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RPG/non-direct combat systems


OpenC
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We don't have much abstract concept discussion on here, so given the recent debate about combat systems in, for example, Final Fantasy X, how about this for a minority interest thread in a minority interest board :lol:  What defines a good and bad non-direct combat system?  What are the best examples of the genre?  Realtime games and hybrid systems are OK for discussion here (like the one in the FF7 remake which has a combination of "square = hit" and a menu to access more advanced functions) but to be clear I'm not talking about directly controlled combat in realtime games like Dark Souls or Assassin's Creed.

 

I posted about a couple in my thoughts on FF7R, the first of which is Grandia II which is a standard turn-based RPG system but with a difference in the importance it places on the gap between a character (both player and enemy) deciding what their move is, and actually performing that move.  All the characters on the field have an icon on a bar which move from left to right.  When they reach about 75% through the bar (rate of progress based on MOV or INI stat, I forget what it has), they decide what their next action will be.  Each action takes a set time to complete so the speed of progress through the bar now changes from being based on MOV to being based on the action which has been selected (guard is almost instantaneous, a big AoE magic attack is very slow). 

 

Where the exploit comes in is that some weaker attacks have an "interrupt" feature which, if you manage to connect with the target between decision and action, will cancel the action and knock the target back into the pre-decision part of the bar - so if you time it right, you can stop a very powerful magic attack by hitting the enemy with a weaker attack of your own.  You can see it right at the start of this video, where Ryudo's very first attack cancels the attack that the Minotaur was about to use because the Minotaur has to move to its target before it can use its attack:

 

 

Additionally you can see Millenia and Roan's slow windups for their first moves, which could have been cancelled if the enemy had used a cancel move on them.  Roan does actually get hit before he gets his move off, but because the enemy went for a standard attack rather than a cancel one, all that happens is that Roan's original move is delayed while he takes damage.

 

Ultimately you can't just use these interrupts endlessly to beat a boss or a very powerful enemy - if they want to get their move off, they'll always get it off eventually and interrupt damage is generally much lesser than direct but non-cancelling damage would deal.  What it allows you to do, though, is to influence the flow of the battle to try to ensure that your weaker characters aren't going to get pummelled by a huge attack before they have time to guard it.  The additional risk of using them is that if you miss with your timing then not only will you take all the damage which was coming your way anyway, but you'll also be using a weaker attack than you could have done.

 

Ubisoft's strange little Child of Light, of all things, had a very similar system but I've never seen it anywhere else and I find it a real shame - it's absolutely the best pure turn based system I've played, where all action stops when you're deciding what to do.  It might well be that other systems in pure turn-based games work exactly the same way but in a more hidden way, of course, but making plain and exploitable the gap between deciding on a move and it being performed is a wonderful way to add a bit more depth to turn based systems.

 

The other one I think was worthy of note was the system from Final Fantasy XIII - the way it largely took away your direct control and left you more involved with changing character roles on the fly but largely letting them do their own thing was a real innovation, I felt, and although XIII-2 and LR both retained elements of it I didn't feel that either of them were as successful.  I don't suppose we'll ever see it used again, and I know most people didn't have a lot of time for it, though, so I won't say too much about that one :)

 

There are hundreds of different versions of this sort of thing with varying degrees of complexity based on interactions with other characters, or what gear you're using - Idea Factory and Nippon Ichi have got dozens of JRPGs with arcane and complex systems which I still like but not nearly as much as some others.  The biggest thing in Persona 5 that I couldn't get on with was that the system appeared to be super-simple and didn't appear to have a whole lot of nuance.

 

What are your favourites?  Are there any great ideas from the past which should be dusted down and used again?  Post some examples :)

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Have you ever played Defenders of Oasis? It was on the Sega Game Gear back in 1992. I felt it was one of most simple to use and with enough levelling up and customisation that it was rewarding. It's old, but for it's time I loved it.

 

In terms of your post, I think simplicity and depth ratio is important for RPG combat systems. I don't want it to be almost encyclopaedic levels detail and variance between which way you take each character in terms of armour, magic, attack, defence or skills etc. - but at same time I want it to be progressive and feel like I can mould it to what I want so it feels personalised and tactical to my taste. I also like there being an element of things to unlock and discover which are almost random, rare or Easter egg finds in terms of content that compliments your characters abilities or items. Feels more unique if you found that special weapon or skill that gave the game a different dynamic for battle that potentially many other players didn't get to use.

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It looks like Earthbound :)  Back in the day I would never have considered playing a game like that but Earthbound changed my position on them completely and that basic way of doing it (which I guess is really just like playing D&D with a dice) definitely has its place.

 

I have a soft spot for those games where your gear as well as your levels influence your stats.  I don't really like loot based games like Diablo and the like, but in games where gear is defined and limited I could spend hours considering and testing the relative benefits of a Superior Buckler +2 which has 30 DEF but gives +5 INT as opposed to a straightforward Hardened Kite Shield +3 which has no special effects but has 45 DEF :lol:  There's definitely a point at which a battle system simply becomes too complex for its own good (imo).  I don't suppose many people played Omega Quintet for example, which on the face of it is a straight ahead turn based system but which appears to have ultra-complex hidden depths which I just couldn't get my head around at all.

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Good thread topic! I’ve never seen Grandia until now and it looks like something I’d have absolutely loved at the time.

 

I feel like turned based battle systems for rpgs seemed to be collectively dropped by developers at the same time and yet I don’t think an RPG feels the same without some sort of innovated turn based system. I was really disappointed when the FF7 remake chose to go the way of ff15 (albeit with some turn based elements). I don’t think you could ever go back to a system like 7,8,9 10 etc etc but the battle system they used in X-2 felt much more dynamic while being true to turn based roots.

 

I really liked its implementation in Persona 5, especially the added stuff in Royal, I thought it proved when the system is done right it’s still got a place in modern day gaming. I’ve also heard the new Yakuza game goes it really well but I haven’t had the chance to play it yet.

 

 

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It wasn't loved on here, but Undertale has the one of the most interesting combat systems. Puzzling out each monster's personality is well implemented, and the bullet hell stuff keeps it engaging with the way it ties in with dialogue and said personalities.

 

The way the combat influences the tone of the entire game is by far its best and most unique feature, the atmosphere is entirely different if you choose to spare everything versus if you choose to fight everything, almost bordering on a horror vibe if you go all in on the latter. It's basically two different games.

 

Plenty of challenge there too, particularly in a genocide run. The Sans battle is easily the most difficult thing I've done in a game, it's not even a close contest.

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I feel like I must have really missed something in Persona 5 :lol:  The combat felt like Earthbound to me, as straightforward as you like.  Maybe I didn't play it enough, it was just too much of a chore to get through the rest.  Undertale is a good shout, there was a constant sense of discovery to it as you say and the way it fucked around with its own "rules" was brilliant as well.

 

I've got a couple more which I'd class as good examples of the genre, one pure turn based and one hybrid.  Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on Gamecube was a phenomenal oldschool RPG at heart and although I wasn't initially sold on its combat system (more specifically, the way it made you do mechanical actions with the controller to influence the success of your chosen move), I came round to it and by the end I thought it worked really well.

 

The other is the one which was plaguing me the whole time I was playing FF7 remake.  I kept thinking, "what does this put me in mind of?  Real time combat but at the click of a button I can slow time to a crawl and take my time to damage the right target the right way".  It came to me as I was walking the dog before; it's the implementation of VATS in Fallout 4, which improved hugely on 3 and NV (IMO) by keeping the enemies moving, albeit very slowly.

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I feel like I must have really missed something in Persona 5 :lol:  The combat felt like Earthbound to me, as straightforward as you like. 

 

Because as usual the games you don't like that are liked by other people for much deeper reasons than just the combat system.

 

I don't think anyone argued that Persona 5s combat system is some sort of special example of the medium.

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Had a lot of fun replaying Divinity Original Sin II several times with various different builds and parties. Almost unlimited combinations available.

 

Love turn based combat, me.

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I feel like I must have really missed something in Persona 5 :lol:  The combat felt like Earthbound to me, as straightforward as you like. 

 

Because as usual the games you don't like that are liked by other people for much deeper reasons than just the combat system.

 

I don't think anyone argued that Persona 5s combat system is some sort of special example of the medium.

 

I did a little bit further up and I think that’s what OpenC was replying to. I think the way Persona 5 adopted the traditional turn based system but used the complexity of the personas, the unusual shade capturing system, the weakness to get all out attacks and then later the showtime attacks was a good example of how turn based battle systems aren’t dead in modern day gaming.

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I feel like I must have really missed something in Persona 5 :lol:  The combat felt like Earthbound to me, as straightforward as you like. 

 

Because as usual the games you don't like that are liked by other people for much deeper reasons than just the combat system.

 

I don't think anyone argued that Persona 5s combat system is some sort of special example of the medium.

I think the combat just does its job really solidly and it has the added element of having to ration your SP as if you have to leave the palace thats another day of confidant/stat boosting gone so you can't just spam your strongest attacks

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I'm a massive fan of P5 giving it 10/10 and then 11/10 for royal but I wouldn't call out its battle system as a strong point. Perfectly serviceable verging on good. And the battle theme is obviously great.

 

The battles themselves though basically boiled down to:

- trial and error to work out weaknesses in first instance

- exploit weaknesses after that

 

There was a nice flow to them. And with the music and the presentation with all out attacks and the like it was a joy to go through. But the actual mechanics I thought were lacking.

 

It felt very imbalanced in the sense that if an enemy got an attack on you then you could be super punished. They'd either do a single attack for slap on wrists damage or a party wide attack for loads of damage which invariably hits a weakness and gets an extra turn. It's like it was balanced around you always getting an ambush. And when you were in a battle where that wasn't the case you're really in for it.

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Good thread topic! I’ve never seen Grandia until now and it looks like something I’d have absolutely loved at the time.

 

I feel like turned based battle systems for rpgs seemed to be collectively dropped by developers at the same time and yet I don’t think an RPG feels the same without some sort of innovated turn based system. I was really disappointed when the FF7 remake chose to go the way of ff15 (albeit with some turn based elements). I don’t think you could ever go back to a system like 7,8,9 10 etc etc but the battle system they used in X-2 felt much more dynamic while being true to turn based roots.

 

I really liked its implementation in Persona 5, especially the added stuff in Royal, I thought it proved when the system is done right it’s still got a place in modern day gaming. I’ve also heard the new Yakuza game goes it really well but I haven’t had the chance to play it yet.

 

Jim Sterling made this video a few years ago about exactly this, that the industry just seemed to collectively decide one day that turn-based combat was out of date and should be done away with for big titles:

 

 

I'd absolutely love to see Final Fantasy go back to turn-based, it's the way it should be played imo. I suspect the reason is that they want the game to look flashy and spectacular and turn-based tends not to.

 

The most interesting battle system I have ever encountered is Kingdom Hearts: Rechain of Memories, which was originally a Game Boy Advance title but has since been spruced up and included on the KH collections released on PS4/XB1. It looks like the typical KH action RPG combat but it plays as a high speed card game, where you have to manage your deck for different battles, set it up in a way that allows you to chain special abilities, but also respond at speed to the cards played by the enemy which can cancel your attacks if they are a higher value. I didn't fully understand it until right at the end but it is genuinely joyous once it clicks. The rest of the game is very dull, a series of samey small rooms that link bosses and cutscenes, but the battle system alone makes it worth experiencing.

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That's my point exactly Cf; it just felt like really straightforward 'find out what the elemental weakness is and exploit it'. It didn't really feel any more sophisticated than playing Earthbound, which isn't a bad thing - and it demonstrated for me that the very simplest system is still viable if you can hook people in other ways.

 

Mole: the thread is specifically about combat systems, and that's what I was talking about, in response to st1pe as he suggested. Do keep up [emoji38]

 

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Wullie: that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I mean. I always feel like in the best RPGs, the combat system has come first and the game around it is just a wrapper for that system and doesn't particularly need to stand out if the combat carries it. If the combat is very vanilla, the game stands and falls more on its other elements. Again, going back to P5 (calm down, mole), the huge amount of narrative and wandering required wasn't, for me, enough to counterbalance the simplicity of the combat engine, though I understand why people liked that side of it. There's no way I personally would have finished Earthbound if the rest of it hadn't been so engaging and endearing.

 

I think Wullie is also right about the spectacle of the Final Fantasy games not sitting well with pure turn based systems, but for me the only people that benefit from fluidly animated, constantly moving battles are people who might be watching, rather than playing, the game.  Slowing time to a crawl but keeping everything moving like FF7R does in ATB/tactics mode is one way around it; I'm sure it doesn't have to feel like Lost Odyssey did with two teams standing in two rows.

 

Lost Odyssey is another example, actually - that also has a very straightforward fighting system, purely turn based and revolving around elemental weakness, but the way the skills worked was really interesting, with the mortals in the party using their own skills and the immortals able to learn them. The multiple magic systems were an innovation too, and it featured a bit of an interrupt system but nowhere near as well developed as the Grandia II one.  Blue Dragon, Mistwalker's earlier game, had the Persona thing going on but I could never get away with that one, mostly because of the awful music I think [emoji38]

 

We haven't even mentioned SRPGs like FF Tactics and Disgaea yet, either, and I'll have to write something about Resonance of Fate as well :)

 

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Had a lot of fun replaying Divinity Original Sin II several times with various different builds and parties. Almost unlimited combinations available.

 

Love turn based combat, me.

This is another good shout. The first one is one of the examples of a game where the combat system is absolutely brilliant but the rest of the game being so complex knocked my enthusiasm for it. I absolutely loved the way it worked, but I absolutely hated (for example) the skill trees and particularly the inventory management.

 

It's one of my biggest recent regrets that I couldn't get on more with that game because the combat was indeed absolutely spectacular. I might try it again; I remember discussing it with Wullie and I think my doubts about it were more perceived than actual.

 

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Speaking of turn based combat. I want another Advance Wars.

 

Would be perfect for chucking on a phone or something.

 

Wargroove is very similar, although not quite as well balanced.

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Had a lot of fun replaying Divinity Original Sin II several times with various different builds and parties. Almost unlimited combinations available.

 

Love turn based combat, me.

This is another good shout. The first one is one of the examples of a game where the combat system is absolutely brilliant but the rest of the game being so complex knocked my enthusiasm for it. I absolutely loved the way it worked, but I absolutely hated (for example) the skill trees and particularly the inventory management.

 

It's one of my biggest recent regrets that I couldn't get on more with that game because the combat was indeed absolutely spectacular. I might try it again; I remember discussing it with Wullie and I think my doubts about it were more perceived than actual.

 

 

I remember really enjoying the first one at the time, but I recently went back to play through it again and I couldn't after playing II. It's nowhere near the same level. II is probably one of my top 3 games of all time tbh.

 

If you played II before the Definitive Edition was released, then a lot of things have changed since. This site provides a really good basis for builds etc.

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Good thread topic! I’ve never seen Grandia until now and it looks like something I’d have absolutely loved at the time.

 

I feel like turned based battle systems for rpgs seemed to be collectively dropped by developers at the same time and yet I don’t think an RPG feels the same without some sort of innovated turn based system. I was really disappointed when the FF7 remake chose to go the way of ff15 (albeit with some turn based elements). I don’t think you could ever go back to a system like 7,8,9 10 etc etc but the battle system they used in X-2 felt much more dynamic while being true to turn based roots.

 

I really liked its implementation in Persona 5, especially the added stuff in Royal, I thought it proved when the system is done right it’s still got a place in modern day gaming. I’ve also heard the new Yakuza game goes it really well but I haven’t had the chance to play it yet.

 

Jim Sterling made this video a few years ago about exactly this, that the industry just seemed to collectively decide one day that turn-based combat was out of date and should be done away with for big titles:

 

 

I'd absolutely love to see Final Fantasy go back to turn-based, it's the way it should be played imo. I suspect the reason is that they want the game to look flashy and spectacular and turn-based tends not to.

 

The most interesting battle system I have ever encountered is Kingdom Hearts: Rechain of Memories, which was originally a Game Boy Advance title but has since been spruced up and included on the KH collections released on PS4/XB1. It looks like the typical KH action RPG combat but it plays as a high speed card game, where you have to manage your deck for different battles, set it up in a way that allows you to chain special abilities, but also respond at speed to the cards played by the enemy which can cancel your attacks if they are a higher value. I didn't fully understand it until right at the end but it is genuinely joyous once it clicks. The rest of the game is very dull, a series of samey small rooms that link bosses and cutscenes, but the battle system alone makes it worth experiencing.

 

Apart from the blue wig choice I can’t disagree with any of that video. He’s bang on.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm not a massive RPG nut, but I enjoy a turn-based RPG every now and again (would probably play more they just take so long). I enjoyed the turn based FFVII, FFX, X-2, Ni No Kuni, various Pokemons, Chrono Trigger, Paper Mario. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I started Xenoblade a couple of years ago, wrong under the impression it would have a battle system similar to these and was really disappointed with what it was. I enjoy turn based, and I enjoy free controls, but I hated whatever that's called. I ended up chucking the game I'd been looking forward the the FFVII remake and was totally put off when I saw about the battle system, I never bothered with it. I guess if I play an RPG again it will probably be an old one - I was trying to find my GameCube to play Skies of Arcadia.

 

 

Edited by Inferior Acuña

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If you could get on with Ni No Kuni then you'll almost certainly be ok with the Final Fantasy remake, for what that's worth. For me it would definitely have been a better game with the traditional combat style but while the hybrid format isn't particularly engaging, it's not terrible either. It has a lot more in common with Ni No Kuni than I'd considered before I read your post.

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  • Rich changed the title to RPG/non-direct combat systems

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