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Thread: Battle Systems & The RPG Landscape - Editorial

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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    Battle Systems & The RPG Landscape - Editorial

    Staff Editorialist Trent Seely discusses the recent prominence of action-RPGs and its effect on the RPG landscape. Is there enough variety in your gaming collection?

    http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2012/082412ts.html

  2. #2
    I want to share my experience a little here.

    People generally see me saying that I hate action RPGs, actually those are not even real RPGs for me. For me an RPG means that you play a group of characters forming a party. Most games that people call action RPGs aren't RPGs because you don't control multiple characters. But let's put that aside before I get banned. =p

    I grew up with turn-based games and still play them from time to time. However, I don't automatically like all turn-based RPGs. There are many where combat was so slow that they just bore me fast.

    Action RPGs, the first I played was Secret of Mana I guess. I loved that one. It was a real RPG because it had multiple characters and the combat wasn't fully action either as you had to "load your bar". Secret of Evermore, Terranigma, all those were enjoyable. A game I really didn't like was Zelda. On the other hand, I liked Wonder Boy in Monster World. Generally I decided that action RPGs aren't my genre so I completely avoided them (but jump 'n runs are ok). Until my parents accidentally bought me Brave Fencer Musashi. I hated that game as well at first. I only played it 5 minutes and then quit it because I didn't like the gameplay. Years later I was bored with no games to play and I saw Brave Fencer Musashi, hardly ever played. So I gave it another try and this time really enjoyed it. Especially the humour and the dungeon design towards the end was nice. Another game I really liked at that time was Alundra. The story was just so amazing that I didn't mind not liking the gameplay much. I could never finish the game because a certain jump puzzle was WAY too hard. While I liked the game this just increased my hatred towards the genre. Action RPGs basically mean that at some point you can't continue the story because it gets too hard for you. They often don't even offer the ability to grind, one of the most important feats for me in an RPG. The sequals to both Musashi and Alundra were much worse, though. So I soon concluded that the genre really isn't for me and since the games just become really bad now it isn't even worth trying them anymore.

    So I concentrated only on traditional RPGs from then onward.

    Then came Star Ocean The Second Story, also accidentally bought by my parents, me never having heard of it, it turned out to become my second most favorite game. The idea to combine action and traditional battle system screen was just EPIC. It is EXACTLY what I always needed. Staying an RPG, having the traditional battle screen, but the battles not just being slow and round-based but actionally fast and BASH BASH BASH hell yeah. This started the phase where I only wanted to play games like this. I gave up on round based, that's boring. It had to be like Star Ocean The Second Story. For me that meant I couldn't really play any games that aren't from tri-Ace/Wolf-Team, so this company became the central of my life. Tales of Phantasia, Tales of Destiny, Tales of Eternia, Star Ocean 1, Valkyrie Profile, Star Ocean 3, I played them all now and I loved them all so much.

    Unfortunately eventually I ran out of games to play. I played all the tri-Ace games and no other company could pull off games that were enjoyable for me anymore. Square-Enix started to only release horrible RPGs (starting at FFVIII I didn't really like them anymore, it wasn't like BAM for more like FFVIII is worse than FFVII and with each FF, I was more disappointed in them). Eventually even tri-Ace couldn't release games anymore that I enjoyed (I really don't like Resonance of Fate, it's more round based and has no longer the BASH BASH charm).
    It was the end up the gamer era for me. There were a few other games I enjoyed and didn't mention, but for me it was noticable that it slowly went from "Woah over 100 RPGs that look promising" to "I waited 1 year and there is not a single game I'm interested in".

    A bit back into the past, I actually managed to enjoy another action RPGs as you call it: Ys - Ark of Napishtim. It's the only Ys that was released in Europe (for PS2) and I enjoyed the gameplay quite a bit. I'm not sure why I enjoyed it despite my hate for action RPGs, but it just FELT right. The music was awesome, the gameplay was fast and fun, grinding was also possible and even quite effective (like just one level higher and you can take more than double the hits effective), perfect.
    I tried to find another action RPG that could fascinate me like that one, but failed.

    I went back to round-based style, not because I felt like it, but because there was nothing else really offered. The only game I managed to enjoy here was Lost Odyssey. But I didn't enjoy it because of its combat, that was actually pretty boring, but rather because of the short stories. Honestly, I really hate reading and often skip all dialogues in games just using the visial input to understand what is happening, but in Lost Odyssey I really really read every single short story without even skipping a single line because it was so fascinating. That game almost made me go and buy a book, seriously.

    Now I'm sitting here, mainly playing round-based combat indie RPGs, just because nothing else is offered at all.
    FFXIII's combat was fun. FFXIII-2 sucked (because of monster catching). What RPGs have even be released lately? None. RPGs are dead (going by my definition of RPG). They ceased to exist except for the indie world.
    I pretty much went only indie lately. I rather donate my money to a promising indie developer than giving it to those big companies that can't even make a game with proper gameplay and only care about making it look realistic...

    So now you ask me, what kind of RPG combat I do want to see?
    Round-based? I wouldn't mind it, it should just be fast paced.
    Full action? No thank you!!! All RPGs recently released are like this and I'm FED UP FED UP FED UP FED UP with them.
    Extra battle screen but still action-combat? HELL YEAH, I'd pay a FORTUNE to play another game like Star Ocean.

  3. #3
    Member Jormungand's Avatar
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    Great article, and a good read. And you're right. We need to support each other in order to fully support ourselves.

    ...if you look at your gaming collection would you say there is enough variety in the types of RPGs you own?
    Currently, yes. But that's because a large majority of my collection is backlog consisting of games released anywhere from 1 to 10+ years ago. Therefore, the variety I currently possess will last me for a while--but it will eventually run out if the current trend of "Action > All" continues.

    Would you be interested in giving other 'styles' of RPGs a chance if you aren't already?
    Since I generally enjoy all types of RPGs, this isn't an issue. However, I feel the market has been inundated with action RPGs, my least favorite division of the genre. It would be one thing if they were games that played either like A) Secret of Mana or B) Drakengard, but they never are. I love those games, and would buy any game that gave me a similar experience. So far that has amounted to exactly three games: Seiken Densetsu 3, Drakengard 2, and NIER, not one of which were as good as the original (but still good).

    I do continue to purchase most tactical RPGs, and turn-based RPGs that I find particularly appealing (although I entirely skip front-view battle systems and dungeon crawlers). Action RPGs--I'm very picky about the kind I buy. I can't count many that I've purchased in the last several years--NIER and Last Story come to mind,. I also regularly buy (mothership) Tales games, and will continue to up through Xillia--HOWEVER, if I'm let down again by the story in Graces f and Xillia, then I'm done with the series until they find themselves a better scenario writer.

    I'll also try Versus if it ever releases, although I'm not at all enthusiastic about Nomura-directed games. I'm only slightly interested in it now because of the disappointing experience that was FFXIII. Although I won't buy it if I can't control Ignis for the majority of the game. I've got to like the characters in a game, and these hyper-effeminate excessively dressed men aren't doing it for me. Ignis is only palatable because he looks the least ridiculous, and also uses a katana. If it's not like Secret of Mana where I can main-control whichever party member I want, I'm out.

  4. #4
    It's a shame market forces have forced most publishers to rely on "safe bets" and the like. I wish more sub-genres would show up on other consoles, I was pleasantly surprised to see Half-Minute Hero on Live, but it looks like the only way to be exposed to more types of RPG's is to play games on PC or handhelds. Not like I have the time to play anything but those games that interest me the most, but it would be nice to have the option.

  5. #5
    I'm usually not picky about battle systems, turn-based or real-time, unless fights take forever, and I appreciate things that make them go by faster, such as being able to skip spell animations.

  6. #6
    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    I can say for certain that I'm very willing to give most RPGs a chance, and very few disappoint me enough to make me stop playing them. I have every possible sub-genre of RPGs there is in my library, and will constantly go back to them. Nowadays I don't really have the money to buy whatever I want when it comes to RPGs, so I have to choose based on what interests me. Thank god for Youtube, which can make it really easy to tell if a game interests me or not.
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    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    Extra battle screen but still action-combat? HELL YEAH, I'd pay a FORTUNE to play another game like Star Ocean.
    Have you tried playing Graces F yet, Rya? Its the best Tales battle system yet, in my opinion. You seem to have played and enjoyed previous Tales games, and this one lets you grind for titles and levels, both of which have a strong influence on character effectiveness. It also gives you the option to change the difficulty at any avenue of your choosing. Just a suggestion, as Graces sounds like it fits some of the categories you listed.

    Would you be interested in giving other 'styles' of RPGs a chance if you aren't already?
    I'd like to think I've given most styles of RPGs a shot by now. Currently I'm fed up with games that try to be overly "unique" or complex with the battle systems. Honestly, I just can't stand anything Sting has put out except Hexyz Force. Similarly, Resonance of Fate got on my nerves multiple times, and it was never fun to play from start to finish. Still, I'm open to innovation. Shadow Hearts' Judgement Ring is a nice touch, as well as the way the Grandia series handles turn based combat and movement across the battlefield. Devil Survivor blends elements of SRPGs with traditional turned based ones, and it works out wonderfully. We still have yet to see anything resembling a Valkyrie Profile either, which is a game with a battle style all its own. VP and Devil Survivor offer the type of variety I'd be more than willing to try.
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    My game-buying history is...very short. I've only recently been buying games for myself instead of bumming off my brother, so I haven't always chosen the games I play. But I tend to attach very easily to series, especially if the story-verse interests me. I sometimes don't even know the battle system of a game before picking it up, especially if I'm just wanting to buy another game in a series (was surprised when I started up Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume and realized it was a tactical game, or that the Lufia 2 remake was an action game). My history is playing lots of turn-based RPGs because the series I followed started that way, and I have started to play more tactical and action RPGs as I branch out. I'm definitely willing to try anything; good stories will almost always pull me along unless I am really having difficulties getting through battles.

    I guess there is a general trend for battles to feel "faster". Even if action-based battles took the same amount of time as turn-based, I think they give the illusion of being "faster". And I think game developers aren't taking risks on battle systems because a battle system is more likely to sink a RPG than to sell it, unfortunately.

  9. #9
    @ChickenGod
    I'm completely share your sentiment that modern games are way too complicated. It's just the wrong approach to make your game unique by adding complicated mechanics. On the other hand TG Baradigm is also correct when he says that it's not bad if games are unique. I think his example is actually pretty good. Half-Minute Hero is really unique, but not complicated at all.

    On the other hand @TG, I beg to differ. If there is this amazingly designed game and it's the only one of its kind, but everybody into the genre has finished it already and is yearning for another game like this, it shouldn't be taboo to copy it. Some of the game systems just have proved to be fun and any change (aka "adding a complicated unique system to it") would just make them worse.
    Good game design can also mean knowing what to copy and how to copy it. It doesn't always require unique ideas.

    Or as I said in another forum once:
    Copies aren't even something bad if they are done right.

    I rather have copies of games with my favorite gameplay style over and over again than developers trying something new and innovative that just isn't fun to play.
    As for new ideas, it really depends on the idea whether it's good or bad. But I agree with ChickenGod that the "unique ideas" in retail games the past... let's say 5 years, have been way too complicated and are just not really fun to play, even though they might look cool on paper.

    Have you tried playing Graces F yet, Rya? Its the best Tales battle system yet, in my opinion. You seem to have played and enjoyed previous Tales games, and this one lets you grind for titles and levels, both of which have a strong influence on character effectiveness. It also gives you the option to change the difficulty at any avenue of your choosing. Just a suggestion, as Graces sounds like it fits some of the categories you listed.
    It's already on my "I'll pay a fortune for it" list. It will be released August 31th in Europe only in a special edition which is really expensive (like $90), but I already decided to buy it anyway. But your post made me even more confident on it.

    By the way, I don't really like the idea of being able to change the difficulty mid-game. That seems kinda cheap. I like "I can't beat the boss, so I'll go explore some optional dungeon first and when I come back my level is so much higher that I can beat him" much more than "I can't beat the boss, so I'll set the difficulty to easy". That feels cheap.

    Tales of... games have disappointed me a little lately I have to say. I never could get myself to finish Tales of Vesperia, but that had a completely different reason: The ability system. It forces you to switch weapons and re-set abilities like every 10 battles and that was annoying as hell. Just couldn't bear it after a while anymore. Not to mention that you had to combine weapons into new ones and get the materials for that. Was kinda a game ruiner.

    I won't stop giving them a try, though.

  10. #10
    Member retrodragon's Avatar
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    ok...I think that I might be the guy who DOES buy all the rpgs that come out lol. Especially as it seems less and less rpg titles are released. The only system I don't own is the DS (ok and the Vita...but soon) and I try to grab every rpg I can. Great article though! I would love to see more niche rpgs hit the shelves, but I kind of think that the "Age Of the Turn Based RPG" is now in the past. Just not enough money in the market anymore. (Blasted Call of Duty lol)
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  11. #11
    On the other hand TG Baradigm is also correct when he says that it's not bad if games are unique. I think his example is actually pretty good. Half-Minute Hero is really unique, but not complicated at all.

    On the other hand @TG, I beg to differ. If there is this amazingly designed game and it's the only one of its kind, but everybody into the genre has finished it already and is yearning for another game like this, it shouldn't be taboo to copy it. Some of the game systems just have proved to be fun and any change (aka "adding a complicated unique system to it") would just make them worse.
    Good game design can also mean knowing what to copy and how to copy it. It doesn't always require unique ideas.
    Wha...? Are you sure you're not quoting someone else? All I said is I'd like to see more quarky handheld games on XBLA, but since you bring it up...

    I don't recall ever suggesting the use of proven concepts from other games to be a bad thing, and I certainly never said sequels are a bad thing. Don't confuse reusing good ideas with cloning. It's one thing to borrow familiar structures. It's another thing to completely remake an existing game with a different story. You might get by if you're story is stellar enough; otherwise, you're just second fiddle to the first guy.
    But I agree with ChickenGod that the "unique ideas" in retail games the past... let's say 5 years, have been way too complicated and are just not really fun to play, even though they might look cool on paper.
    Just because some dev screwed up in your mind, or ChickenGod's, doesn't mean we should all give up on innovation. It's nice to have the familiar games we know we love, but you always want to mix in something new every now and again. If you know what you like and you want to stick with those things, that's fine, but don't go suggesting everything else you don't like is crap. That's just silly.

  12. #12
    I was referring to you putting it in a way that "safe bets" are something bad and indirectly indicating that games should be more unique. And as I said myself, it really depends on how this "unique" is done. There can be new innovative ideas that work out perfectly and are fun, but there are also many ideas that just overcomplicate a game and make it not enjoyable at all anymore.

  13. #13
    Veteran RPGamer watcher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    Most games that people call action RPGs aren't RPGs because you don't control multiple characters. But let's put that aside before I get banned. =p
    ...
    Extra battle screen but still action-combat? HELL YEAH, I'd pay a FORTUNE to play another game like Star Ocean.
    Technically, if you only play the role single character and make decisions with them that affect the game world, that is more true to what an RPG is than controlling a group through fully scripted events as many JRPGs do. Your preference does not change the definition. Otherwise, your way of looking at it would eliminate almost all Western RPGs from being RPGs.

    Personally, with regards to Star Ocean. I think tri-Ace could release games fairly quickly and easily to good sales if they made more based off of the SO2 or maybe even SO3 type engine. Utilizing the more powerful systems to run in HD quality and increase combat field size, number of combat participants (both sides), and add some more field hazards/events.

    The reason the ATB system lasted so long and is so well regarded is that it improved considerably with each iteration. The Zelda series has done well in this regard as well. It seems like nowadays many battle systems are one-offs. I'd really like to see improved versions of battles systems from Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Star Ocean 2 and Star Ocean 3 to name my favorites that I believe could be improved.

  14. #14
    I'm pretty sure that my collection encompasses pretty much every type of RPG. I don't always feel like playing everything, but I'm more or less assured that whatever I happen to be in the mood for is on the shelf. Because I like variety in my available RPGs, it's important to me that a variety of games get made. I really like Mass Effect, but it's not all I want to play. If every game was like that I'd get sick of them at some point.

  15. #15
    @watcher
    Actually that definition of RPGs actually comes from Pen&Paper. You could also say it's the German definition. Here games where there is only one main character are called adventures. And if they contain action combat they are action adventures. If western RPGs are in the traditional Pen&Paper style, they are of course considered RPGs here. But games like Mass Effect would rather be called shooters. The German definition of RPG just fits better for me because it coincides with the genre I like whereas the American understanding also contains many sub-genres I don't like.
    It's actually interesting how genres differ in different countries. I also noticed that in the US when people say "Arcade" they only refer to game you play in the arcades, whereas in Germany you usually refer to games that are mainly about getting a high score, even if they have never been in the arcades. So if I say that I like arcade games it's often misunderstood by Americans as well. =p

    I'm really just bringing it up, because it's much easier to say "I only like RPGs and this isn't one, that's why I don't like it." than explaining in every single thread that I don't like games if they have no separate battle screen and only one main character.

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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff GaijinMonogatari's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    Actually that definition of RPGs actually comes from Pen&Paper. You could also say it's the German definition. Here games where there is only one main character are called adventures.
    Out of curiosity, what about games like Dragon Quest or Soul Getter? Only one main character in evidence, after all.

  17. #17
    A Serious Man Drav's Avatar
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    Really, single-character RPGs are closer to pen and paper games anyway, since in pnp games you typically only control one character (unless you're the GM).

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    chaotic neutral observer ironmage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    ...because it's much easier to say "I only like RPGs and this isn't one, that's why I don't like it." than explaining in every single thread that I don't like games if they have no separate battle screen and only one main character.
    Is it really easier, or does it just result in arguments over what defines an RPG? I could similarly say something like "All the games I like are RPGs, therefore ICO and 999 are RPGs", when they really aren't (by most definitions, anyway).

    I tend to like games with a character-driven storyline, world exploration, and an experience based level system. To the degree that any given definition of RPG overlaps with my preferences, I like RPGs, but if I don't like a game, it doesn't really matter whether it is classed as an RPG or not.


    More on topic: the last few games I played through are Tales of Graces, Xenoblade, Valkyria Chronicles 2, and Growlanser 2, and I'm just starting on Persona 4, so I don't think I have any issues with diversity when it comes to battle systems. However, I am guilty of avoiding WRPG-type games. The idea of being dropped into an open world without a clear next objective in mind doesn't really appeal to me...

  19. #19
    Angel-Possessed Priestess Administrator Strawberry Eggs's Avatar
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    I play a variety of RPGs, and don't particularly prefer one type or another. I love a good battle system and there are many battle systems I enjoy, buth I may perhaps gravitate towards more original or in-depth ones. I'll still play simple hack-and-slash action RPGs or simple turn-based ones, but I tend not to enjoy them as much. Some of my most favorite battle systems include Yggdra Union, Arc Rise Fantasia, both Baten Kaitos games, and the World Ends with You.
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  20. #20
    Member Aurian's Avatar
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    I am one of the niche audience. While I have enjoyed some action RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Xenoblade, those are in the minority. I play video games to relax and many action RPGs are hard to get right - annoying camera, button-mashing, having to have timing down just right and just not feeling as strategic as a turn based RPG (hell, I even choose Adept and Mage classes in the first two examples because I can constantly pause the game, look around, think, etc, while choosing my skill/spell).

    I just find turn based (or ATB) so much more relaxing, mentally challenging (instead of coodinationally challenging) and enjoyable.

    I think this is why I am gravitating to the hand helds because those are more likely to have turn based.

    I also buy iOS games but I now refuse to buy action RPGs for it after too many burns with action games with a touch-based screen - I died too many times in a game because the touch controller wouldn't register my moves right on the faux buttons or because my hand was blocking an enemy from my view.

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