- A retrospective of Valkyrie Profile, the classic PlayStation RPG.
This week’s song is a great, quirky, happy piece from a great, quirky, happy game. It’s perhaps my single favourite from the Katamari soundtrack – no small feat, given how strong the other songs are. Enjoy!
Above is a trailer for Crimes and Punishments, Frogwares’s upcoming Sherlock Holmes game, which showcases Holmes’ fabled ability to size up a person in a single glance. I do see the risk that the Sherlock scan will turn out to be an unintuitive guessing game, or a glorified pixel hunt, and from what I recall, the previous Frogwares games received lukewarm reviews. Still, my interest is piqued — the trailer looks pretty cool, and the separate gameplay trailer made me chuckle. The game will come out on September 30, and looks like one to watch.
In book news, I’m slowly going through the superbly readable The Guns of August. Good if you want an introduction to the opening days of World War 1… although I should note that it doesn’t have much to say about why the war broke out. I’ve also recently read a couple of very good specialist books on World War 2, Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction and Gerhard Weinberg’s A World at Arms. All three books are candidates for the reading list I’d like to create for this site.
I can also report that the Android version of King of Dragon Pass is mostly good. My play-through was marred by two bugs – one minor, with the interface, and one major, which interfered with my choice of difficulty and game length. As at the time of writing, the game length option has now been fixed, while the difficulty settings are still bugged. The game itself is still very good, and its interface otherwise works well on my Note 8, so I would recommend it once the bugs are gone.
Other than that, I’ve been re-playing, re-reading, and re-watching old favourites. Europa Universalis IV as Ayutthaya – a Southeast Asian nation located in modern Thailand – has been a lot of fun, as I’ve progressed from middle power to the new top dog in Asia. The Wargame: Red Dragon campaign has also been a lot of fun, if sometimes hair-pullingly difficult; managing to stop modern Soviet tanks with 20-year-old relics, a handful of helicopters, and a lot of rocket artillery has been a lesson in improvisation. I’m also re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion – the book I linked to last week. It’s as good as I remember, and for two more days, it’s still pay what you want! And I’m slowly rewatching my favourite anime, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit – a warm-hearted tale of adventure, loyalty, and parenthood in one of the best fantasy worlds I’ve seen.
This week’s other links:
Wargame is one of my favourite RTS series. It can also be daunting — I know several readers have picked it up on sale, only to bounce off. I hope the following guide will help.
Wargame is a series of real-time military tactics games (European Escalation, AirLand Battle, and Red Dragon) set during the Cold War. Like Total War or a real-time Panzer General, Wargame bridges the gap between dedicated simulations and traditional real-time strategy games such as Company of Heroes. It’s also really, really good.
If you don’t own any of the games, I don’t recommend the original game, European Escalation, which has been superseded by its sequels. Instead, I recommend starting with the middle game, AirLand Battle. First, AirLand is much cheaper than the latest game, Red Dragon. At the time of writing AirLand regularly goes on sale for <$10, while Red Dragon, even on sale, is seldom cheaper than the mid-$20s. Second, AirLand introduced many of the series’ best and most distinctive mechanics — the jump to Red Dragon is more modest. If you plan to play a lot of competitive multiplayer, you may wish to start with Red Dragon, where the multiplayer community has migrated. Otherwise, start with ALB, and if you enjoy it, upgrade to Red Dragon later.
The rest of this guide assumes you are playing either AirLand Battle or Red Dragon. The guide is current as at v564 (DLC 1) of Red Dragon.
This week’s Humble Bundle offers a fantastic deal – pay what you want for Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (and several other ebooks).
If most fantasy – and most adventure – fiction (such as Bujold’s own Vorkosigan series) is about the bold young (wo)man who saves the day through his/her prowess, Chalion is the opposite. Its middle-aged hero saves the day through courage, and decency, and self-sacrifice. As a teenager, that left me lukewarm. As a grown-up, I love it.
If that interests you, the current offer is a bargain. You can even have the book emailed to your Kindle – I just tested this! If you enjoy fantasy, or if you liked Bujold’s other books, check this one out.
Over the weekend, I finished the last episode of Telltale Games’ seriously underrated Back to the Future series. I wrote about the first episode last year – they’re good, funny, and strike a balance between riffing off the movies and establishing a character of their own. Well worth a look for adventure gamers.
In this week’s news:
This week’s song is another gem from FF6, which excelled at clear, simple, memorable character themes. I’m slowly learning how to play it on the piano; the version I linked below is the SNES original music. Decades later, it still sounds good. Enjoy!
Transistor is a clever game, let down by its ending.
At first, Transistor resembles a reflex-driven action-RPG, with the emphasis on “action” (a la Bastion). Within minutes, the combat system reveals itself as something else. To borrow my earlier analogy, the best comparison is an isometric version of Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Instead of moving and fighting in real-time mode, I spent most of my time in Turn(), a VATS-like mode where I could plan attacks in suspended time. With the press of another button, my plans sprung into action. There is no distinction between normal and special attacks; every attack in the game is an ability of some kind, and levelling up will grant a choice of new abilities. These abilities can be used on their own, or combined to produce a single, upgraded ability. For example, Crash() is a short-ranged attack that stuns enemies, and Breach() is a long-ranged beam attack. Using Breach() to upgrade Crash() will extend Crash()’s range, while using Crash() to upgrade Breach() will produce a long-ranged beam that stuns targets. There are sixteen different abilities in the game, which produces a lot of possible combinations — “interesting decisions” in a nutshell.
In a further incentive to experiment, Transistor reveals a little bit of backstory with each new ability equipped. This is indicative of its overall approach to story. Very little is spelled out: you are in a futuristic city, robots are attacking, and that’s about all the setup there is. Neither is there much of a plot. Instead, Transistor gradually reveals bits and pieces of its setting and backstory, and much of the fun lies in piecing together what’s going on. This minimalism would probably outlast its welcome in a longer game, but it works in Transistor, which I finished in five or six hours. I do have one minor complaint — since the player chooses the order in which abilities are unlocked, I never picked up certain abilities, and hence I never saw their blurbs. Upon looking them up online, they turned out to be important to the backstory. Perhaps those particular abilities should have been mandatory.
The bigger problem is Transistor’s ending, where I disagree — sharply — with the creators’ decisions. To explain why, I have to resort to spoilers:
Compare this to Bastion, where a particular sequence near the end has stuck with me for years (spoilers):
Exclude the ending, and Transistor is pretty good. It and Bastion share much of their appeal: art and an interesting world. Transistor is more innovative, mechanically. The decisive factor is that I like Bastion’s message far more, and to me, that makes it better both as a story and overall.
I’m working on a write-up of Transistor, which I finished over the weekend. I still like the game – but not as much as I did at first, courtesy of a disappointing ending. Mechanically, it’s impressively original — but storywise, I’ll stick to Bastion.
In this week’s news:
With speculation swirling about the fate of Studio Ghibli, I’ve chosen to celebrate their work by presenting the main theme of Ni no Kuni. The world map theme, which I highlighted last year, is a variant. Enjoy!
Very quick heads-up; Transistor, the latest game from the studio behind Bastion, is 33% off on Steam ($13.39, down from $20) for another 30 hours. I started Transistor tonight and after a couple of hours, I’m impressed. Transistor offers gorgeous art (it goes well with Steam Big Picture!), a unique combat system – the closest analogy would be an isometric version of Fallout 3/New Vegas‘ VATS – and an intriguing “mix and match” approach to special powers, layered over a subtly horrific world. I’ll post a more detailed write-up once I’ve spent more time with the game, but for now, I think <$14 is a steal. Check it out!
In theory, JRPG random battles are an attrition mechanism. The resulting drain on resources (usually consumables and MP) should, and very occasionally does, produce tension. In practice, JRPG (and Western RPG) designers are usually generous with resources, and few battles are tough enough to threaten a Game Over. This makes them filler. At best, a well-designed battle system can make them enjoyable filler (Final Fantasy X). At worst, they are a waste of the player’s time. Modern JRPGs have largely abandoned them, for which I’m thankful — I find them one of the greatest annoyances in the genre.
What makes random battles particularly bad is that they deprive players of choice and control. At any moment in a RPG, I will have an objective — follow the plot, grind, explore, backtrack, and so on. If I’m grinding, I want to fight lots of battles — ideally against XP-rich foes. Random battles may not occur when I want them, and when they do pop up, they may pit me against the “wrong” foe. Conversely, if I’m exploring or backtracking, I usually don’t want to be interrupted, and that makes random battles a chore. If I’m following the plot, I may not mind fighting a certain number of battles, but eventually I want to find out what happens next, and at that point, further random battles may become a drag.
The usual solution is simple: allow players to see – and, importantly, avoid – monsters on the world or dungeon map. If you want to fight, you charge the monsters, and if you don’t, you go around. This was the system used by Chrono Trigger in 1995, at the tail end of the SNES era, although it took inexplicably long to catch on. (Ni no Kuni is an example of how not to implement this; NNK’s monsters are visible, but in the early game, move so fast they can’t be avoided. They are also numerous. This produces the same effect as random battles with a high encounter rate.)
Once monsters become visible, designers can refine the system in several ways. They can give the player choices beyond “bump into monster/avoid monster”; for instance, in Valkyrie Profile, Valkyrie Profile 2, and Child of Light, paralysing monsters on the dungeon map allows you to safely pass by. In Persona 3 and 4, sneaking up on monsters from behind will grant the first move in combat. Games can also reveal the composition of monster groups before battle, as in Xenoblade Chronicles and Final Fantasy XII. This allows players to make informed decisions about risk versus reward, and also makes it much easier to farm specific monsters.
The common thread is the importance of player agency – something nonexistent under a system of random battles. I can see random battles working as part of an overall emphasis on tension and resource scarcity — FTL uses randomness to great effect. Given that most JRPGs have very different design goals, this is one mechanic they can do without.
Several interesting titles have popped up on PC:
Valiant Hearts wants to tell the truth about war. To do so, it uses puzzles, humour, and a goofy villain. That is the language of adventure games, but it is not the language of war, and the resulting contradiction has divided reviewers. My response was mixed – I appreciated the first half of the game, but found it “frustratingly inconsistent”.
After finishing Valiant Hearts, I’m a bit more positive – its second half features better puzzles and is truer to its themes. In the first half of the game, battle is sometimes terrifying, but just as often turns into pulling levers and carrying gears. The second half is cleverer. It reserves its baroque puzzles for sequences away from the front, where they feel much more appropriate. The second half also evokes a wider and, I think, more accurate range of emotions. Combat in the first half is uniformly negative. Combat in the second half is mostly negative – and sometimes thrilling.
Overall, Valiant Hearts receives my qualified endorsement: the less you mind the contradiction, the more you will like the game. Sometimes, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Sometimes, it’s exhilarating. Sometimes, it’s nerve-wracking. Ultimately, it says, the war was monstrous and unjust. It strikes me as a sincere attempt to convey the emotions of World War 1, and if you can forgive its flaws, I think it’s worth a look.
This week’s song is the opening theme to Spice and Wolf, a low-fantasy anime about the travels of a merchant and his unexpected companion — a pagan wolf goddess. It’s a gentle song for a gentle show (the franchise would make a great, non-combat-oriented game); enjoy!
Child of Light is many things. It is a mechanical and aesthetic triumph – “beautiful and challenging”, with nail-biting boss battles and a gorgeous fantasy world. It is a “greatest hits” tribute to JRPGs that borrows from the classics (Valkyrie Profile, Final Fantasy X, and no doubt more), yet has an identity all its own. It is an atypically “arty” release from a large publisher, and an obvious labour of love.
Unfortunately, CoL also represents a missed opportunity. Its narrative is a fizzle: characters and events pop up from nowhere, the plot lacks an impetus beyond MacGuffin hunts, and the ending feels rushed. The pity is that there is a genuinely interesting backstory, which could have provided structure, character motivation, and emotional heft. Instead, it’s treated almost as an afterthought.
I don’t know if I could call Child of Light a great game. With a better story, it very well might be. I do think it’s brave, original, and very good. I would like to see more games along these lines – both in the sense that they synthesise the best of a genre, and in the sense that they represent a creative risk. And I would definitely like to see a sequel.
I’m halfway through Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Ubisoft Montpellier’s adventure game set during World War 1. Billed as a “story of crossed destinies and a broken love in a world torn apart”, VH‘s heart is in the right place — but its execution can be frustratingly inconsistent.
As with Ubisoft sibling Child of Light, VH‘s most noticeable strength is its presentation. The art is as lovely as its subject is grim: in eight hours, I’ve already taken 286 screenshots (several are at the bottom of this post). Environments are packed with detail, from the lights of pre-war Paris to a lonely skeleton buried beneath a trench, not far from a rusty shovel. Since that sequence calls for you to tunnel under the same trench, the shovel is a sobering touch. Who was that luckless sapper? We will never know — and that, I think, was the developers’ point.
The above is IncGamers’ video preview of Legions of Ashworld, an indie strategy game with an almost unique twist: you move around the overworld in first person, switching between generals as you rally the free lands against an invading horde. (I say “almost” unique as the game is inspired by a 1980s title, Lords of Midnight.) The idea intrigues me… but I’m not sure how well it would work in practice. If you have to switch between multiple generals , surely it would be simpler to use a traditional, map-driven interface? The first-person idea seems as though it would be a better fit for a game where you play one, and only one, character, a la Mount & Blade or Romance of the Three Kingdoms X. I’d like to hear your impressions .
In other news, below is a gameplay trailer for Civilization: Beyond Earth:
On the surface, the resemblance to Civ V is clear — but then again, Alpha Centauri felt unique and marvellous despite sharing so much gameplay DNA with Civ II. For further reading, Civilization V Analyst has a good round-up of information that’s been released.
Lastly, speaking of Civ, here is an interesting piece in Eurogamer in which Firaxis staff talk about the lessons to be learned from board games.
This week’s song is another piece from Child of Light, but it’s very different to the last one I linked. Last time, I highlighted CoL‘s sad, lovely main theme; but for this week, I’ve chosen a soaring, powerful boss theme, my favourite out of the battle themes in the game. (I can’t understand why the boss themes aren’t available on the official soundtrack – they are excellent both in their own right and as part of the overall experience.) Enjoy!
A few years ago, I linked to an alternate genre classification system for games, as proposed by Russ Pitts and Steve Butts in The Escapist magazine. I paraphrased their system as follows:
You can see this in the following chart from the Escapist article: games that require reflexes (such as shooters, racing games, and platformers) are at the top of the circle, while those that don’t are at the bottom. Citybuilders, which pit the player against an impersonal environment or ruleset, are on the left; Civilization is on the right.
I thought of this while playing Warlock 2: The Exiled, a game that looks like fantasy Civilization V but is really — to quote Rachel’s guest review — about “mage versus world”. The AI players in my game have been passive, content to march their armies back and forth and beg me for alliances; in Civ, this would have been a recipe for boredom, but in Warlock 2 the slack is taken up by wave after wave of wandering monsters, all the way up to dragons!
My decision to buy was right; I very much like Child of Light.
I think much of the consensus about CoL is correct: the game is good, almost unique — a side-scrolling homage to classic JRPGs, set in a fairy-tale world — and an aesthetic feast. I would also argue that CoL‘s combat system deserves more credit than it receives, but for now, let’s start with visuals. The trailer below comes close to doing CoL justice (skip to 0:35 to see in-game footage), but the actual game looks even better:
As much as I love my Vita, I don’t regret buying CoL for PS3 – those graphics and my TV are the perfect match. At the game’s best, those graphics and the excellent music combine to produce moments that are epic — an over-used word, but nothing else describes watching the camera focus on an enormous, three-headed hydra while the choir roars out a boss battle theme.
Hope everyone has been well! I’m back home now; while I was away, E3 came and went, while we also saw the launch of several strategy games: Distant Worlds: Universe, Tropico 5, and Xenonauts.
After completing my first game of Tropico 5, I must say I’m a little disappointed — I found Tropico 4 both funnier (I realise this is a very subjective complaint) and, in some ways, a sharper satire: the building options in T4 allowed players to brainwash schoolkids or back specific factions, and T5 seems to have fewer of those inspired little touches. From a mechanical standpoint, the new era system seems better on paper than in practice — it does produce more organic city development, as the initial colonial town gradually sprouts new factory districts, but the problem is that there just isn’t much to do in the early eras.
On the other hand, T5 seems better at capturing a dictator’s mindset — there is now a larger incentive to invest in one’s military, since (a) rebellions seem more frequent and (b) being invaded by a foreign power is no longer an automatic Game Over. (In fact, foreign invasions are now a semi-regular occurrence.) At one point, “soldier” was the second most common occupation on my island, after “farmer”! That said, I’m still learning the game, so my conclusions aren’t yet set in stone.
Speaking of the Cold War, GMT Games is Kickstarting a digital version of well-rated board game Twilight Struggle. The asking price is $10 for an Android copy, $25 for a PC copy, or $30 for one of each. Personally, I’ve wanted to play Twilight Struggle for a long time, but that PC price strikes me as a little expensive — for $25 I could buy Xenonauts. Has anyone tried the board version?
Emperor of the Fading Suns was a mid-1990s PC strategy game from the days before the space 4X genre calcified into Master of Orion 2 wannabes. It was ambitious, sprawling, buggy, flawed — yet I remember it fondly. In 2011, I set out to explain why.
If I had a penny for every game set in outer space, I’d be writing this post from somewhere sunnier and sandier. How many first-person shooters have cast us as Angry McShootsalot, the space marine? And how many RPGs and 4X games have treated us to “classic space opera” universes, the sort familiar to anyone who’s seen Star Trek or Star Wars, or read a Larry Niven novel? This extends to gameplay conventions. If you’ve played Master of Orion, Sword of the Stars, Galactic Civilizations, or Space Empires, you know the formula – players start with a single world at the dawn of the age of interstellar travel, then colonise virgin territory until eventually the whole galaxy is claimed. Technology progresses in a smooth upward line. The real fighting is all done in space; ground combat is abstracted to ‘bring troop transports and roll the dice’. Everything is clean and crisp and futuristic.
If I had a penny for every game set in an original version of outer space… well, at least I’d have one cent, courtesy of Emperor of the Fading Suns (EFS), the 1996 turn-based strategy game from Holistic Design, Inc (HDI). Set in the same universe as Fading Suns, HDI’s pen-and-paper RPG, EFS falls into the broad 4X genre defined by classics such as Civilization and the games I listed above, but carved out a space all its own. In EFS, the main conflict was human against human, though there was an alien menace in the background. And there was nothing crisp or clean or futuristic about its universe, filled with princes, priests, psionics and peasants in what’s usually described as “a cross between Dune and Warhammer 40,000”.
This week’s song I’ve known and loved for years — it plays between chapters of Tactics Ogre, as the narration explains how the characters’ actions have affected the broader war raging around them. Quite simple, but catchy and effective. Enjoy!
I originally wrote this post around the time Civilization V came out, and it’s interesting to look back in light of subsequent releases such as Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis IV. One of my arguments was that 4X games depersonalise victims, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped players from being just as vicious in Crusader Kings 2! On the other hand, I tried to play EU4 in as “enlightened” a manner as possible – abolishing slavery, instituting a constitutional monarchy, etc. No developer encouraged me to do that; that was just my self-imposed goal. In any case, enjoy!
Why do we play strategy games in ways that, in real life, would land us in the dock for crimes against humanity?
Three Moves Ahead, Troy Goodfellow’s strategy game podcast, recently discussed the ethics of wargames, but to me, wargames have a largely innocuous focus on how to manoeuvre troops within an already-existing war. However, the question remains for the broader strategy game genre – in particular, 4X games in which you decide whether and why to go to war, and how to govern your nation: Civilization, Alpha Centauri, Master of Orion, Master of Magic, Galactic Civilizations, Space Empires, etc. Indeed, the very name of the sub-genre makes it clear that there’s an issue: “4X” is short for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate”.
There is, of course, the historical/human nature explanation. I do not think any empire through history – regardless of religion, skin colour, or geographic origin – ever arose except through conquest. Why should a game that casts you as an emperor be any different? When I send out my Roman legions in Civilization to claim the land of the fellow unlucky enough to start the game next to me, I’m just doing what Caesar and his countrymen did in real life. This explains why brutality makes thematic sense, but we have to look at other factors to explain why it pays off and why it doesn’t repel players in the first place. I can think of three such reasons: the zoomed-out, distant scale of most strategy (including 4X) games; the zero-sum nature of most games; and the economic model used by most 4X games.
Star Control 2 is a classic of the early 1990s, with a great sense of humour, robust gameplay, and unique, non-linear story progression — the player had to gather clues and do his or her own footwork in order to work out where to go next. That last was the subject of this piece, which I wrote back in December 2010. It became the site’s first hit article, with almost 7,000 views in one month, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Enjoy!
If you were a hero, tasked with saving the world from an overwhelming menace, how would you go about it? You would gather information about your foe. You would arm yourself with the best weapons possible. You would recruit allies to your banner. And while you might wish for these things on a platter, in order to find them, you would have to explore the world. You would seek out clues and piece them together, one hint leading you to the next, until you found what you were searching for.
No game captures this experience as well as Star Control II (SC2), the 1994 game from Toys for Bob (rereleased for free as The Ur-Quan Masters). SC2 cast you as a starship captain from a long-lost settlement, given command of a rediscovered ancient wonder weapon. As far as you know at the start of the game, your objective is simple: journey to Earth with your starship, rejoin the fleet, and help defend humanity against the alien Ur-Quan. And after one of the best opening plot hooks I have seen in a game, the stage is set for you to explore the galaxy in pursuit of that goal. Along the way, expect a fantastic storytelling experience, delivered through a combination of (a) top-notch writing and (b) gameplay mechanics that place the responsibility for uncovering that story in your hands.
This week’s song is the lovely main menu music of Child of Light, one of this year’s notable RPGs. It does double duty as the main character’s theme, and its motifs recur thoughout the game. Enjoy!
My first scout killed some cockroaches and some wolves, then was mauled by a giant bear.
My second scout found some demonic trees and was turned into fertilizer before he could retreat.
My third scout killed some wolves and some weak spiders, reached level 3, and was immediately eaten by the giant killer spider lurking behind the weak spiders.
My fourth scout was diverted to help clean up a rogue infestation near my second city. After that he headed out into the fog and had dinner with some angry zombies. He was the main course.
My fifth scout killed the bear that killed my first scout, and discovered ogres. This was not a fortuitous discovery.
My sixth scout survived until the end of the game despite some hairy moments involving fire elementals, imps, vampire lords, sand golems…
My seventh scout found a trio of polar bearmen.
As the sequel to 2012′s Warlock: Master of the Arcane, Warlock 2 builds on that foundation and manages to make its predecessor all but obsolete. Warlock 2 offers most of 1‘s content, along with a bevy of new features, systems, modes, options and content. Unfortunately it also inherited the first game’s biggest flaw: weak AI opponents. As such, the game’s world is your main opponent, and what a hostile, merciless opponent it can be! The list above is a fairly standard record of the first 20 turns of my Warlock 2 games.
When I reviewed Warlock 1 at release I found it to be enjoyable, and a little unusual. It looked like Civilisation V, a similarity which only ran skin-deep. Far from being a 4X empire builder, it was a tactical wargame powered by copious magic, a hostile world, and unhinged comedy. Warlock 2 is no different, and in the crowded turn-based fantasy strategy game market of 2014 that’s all the more important. Warlock 2 is not directly comparable to Age of Wonders III, Endless Legend, Elemental, Eador, or any of the other releases which we’ve seen in the last year.
Just a quick note that I’ll be on holiday for a few weeks, starting this Friday. The site won’t be dead in that time — I’ll schedule several Musical Mondays, along with links to a few old articles I’m still quite proud of. Two notable games are also scheduled to come out:
Have fun while I’m away, and I’ll see you all soon!
In my last piece about Final Fantasy X, I wrote about its biggest draw: its world, its story, and the way the two interact. What makes FFX a good game, not just a good worldbuilding exercise, is the second thing it does well: combat.
The principles behind the combat system are straightforward, but implemented well:
1. It’s turn-based, with turn order depending on speed – zippy characters move more often than slower ones.
2. The active party comprises three characters (out of a total of seven playable), and in one of FFX’s most distinctive features, you can freely switch characters during battle.
3. Each character begins with a distinct role and a unique progression upon level-up (they can eventually mix and match, while an alternate game mode allows customisation from the outset).
The net effect is the best battle system I can remember in a numbered Final Fantasy. Battles are fast to play (which is important, given how frequent they are) and not very difficult – I think the only game over screen I’ve seen was the result of a boss fight. At the same time, they require the player to do more than simply mash “attack”, an area where all too many JRPGs fall down. At its simplest, this is due to the need to target the right enemy with the right character (compare Persona). For instance, veteran swordsman Auron hits hard but has difficulty connecting against flying enemies, so I use him against armoured, ground-bound enemies instead. If the only enemies left are fliers, or resist physical attacks, then out goes Auron and in comes the black mage. In a more complex fight, I might open by using a support character to buff the party, swap him out in favour of a debuff specialist (1), and finally swap in the damage dealers.
I’m taking a break from strategy to progress through Final Fantasy X and Child of Light, and it strikes me that I really like both their battle systems. They manage to combine simplicity, speed, and enough depth to satisfy — I never feel as though I could coast through by hitting “attack” over and over again. I’m planning to write a couple of short articles examining them in more detail; for now, here is Siliconera’s take on what designers should avoid in their battle systems.
In other news: