX-2--I threw my controller over the last one). They also felt especially satisfying to beat. That said, due to my tendency to grind a bit too much some of the challenge gets sapped out of some games, skewing my impression of some bosses (kinda like what Zoltan said about being underwhelmed by Savior Sephiroth's Supernova move).

    Somewhat related (though I confess it's not much to do with battle system mechanics): when I feel genuine suspense/apprehension about wandering around dungeons and such, that tends to stick with me as well. Wandering a dungeon ought to be scary! The first time I heard chains rattle in Persona 3 I got goosebumps and thought to myself "that doesn't sound good," and it kept happening and then...the grim reaper popped onto the screen and I about jumped out of my seat. FFXII also had some pretty creepy dungeons and monsters I was afraid to encounter (the grim-reaper-type monsters in FFXII scared me a number of times, popping out of nowhere and attacking me), and I was also in suspense through much of Vagrant Story and in a fair amount of Dragon Age's dungeons, especially early on. And from my childhood I remember being frightened to encounter a fair number of the monsters in the latter parts of Earthbound.
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    Yeah, don't get me wrong, I loathe it myself. I consider it my worst game purchase of all time.

    For me the most memorable boss fight goes to Arc the Lad II's final boss. Toughest final boss I think I've ever fought. Try to take it head on and it will kick your backside so hard that your entire family tree will feel the bruises. Approach the fight with some thought, and it isn't too hard, but it takes some time. The reward is one of the best game endings ever, IMO.

  11. #11
    Worst Battle System: By FAR Xenosaga 2.
    Really? I think it's one of the better battle systems. Every single fight is challenging but not impossible, perfect balance. Though I personally prefer more actiony battle systems.

    What I really hate is if the game doesn't really have a battle system at all and the combat is just on-screen.

    My absolutely favorite battle systems:
    - all "Tales of..." games except Tales of Vesperia
    - all Star Ocean games (although I should probably exclude Blue Sphere)
    - Valkyrie Profile 1&2
    - Baten Kaitos
    - Eternal Sonata

  12. #12
    Releaser of Heavy Metal LegendaryZoltan's Avatar
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    I definitely need to use my full on vocal mic from now on. Also, I REALLY wish there was a way we could prevent people's voices from being sliced up every freaking 5 or 10 minutes. That's really just not good.

    FFTactics: I actually agree mostly with JCServant but during the show I didn't want to be confrontational. Next time I should get slightly more opinionated. It will be more entertaining probably, too.

    I don't what was wrong with me but for some reason my real opinion about complex vs. simple systems didn't really come out. What I wanted to say was, "For battle systems for me, the more complex, the better." I freaking love sinking myself into crazy complex battle systems and then after the battle, sinking myself into crazy complex point/skill systems in the menu. Oh, the memories! I love spending hours in menus applying points and arranging equipment on my party.

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    I agree that Xenosaga II has one of the worst battle systems I've seen.

    To me, a good battle system constantly involves making or contemplating interesting tactical decisions. Atlas's press turn system, and FF XIII do a good job of this. The press turn system is quick, and with the large variety of attacks, vulnerabilities, and resistances, each battle could be different. FF XIII requires constant monitoring, paradigm choices, and there is a real depth of skill to the system (I was noticeably more effective on my 2nd play through).

    Xenosaga II spectacularly fails at this. Most random encounters boil down to figuring which sequence of attacks makes an opponent vulnerable, then storing up actions to exploit it. Once known random encounter can still take over 5 minutes of time, which means 5 minutes of rote entry with nothing interesting going on.

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    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LegendaryZoltan View Post
    I don't what was wrong with me but for some reason my real opinion about complex vs. simple systems didn't really come out. What I wanted to say was, "For battle systems for me, the more complex, the better." I freaking love sinking myself into crazy complex battle systems and then after the battle, sinking myself into crazy complex point/skill systems in the menu. Oh, the memories! I love spending hours in menus applying points and arranging equipment on my party.
    I do too...as long as I have the time and energy (which is hard, sometimes, given my schedule), as long as the game clearly explains everything. One of the reasons I loved the D&D Gold Box games, BG, NWN, etc, is because of their really big books. I spent so much time pouring over those books, and choosing exactly what I wanted for my party, equipping them, etc. Good times!

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    I look less at complex vs simple and more at light vs deep, as many "complex" systems are just convoluted crap or have inferior interface design. I see light systems as being easy to pick-up and run with and deep systems as requiring some degree of understanding or mastery to play at advanced levels/difficulties/bonus crap/etc. For me, light systems should be fast and fun, and deep systems are less level dependent and more strategy oriented, making it possible to take on superior opponents if you have the skill.

  16. #16
    The only thing I can think to say is that I really really liked the battle system in the Last Remnant, even if the rest of the game was...not, and that Square Enix needs to wake up and combine it with the systems in the Final Fantasy Tactics series, particularly the Advance games. They'd go perfectly together and it would fix a lot of the problems in both of the games!
    Wake up S-E! WAKE UP!
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    Also, what was up with the audio on this one? People kept getting their voices garbled in the middle of the conversation.
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  17. #17
    Releaser of Heavy Metal LegendaryZoltan's Avatar
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    By the way, Xenosaga 2 has an excellent battle system. It's just long and hard and that's what you don't like.
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  18. #18
    Games horder Ombres's Avatar
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    Well one of the best battle sytem that I liked the most is from an old Genesis game, called Warsong(Langriser), I really like how you buy unit depending of you class and always trying to get unit that go well again your enemy of the current map. Just too bad we never did get the other of this series or any other game that used the same way they did, the only other game that used something similar was Dragon Force an other great old game.
    For one of my epic fight, that I remember quite well, the first time I finished Chrono Trigger, again Lavos in his final form, my team was getting a beating, I was doing all the damage to kill is middle form, when I finally manage to kill it, it was not over, and even worse, the right bit revive him, I did die this time around, but try again and this time the right bit did get it and once I kill it, it was over, but itís was like only Crono was standing and itís was my final attack.

  19. #19
    Veteran RPGamer watcher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LegendaryZoltan View Post
    By the way, Xenosaga 2 has an excellent battle system. It's just long and hard and that's what you don't like.
    I'll give you that it's long, but hardly difficult, rather it's just convoluted. I don't consider it bad, but it's easy to see what people don't like about it. I remember one cheap trick is to dump all the skill point items onto Momo, because only her ether skills are usable in ES battles.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by LegendaryZoltan View Post
    By the way, Xenosaga 2 has an excellent battle system. It's just long and hard and that's what you don't like.
    Not hard. Just long. Even when you get to the point that some enemies can't really hurt you, those battles will still take several minutes to complete. Which, in my mind, is ridiculous. It's a tedious battle system, which makes it a poor battle system.

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