So I’ve been playing a decent amount of Popolocrois lately, and a decent amount of Ni no Kuni too. I love these games quite a lot. As a matter of fact, Ni no Kuni feels like it looked at Popolocrois and was like “I WANNA BE JUST LIKE YOU WHEN I GROW UP!” but they both rock so that’s okay. There’s only one big problem, spiritual issues with the games already mentioned aside, and it’s a problem that plagues every JRPG that ever was and likely ever more shall be.
Random. Freaking. Battles.
The thing is, I’m not saying that random battles are bad, I’m saying when you can’t go more than five steps without getting into one THAT YOUR GAME HAS A FEW PROBLEMS!!!
Now, after reviewing for so long and looking at games with a critical eye for close to the same time, I can spot why a game is developed the way it is. I can tell the subtle secret behind certain balancing decisions. I know why you do what you do most of the time, and it doesn’t make it any easier to forgive. You look at some games, like Metroid Prime, and I mean really that whole game was probably about three hours long, if that. The majority of the ten to fifteen hours of playtime you might get (and I’m being really generous with those numbers) are devoted to backtracking. In most RPG’s you’ll find that if you remove how much time you waste being lost, spending grinding, or waste from the first transition to the end of a fight, they’re probably closer to twenty hours in length if that.
Now, I’m not saying Metroid Prime was a bad game, though I will eternally love whoever decided not to make scanning crap in every bloody room mandatory for a good ending in the sequels, and I’m not saying grinding is bad either. What I am saying however, is that some of this mess needs to stop. Popolocrois, Skies of Arcadia, Wilds Arms, Persona 3 and Ni no Kuni are some of the worst offenders out there, and as such I’ve drafted some rules.
Rule #1: If I’m lost, leave me alone!
If you know that your game has a terrible map (Popolocrois) or no map (every Dragon Quest game ever), is confusing to navigate (Popolocrois, Wild Arms, Skies of Arcadia), doesn’t have a clear way you can find out where you were supposed to go more than once, has weird town names that are hard to keep apart, has no method of traveling quickly, and has a world that is overall a pain to traverse, DON’T BUG ME WITH FIGHTS EVERY FEW SECONDS! My goodness Popolocrois, I want to like you so badly, but I rarely know where I’m going or how to get there, and I literally take five steps before Pino and company have to throw down WITH YET ANOTHER GROUP OF ENEMIES THAT I WILL KILL IN ONE HIT BECAUSE YOU WON’T STOP ENGAGING ME IN BATTLE ALL THE DANG TIME!
There is generally nothing that I cannot one shot for the next two dungeons of each new location because of the terrible pacing of battle, which is odd because to my understanding the story alone makes this a fairly long RPG, and didn’t really need padding. People have complained about how easy it is, but it’s not easy because of poor balancing, it’s easy because you’ll be forced to power level all the time because you can’t stop getting into fights and if you run you lose a bunch of gold every single time.
There needs to be a protocol that lessens the amount of random battles you get into the longer you take reaching your destination. If I’m playing an RPG and I’m lost and I keep getting into fights, it’s not “something to do to keep you focused”, it’s “something that will make me stop playing your game and then never play it again”.
Seriously, I’ve been working on Popolocrois since like, 2000.
Rule #2: Stop using random battles to make your game longer
This is just poor design and pacing. If your dungeons are that short and samey and your story is that easy to blow through, don’t punish me for your lack of pacing by making me fight all the time to make the game seem longer! I shouldn’t have to bear the weight of your mistakes! One of the quickest ways to make me lose interest is the moment I realize you won’t stop throwing me into battles because your dungeon and by extension game is really short and this is your way of not having to craft more events or a more complex area to traverse.
An even worse offender is Persona 3, in which the game pads its already needlessly long story with needlessly long dungeons, and repeated sidequest contrivances in the form of rescue missions that force you to walk fifteen to twenty floors more than you need to actually go to find someone, because the teleporter conveniently doesn’t go anywhere near where you need it to.
Rule #3: If I’m stronger than everything in the area and there is no logical reason that I would be grinding, drop off the number of enemies that attack me!
I cannot possibly stress this enough. So, you’ve already broken rules 1 and 2, and as a result I’m like ten levels higher than I should be. I’m not anywhere that there are rare items or monsters that I’m farming, I’m just stuck because I’m either lost or you’re trying to make your dungeon/game longer. STOP THROWING ENEMIES AT ME, THAT’S JUST STUPID! I’m already way stronger than I should be, and annoyed because I’m lost/stuck in your dungeon. If there is no logical reason for me to be putting up with the battles that I am, taper them off! All you’re doing is making sure that I can’t in good conscience recommend your game to any of my friends!
There are so many RPG’s that I’ve flat out stopped playing and will never, ever finish because of their encounter rate, such as the entire Wild Arms series and Skies of Arcadia to name a few.
Rule #4: Let me level the playing field!
I’m not talking about powerful moves or whatever, I’m talking about teleportation, fast travel, holy water, vehicles, things like that! If you’re already going to break rules 1-3, or any of them really, you need to give me a means to stop having to put up with your lack of foresight! Give me an item to lower the amount of encounters I get into, give me a means to bypass areas, let me travel faster, SOMETHING! I can probably only make myself play Popolocrois for five minutes at a time because of the frequency of battles and ease of getting lost. This game is ridiculously charming with a very sweet story and quite likeable characters, but dang! Dem battles!
So there you have it in a nutshell, my RPG random battles rules of engagement. Of course, you could avoid all of these by just having encounters be on the map (though Ni no Kuni did that and I still fight way more battles than I need to), but at the very least, stop using battles as an excuse to compensate for length and design!
Oh, and by the by, please look forward to my interview with the amazing gamer band Afore Notation this weekend!