How to Make Turn-Based RPGs Engaging

by Yaw Amanquah 16 days ago in rpg

Musings on Turn-Based Combat

How to Make Turn-Based RPGs Engaging

The appeal of turn-based RPGs for me has always been how they can prompt the player to come up with strategies that achieve the most efficient use of their turn. However, this hardly describes most of the turn-based RPGs that I have played which, are often just about finding the optimal strategy and repeating it in every battle. Recently, during a conversation with my friends, I made the curious discovery that while they find most turn-based RPGs dull, they do enjoy turn-based strategy games and deck-building card games. This discovery made me realize that maybe the reason some people don't enjoy turn-based RPGs isn't that they're turn-based but rather because they don't have engaging battle systems or enemy encounters.

Battle Systems

Dragon Quest

A battle system is the rules that govern combat, which includes all the actions a player can take during battle. An engaging battle system is one that has enough complexity to give the player lots of choices to consider during combat. The reason why I and so many others have trouble playing any turn-based RPG on the Nintendo Entertainment System is that the battle systems aren't complex enough to allow the player to make meaningful choices. Most actions in these RPGs don't serve any purpose other than doing damage, which makes the decision easy. This simplicity is why turn-based RPGs with a basic battle system opt for party-based battles rather than individual ones because having more choices to consider each turn breaks up the monotony of the combat. Modern turn-based RPGs aren't as lacking in complexity as older ones, but I believe the roles of party members can be differentiated further to make them more unique. Complex battle systems mean more tools for the player, but this is meaningless unless the battles themselves are ever-changing and challenging to accommodate the vast amount of strategies.

Enemy Encounters

Pokemon Blue Version

An enemy encounter in my mind is more akin to a chess problem; in other words, a challenge that tests the player's understanding of the game mechanics. Enemy encounters are not something that turn-based RPGs always get wrong, but this kind of attention to detail is rare for every battle. To highlight this point, I would like to take a look at my favorite turn-based RPG series of all-time—Pokémon. Pokémon is an interesting case because, while its battle system has enough complexity to promote a multitude of strategies, the game hardly makes use of it. The reason why something as mundane as an enemy trainer using an item or switching their Pokémon makes such an impact is that, usually, the computer opponents don't behave intelligently. My most memorable enemy encounters in the Pokémon series occurred while playing Stadium Mode (Pokémon Stadium) and Battle Tower (Pokémon Crystal Version) because they both feature computer opponents designed with a specific strategy in mind. Setting up situations that force the player to adapt makes combat more engaging because the player must consistently learn and grow.

Final Fantasy VII and Remake

Of course, I can't guarantee that these suggestions will make turn-based RPGs appeal to everyone who doesn't like them, but I think they at least make these games more enjoyable for fans of the genre. It is also important to note that these suggestions aren't only applicable to turn-based RPGs and can be applied to other genres, as well. However, I think they are crucial for turn-based RPGs because there is a growing stigma that the genre is antiquated. Even Final Fantasy, one of the most popular turn-based RPG franchises, has abandoned turn-based combat in favor of real-time action to appeal to a broader audience.

Yaw Amanquah
Yaw Amanquah
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Yaw Amanquah

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