What Makes For Good Common Encounters in RPGs?

By Ethan . May 10, 2014 . 5:33pm

It can be tough to explain the appeal of RPG battles to someone not familiar with them. Fights pop up over and over again, interrupting exploration; flipping through menus doesn’t communicate exciting action with the immediate appeal found in many other genres; and fight encounters themselves can be incredibly repetitive. Despite this, a lot of us still think that turn-based RPG battles are a lot of fun… sometimes.


RPG battles can add or detract from the game they’re in, just like any other aspect of a game, and I think that as a community we’ve faced enough of these encounters to have a few ideas about what works and doesn’t. I’m going to share a few of my own thoughts about common encounters—let’s call them “common encounters” instead of “random encounters” so we don’t exclude games that show enemies on the map—but rather than think of this as a speech given from a soapbox, treat it like a springboard from which to launch your own discussions. I’ll be down in the comments myself and I look forward to other people’s examples and insights.


In the meantime, here are a few thoughts I’ve come up with to kick us off:


Common Encounters should be short:


The nature of the common encounter is that the player faces them over and over again, and they’re usually dealt with using the same strategy each time. This familiarity and repetition isn’t a bad thing inherently, but it can become a bad thing if it takes too long to go through the ritual. Some incredibly interesting turn-based combat systems have ended up detracting from the game they’re in, just because of common encounter length.


Consider Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. I love the combat in that game to death, but it just doesn’t scale down well to unimportant monster bashing. See, combat in Baten Kaitos is card-based and every card has specific properties. There are weapon cards, armor cards, and item cards. Cards have elemental affinities and numerical values in the corners. Each turn the player hopes to draw weapon cards that can be chained into a combo while also saving armor cards to combo up during the opponents’ turn. Combos are absolutely necessary to do significant damage, and if opposing elements are chained together they will subtract from one another, massively decreasing damage dealt.


Throw in random card draws, cards with multiple effects, and card synergies to discover and combat can get hairy quickly. To help the player keep abreast of the situation, every single character’s turn ends with a recap screen showing exactly how the math worked out when considering the attacker’s and defender’s card strings. This check up on the damage values can be helpful but it demonstrates the core problem with fighting in Baten Kaitos. The complex interplay between offense and defense and the fact that the player is at the mercy of a random card draw means that even unimportant fights can take forever. Drew five armor pieces for your first turn? Tough!


Boss fights in Baten Kaitos are some of my absolute favorite turn-based boss fights because the encounter difficulty warrants maximizing each turn. In boss fights, the turn recap screen is a welcome aid, and defensive card picks are necessities rather than annoyances that delay your inevitable beatdown of the enemy. When that combat system gets going and the player is navigating an extended ebb and flow of defensive and offensive combos across multiple characters, it absolutely sings…but that just doesn’t happen most of the time.


What I take away from Baten Kaitos and other games like it is that it’s okay for a common encounter to interrupt the player getting from place to place, but it’s important that they be brief. In Xenosaga Episode II (a more severe offender), I would sometimes even forget the direction I had been headed battles took so long! If the resolution of a common encounter is a foregone conclusion anyway, why take forever getting there?


Common Encounters should incorporate strategy:


I’m going to list some very popular games with very different combat mechanics: Suikoden II, Final Fantasy XII, and Final Fantasy III. Three very different RPGs from three different eras. You know what they have in common? The correct strategy in 90% of their combat is to just use the “attack” command. Maybe pull out a color-coded elemental spell if a bad guy is glowing a primary color.


These three games and many more accost the player with common encounters that are so easily dispatched that whatever strategic opportunities the combat system may offer just aren’t relevant. Having common encounters that are overly easy or simple isn’t annoying the way that dealing with 4-minute fights over and over again is, but it represents missed opportunity all the same.


I’ve been playing Etrian Odyssey recently, and that game illustrates the value of well designed encounters that have some teeth to them. That franchise has simple presentation, minimalist narrative, and really no distractions to speak of outside of dungeon spelunking. On top of that, the combat is dead simple. Each team inputs their moves at the beginning of the fight and the player watches how it all pans out. That’s it.


How can a game succeed if it puts all its focus onto dungeon-rawling that’s so simple it would have been throwback 15 years ago? Yet, Etrian Odyssey is fantastic. It succeeds because the enemies are actually threatening. The games always keep things tough enough to force the player to reach deeper into his or her bag of tricks than just using “attack” for even a standard fight. Buffs, status ailments, and healing are relevant factors in every level appropriate encounter. The result is that Etrian Odyssey encounters play out differently almost every time, a feat that RPGs with budgets orders of magnitude higher have often failed to achieve.


“Mindless” isn’t the most damning description of a game. Many turn to games for exactly that sort of escape. But just like Devil May Cry’s technical real-time combat is held in higher esteem than that of Dynasty Warriors, we should recognize that RPGs benefit from common encounters that force the player to put some thought into his or her actions.


Common encounters should prepare players for the uncommon encounters:


When reading about level design, one theme that pops up again and again is that levels are meant to teach the player. Tutorials should be conveyed through level design, and levels in turn should serve as tutorials. Portal, a modern master class of level design, is really a four hour tutorial. Common encounters in RPGs aren’t usually considered in that same light, but they function in the exact same way. The small scale fights a player faces let him or her try out different offensive strategies, as well teach them how to deal with particular enemy attacks or tactics in a relatively low stress environment.


Ideally, as a player navigates towards the next major battle, he or she is learning how to optimize the party and leverage the game systems in ways that will be needed in said major battle. So, why do so many games make separate rules for boss fights, then?


Status ailments or debuffs not working, unprecedented immunities, crazy difficulty spikes… this issue crops up an awful lot. Rather than common encounters logically training the player for the test at the end, often times regular levels and bosses feel like they’re stuck together at random. If the common encounters are so easy that they aren’t training the player to do anything but attack all the time, this can be doubly the case.


You know what game uses fights as learning tools really well, though? Pokémon. Pokemon often doesn’t get talked about alongside the more common anime-themed quests to save the world, but it’s still a turn-based RPG and it does an awful lot right that other games could learn from. Boss fights in Pokémon absolutely never cheat or bend the rules that the player has learned in common encounters. There is always a sequence of trainers before Gym Leaders that use the same element as the boss, which gives the player a chance to learn before being tested.


Gym challenges in Pokémon always focus on one particular type of creature and demonstrate through fair play that element’s strengths and weaknesses—and tactics that can be used to mitigate those weaknesses. Although the common encounters in the areas leading into each Gym Leader’s city don’t explicitly lead up to the boss fight the way the flunkies in the Gyms do, a keen observer will notice that developer Game Freak is always careful to include wild Pokémon that are elementally viable against the Gym challenge nearby. Because Pokémon games let you capture the enemies you face in common encounters, they’re very thoughtful when it comes to showing you the ropes and then allowing you to apply what you’ve learn in boss battles.


And to end on a positive note…


I realize that a good bit of this has been pointing out things that, in my eyes, a lot of RPGs do wrong. So, before throwing this out to the community, I’d like to call out a few games with great encounter design. I was surprised how many of my favorite games I couldn’t include on this list (I still love you Final Fantasy XII, but your common encounters are so trivial), but Shin Megami Tensei, the first two Paper Mario games, and Etrian Odyssey all manage to have fast-paced encounters without sacrificing tactical considerations and then test your mastery of those tactics with fair and fun boss fights. Hats off, those games are great.


Now it’s your turn. Do you disagree with any of the principles I listed? Do you have any to add? Are there better examples of these principles from games I haven’t played? We’ve played through tens of thousands of these fights as a community. What have we figured out?

  • Firion Hope

    Interesting write up, I agree with most the points listed.

    Personally I just don’t care for random encounters (as in you can’t see the enemy on screen) at all anymore. I don’t feel like I gain anything by having encounters random and it’s pretty easy for them to be annoying. It’s no longer a technical thing either so it seems more done out of tradition than anything

    I’d add that common encounters should be worthwhile. Using the pokemon example unless you’re looking to catch something or just grind an insane amount there’s no reason to ever fight wild pokemon vs fighting trainers. Trainers give you more exp and money which you tend to always need. They should give you more than the smallest amount of exp., common stuff like potions and antidotes are nice even as rare drops because they incentive you

  • urbanscholar

    What about the notion of choice with encounters? Does this fit into the equation? I feel when player has a choice for encounters that doesn’t take away from the experience(much).

    I’d like to point out The Last Remnant/The World Ends With You for example. Battles aren’t exactly fast(depending on the situation). In both you have the choice to fight what you see on screen. There’s no real repercussion if you chose not to fight(aside from leveling, but that can be done whenever).

    You do get rewarded nicely for fighting more/linking and raising the difficulty. These are both good games for it!

    • Ethan_Twain

      I LOVE how The World Ends With You handles encounters. The chaining mechanic and the difficulty slider make it that fights can be as intense or as laid back as the player desires. The fight scoring mechanic means that good play is encouraged even if a fight is easy. And fights are ALWAYS initiated by the player.

      I didn’t talk about TWEWY because it’s kind of an out there example that doesn’t neatly parallel to most other games in the genre, but it’s way rad. One of the best innovators in common encounters in years.

      • I played the entirety of TWEWY with my level on 1. (Bar one boss fight. One.)
        I would have played it on the hardest difficulty the whole time as well had it not been for how incredibly perfect it’s drop system is.
        For example, I played the Taboo Minamoto fight on normal because the pin dropped by him was better for my needs than the pin that was dropped when it was on a higher difficulty.
        Simply the factor of different pins being dropped at different levels (including BETTER pins being dropped by certain enemies/bosses at lower levels) made the experience so much more dynamic and enjoyable. I was never forced into a situation or battle I could not win. It was entirely based off of how I wanted to play then match.
        Want to chain 10+ enemies at a lower level, hard difficulty and with only mic activated pins? Go for it. The game let you fly with what you had and as a result any fight you lost felt like it was because you hadn’t played it right. You could adjust that or tough it out until you got it. That was the beauty of TWEWY’s battle system.

        • Ethan_Twain

          I feel like that doesn’t reflect my experience quite. I mean, how did you know what battle dropped what pin on what difficulty? I don’t recall any in-game database with that data.

          • I enjoyed the system so much that I’d beat a boss on one difficulty and then beat it again on another difficulty to see the different pin drops.
            Some times is have to beat one multiple times on a difficulty because even at level one the drop rate for that difficulty’s pin was 10% or so.

            For enemies, there’s a database in the menu that tells you what the pin is if you’ve gotten it. It also tells you what the drop rate is for a pin with your current level. It’s under the tab “Noise” :P

            Edit: it doesn’t tell you what pin it is until you’ve gotten that pin at that difficulty level if that’s what you’re wondering.


      seriously, that game did so many things right.

    • Tsukihi

      All my feels when someone talks about The Last Remnant but the only game that gets lots of reaction is TWEWY. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both games, but I’m just sad TLR is so underrated. Deserves more love.

      And a sequel with an improved gameplay. :(

      • Aha Disco Elf

        Same here, The Last Remnant seriously need more love. Speaking for PC here because I heard 360’s was buggy and has too long loading time.

        I loved a lot of things about TLR combat system. The encounter system is one, where you can chain link as many groups of enemies as you like if you feel up for the challenge or just want to clear the way in one battle without transitioning into battle over and over. This really helps in The Last Remnant’s case because the loading time (even on PC) is pretty long.

        And I really liked the way the combat goes if you chain a lot of enemies (after a set time, another enemy party will reinforce the current enemy party). It gives the vibe of a true battlefield, which is what The Last Remnant is aiming for anyway.

        Also the battle system. Wow, the battle system.

        Many said that the battle command for The Last Remnant is vague or random and hated the lack of micromanagement of each character, but I find this part of TLR charming because instead of issuing orders for every character, you’re issuing orders for a team. In the end, it still boils down to Attack/Use Magic/Heal like every other turn-based, but you can customize your unions prior to battle to skew your chances of using certain commands. Customizing unions also let you assign different roles for different team, like having a blitz team focusing on mobility to interrupt enemy’s advance (and boosting morale while doing so).

        The Last Remnant is fun, don’t let anyone influence you without giving it a chance. Worth the purchase on Steam imho.

    • Guest

      LR was easy though until the end. but yea i made use of all the skills. but battles went on for too long due to how slow paste characters moved and loading

  • VenerableSage

    I would argue that, with respect to Pokemon, the boss fights are often no more than common encounter++’s (with common encounter+’s being regular trainers), BECAUSE they use all Pokemon of the same type. Even though the games will throw a curveball at you to counter using the same Pokemon to sweep an entire Gym, the previous battles only serve to teach new players the ropes up to the first few bosses, then they’re pointless the rest of the way.

    Now, perhaps if more trainers than just the Champion actually used a diverse team of Pokemon like actual human beings will do, you might have a point.


    Also, I maintain that the Grandia series (for the most part) is a shining example that does all three of your points impeccably well.

    • Ethan_Twain

      I’ve never played any Grandia! Any you would recommend in particular? Any easy to play on current tech?

      • DesmaX

        I think Grandia 2 was released on PC’s

        Should work fine with a Virtual Machine with Windows XP installed

      • VenerableSage

        The original Grandia is available as a PS1 Classic on the PSN. The others aren’t as available: Grandia II was Dreamcast / PS2 / PC (though the PS2 and PC versions were inferior ports), Grandia Xtreme was PS2-only, and Grandia III was also PS2-only. (There were at least two other titles, but one was an online PC game and the other wasn’t translated.)

        As for recommendations, it honestly seems like the majority of the players are divided between which they played first of Grandia and Grandia II. I have Grandia but I haven’t had time to chip away at my backlog to play it yet, but Grandia II is my top game on the Dreamcast. (But, there’s a very large portion of players who rate the original over the second.)

      • rekka_zan

        Personally I think Grandia 1 has the best story, BUT it also has the most tedious leveling system. If you don’t like grinding, get Grandia 2. If you don’t mind grinding, get Grandia 1.

      • Astralwyrm

        Grandia is the best one, it just is. Largely because every other Grandia just rehashes the first’s storyline to varying degrees. Grandia II is good as well but i don’t really rate any of the others much in comparison. Xtreme is a bit more of a dungeon crawl with much less exploration and story, Probably the best thing about Xtreme is that there are quite a few characters to pick from for party members. 3 just feels like a much much shorter game.

  • Mastery

    I absolutely agree with the points about bosses having special rules about them. So many features in the game become useless because you can’t use them on bosses, and there’s really no need to use them on random encounters. So the few times I find a game that lets me poison or confuse a boss, I absolutely love it.

    Tales of Xillia is weird in that regard. Bosses can’t be combo’d more than a few hits despite the combat system being all about comboing and chaining hits, but random encounters can be combo’d infinitely if you’re good enough. It was pretty dumb, but at the same time, the bosses aren’t immune to ANYTHING else. Even the two final bosses can kill each other because you can confuse them.

    In fact, the entire Tales series is pretty good about this. Usually status effects work on the bosses, and you fight the bosses and enemies the same way. So I’d say the Tales series does a good job of using common encounters to prepare you for bosses… except Xillia.

  • KingGunblader

    A good battle system dulls the repetitive nature of common encounters, in my opinion. I played the Child of Light demo the other day, and the system of tracking turns via the bar at the bottom of the screen (which I hear is a lot like Grandia, a series I’ve never played) totally changes it in my eyes. Even if the battle itself would be easy (ie. mashing the Attack command, with the odd spell for extra damage), it encourages me to pay absolute attention during every battle, no matter how inconsequential, which is something that Paper Mario also does really well.

    When you look at games that use a traditional turn based system (early Final Fantasy / Dragon Quest), it’s really easy to zone out when you’re being forced to smack rats that are 1/3 of your party’s level.

    To sum up before I start rambling, a good encounter system encourages (not forces) you to think carefully about each and every battle, and needs to have a battle system that reinforces that idea – something that engages and excites.

    Also, you mentioned Baten Kaitos in this piece, which I’m taking to mean that I can scream at Bandai/Monolith/triCrescendo/whoever that I WANT ANOTHER ONE PLEASE.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Do you really though? I felt like the second one was a regression from the first. Great music, but not a whole lot else to recommend it.

      Though I do think that Baten Kaitos could evolve meaningfully in a gameplay sense if a sequel/remake was released on a touchscreen platform. The hasty shuffling of cards and combo chaining might be really enhanced by just tapping/flipping cards as opposed to scrolling through them like a card themed menu. I would be all over that.

      • Sigfried Silverblade

        I loved the first Baten Kaitos, but I never did finish the second. It didn’t quite capture me as the first did, so I guess I agree with you when you say the second was a regression.

      • KingGunblader

        In my humble opinion, Origins is worlds better than the original. The smaller cast meant they all got much more time to develop individually, and the battle system greatly improved on the original by making shuffling/discarding cards much less tedious – and by making it faster in general.

        So yes, yes I do.

  • Jirin

    I agree with most of this article.

    I will add that out of the four choices:
    Easy battles, low enemy HP
    Easy battles, high enemy HP
    Hard battles, low enemy HP
    Hard battles, high enemy HP

    Easy/high is a recipe or pointless tedium, easy/low is the most common case that makes regular encounters seem like busywork, hard/high is a recipe for grinding, and hard/low is the only case where regular encounters add to the game.

    When it’s possible to die from regular encounters, but success or failure is based on good strategy and not stats, that’s what makes dungeon crawling fun.

    I will also add, the defining feature of turn based combat for me is the ability to control the entire party instead of just your main character. It really creates the opportunity to win against an enemy much more powerful than you just by knowing the game really well, which makes you feel awesome as a gamer.

    • Ethan_Twain

      I actually kind of feel the opposite about party control! When I don’t fully control the rest of the party in a game (be it turn based like Persona 3 or real time like Tales) I feel like it challenges me to greater mastery. Instead of just thinking about what the enemies are going to do, I also need to try and think about what my allies will do. It challenges me to do more with less, since I’m only inputting one command.

      I’m in a pretty small minority on this one though. Everyone else seems to love setting Persona 4 to all party control. I played it without.

      • Sigfried Silverblade

        Interesting. I do prefer to be able to control the whole party.
        But, for example, Persona 3 and Tales actually had some easy to understand AIs, and Tale series do allow the player to customize tactics.

        But some games ad some bad AIs for the party that made me cry in frustratio. (Lokking at you .hack)

        • planetofthemage

          I feel like Tales has been up and down in this category. When I played through Symphonia, I rarely had to adjust my party’s tactics, but in Phantasia, I eventually told my casters to not cast anything and gave them a command to cast their highest level spells whenever I needed them too.

          I’m halfway through Tales of Rebirth on the PSP, and I’ve liked the balance of the two. For the most part, I can play as Veigue, but occasionally I have to switch to the healer or the mage.

      • QueenDecim

        I won’t discount your opinion on the entire “no party control” thing. But Persona 3 did not do it right, at all. The party AI in that game was wretched and broken. It does not add to strategy when you have to combat your own team to win a match.

      • Jadfish


      • Firion Hope

        Even though it’s a pretty unpopular stance I agree with this aswell, it adds a layer of strategy and makes it feel like you’re actually commanding your party rather than ghost possessing them or something

        The problem with P4 is if I remember right it had less AI behaviors than did P3

      • notentirelythere

        I feel that! Especially, Persona 3 is designed around it–I would have preferred an updated tactics system in P3P over direct control, or maybe a system where you get more tactics options as you improve social links to a point where direct commands could become possible at S. Link level 9 or 10 (or at different points depending on the orneriness/friendliness of the character). But either way, if you design a battle system well enough around asymmetries like that, it can become its own kind of equally deep challenge.
        At the very least though, maybe I’d like a Tales-style option of being able to disable specific skills like MARIN KARIN (even though on Hard it rocks random encounters).

  • Games like Wild ARMS where you can turn off encounters makes random battle bearable. And I like random battle when training my characters. It’s easier to circle an area I love getting in battles over and over than to run down foes on screen. Though when it comes to the end of a game, and you’re trying to reach the boss with full HP, random battle slow you down and deplete your items (See! That’s how they getcha! LOL) .

    How to make them better IMO is making hidden foes show up, have lots of dropped items including rare weapons or gear, and have side quests connected to random battles that make it so you find foes again and get rewarded for beating foes over and over.

  • Herok♞

    I feel like Bravely Default handled this really well by giving you both an auto battle option that would repeat your last moves and the encounter scaling as well. I am fine with common encounters as long as there is a way to get through them quickly.

    Say what you want about FF13 but I liked the battle system because it was good for both bosses and normal encounters. For the bosses it tested your full range of skills that you learn from dealing with new enemies in each area. And when you learned an enemies weakness autobattle was there to speed you through each encounter, with auto targeting of weakpoints instead of having a standard autobattle of just attack or mash A to kill weak things.

    • Kaetsu

      I couldn’t agree with you more on both BD and FFXIII.

    • Jadfish

      Later in FFXIII, the common encounters took me a long time, to the point where I got bored and stopped playing.
      I think some of the battles took me 5 minutes each or so.

      • TrevHead

        Yeah FFXIII battle system was quite enjoyable right until I reached the planet and it all fell on it’s arse when battles jumped from 2-5 mins to 5-10mins, and it’s tedious and slow menu system for swapping characters to suit each battle forced me to abandon my playthrough.

        Shame FXIII never had a improved PC port similar to Last Reminent.

      • John Diamond

        Lost Odyssey was fairly annoying after a while too

      • karasuKumo

        Agreed, felt as if they were throwing harder enemies at you only to slow progression.

      • Herok♞

        I know what you mean, if you go in with the wrong strategy it makes them really long but once you figure out how to go about dealing with them, you can get them done in about a minute or less

      • 5mins is a long time?

        • Jadfish

          for a common battle? Yeah, they really add up.

  • Has this ever happened to anyone?
    You fighting a foe that looks like it’s gonna be complex. And you over think the fight. But it turns out you could’ve dropped them easily if you just switched a party member around and did a skill unique to them.

    • Astralwyrm

      I suppose FFIX’s Soulcage ought to be up there for this, not only can he be one shotted with any kind of life giving spell or item but also he gets harder if you cast fire on him. To be fair though FFIX does a good job of preparing you for boss fights like soul cage. A large amount of enemies you encounter in his area are Undead like him and have the same weakness. I always felt 1 shotting him with life/phoenix down was cheating the fight though.

      Ruby Weapon from 7 is probably my best example of this for me personally. I threw myself at him many many times and read up tons about how to prepare against him. Years later having never defeated him in any of my numerous playthroughs i realised that he has a critical weakness. Hades can always petrify him, meaning all i really had to do was cast Hades whenever he started to move again and spam knights of the round while he was incapacitated. He never got a turn in after the first petrify. Nobody had to spend who knows how many hours making the unkillable setup in my walkthrough…

      • Whoa…. I’ve never beat Ruby Weapon either. And Hades was a well-loved Summon of FF7. I wish I had known that. But let me ask this: Do you need KotR? I never get them since I’m bad with chocobo. Can it be done with just your own party’s skills?

        • Astralwyrm

          Been a long time so i’m not sure i remember my specific setup but if i remember right you should be fine. He has alot of health which is really why i used KotR; to take him down faster. You just need to keep him perified and not run out of mp that and survive long enough to cast the first hades.

          • Ok so I’ll put Hades on my fastest character, cast it then string together spells and skills the do high damage. After a few hits, I’ll do boosting spells to up def and magic resistance, then repeat pattern.

      • Really… am I the only one that did things reversed and killed Ruby Weapon first and had a real hard time with Emerald Weapon? orz

        • The only weapons I could beat were the one that stomps up to the Midgar and Omega weapon.

          • Uh… there’s Omega Weapon on VII or you mean Omega Weapon from VIII?

          • Omega Weapon in FF7 is the flying blood red one. You find and fight it over and over to get the Omega Weapon (sword) for Cloud. Even though it’s called “Omega” it’s easiest of the group to beat. All FFs have a Weapon hidden boss that usually is a defender for that world. But after FF7 they usually just use the name Omega or Ultimate or Ultima Weapon. And there’s usually just one per game now. I think in FF1-3 there were no Weapon hidden bosses.

          • Uh no, Omega weapon and Ultimate weapon are not the same beast though, the one you’re refering is Ultima Weapon, both Ultima Weapon and Omega Weapon exist in VIII and on a newer version of VI lol.

          • Oh they do? I never do well at FF8, never even beat Ultimecia’s final form. Where were the Weapons.

          • FFVIII is plenty easy once you get the jist but yeah, I also had a hard time on my first run, I recommend to check your G.F. abilities and refine lots of strong spells for junction .w.

            As for the Weapons, Ultima Weapon is located on the lower left side of the map in the middle of the ocean, you have to beat Bahamut and come back after a while. Omega Weapon is on Ultimecia’s Castle, there’s a rope to make the bells ring on the right room of the main hall, you have to run all the way to the the room where a black smoke is floating on the organ room and there you go. Not recommended to fight him if you couldn’t keep up with Ultimecia though .w.

          • What makes FF8 so hard for me is not the mechanics of the game as a whole, it’s the last dungeon shutting off key options of the game and how magic is like an item. MP is non-existent. Instead you cast things based on how much of the spell you’re acquired. I don’t like that. I’ve tried to beat FF8 3 or 4 times. I’m not doing it again. I like Squall and Edea but not so much to just keep play that game.

          • Well considering how weak the bosses on the last dungeon are it’s not really hard to recover your skills back honestly and I guess VIII’s magic system is not for everyone but for me it was nothing too bad, stocking 100 magic is in no way hard or tedious as people say and with that quantity you pretty can’t run out of magic so I really liked how VIII works.

          • Astralwyrm

            The weapons in 7 are completely unique to 7. The weapon that stomps up to midgar is Diamond weapon. I looked it up and i never realised the weapon that attacked junon was another weapon called sapphire weapon. I had always thought it was emerald that had attacked junon and had just retreated back into the sea after having it’s head blown off. Since Emerald roams underwater in close proximity to junon.

          • Me too. I thought there were only 3 or 4 Weapons in FF7. Ruby, Omega, Emerald, and Diamond. So you never fight Sapphire as a team. It dies in the cutscene, huh?

        • Astralwyrm

          I guess i never found him to be that hard but then i always got the underwater materia which made the fight much easier since then you didn’t have to fight on a time limit. I definitely need to do that along with replaying IX and banning myself from using auto life and regen.

          • Heh, couldn’t beat Emerald for a long while even with Underwater materia back then, I didn’t knew about the materia trick on it nor I thought of a good counter strategy, I only beat it once with the same strategy as Ruby with pure luck since Aire Tam Stomp failed lol.

            As for Ruby I always found him to be beefy but easy, W Summon + Knights of the Round – HP Absorb + Bahamut Zero – MP Absorb + Final Attack + Revive and you’re done lol.

  • Raze

    Wild ARMs did it good as you can cancel any random battle if you’re already stronger than the monster lol….

    In Wild Arms 4 or 5 tho…. You need to kill Sol Tiger (A boss in save sphere) To turn off the encounter in one area.

    • Kaetsu

      Earthbound had the mechanic as well. I have no clue why other RPGs never adopted this. It’s so useful!

      • Sigfried Silverblade

        Or at least make the enemies a bit clever to stay out of your way when you are stronger, like in Persona 3.

        It’s so annoying when weak enemies will still attack your party.

    • HentaRobot

      Ar Tonelico series have a encounter gauge every time you enter a dungeon. Each fight will reduce the gauge, and once the gauge is empty, you’ll have no further encounter throughout the dungeon. Really useful for long dungeons. And the gauge will reset every time you re-enter a dungeon.

  • DanijoEX ♬ the Cosmic Owl

    From my long experience of playing RPG’s (gonna leave out ARPG and STRPG’s), i’ve thought Etrian Odyssey did random encounters as well for dungeon-crawler. There’s that sense of challenge, not much, but it is there.

    Another thing I want know is how 16-bit rpgs random encounters in the past differ to those of today? The only 16-bit rpg I’ve played was Phantasy Star II and IV.

    • Exkaiser

      They tend to be kind of simplistic, but the enemies tend to be stronger in older games than in modern ones. Not usually in a strategically challenging sense, but there is a lot more chance to get wiped on a random battle. I know even games as generally easy as FFIV have hit me around the head for not paying attention.

      One important factor is that the battles to be a lot shorter than most modern RPG battles- with no 3D models to load (and running off cartridges) and short animations and transitions, you can get into and out of a trash battle in under a minute, so having more encounters isn’t too bad. So, even if the actual battles and battle strategies haven’t changed a whole lot, the feel is a lot different.

  • MrTyrant

    Does anybody here remember Shadow Hearts? I remember that roulette when you attack or activate an special skill. It was very random for me to execute a succesful attack and you had some status ailment that made it worse. Those where some fun combat and difficult ones (I blame my slow reflexes)

    • Astralwyrm

      Still one of my favourite series, I got kodelka specifically because it’s the prequel. It’s interesting if only because you get to see it’s roots and i had some fun with it. Plays quite a lot differently though and it’s not very long despite having 4 discs!

  • DesmaX

    Very nice read, and I gotta agree with all the points here; but I would like to say my ideal type of common encounters:

    – No transition to battle scenarios:
    Playing Xenoblade makes me realize how I hate this stuff; it really breaks my immersion. Playing Tales of Xillia, for example, where you touch an enemy, and then some image appears on screen for a few seconds, and then the camera moves to the character, and theeen you start the battle; You pretty mush waste half a second on that (It may not sound much, but considering how many encounters JRPG’s normally has…). Hell, even games like FF X normally annoyed me by how long it takes to the transition to battles. And even games that do that really fast (Not considering games that do an animation before battle, I’m talking about transition from Gameplay to Gameplay), I just think it’s jarring to have a transition.

    – Variety
    Wanting or not, battles will end up becoming routine sooner or later (And that’s one of the reasons why they should keep it short); but I think it’s really important to constantly throw new types of enemies to keep the player interest (And not only different models of enemies; new types of enemies that demans from the player different ways to beat them). Hell, it doesn’t even need to be new enemies, just mix up 2 or 3 types of enemies and the player will feel challeged the same way (It just isn’t a good idea to overdo that, heh)

    – Battles shoudn’t demand preparations before-hand
    Probably my controversial opinion, but whatever. I was playing Child of Light these days, and I put a elemental crystal thingie on my character, which gives an element for the attacks, and enemies can be weak or resistant to it… I hate this crap, it makes boss battles more of a guessing game on what element the boss will be weak to and, if you got it wrong, you have to exit the boss and re-arrange them (And it’s even more frustrating when regular enemies aren’t weak to the element the boss is). Another game that annoyed me in a similar way was Ys Seven (Even though bosses aren’t weak to anything in that game, gladly), where every character has it’s own attack type that enemies are weak/resistant too… Seriously, I just wanted to play as Adol, but I had to keep changing characters in order to defeat enemies (But, to be fair, it was nowhere neas as nuisance as the example I gave before).
    I personally think that The Witch and the Hundred Knight handled this problem in a quite nice way (Despite being an Action game, so I’m not sure it it’s countes here): Where you can put all types of attacks in your equipment deck, and changing the attack types on the equipments can be done any time you’ll want (And it’s surprisingly fun because of the Magic Die System).

    – Battle Theme
    Since Battle Music is probably the music that you’ll be hearing the most in the game, it should be a theme that is not only catchy enough, but also fitting to the game; It’s something that the player should be looking forward too.

    Well, did rant a lot. If I remember anything else I’ll post it here

    • MrTyrant

      Different kind of songs in battle also help a lot in variety and the game is long. SMT had for bosses, midbosses, normal encounters and encounters in specific places. Trails series also has theme for bosses, midboss, strong monsters or surprise attacks or the low health theme when you are dying.

    • Kaetsu

      No transitions is definitely a plus. Games like Xenoblade and Chrono Trigger do it really well because they make everything feel seamless. Battle themes are probably one of the most important things to me in an RPG. Persona, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Xenogears, Baten Kaitos are all great examples of games that have battle themes that really get you pumped up. I would grind monsters in Persona 3 just so I could hear “BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY!”. Games like the original Dragon Warrior make me want to shoot myself because of how annoying that theme is.

      • hng qtr

        “I would grind monsters in Persona 3 just so I could hear “BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY!”
        I’m playing P4 Golden and avoiding hitting shadows from behind just because of how terrible the old battle theme is.

      • P3 battle song was really badass!

      • Izzeltrioum

        Am I the only one that’s totally hates Meguro’s Jpop and lazy raunchy rock? I just want Atlus to move forward and hire another guy or something already. That’s just me, MIND YOU.

    • Sigfried Silverblade

      I only wish for fast transitions.
      I think battles that happen in another field are that way because the graphics, effects and mechanics cannot be applied to the out-of-battle field.

    • MrSirFeatherFang

      The fast transitions, Tales of Graces nailed that down (at least the PS3 version?). I really liked that game ^_^

      • David García Abril

        The Wii version was just as fast. :)

        • Izzeltrioum


          But glitched as hell. I was very wary when traveling Zonecage. Sometimes, when you paused the game, the fps would drop–next scenario was a totally random freeze (Though pausing the game twice when fps dropped solved the issue). It made grinding there impossible (Thanks for the awesome devs at Bamco for breaking the game with Rockgagan lv200ing everyone after 5 minutes),

      • DesmaX

        True, but the transition from battles to field took more time than they should

        • MrSirFeatherFang

          It did take a bit after a battle ended… here’s hoping Zestiria has seamless trasitions to battle and from battle like you’ve suspected. Hopefully another gameplay trailer comes soon.

    • SMT

      I agree a lot about the battle theme, it’s a point that’s not nearly as addressed as it should.

      Best examples of games that do it well are SMT games (Different battle themes for different occasions… Nocturne being the best possible example, having different themes for towns, world map, event enemies that aren’t bosses, bosses… and even the most common one used for dungeons actually has a different guitar riff after its one minute duration), TWEWY (A good variety, you hardly know which one you’ll get and most of them are great), and Bravely Default (Only one theme, but it’s incredible and I never get tired of it and probably never will). All of those also excel at the gameplay department, so the themes help get you excited for every encounter and the gameplay handles the rest of the fun!

      A game like FFX, on the other hand, I actually like the gameplay A LOT, it’s better than most FF titles… but I don’t like the battle theme. And on the other end of that spectrum, most “Tales of” games use different battle themes for different portions of the game, which is good for variety, but a lot of the tracks are uninspired (My personal opinion, obviously), and you’re out of luck if you preferred an “older” battle theme… All while the battles themselves are almost always fun. The latter more than making up for anything.

    • Izzeltrioum

      Transitional field-battle schemata makes every single (and rare) enemies NOT THAT INTIMIDATING NOR UNIQUE–just another mob for you to destroy. Oh god how I hated that in Xenoblade.

      And Dark Souls is the perfect example of some good preparation-before-hand goodness. Nothing like going full elec-based equipment against Pikachu and Snorlax; Worth dying for.

    • Aha Disco Elf

      Yeah I am kinda disagreeing with the “Battles shouldn’t demand preparations beforehand”, because I am a firm believer that “battles are won before it’s being fought” lol. But I can see what ticks you off there.

      What should fix this problem though, is the ability to change your strategy during battle. A simple thing like an equipment change in battle should be mandatory for every game.

      My ideal type of game is a game that combines strategy planning before battle (in which you can envision the way the battle is going to play out) and the tactical element during battle (changing tactics to adapt to the enemy, conditions and the likes)

  • PalInd

    My favorite turn based battle systems were Golden Sun and Trails in the Sky.
    Golden Sun’s battles were blazing fast. You make all your choices, the menus blink and take nothing to confirm your choice, you can skip the long animations and if an attack is flashy and looks powerful then it is. Weapons with unique attacks also added to it, you had more chances to deal massive damage and get the fight over sooner.
    Trails in the Sky is the other side of the spectrum, once I stopped mashing attack and started using Arts and Crafts more strategically, battles were over in seconds. It helps that the game is balanced so that you are always the right level for any battle so random encounters NEEDED strategy to get them over with quickly as you can’t just grind to kill enemies in one hit (and believe me I’ve tried).
    In games with action battle system, well it just needs to be fun. I never minded battles in Tales of or Ys because the combat is so fun that I actually want to spend more time fighting.

    • pokeroi

      Golden Sun, the perfect JRPG.

  • rekka_zan

    I think the main idea is that random encounters should be fun. Hell, it should be THE most fun aspect of the game because that’s where players will spend most of their time. And enemies’ level should scale, therefore no random encounter will feel obsolete. And players should also have the option to skip/fast forward the battle.

    FF VIII and Tales series are good examples. In FF VIII, enemies’ level scale, and encounters can be avoided using Enc-None skill. In Tales series, we can use Dark Bottles/Holy Bottles to manipulate the encounter rate. Having enemies appear on the field, like in Grandia/Lunar is also an option, but I actually prefer random battles than on-screen enemies.

    • Sigfried Silverblade

      Okay, shrieking apart, I, personally, hate level scalling (scaling?).
      It loses the purpose of gaining levels. If I am no ever gonna be actually stronger by levelling up, what purpose does levelling up serve?

      • Astralwyrm

        To be fair atleast in VIII the scaling system didn’t really translate to leveling up not helping you to defeat your opponent. You still managed to gain things from putting in that effort that would make that fight easier. Romancing Saga on the other hand…. that game always chews me up and spits me out. Maybe one day i will beat it!

      • rekka_zan

        You do get stronger by leveling up, because when you level up, stats are not the only thing you earn. You will also learn skills/spells, get more powerful items, and probably unlock more battle features.

        Even if all monsters’ level scale, that doesn’t mean fighting every monster should feel the same. For example, fighting a level 100 Bite Bug is of course easier than fighting a level 100 Ruby Dragon. But if you need to go to an area which are infested with Bite Bugs, you can still feel that you’ll gain benefit from fighting them because, for example, you can now draw Thundaga from them.

    • JohnNiles

      The spell/item method for avoiding encounters is pretty outdated… unfortunately, a lot of developers haven’t figured it out yet. It assumes that the natural state of the world is for you to be assaulted by an unending stream of enemies. You wind up having to reuse your spell/item when it wears off, which simply shifts the annoyance from combat to menu management.

      A more realistic setup would have different encounter rates for different areas, reflecting how dangerous each area is.

      Some games implement a “kill switch”, where beating an area boss lets you turn encounters on and off.

      Bravely Default throws that all out the window and gives you a simple menu option to change the encounter rate. It doesn’t really make sense from a narrative perspective, but it’s the quickest solution and puts the responsibility on the player.

      • Fen Y

        “A more realistic setup would have different encounter rates for different areas, reflecting how dangerous each area is.”

        Err, most random encounter games did this since the NES days. Encounters usually were tuned to the area and were adjusted by type, frequency, etc. Games that pay homage to these do it too, like the Etrian games. There’s areas of the dungeon that have noticeably lower enemy rates, or none at all (usually around healing springs).

        It wasn’t done MUCH but it definitely was a thing.

        Also, realism doesn’t really matter, it’s games, not studies of realism. I for one prefer Etrians approach to BRavely Defaults by far.

        • JohnNiles

          I must have missed out on those games. I did miss the entire SNES era and early PS games. Since then, I played RPGs almost exclusively, so I’ve been eyeballing this problem for a while. Perhaps developers learned a lesson and forgot it again, because there has never been a time when I thought to myself, “This game doesn’t have enough monsters.”

          If encounter rates are varying in games, then maybe they’re being set to “high” and “very high”. I’ve never noticed a difference.

          “Realism” is kind of a crutch term but it covers two things: adhering to the principles of the world we live in, and adhering to a set of believable, supportable narrative/physical principles.” There’s no convenient term for the latter, so in the realism bucket it goes.

          The constant stream-of-monsters approach is bad because it implies that there is an inexhaustible supply that is not affected by natural conditions or society.

          As for Etrian Odyssey, it turns the problem on its head by keeping random encounters and balancing the rest of the game around them. That puts it on another level from the typical dungeon crawler.

  • Sigfried Silverblade

    Recently, I bought Legend of Dragoon on PSN.
    The common encounters on the game murdered my patience with cruelty.
    There is a long screen transition when a random battle starts, followed for a long battle start sequence showing the field and the enemies. Wich are both elements you will tire to see before you exit wichever area you are in.

    I have no problem with battles transitioning to a “battle field”, but transition should be quick, not painfull.

    • DesmaX

      Oh yeah. I personally can’t find myself playing classic RPG’s because of that

  • Senshin

    Ff1 common battles are really boring, i can’t even explore a room without 3 battles per step e.e

    • Tom_Phoenix

      I don’t know if you played FF2, but it was actually worse in that regard. Each dungeon had a load of empty rooms and, if you entered one, you always spawned in the middle of the room. And when you tried to leave, 95% of the time, you ended up facing a random encounter.

      And since you can’t tell which rooms are empty and which aren’t, you will inevitably end up searching (almost) every single one.

      • 하세요

        My gawd, FFII was awful. It makes you appreciate FFI.

      • MrSirFeatherFang

        Haha, the empty room troll, I remember it xD. I was so tolerate of high random encounter rates as a kid and even those rooms. I usually was content with finishing every battle in a dungeon thinking I would definitely be ready for the boss there.
        Of course now I unfortunately can not withstand that repetitiveness anymore :(

      • Senshin

        Yep, it sure was. But FF1 was the last ff i have played (a remake version) so i still have this fresh in my mind =p
        And that’s why i love the ”repel” of pokemon.
        Final Fantasy’s have room with a lot of trasures, but the majority is just potion or cheap things like that, but even knowing that, i can’t avoid to open all D:

  • JohnNiles

    Couldn’t agree more regarding encounter length. If encounters drag on too long, a game starts to lose me. Measuring average encounter length during development would be a good idea for checking quality. So would measuring average # of steps to optimal choice. Let’s say I can finish a battle quicker by selecting a particular element/attack type – if I have to flip through several submenus to use it, I lose the time savings that I gained by employing that strategy.

    As an unrepentant button masher, I prefer that a game include a simple way to finish the fight. I’m not saying that all games should be reducible to button mashers. I just like being able to shift from “smart” combat to “dumb” combat when I’m feeling tired. For example, if a game engine remembers your party’s last actions and a map has a mix of creatures that are weak to those actions, I can set things up and go into cruise control.

    Another way is to let encounters be complex, but reduce their frequency and increase their rewards. Card game simulators would fit into this category.

    Increasing the difficulty is another option. Fate/Extra has a really simple rock/paper/scissors setup with 6 rounds, where choosing 3 rounds correctly will get you (or the opponent, if they do the same) an extra turn. You can die in pretty much any encounter, which always kept me awake and paying attention.

    Etrian Odyssey is really good at turning obvious drawbacks into advantages. I like to run at full speed in games, all the time, but EO encourages you to walk slowly to avoid crashing into FOEs, while keeping maps small enough to keep things from getting boring yet large enough to explore.

    • Ethan_Twain

      This. A million times this. I HATE when the optimal strategy in terms of mechanics takes an unseemly amount of time to access. This is doubly an issue in active time battles like in Final Fantasy X-2. Yeah, there’s probably a great solution to this battle that involves three skills being used and an on-the-fly dressphere change, but I’m losing turn time by flipping through all that! It ends up making more sense to just do what’s quick a lot of the time.

      That the opposite of what a battle system should be doing! The ticking time meter is encouraging me to use less strategy, not more!

      • JohnNiles

        It’s kind of nitpicky, but it’s the truth. I started noticing this stuff while creating small software tools for work. People would complain they were “too complicated”. What it boils down to is: the more mouse clicks, button presses, and motions it takes to perform a frequently required action, the less people like it.

        That principle extends to games. People will put up with useless repetition for work because they don’t have a choice; they’ll bail

        The user instinctively knows the quickest route to the goal, so the onus is on the software to follow the route once it’s been laid out. I suppose that’s why so many current games remember the last action you did.

        That’s an interesting take on ATBs. It makes me realize how many ATBs work against themselves when response time is key. Pausing the game is quick and dirty but knocks you out of the flow of battle. Setting off a special attack with a long animation time buys you time to think, but slows the game down. I think the most effective solution might be hotkeys ala Ys or Tales.

        I’ve been eying my backlog lately; I might actually shuffle the order based on which games have better interfaces.

      • Mr_SP

        That’s also true of X, to a lesser degree. Aeons have long summon animations, and long special attacks, so people tend to avoid using them.

        On the other hand, I enjoyed FF XIII’s battle system because it was fast paced, enemies were a legitimate threat, and switching through character setups (and using the right ones) was key.

        • Ethan_Twain

          I considered using FF X as an example in the section about common encounters having some strategy to them. In FF X they really don’t. Every character has a spirit animal that shows up in a bunch of different colors, and you need to match the character to his spirit animal. Tidus hits wolves, Auron hits shell dudes, Wakka hits flying eyeballs. These patterns hold true for WAY too much of the game.

          Why would a player even summon in a common encounter? It’s just match the square shaped toy into the square shaped hole, and none of the holes are shaped like an aeon. Faster and more efficient to have Lulu cast a colored spell on that flan.

  • Zer0faith

    Huh, I didn’t know RPGs were this complex.
    This is my favorite RPG:


    • Kaetsu

      I like that one a lot too! The ending was really intense.
      Everyone exploded.

      • Zer0faith

        Must have unlocked the true ending.

        • I will say this, gun games have gotten better stories over the years.

          • Christopher C

            that is true but RPGs still no1

          • Defied Reality

            Gun games are over rated. You go to a game store and all you see are cases with men and guns, you have to dig for over an hour to find the really good games. Now if they’re thrown in a more survival horror element and less of the big bad kick ass soldier form, kind of works better to me.

          • “less big bad kick ass soldier form”? You mean how in Gears of War every character looks like a football player? No offense to any GoW fans.

            Personally even though I suck at shooters, I loked the Resident Evil games. Big on story there. And Leon is a beast at finding ways to survive. Even though I can win at the games I collect the animated movies.

          • Defied Reality

            The story means a lot, it really does, but the elements in which the game is set is a big deal in how well the game is played. Take “Haunting Ground” for instance. Yeah, some might say it sucks that you have to hide and the combat is pretty much zero, however I think for a Survival Horror, the element is HUGELY unique as it’s so very close to real life. Not everyone would fight in that kind of situation. It was unique, much closer to a real life experience and putting that with the story made the game even better to me. Game designers really should strive to make every game as unique as possible. When I go to buy games, I want something completely different, otherwise I might as well just keep playing the games I already have.

          • Defied Reality

            The story means a lot, it really does, but the elements in which the game is set is a big deal in how well the game is played. Take “Haunting Ground” for instance. Yeah, some might say it sucks that you have to hide and the combat is pretty much zero, however I think for a Survival Horror, the element is HUGELY unique as it’s so very close to real life. Not everyone would fight in that kind of situation. It was unique, much closer to a real life experience and putting that with the story made the game even better to me. Game designers really should strive to make every game as unique as possible. When I go to buy games, I want something completely different, otherwise I might as well just keep playing the games I already have.

        • Ric Vazquez

          Oh no,multiple endings? Must be a Bioware developed game…maybe

      • Niermyico

        You should see the bad ending when everything backfires.

      • God

        You forgot the secret rocket jump ending.

    • AlteisenX

      Well you obey this one at least: “Common Encounters should be short:”

      I mean unless you’re playing one of those games where RPGs don’t do much…

  • harmonyworld

    Well, what I learned, if you fight every encounter your come across, you’ll be strong enough to beat a boss~
    I actually like grinding in an rpg and be super op and just blitz through the game!
    I earned the strength through diligence and not giving up and it just feels good to assert that strength to every boss you come up against in the story.
    Also it’s good for getting crap tons of money and items too!
    I just like that part of rpg’s :3
    The story can be the most stupid crap ever, but if the combat is fun and interesting, then I can dig it!

  • KuroNathan

    O.o Ethan are you a spy? HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING IN ON MY CONVERSATIONS!? I just had this talk with my friends yesterday.

    That being said its pretty much everything I talked about yesterday. As a side note which EO have you been playing? If its Untold i suggest you go and play 3 and 4 as well, I found Untold to be one of the weaker entries actually.

    The grimoire system is just way too random for my liking, subclassing definitely felt like a better strategic option

    • Ethan_Twain

      I played 4 when it came out and liked it so much that I jumped into Untold just a few weeks ago. You’re right, 4 is better. But I quickly figured out to play Untold with the story turned off and to ignore the grimoire stones. If you ignore all those not-very-good new features that they added then it’s still delicious Etrian Odyssey underneath.

      As for listening in on your conversations… let’s just say that your friends were right. It’s not normal to be growing hair there. Go see a doctor asap.

      • KuroNathan

        oh god, I was drunk at the time nooooooo

    • JohnNiles

      I kind of set the game aside in the first chapter. I just had one question: is there a way to grind for cash in story mode, where you don’t have access to farming teams?

  • lemon

    I prefer first person battles systems because they are generally much faster than 3D games. I really don’t want to see the same, repetitive animations over and over in series like Persona. As stated in the article, Etrian Odyssey does a great job with this.

    • Ethan_Twain

      I’m right with you there. Kinda worried about the added animations and voiced dialogue messing up the combat flow in Persona Q. But then, the Persona fans are worried about the Etrian Odyssey dungeon crawling messing up their Persona. I guess we all need to be a little bit tolerant :)

      • Fen Y

        Yep. I’m in the Etrian camp, but I’ll give it a chance for sure. Compromise and all. :)

  • DanielGearSolid

    Idk if this counts but

    The Souls Series nails it IMO

    • Milewide

      Random encounters in Demon’s Souls are the best. :p

      Care to elaborate?

      • brian

        Progression and difficulty of common encounters?

      • DanielGearSolid

        But the article says “common encounters”
        Not random encounters

        The reason I think they work so well is they keep you engaged, and the enemies aren’t just there to die

  • Attribule

    It’s not really Pokemon doing anything “right” but that it does things in a far simpler manner than most other RPGs. Pokemon isn’t an in-depth, hardcore RPG experience and never has been – the reason why it “teaches” you in very obvious ways is because the games are designed to be able to be played by literally all ages possible.

    Pokemon as an RPG is very weak and lackluster, but I play it for the monster collecting/battling.

    • Adrián Alucard

      Pokemon is very deep in fact. Do you know about EV, IV, abilities, natures, breeding, etc?

      The pokemon games usually do not teach anything about that (well, in Gen VI they teach and explain some comcepts and was casualized). The pokemon series is one of the most complex* RPGs (but just because the other RPG are very simple)

      *complex != hard

      • Juan Manuel M. Suárez

        Pokemon is only deep for people who battle other human beings, for people who just solo the main campaign, they don’t really need to worry that much [if at all] about side mechanics. It’s a very simple game for single player, it’s always been and it will always be~.

        • Ben Ruiz

          In Gen 4, if you wanted to do the Battle Frontier you sure as hell had better mastered IVs and EVs, because the AI there doesn’t mess around.

        • Adrián Alucard

          I play alone and I use the metagame, just because it’s fun

        • Aaron K Stone

          Considering one of the games main draws is playing against other people the game does a good job of teaching the basics and more recent ones go more indepth. For battle facilities it is also good to know this stuff.

    • Bunzi

      ….Compared to your average Final Fantasy, where all your elemental spells and effects are obsolete the moment you learn Flare, Ultima, or that game’s ultimate flavor of the year.

    • glenngunnerzero

      Everything Single Player in Pokemon is there to teach you and give you viability. Once you get to Battle Frontier/Player vs. Player Competition, All Gloves go off. You no longer can use items, or change pokemon in preparation after combat starts. The whole game is there for you to learn, train, achieve, explore, create, fail, try and win with little monsters that you get throughout your journey.

      When you think about it it’s all very fair and simple but that can be a double-edge sword when potentially you could have everything or anything, and without that knowledge it makes it much harder to know what to expect.

      Pokemon is the only RPG I know (though admittedly I don’t play as much as most here) that doesn’t break it’s own rules or create gods out of mechanics/playstyles. Everything is grounded by rules and those rules can be bent but never broken, which makes you just as powerful as you are vulnerable.

  • Slickyslacker

    This is why FF XV will be the zenith of RPGs, and gaming as a whole.

    …Alright, let me turn off my drooling fanboy mode and articulate a complete response.

    I don’t want to view myself as a masochist or addict. I refuse to continuously return to the type of game that punishes the player for playing. I want to engage myself in a game and not regret spending time with it.

    I must say that encounter length doesn’t consistently bother me, and when it does, only on varying levels. I find that if a game is immersive enough, both holistically and within “common encounters”, it compensates for the natural pitfalls of common encounters to some end.

    Games with inordinately long animations are another animal. Prime figure: Pokemon Colosseum and XD. Believe me, I love them both and Orre is a beautiful region, but Genius Sonority took expressionism too far. It drew away heavily from the experience. Needless to say, moderation in at least this area. Moreover, animations comprise only a fragment of the total time invested into a common encounter. Cut-ins, post-bellum screens, and so on can often seem cumbersome and tedious.

    I I must say that encounter length doesn’t consistently bother me, and when it does, only on varying levels. I find that if a game is immersive enough, both holistically and within “common encounters”, it compensates for the natural pitfalls of common encounters to some end.
    Games with inordinately long animations are another animal. Prime figure: Pokemon Colosseum and XD. Believe me, I love them both and Orre is a beautiful region, but Genius Sonority took expressionism too far. It drew away heavily from the experience. Needless to say, moderation in at least this area. Moreover, animations comprise only a fragment of the total time invested into a common encounter. Cut-ins, post-bellum screens, and so on can often seem cumbersome and tedious.

    What I received to be most poignant and heartfelt is the second segment of this article, “Common Encounters should incorporate strategy”.

    I respond by saying: why merely common encounters?

    I believe in games that are fastidious. I want games to challenge me and and accost me with the demand to strategize constantly. I want the era of “Press X to Win” to cease. I viscerally hate that expression, and I despise more only how trite it has become. “Pressing X until something happens” is the worst objective and justification of playing a game.

    RPGs are highly susceptible to this failing. It’s a discrepancy that is oft ignored and regarded as impertinent. There must be greater demands by the game for the player to meet.

    I agree with the mandate of common encounters preparing the player for the uncommon. I believe concurrently in each game integrating this standard differently.

    I’ve been a Pokemon fan for well over a dozen years, now. Pokemon games appeal so broadly for myriad reasons, but they’ve employed a model that functions well.

    FF XV will resolve these issues, and more. It’s bound to be one of the most immersive games ever made, fusing what is most classical with celerity and infinite tapestry to be created. What will be so different about the actions of the character? Actions are taken, an outcome is produced, and the environment responds. The only difference is that actions are unlimited, control is narrowed to a single character at a time, and every action transpires in real time. The capability of the PS4’s engines to craft intricate and smart AI is unprecedented. Please, FF XV, be the savior of FF and RPGs…

    Alright, I’m done.

    To conclude, I want games that inherently pursue excellence and challenge.

    • Astralwyrm

      The one thing Colloseum and XD did right though is that they captured the scale of the Pokemon well. I find it hugely annoying while i play Y to notice how the scale of pokemon are all too often wrong. Wailord should be unimaginably huge not seemingly the same size as a Charizard!

    • Axel Villar

      You have a decent view on jrpgs. They indeed need to pursue challenge. Thats why FFXV seems to be so shitty. It doesnt seem to want be more than a cinematic Gof of War: fashion edition or just a revamped KH (game which was terrible easy and simple in a bad way). If anything FFXV will continue to be another souless product in a machine that shits games that try to cater to the lowest common denominator. I dont see what showed FFXV to you so you could get the assumption that its going to be challenging. You are mistaking what you want to be, with what it will probably be. Also keep in mind that the game has to run on xbox one, so it cant use the power of ps4 other than just more frames or higher resolution. The base game (specially AI) must be the same for both. Its also needed to say that both the ps4 and xbox one have terrible cpus comparable to those of lower end netbooks/laptops…I guess time will tell.

      • Slickyslacker

        This couldn’t be more wrong.

        I’m not going to force my opinions any further. I’m just going to state facts.

        FFXV is NOT being developed on a console, or console based engine. DirectX 11 is a high end PC based development program. The game will be PORTED to the PS4 and XBone in accordance with the specs of the consoles themselves.

        Please, get your facts straight and think before you write.

        …and did you create a Disqus account just to reply to me??

    • Kaetsu

      Colosseum wasn’t that bad because you never had to fight a huge amount of trainers except for Mt. Battle.

  • Revorse

    The only things that really annoy me are random encounters and ridiculously frequent encounters. Also the fact that not many games allow you to hit bosses with status effects.

    • Milewide

      Yes! Especially the classic, poison. Normal encounters don’t last long enough for a slow-hitting effect like poison to do its things. It would be great on bosses, but noooooooooooooooooo….. SIGH!

      Good points!

    • Slickyslacker

      That’s why I kind of like how FF X did status effects. They were actually useful and could often be caused by simply attacking. I say “kind of” because these effects often made the game too easy!

      Ah well. There are a million ways to create challenges for yourself in FF.

    • Wouldn’t status effects on various bosses makes things too easy? And I think various bosses has certain elemental/status weakness you could exploit if you just use Sense or anything similar to an analisis ability.

      But yeah agreed on some games having ridiculous chances of random encounter, sides from that I kiiinda didn’t like FFX’s transitions sometimes, hated that screen breaking intro when I was in Zanarkand lol.

  • Juan Manuel M. Suárez

    Even the most well balanced mix of random encounters + well thought bosses eventually gets old [especially if the game offers different content with different playthroughs] which is why I think the speed up / speed down feature of Hexyz Force is a must and something I’m baffled others haven’t implemented~.

    That and being able to cut short spell animations with a button [Growlanser Wayfarer of Time comes to mind], I mean, the pretty lights and monsters coming from the sky are awesome and all but only the first five times. After that, it’s a chore to watch if you can’t just cut it short~.

    • 0nsen

      If they implemented that (+faster moving around) they couldn’t get impressive 40h in length. It would be possible to do everything in about 4hours.

      • Juan Manuel M. Suárez

        It’s just for battles, not for the game itself. Hexyz Force had this feature that if you pressed a button it’d fastforward during battles which made subsequent playthroughs [since you had four endings to achieve] a real breeze~.

  • 하세요

    I didn’t like SMTIV’s encounter system because of the Smirk system. It went from “Ooo, encounter! Chance for a demon!” to “Please don’t let me die every time I step.” I’m all for putting thought into every battle, but I shouldn’t fear my life on the most basic of battles. It results in needless frustration for me. I’d rather have fairly easy random encounters and tough marks / bosses out the ass (much like FFXII).

  • QueenDecim

    Turn based, and especially random encounters are byproducts of early hardware limitations. I would far rather play an action RPG over turn based, as the latter bore me these days. But I get why some people would still like them. However random encounters should have been entirely phased out by this day and age.

    • Mr_SP

      Absolutely. I was playing through Final Fantasy X HD, and that really popped out at me. Random encounters were such a frustration, particularly when backtracking, or trying to fight specific enemies. (I also thoroughly disapprove of the Sphere Grid due to being overly complex.)

      Final Fantasy XIII-2 wasn’t quite as bad, and FF XIII-3 had this bizarre random-visible encounter system which confused me as to why it even existed, given the game’s extinction system would fit better if there were plenty of visible encounters that VISIBLY decreased in number.

      • Kaetsu

        XIII-2 was never annoying because any fight you could beat really fast.

    • DyLaN

      Personally, I think a random encounter slider in BD FF is a good idea that most RPG needs. Don’t like random encounters? Pull it all the way down if you so desire. Need to grind quickly? Go maximum.

    • hng qtr

      No random encounters wouldn’t work in a game like Etrian Odyssey, for example. You have rather limited resources and inventory space, so random encounters are what make the dungeon exploration dangerous, you can’t really avoid running out of recovery items the first time you enter a stratum. FOE’s can join the batle if you’re fighting near them, so you also need to plan your steps carefully(or fight in a different way to end the random battle faster) even if you already know how to avoid them. If all enemies were on screen like the FOE’s the game would be waaaay easier than it’s supposed to be.

  • brian

    Pokemon seems to me like it has a “few” too many elements, and normally only one or two party members at a time, so room for strategy is pretty tight.
    I hate that those games appeal so much to me visually.
    edit: that thing about teaching the player the way to play reminds me of the way someone described the Pokemon anime: it’s like a strategy guide introducing enemies and their weaknesses.

  • Milewide

    I think this article has got it right. And I would like to add something about RPGs in general. Leveling up, in the sense that your passive stats determining things like dmg and hp increase, can make it very difficult to balance a game, possibly making for an uneven experience.

    If, when leveling up, one simply becomes straight up stronger you’ll eventually be able to pound every form of enemy into the ground without even blinking. So to match your increasing power, your bigger numbers, the enemies need bigger numbers as well to balance things out. Why even increase your passive stats to begin with, if the other side will simply be forced to compensate? I think this is where an uneven balance curve can pop up in RPGs.

    But character progression sure is nice and feels rewarding. But I remember playing Vagrant Story a while back, and while you still level up there, your passive stats don’t increase too much. You do become more powerful, but that’s because you unlock additional attacks which allow you to form new strategies that target the weakness of enemies. You don’t just get more power, you get more options. With better tools, you can solve greater problems!

    Fire Emblem: Awakening might just be the greatest sinner in all of this. Maybe it’s a problem with mixing strategy and RPGs in general. While I did enjoy the game a great deal I was very bothered by the great power differentials between units that would form over time. Indeed, due to how units become so much more powerful when they level up, the best strategy is almost always to create a small group of elite units that, due to having much higher stats than your current enemies, will simply one-shot them most of the time… and never get hit either, because their passive dodge chance will always save them.

    Interesting contrast to this would be Disgaea which suffers from the exact same flaws… but seems to embrace it and run with it. Never expect a balanced encounter from disgaea… hehe.

    All right, I’ll stop now. Thoughts please!

    • planetofthemage

      Fire Emblem is different within the series (have you played FE4?), but leveling up makes a larger difference when you can only do it 40 times (or 20, in FE4’s case.) And I think Disgaea’s charm comes from the ridiculous grinding — how many games have you played with a 9999 level cap? That’s like 101 times as much as most games.

      I do agree with you for the most part. I’d rather see interesting new skills and abilities than just raw power. Maybe that’s why FFV is my favorite in the series — job levels are separate from character levels, and you get to pick which commands you take into battle with you. Want your Paladin to dual-wield? No problem, just bring the Ninja’s dual wield skill with you! (Of course, unlocking that sucker for use on any class takes _forever._)

      • Milewide

        Unfortunately I have not played any other FE games. But I have heard that in the older games there is a limited amount of XP throughout the entire game. I do think that would make it more interesting, having to manage which team mates to make stronger. But losing one of them to perma death… gosh, how do you deal with that? That could essentially screw you over completely if you lose one half-way through the game. Did stuff like that happen a lot in earlier FE games?

        And yes, FFV is best FF. :)

        • planetofthemage

          The older ones I feel like are a lot harder — 4 has only ten chapters, but they’re massive, and halfway through the game your characters who have romances have kids and you play as the kids. I haven’t played 1-3, but I would put my money on them being equally as hard.

        • Daniel Gulyas

          For me, it wasn’t uncommon to lose my favorite character halfway through a mission in FE, due to a small mistake and simply flip the reset switch on the console. I actually loved it; it made EVERY choice you game have weight. If you continued on, you’d lose one of your better units, and on top of that, parts of the limited experience pool everybody shared.

          • Milewide

            I had some problems with permadeath in FE:Awakening. To me, since I immediately felt compelled to reset the game my defeat conditions simply shifted from “Lose Crom” to “Lose Any Unit”, which caused more frustration than anything else, really.

            I have this notion that permadeath without a persistent game state is a lost cause. If you lose a dear character, or just a really valuable character, but you are never forced to deal with it then I feel like the game lost a chance to say something about dealing with loss.
            If you can immediately reset the game, and lose at most a bit of progress, to get your best best friend back then permadeath loses its meaning, doesn’t it?

          • Daniel Gulyas

            While I agree, I also like the extra thinking it forces on the player. There can be no suicide missions for levels if the suicide permanently removes the character from the party. I think it forces the player to really think every move through, and prevents careless mistakes with the idea of “Oh, I’ll just win anyway and no damage done”.

    • Slickyslacker

      I agree with a lot of your post…and I can’t really find much more to add, haha.

      I will say that FE: A is a poor model by which to judge Fire Emblem. By grandly widening the appeal of the series, it shrunk considerably the feel and natural difficulty of an FE game. Not to mention inviting an outrageous number of perverts to the fandom – not to say there weren’t any previously.

      That must sound ridiculous, for a game with four entirely different difficulty settings available initially, and two further sub settings from there. But it’s just what you pointed to: no matter what difficulty settings you select, the game hardly provides more than extremes of difficulty. It’s either trivially easy or console shattering hard.

      Like planetofthemage said, the earlier games are true exercises in the player’s tactical prowess. 4 (Seisen no Keifu) is as challenging as it sounds. I’ve indelible memories of staying up for hours on end, trying to clear a single chapter. 5 (Thracia 776) is widely regarded as the hardest FE, and even I haven’t tried it.

  • planetofthemage

    I think this is the reason why I love Monster Hunter and its seemingly infinite number of clones. They definitely aren’t RPGs (Maybe RPG-lite) and they don’t have random encounters. For the most part, every monster is like a boss fight. Every fight you are challenged and put in new situations. Every new monster is hard because you don’t know what it can do — especially with the recolors who get new attacks, or when you reach higher ranks and all the sudden monsters can shoot laser beams and crap.

    The problem is, I don’t think you could do that in RPGs, just because of level up mechanics and the like.

    • RajaNaga

      Monster Hunter is definitely an Action RPG. Even if you don’t level up, you do craft weapons and armour that essentially make you stronger. It’s not a very typical action RPG, but it still fits the bill for those reasons. But yes, I definitely agree with you–it’s great that MH is so skill-based, and there’s no way to “grind” to prepare yourself for a monster. You just have to let it hit you in the face as you try to learn it’s attacks and how best to kill it without getting killed yourself!

      None of the clones do it as well, IMO. I’m enjoying Gods Eater, but the variation in monsters is pathetic in comparison to how an MH game progresses. Too many recolours/reskins.

    • glenngunnerzero

      It’s RPG mechanics probably come more from the Equipment, Loot, Items, and Rankings. If anything it’s more MMORPG lite and your characters are stuck at the top level only getting better through gear.

  • I have a couple of thoughts on this, so I guess I’ll toss them in here with everyone else’s.

    Common encounter length

    Personally, I don’t mind longer, more meaningful common encounters, but for that to work, you need a complex battle system that sufficiently rewards you with EXP at the end. A good example of this would be Xenoblade. Common encounters—especially later in the game—can last a while, and they’re actually really fun, but it only works because Xenoblade’s battle system isn’t turn-based, and there’s always a lot going on.

    Basically, if you’re going to have common encounters that last longer than usual, you need to keep the player entertained throughout, and give them a sufficient EXP reward at the end of it all, so it feels worth the effort.

    (Also, I think it goes without saying that lengthy common encounters require enemies to be visible on the field, otherwise they’d be immensely frustrating.)

    User interface and presentation:

    This is something that I don’t see many people talk about, but I feel like an RPG’s UI is a subtle but important part of a good battle system. I have a couple of examples of how this has affected my taste in RPGs over the years.

    1. Persona 3 and 4: I love the battle interface in Persona 3 and 4. The rotating menus feel really good to navigate, and they make a very satisfying sound as you’re scrolling through them. Meanwhile, your characters are constantly in some sort of animated state, either hopping from side to side or making some sort of gesture. Along with the battle themes (which usually tend to be pretty upbeat), this has a tendency to really get you fired up.

    Modern Persona is one of the few games where turn-based battles don’t feel slow and boring. The camera is very animated, the characters are very animated, and the UI is really fun and satisfying to navigate. After playing both those games, I find it hard to go back to other turn-based RPGs with lengthy encounters that aren’t similarly entertaining. One of the few other games that does this well is Dragon Quest IX.

    2. Pokémon Black/White and beyond: Back in the GB/GBA days, there was just one screen, and both your Pokémon, as well as the UI, were on that screen. Animations at the time were incredibly simple, too, and even the transitions from menu to menu happened in the blink of an eye. As a result, picking and executing a move during battles was very quick, and it never felt like a chore.

    Ever since Game Freak adopted a dual-screen format for Pokémon, there’s a lot more information to process between the two screens. Your battle takes place on the upper screen, your buttons are on the lower screen, and the animations have been getting lengthier and more complex. In order to maintain the quick pace of battles, Game Freak let people use the touch screen to make their way around the battle menu, starting with Diamond/Pearl.

    In theory, this would be the most natural way to play battles from then on. The games were on the DS so using the touch screen was a no-brainer. Using it also meant that you would have to make one less motion to move your cursor to the move you were going to perform. Unfortunately, in my experience, this never really panned out—at least, not initially. All through Diamond/Pearl and Hg/Ss, I never once used the touch screen during battles. I would always use the D-Pad. I could never figure out why I was so resistant to the touch screen, though.

    …that is, until Pokémon Black/White redid the entire battle interface. Instead of four similarly sized buttons placed side by side, they had the big FIGHT button bang in the centre of the screen, and the Item, Pokemon and Run buttons below it, in a much smaller size. That was when it really began to work. Having that giant, circular FIGHT button in the middle of the screen immediately draws your attention to it, and once you tap it, you continue to use the touch screen for the rest of your battle needs. It was a small change, but it made a huge difference to how I controlled the games after Black/White.

    So… that’s another thing, I suppose. Battle UI is important. If you’re going to have frequent encounters, you need to streamline your UI as much as possible and tidy up your presentation while you’re at it.

    • Ethan_Twain

      That’s another point to Xenoblade, speaking of combat UI. A lot of JRPGs that try to genre bend into real time combat have kept the traditional menu box in the corner of the screen. Kingdom Hearts, FF XII, and Rogue Galaxy have all done this. And that just doesn’t make much sense. Not functionally, not aesthetically.

      Xenoblade’s combat interface isn’t terribly original (it’s mostly lifted from the MMORPG space) but it at least makes sense for real time and free roaming combat. When not in combat the menus fade away, and when in combat there isn’t any finicky digging through sub-menus to access advanced tactics.

      • Yeah, I think Xenoblade’s solution for keeping the screen uncluttered while still giving the player a large number of options was serviceable. I did wonder at one point if XB would have benefitted from a radial menu like Persona, but given how the battle system works and how much it relies on positioning and quick reactions, having a single row of icons is the most straightforward and easy to understand solution.

  • Jadfish

    The whole “status effect spells not working when it counts” thing in Final Fantasy is one of the main things that I have always disliked about the series (even though I love FF)

    I mean look at the Red Mage. Look how cool he is. Generally a jack of all trades, but they always specialize in getting status effect spells which make them SUPER useless against bosses.

    I think that the SMT games use the buff and debuff spells perfectly, to the point where some common encounters rely entirely on who can buff and debuff the fastest.

    • Ben Ruiz

      Heck, in the first few SMT games, you could hard lock some bosses with status effects. A minor spoiler alert for SMT I incoming, but at one point you can fight Thor and use Zio over and over again to paralyze him throughout the entire battle.

  • Amagidyne

    I think there’s something to be said for encounter rates too. I generally don’t mind random encounters, but when it’s taking me double the time to progress through an area just because the encounter rate is so frequent, I’m not enthused about playing any more.

    At that point, even the shortest of common encounters feels like a slog, anything longer and more intuitive in the same session is about 50/50 between a welcome break or ‘oh great, a long one. Now I’ll never get to the other side of this room’. Lord forbid an enemy be faster, you lose patience and health all in one.

  • TrevHead

    I pretty much agree with this article.

    I generally like my battles to be fast paced and be not be a sleepwalk. EO, Original Phantasy Star’s are my preferred type although Tales/Star Ocean is interesting. If I’m having to micro manage in and out of battle then menu navigation needs to be fast and efficient (total opposite to FFXIII).

    Boring battles for me the traditional PS1 era battle system like Lunar: SSS uses, especially when enemies start using status ailments and makes play even more slow and tedious.

  • 0nsen

    Was hoping to find new fun RPGs.
    Ended up with getting a list of the few RPGs I ever really enjoyed.

    Just yesterday I got mad at FFIII for being such a chore to play through distracting fights. As I realized that the boring fights were distracting me from boring exploration just at the moment it started to become really boring I stopped playing. The good thing is I only took about 30min to realize it with FFIII where it took me 4h to notice with FFIX. Mostly because that is the time FFIX takes to actually let you play.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Well the point of the column wasn’t to point readers towards quality RPGs, but I’m happy to do that too :P

      Have you played The World Ends With You? That game is mad innovative and the way they do their common encounters is great. Combat is always initiated by the player, the difficulty can be moved in the main menu at any time, the player can chain encounters together to net greater rewards, and loot is awarded based on performance (the player gets a grade at the end of each battle). So at any time the player can have whatever sort of fight suits him or her. The game even lets you reduce your level! Chaining multiple fights, fighting at a reduced level, and fighting on a higher difficulty all give access to better rewards if the player can perform. Add in that the battle system itself is absolutely bonkers and I really think the game is worth taking for a spin.

      • 0nsen

        Sounds awesome, but I vaguely remember checking that one out a few years ago. I discovered there was no Japanese Dub in the English version which is a dealbreaker for me.

        Is this true or is my memory messed up?

        • Ethan_Twain

          Nope, English language only. For what it’s worth, there isn’t much voice and I think that what’s there is actually really good. But if you want your voice in Japanese and only in Japanese then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

  • SlickRoach

    Playing games like Etrian Odyssey, Dragon Quest, and SMT have really spoiled me with encouters, along with Disgaea. I used to hate grinding but Disgaea turned it into an addiction and actually liked getting swamped with high encounter rates, call me crazy.

    • DesmaX

      But Disgaea is designed with that in mind.

      NIS is the only developer that can make you actually want to grind

      • SlickRoach

        True. Before playing Disgaea I used to hate grinding but after it became fun. I guess it leaked into other RPGs as well.

  • Defied Reality

    I think if most encounters came with a really good cut scene at the end, something nice to sit back, relax and watch, take a breather, I would be happy with that.

    Though I have to say, I think the most unique system I have ever seen, and to me, it really takes the cake for it’s realism, which made it exciting for me…was Haunting Ground. There was no fight, the dog did the fighting, you had to run and hide, like a horror film. (At least in the campy ones.)

    And then there is Fatal Frame, the aim and take a picture, fight with a camera. Slower than a gun but those ghosts jump out so fast, kinda freaks you out.

  • Fitzkrieg

    Shoutouts to Muramasa Rebirth (and the original, by extension) for having some of the slickest random encounters I’ve ever seen.

    As you run around the world, an exclamation point will pop up, the screen fixes itself in place, the area theme shifts to a battle arrangement and you’ll draw your sword as the enemies jump in.

    After they’ve been dealt with (usually less than a minute of enjoyable and responsive action combat) a brief results screen pops up, you sheath your sword, the area theme returns to normal and you continue on your merry way.

    No loading screens, no jarring music transition, no long winded intros or outros. It’s smooth and it’s awesome; does a great job of making fights seem like less of a chore.

  • karasuKumo

    Is there anything anyone can’t stand in an RPG’s battle system? On the other hand is there anything you love? I’m collecting info since I’m making one for my final year project.

  • michel

    I never loved common encounters, but in games like Resonance of Fate they were OK… the game that I really hated because of them was Final Fantasy VII…

  • Andar

    Common Encounters should have enjoyable music

    This is a tough one, since what makes music good or bad can be subjective, but it’s definitely a huge problem if you grow to how the ‘normal battle theme’ in a game, as it makes you hate the encounters themselves.

    Escape should not be futile

    Common Encounters should be challenging enough to make it interesting, but not so much that it ends up punishing small mistakes too severely. If you happen to enter a battle without having realized that your healer’s MP is low, you could, understandably, be in trouble. Naturally, fighting in this situation may not be ideal, so you try to escape. Many games have a very low chance for actually allowing you to escape from battle, though, which means all you can do is watch in futility as your party slowly dies, and then reload from the last save point…which could have been ages ago. This makes for a very frustrating experience.

    Allowing escape, even at any time, doesn’t necessarily mean trivializing the common encounters. As an extreme example, look at Chrono Cross. In that game, you had a 100% chance to escape from any encounter, including bosses! You would have to start the bosses over afterward (and they would often taunt you for running away), but if you realized that the battle was going south fast, it gave you a chance to step back, heal up and regroup (perhaps change characters and equipment), without having to reset your console.

    Notably, it’s not (as much of) a problem if you are informed that escape is not an option, such as trainer battles in pokemon (“No! There’s no running from a trainer battle!”), or in some games where back attacks or pincer attacks prevent running. But even then, running from a battle takes time without granting a reward. It has its own cost. It’s therefore very annoying when games have the option but rarely let you use it.

    • Andar

      Common Encounters should have meaningful player input

      This is very similar to saying that common encounters should require a bit of strategy, but I don’t think they necessarily require that much. It’s also somewhat related to common encounters preparing players for the uncommon ones. There are some games which use unique forms of player input, and common encounters can offer players a chance to hone their ability to make use of that.

      One example is the Tales series. Depending on how you approach the game (and set the difficulty), so of the bosses are very punishing. That means you’re going to want your combos to count, but the only thing is, you have to build those combos yourself, trying to figure out what artes chain well with each other, figuring out casting times for certain spells, and so on. Common encounters are where you do this. As long as you are mixing up your approach to battle, common encounters aren’t just a treadmill of experience; they offer a testing ground for new approaches to a battle system throughout the game.

      Another, but rather different example is the Shadow Hearts series. Shadow Hearts relies on the Judgement Ring as a major core mechanic in its battle system. The real beauty of common encounters here is that they give you a chance to practice judgement ring inputs over and over, to let you drill it into your mind how each characters unique ring works. The payoff of this becomes especially apparent with items like the Mind’s Eye and the numbered keys (Third Key, Fifth Key, Seventh Key), which will allow you to absolutely decimate even the toughest enemies in the game, but only if you are able to use them.

  • Skode

    Every game should have an avoid random battles skill of some sort… it made the only way to get some of the rarest things in some games bearable.

    Final Fantasy VIII had the Oil Rig where when you got to bottom you had to fight a super tough boss and all the while hoping you realised there was a secret save point hidden at the bottom. Enchanted Arms was another where you more of less HAD to have it on in one particular dungeon to make it bearable given how often you got tough randoms to fight as your progressed through it.

    Still most get last gen rpgs it right – Eternal Sonata, Star Ocean The Last Hope, Infinite Undiscovery, Lost Odyssey etc whilst a couple got it wrong… FFXIII had problems with its love of linear corridors mixed with some late game random battles which just featured enemies with oodles of HP and yet no real challenge to beat beyond time consuming patience.

    Oh and it takes less time to load a battle than actually finish it then im not happy have to consistently fight those battles but thats just my opinion. Im an old school RPG player who LOVES getting all characters to the same high levels and grinding my way to success against overwhelming at first odds. Which naturally meant i loathed The Last Remnant as much as i loved it because it was a great game which penalized you for the more battles you fought, what a farce decision from a veteran RPG dev team.

    • Dom

      When I first noticed the healed after every battle thing, I thought it kinda took away the challenge. Buuuut, I got over that before even getting through the first part of the game and thought that it was pretty cool.
      The battles in FFXIII are also pretty much my favorite too. I know everyone’s always saying the whole “auto battle ruined the game” thing, but seriously, you don’t HAVE to use auto battle. In fact, there’s a setting that makes the cursor start on manual battle, instead of auto, sooo….

      Anywho, the paradigm feature was probably my favorite feature in 13. If you use a character like Hope or Sazh or Vanillie, you can really get engaged in the battle, what with switching from Ravager to Synergist to Medic to Sabatuer and all.

  • AJ

    I really liked the combat in Final Fantasy XIII. I mean the set-up of the encounters, not the system itself – enemies appeared on-screen, so you could choose to fight or not. You were fully healed after each battle so that the game designers could design each enemy with that in mind, rather than just having lots of the same thing come at you and winning or losing being based on how many items you are carrying (and let’s be honest – eventually you have 99 of everything anyway).

    A lot of the battles in Final Fantasy XIII were hard, but short. In one area you had to think on your feet. I really, really liked that, and was amazed at what such a simple mechanic – fully being healed after each encounter – could do to the encounter design.

  • SupaPhly

    I think it was handled really well in Blue Dragon, too bad everyone forgot about the game and ignored it due to bad reviews, it was actually a decent game.
    this video shows how you can avoid and alter battles before you start them.


    • Kaetsu

      I totally would have purchased it if I had a 360(almost did). The problem is that the majority of JRPG fans are on Nintendo and Sony systems so games like this go unrecognised.

  • I never saw dmc as mindless. Its not as tactical as rpgs but theres skill there.

  • iamakii

    Add Last Remnant to your list. I hope that game will be the last of it.

  • They should do a port of FF12 with the international content and new hidden bosses for PS3 or 4. And this time make it so Larsa stays with the party permanently and you can have 4 party members at once.

  • I feel like Dragon Quest has mastered the random encounter. Easy at some points, insanely challenging at others and they’re very quick with how frequent they are.

  • beemoh

    Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story failed the ‘short’ test for me- not necessarily the battles themselves, but all the ceremony that bookends them, particularly after the battles.

  • notentirelythere

    Common Encounters need variety! SMT and EO do this in a cost efficient, interesting way. Even if there are only 4-5 different enemy types in an area, they come at you in many, meaningful combinations. It helps that those games are so focused on attack affinity as far as balancing those encounters.
    In FFXII, many of the encounters are like, 9 WOLVES, 1 MANDRAGORA or 9 SKELETONS, 1 OTHER KIND OF SKELETON. I’m guessing they structured encounters this way for the loot system, but the loot system is… eughgh. When the enemy count is so skewed in one direction it doesn’t feel much different from say, 10 WOLVES 0 MANDRAGORAS, and considering how there were sometimes one or two enemies like flans that forced you to switch up your game, it sucks they’re usually all in like groups!

  • Izzeltrioum

    Remember when you actually used INNS? Regarding Tales, I’ve been nowhere as worried as I was in old Tales of entries (Or maybe I’m too god at managing skills, who knows :P ).

    What about poison post-battle? You’d be hanging by 1hp before you know it. Now, even Pokémon, auto cures status aliments. What’s going on with the newer fanbases?

    • Hunts Rattata

      Pokemon doesn’t auto-cure ailments after battle, Poison just doesn’t do damage outside of battle anymore.

      Poison in Pokemon never mattered past the first or second gym anyway; you’d have enough money to be drowning in Antidotes by then.

  • Shippoyasha

    I know most gamers will likely disagree with me, but there’s some cathartic feeling with random encounters. It can be annoying to be whisked into battle, but at least with some oldschool types of games or pure dungeon crawlers, it’s a nice pace to drop into combat on a semi-regular basis. I greatly appreciate non random encounter system too, but there’s just something good about a steady rhythm of battles. Even games that had a LOT of them like in Skies of Arcadia, eventually I fell into a rhythm with them.

    Lately I’ve been playing a lot of VERY oldschool first person dungeon crawler JRPGs and the random encounters actually feels relaxing to me. Interspersed with feelings of short dread just in case the few next steps could result in another fight. I suppose many games having an automated attack or fight management system really helps to speed up more mundane encounters. It’s actually rare to find an RPG that doesn’t have some kind of a battle-macro system nowadays.

  • Virevolte

    Bravely Default did something wonderful. The game gave you the choice to say : “I don’t feel like fighting right now”. Or “I feel like grinding here.”
    I really loved that. Especially after hours of leveling the jobs, when you don’t want to fight pointless battles anymore.

    • Ryker

      Indeed. I’m such an overleveling fool because I have such a good time unlocking abilities that I appreciate the option of turning off random encounters when I want to maintain a semblance of difficulty. I also appreciated the ability to keep random battles on while turning off XP(for the sake of gaining AP). It kept the game from feeling too easy due to overleveling, but I still got to enjoy whooping some monster butt.

  • Ecchitori-san

    My favorite common encounters are in Radiant Historia. Not only do I like the battle system but It gives me a way on how will I encounter the battle. I can attack the enemy to put him a back and doing this multiple times causes the enemy to be dizzy. When dizzy, I get the player advantage OR I can ignore the monster and continue on. The enemies themselves are worth a challenge as well cause mashing the attack command won’t help because of the battle system of the game and it yells “Use your head, you peabrain!”

  • Fintlook

    I really love when game give you a way to disable random encounters with items like repels in pokemon or when you can just dodge the enemy in the map; It’s annoying when you’re lost in a dungeon or solving a puzzle and you’re forced to fights.
    For my favorite encounters design I’d say Mother 3, Paper mario 1/2 and star ocean 1,3

  • Ryker

    Personally, I only need common encounters to establish two basic principles; How to take advantage of weaknesses and how to prevent your weaknesses from being taken advantage of. If a battle system can establish this early on in the game and give you the tools necessary to be proactive, then I can pretty much adapt to any circumstance, including complex boss battle mechanics. I’m not saying that there won’t be some difficulty and that encounter designers won’t try to throw a wrench in your plans and cause a few kinks with unexpected behavior, but if you are given the information you need early on in the game, then it should be no problem to overcome, even if you have to learn from dying(seymours and yunalescas battles in FFX are good examples of this).

    I don’t think that common encounters need to be very complex. They are what I consider hurdles when getting from point A to B in a story driven game. I expect boss battles and optional fights to wrack up the difficulty. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy games with more engaging common encounters that hold you accountable for trying to steamroll them, but I don’t think it’s all too necessary, unless it’s a dungeon crawler(EO) with game-play at its core and light story-elements.

    A game like SMT IV could be an exception to this train of thought, as it’s one of the few games in a series that has created a perfect blend of common encounter challenge while maintaining a complex storyline. There are some things I don’t like about the encounters in SMT, like when you are attempting to recruit an enemy and are completely annihilated for guessing wrong. To me, while it’s not the primary way to overcome an encounter, because it’s one of the given options, there should be more established rules for such a system-inside-a-system to be mastered without resorting to a faq/player’s guide. With that said, I do appreciate the unique combinations of monster pairings that force me to strategise in a game like this because it’s oh so stimulating! With a series like Final Fantasy, I’d say its equal part story and part gameplay, so creating overly complex battles isn’t necessarily good for a game like this as it can create needless roadblocks for getting to the meat of the plot by creating pacing issues. I guess you could apply the same argument to a game like SMTIV since the plot is also very strong, but atlus has gotten with the times and provided difficulty settings for those who want to make the plot their focus. This is a great evolution in rpg gaming.

    I think your example of Baten Kaitos served more to point out the flaw in card games. No matter how much you plan in advance or understand of the system mechanics, there’s no telling what set of cards the game is going to randomly throw at you. Sometimes you will get the perfect combination and other times you will hate your life because you’re getting every card in the book that you don’t really need at that time. This can apply to both common and boss encounters, but I do agree that this sort of system is more forgiving in boss bottles where you may be inclined to use more than just offensive cards.

    As far as the speed of common encounters, I’d say that I don’t so much care about the length of the battle as long as I’m not stuck doing nothing for extended periods of time like watching animations that are too long. Final Fantasy 13 provided me with an active experience even though some of the battles were quite long. When battles are long though, I prefer for them to be less frequent otherwise you will be spending all of your time getting nowhere. I guess length isn’t so much the issue, but the balance between length, animation, interaction, and encounter rate need to all come together to create a non frustrating experience. Here are some combinations that I enjoy.

    DQ – short battles, high encounter rate, super fast animations, short
    enough so that you don’t feel like you’re sitting there doing nothing
    even after entering commands and watching them occur

    FFX – short to medium-length battles, moderate-high encounter rate, most [email protected] a reasonable length, decent amount of player input

    FFXIII – longer battles, low-moderate encounter rate, speedy animations, extremely interactive to make the time go by quickly

    Edit: I forgot to bring up difficulty, — Don’t think it’s much of an issue in jrpgs because there are ways to overcome disadvantages like grinding a bit more, or just understanding the basic principles I outlined in paragraph one. All of the above examples had established very logical rules for taking advantage of enemy weaknesses so that the difficulty only lied in ones ability to remember said rules. DQ has basic elemental weaknesses. FFX has highly agile enemies that you were to attack with high accuracy characters like wakka and tidus, heavily armored enemies that you’d attack with auron or lulu, and flying enemies that you’d kill with wakka, lulu, or yuna. FFXIII had elemental/weapon-damage weaknesses that you were encouraged to exploit in order to Stagger enemies(reduce armor and magic resistance) so that you could take them down easily.

    Gonna steal your example of what a common encounter should’nt behave like.

    Xenosaga EP 2 – long battles, high encounter rate, animations ranging from acceptable to way-too-freaking long, periods of time where you feel like your input doesn’t matter at all as you’re left doing nothing but watching animations for extended periods of time. Destroys the pacing of the plot, and I can totally relate to forgetting what direction I was going before engaging some battles. I did accidentally backtrack several times throughout the game.

    Anyways, this post was much longer than I wanted it to be, but I really got into the topic. Thanks for the getting the ball rolling on this subject. It’s nice to know what people look for in jrpg battles.

  • fairysun

    Liking your topic and some of your points are great.

    I like to add few of my favorite elements from different RPG:
    – Suikoden: Auto Battle/free will: One command and you watch the battle flows.
    – Tales of: Holy/Dark bottle, to reduce/raise the random encounters

  • J_Joestar

    Although rare, there is one thing Pokemon will sometimes cheat you with.
    low leveled 3rd Evolutions for some champions/bosses (Lance and Ghetsis iirc)

  • axemtitanium

    Some thoughts:

    1) FFXII’s standard encounters tend to flow like clockwork because of well written gambits, the lack of which can make regular encounters in the last 40% of the game rather harrowing, with multiple status effect-inflicting enemies.

    2) Bosses’ status effect immunity is pretty bullshit and FFXII happens to be one of the few games that maintains a relatively short list of immunity for most bosses (niho+remedy ftw).

    3) Pokemon bosses are fantastic except when they have 5 pocket max elixirs to spam when you’re about to KO their Dragonite.

    • Regarding 3), isn’t that simply making the same options that players have available to the AI? I remember back in the G/S/C days, I actually managed to stall a boss battle for long enough that the opposing Pokémon ran out of PP and couldn’t use the move that was giving me trouble any more.

      Then, later on, a different boss did the exact same thing to me, and I honestly thought that was kind of neat.

      • axemtitanium

        I guess that’s true, but at least for me personally, I _loathe_ resorting to items in most RPGs. Feels like a cheese strat, whether on the part of the player or the AI. There’s no reason why opponents couldn’t just have 99 of every item to use at will, if that’s the case. It’s also telling that items are banned in competitive Pokemon battles (but not held items, since those are finite and activate automatically). If I could make a change to the Pokemon battle system, it would be that the Item command fell in a lower position in the Priority queue (http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Priority). That way, it would be possible to strategize around or anticipate an item usage with a high priority attack like ExtremeSpeed to try to beat the recovery.

  • JustJam

    I like this review. Totally agree.

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