What Makes an Enjoyable Battle System?

I have written before that I prefer turn-based battle systems over action orientated ones, but some designs are better than others. Back when turn-based was the popular choice for RPGs, many developers came up with extremely creative ways to add new mechanics to the traditional systems. Some relied on deep character customisation, while others added team attacks and summons spells to make battles more epic and interesting. The following games made combat fun with game play ideas that were well implemented and developed.

Suikoden II

Regarded now as a classic, the second game in the Suikoden series build on the foundation of its predecessor and offered tradition RPG battles, Scissors, Paper, Rock style one-on-one duels and massive scale grid-based strategy war combat. The variety was great and the different combat styles fit in with the story, but even the regular battles were full of strategy and new mechanics. Firstly your battle party could consist of up to 6 members out of a possible 108 recruit- able characters, offering a lot of diversity in how you customised your party. Another mechanic that worked well in turn-based battles was that your characters would overlap their attacks resulting in more intense combat and the ability to combine certain characters attacks. The range of options in Suikoden II kept the game feeling constanly fresh and new.

Final Fantasy VII

The Final Fantasy series has made a name for itself by reinventing its battle mechanics in each new iteration. The seventh installment saw the implementation of the Materia System. What seems at first like a simple way of equipping your characters with magic, actions and stat boosts, becomes a system that enables you to link Materia into infinite combinations. Weapons and armour come with empty slots to fill with Materia that you can purchase or find on your quest and many of them come with linked slots.  Combining the Lightning Materia with an All Materia means you can cast a spell that targets all enemies, but if you also combine it with HP Absorb, then you will also regain health when you cast the spell, but then if you also use the W-Magic Materia you are able to cast that spell twice and regain health each time, then if you combine it with MP Absorb… you see where this is going? The Materia system is simply the best customisation system utilised in any RPG, as it is both intuitive and simple to learn, but extremely complex and dense all at the same time.

Radiant Historia

As the most recent game released in this article, it proves there is still plenty of ways to make turn-based battle systems relevant in the modern era. Radiant Historia places enemies on a 3-by-3 grid and your characters can knock the enemies around the battle field or stack them on top of each other to allow your other characters’ attacks to hit multiple targets at once. The most interesting addition though, is the ability to manipulate the turn order of battle. When it is your characters’ turn you can opt to swap it with any other character, so you can exchange your turn with an ally that can heal the party when desperate, or you can even give up your turn to the enemy in a strategic ploy to line up your characters turns together to enable you to perform a combo attack. These strategies become very important in boss battles and are often the deciding factor between winning and losing.

There are a number of features that can keep combat engaging, fun, strategic and challenging. Over the years RPG mechanics have evolved, but I often think that designers should take a note from battle systems of past and see how they used creative features to expand upon an old formula and make it feel new and exciting. What have been some of your favourite battle systems in RPGs?

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4 Comments

Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Radiant Historia, Suikoden Series

4 responses to “What Makes an Enjoyable Battle System?

  1. I usually prefer non turn-based battling myself because I can be more free, plus with turn-based fighting, you are pretty much guaranteed to get hurt during the battle. But, of course, turn-based fighting is pretty much needed to play as several characters and is still pretty fun if done well.

    Anyway, my favorite battle systems in RPG’s. I liked the one in “FFVII” a lot. The materia was pretty neat, with you being able to try out different combinations, and during battle, there wasn’t a lot of gaps in the action because you’d control the other characters while you waited for another one’s turn. I also liked the battle system in “Kingdom Hearts” because you could do things like in “Final Fantasy” games, but it wasn’t turn-based. I also liked the “Paper Mario” battle system. It was simple, but fun, and different attacks had you do different things with the buttons, and if you pressed the buttons correctly, you’d do more damage.

    Basically, I like battle systems where you can actually control your characters. In some RPG’s, the characters do too much themselves, and I’m basically just watching the battle. I think that was how “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” was. I kept losing battles, and it didn’t seem right, as I had no control over how my character fought.

  2. You make some great points about the benefits of action RPG systems and I also really enjoyed Kingdom Heats, as it allowed you to dodge, attack, cast magic and even summon. Turn-based combat is definitely at its best when you have whole party of characters to command.
    I played a bit of Super Mario RPG (the original made by SquareSoft on the SNES) lately and found it fun to press buttons at the right time to add extra damage to attacks, or reduce the damage you received. Maybe that would be a game you would find enjoyable? Thanks for your great comment!

  3. DAMN

    FF7’s battle system sucks
    FF9 had a much better one(sadly it was very slow…whether that was cuz of the PS1 holding performance back I don’t know)

    Chrono Trigger’s battle system is the GOAT tho
    Fast,fun,battle in maps,dual techs/triple techs and so much more

    • I still think FF7 has a great battle system, as the use of materia is both complex and intuitive at the same time. Plus you can make endless combinations!
      FF9 was also fun and different, I liked having more defined classes/jobs for the characters and learning abilities from equipment.

      Totally agree with you about Chrono Trigger though, everything just follows perfectly in battle as well as having enemies on the map. To think it was released in 1995 is crazy, it still puts a lot of games made today to shame.

      Thanks for your input!

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