How Viable is Turn-Based Combat?

Basileus

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I've been on a lot of threads on this forum that discuss aspects of combat systems for RPG Maker, which means I've seen lots of threads asking about which scripts to use to replace the default system. As I set the foundation for my own project I've been thinking about how to make the combat fun and engaging. Most of this thought has been focused on progression systems, rewards, and how combat is initiated. But as I'm getting into more detail I'm trying to see what mechanics I can use to make the default, turn-based combat system more fun.


I've seen a lot of people on this forum and in others that prefer an Active Time Battle System like Final Fantasy or an Action Combat System like The Legend of Zelda. I've been through dozens of threads where we've discussed ways to make systems more "tactical" or "strategic" or "fast-paced" or whatever. And yet I'm still not really sure how these systems are really any different than the old-school Turn-Based Combat System except in delivery and presentation.

  • Final Fantasy XIII - On the surface the game looks very "fast-paced" and "action-y", with quickly-filling ATB bars and the use of a "Paradigm" stance system to change between classes to instantly react to changing conditions. The tactical element is handled by juggling the Stagger Meter to deal increased damage which synergizes with the different classes in ways such as filling faster with magic attacks from the Ravager, drawing enemy attacks with the Sentinel to keep combos from being interrupted, and knocking Staggered enemies into the air with the Commando.


    When I took a closer look from a programming perspective, I noticed that there is almost no difference between this system and older turn-based ones. The ATB gauge takes a little time to fill and it's rare for characters to take enough extra actions to notice without strong Haste and Slow effects. Paradigm Shift can easily be triggered by an ability which calls a Common Event to handle class changes. The Stagger Meter can also be handled via progressive States, and abilities from different classes can easily be set to apply those States at different rates. Even the "Knock Up" effect of the Commando is just a State...the only different is the visual presentation.

[*]Final Fantasy X - The combat system in this game felt more "tactical" to me than many other FF titles, and it's also the one that ditched the ATB System for a Turn-Based one, specifically the Conditional Turn-Based System (CTB). Turns are still individualized instead of inputting commands for all party members at the start of a "round" and everyone getting exactly one turn. In fact, I've noticed that Tidus and Rikku (and anyone with Haste) can often act multiple times before their enemies can take an action. 

  • Ultimately this system is actually Turn-Based Combat, but it seems even better at abusing speed stats than the ATB titles. It almost feels like bullying to take tons of actions when enemies can't fight back. But it does feel pretty good and is a fair representation of "fast" characters vs "slow" characters in a way that's not just turn order and dodge rate. Being able to manipulate not just turn order but also the amount of actions the party and enemies get adds an interesting element. It could be that this mechanic could be what's needed for a better felling TBS.

[*]Final Fantasy VI & VII - Extremely popular and nostalgic titles and probably the reasons why ATB Systems as still such popular choices. 

  • Honestly, these games always felt just like TBS games to me. The only difference was that I had to wait longer to input my commands and could occasionally be attacked while I was in the menu selecting spells. Fun games, but there just don't seem to be any real mechanics to any of the skills that make them any different from the ones seen in TBS games.

[*]Dark Souls - Very popular and also praised for mechanically-deep gameplay that makes melee combat fun. Timing is extremely important and bad timing easily leads to death while good timing is rewarded with hard-hitting damage and usually taking none in return. Enemies have a variety of skills and attack patterns and the player is required to notice and react to them in real time to succeed. 

  • Let's not lie - Dark Souls combat is slow. Part of keeping this game even remotely fair is making every enemies very telegraphed. The essence of this combat system is strafing with a shield raised and well-timed parries and/or dodge rolls into backstabs. There are elements of positioning that cannot really be replicated without having battles directly on the map. But ultimately there are very few actions the player ever takes besides "Block", "Dodge", "Damage" - there's a little healing but not much in the way of buffs, debuffs, and status effects. It's mostly just hitting things in the weak point until they die.

[*]The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Basically just an older version of Dark Souls. Strafe with the shield raised while Z-targeting the Lizardmen, strike after they hit your shield and stagger themselves. Wait for Skulltula to turn around then hit it in its squishy belly. The only difference mechanically is the lack of Parry and Backstab options (and even then there's enough enemies that need to be hit in the back to be hurt to count).

  • Again, it's a great and fun game but there really isn't that much Link actually DOES aside from "watch for pattern; hit for damage". The mechanics of combat are mostly centered on choosing the right time to attack and using the right tool to do so. All of this can be replicated in RPG Maker with different damage types, special States, and calling Common Events in combat. It just comes down to anticipating the enemies move next turn instead of waiting in real time for said action.




Obviously, I feel that Turn-Based Combat still has merit. But I wholeheartedly agree that it is often handled poorly and lazily. I really think that a TBS game can offer a fun and mechanically-deep combat experience and I really want to make a game that does this properly. I've been considering ways to incorporate elements I see in other games into a turn-based RPG Maker one but I'm still wondering if other people could find the system fun. The ultimate goal is for the player to have a fun experience so I really want to avoid mechanics that people find tedious to work with...but since I see so little difference between most turn-based and action-based games I really wanted to see how all of you feel about turn-based games and what kinds of mechanics made those games fun for you.


Here's a few things I enjoy to get things rolling:

  1. I like using turn order to plot out my actions for the round: It makes me feel like I am doing more than just button-mashing when I pay attention to party and enemy speeds to anticipate who will act when and plan accordingly - knowing when to have a party member use an item if the healer won't make it in time, focusing a dangerous-but-slow enemy to take them out before they can attack, etc.
  2. I like using buffs, debuffs, and status effects to take control of combat: I generally enjoy having things to do besides damage-dealing and healing and I like it when those utility skills actually matter. Actually having tough enemies and bosses be affected by things like Sleep, Poison, ATK Down, DEF Down, etc. makes me feel like I have more options in combat and have more control to make things easier if I plan well.
  3. I like it when my actions have cumulative effects: It feels cool to have my actions be affected by what happened in the previous round - like having a skill enhanced because I used a skill of the same element last turn or triggering extra effects because I hit the enemy with a negative status effect last turn. This makes me feel like I am being efficient, kind of the same feeling you get with coupons - sure, you still got that thing you were going to get anyway, but now you get a bonus thing for good timing on top of it. It's a simple, stupid, and damn effective feeling.



How about you guys? What kinds of mechanics make you feel good in a Turn-Based Combat System that make up for not having flashy graphics, fast-paced action, and real-time button presses?
 

Pierman Walter

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I like combat systems that require strategy and can't be beaten if you only rely on leveling up and stat boosts. For example, Shin Megami Tensei has the Matador boss, which is famous for requiring an entire party dedicated to debuffing in order to fight.
 

Anthony Xue

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First of all, I dislike elements of action and timing in my RPGs, no matter whether in combat or puzzles. If I want "fast-paced action", I'll play an action game, thank you very much. That being said, for me the following elements make games with turn-based combat interesting, from large scale to small scale:

  1. Long-term planning: Find out the general rules of combat in the game and develop characters accordingly. Ex.: In the Might & Magic games, you control a party of six and regularly get to divide stat-raising potions among the characters. I gave all potions of speed to either my primary fighter or my primary sorcerer. This way, I could almost certainly take out the most threatening enemy before it would take action, either by physical attack or by spell (many beasts were immune against one of these and vulnerable to the other). The benefits of this general strategy usually outweighed the problems caused by my other characters almost always acting last. Usually.
  2. Battle planning: What is the most threatening enemy? Can I afford to concentrate on him or do I have to take out the minions first because they would otherwise bite me to death in the meantime? Do I have to take out certain enemies immediately or can I afford to spend some turns on building up buffs? Are certain enemies especially vulnerable to certain elements or type of spells, or worse, invulnerable to everything else? I only have the resources to use skill X once, when would that be best?
  3. Turn planning: While I, too, like to take the turn order of combattants into account, I prefer giving orders to my characters only when they come around to act, not all of them at once at the beginning of the combat round. Ex.: Let's say I face a bunch of skeletal knights, and my cleric is acting rather late in the round. Whether I would like to have her cast Turn Undead or Heal All really depends on what happened in the round until then. Unless the system allows me to very accurately predict the events before, I feel that having to select at the beginning of the round is like taking a coin flip.
  4. Action selection: There should be several options available for each character, and which of those is preferable should at least change from battle to battle, depending on which enemies I fight in which environments. In the strategy guide for Last Dream, the developers give very detailed strategies for every boss battle; however, from a certain point on, these strategies read almost identical from boss to boss, as the later skills simply outperform the earlier ones. That makes things rather uninteresting.

So I want my combats challenging to my ability to plan. In turn, I want to able to think about the optimal move for as long as I deem it necessary. However: If the game contains a lot of grindy battles between the more important fights, these should already be decided at stage 1, meaning that if I enter combat with a correctly skilled party with appropriate equipment, a battle against minions only should be over quickly - having every random encounter be a strategic exercise would be too exhausting in that case.
 
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Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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Turn based combat are easier to play with for people who prefers to think in their battles (or battles made really for tactical thinking) or cannot think super quick, it's also a bit more laid back so it can also cater to casual gamers just starting on RPGs. There are people who prefers turn based, action based or can play both.


If for your game, pick which one makes most sense for your game and the experience that you want players to have. Just because action seems nice or turn based seems nice it doesn't mean it will work for your game. Like if most of your game plays out in a laidback manner, I wont expect you to have quick battles that rely on quick thinking and reflexes..
 
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Dr. Delibird

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In a nutshell, I like it when each and every character has unique skills/traits that when combined with skills/traits/gear that everybody can use, create cool and interesting "builds" that are unique to those character (to an extent). This obviously works regardless of the battle system but I find it especially relivant in turn based games.


I created a character that could not use their attack command but could use a counter skill that has a chance to counter any attack. Now to make up for this character only being able to do damage on a dice roll I gave the character an improved guard skill as well as a guard skill that gives passive healing. All of this characters skills only last until their next turn except the taunt skill which lasts 3 turns. This character was inspired by the Centinel job in FF XIII however I personally feel it works much much better in a turn based game as every single turn is a resource for this character rather than clicking a few buttons every X seconds.


I have found this character to be a really strategic piece for me as a game designer as I can have them accompany certain characters or vice versa to really change not only the pace and difficuilty of encounters but also allow the player tl develop different combinations between different character combinations before finally giving them free reign over their party descisions.
 

Sekunri

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As a developer and a gamer I like

  1. Turn order : the fact that you know a turn is going to go in a specific way because of a stat like actor speed to me is important. This sets up a lot of things the player can do as well as the enemy can do. The ability to create combos and synergies between multiple actors or to take advantage of stat manipulation against an enemy really changes how a battle can flow.
  2. Combos & Synergies : Actors in a party are generally unique in their own ways to make them stand out but after being in the party for a little while in the story and getting to know one another they should also "get to know one anothers fighting styles" thus combos and synergies that you can use are nice both in a small story flavor kind of manner and as a mechanic.
    Simple examples include: 1 actor, who is faster, buffs the caster who then launches a spell; One actor attempts to burn an enemy because the next actor to act does extra damage to burned enemies; The enemy counters on attacks so one actor grants a shield to an actor that launches a physical attack right after.
  3. Skill Equip : I like the idea of having a player have to equip skills in one manner or another so that battles have a little bit more strategy from the get go. You're going into a volcano dungeon so you should probably un-equip those fire spells and consider something that may benefit you more like water / earth spells. This also means you should stock up on some burn heal items because that could become a problem as well. Also this can keep a player from relying on one super spell at all times since stronger spells can be more costly to equip than weaker ones.
  4. Unique Mechanics : This one is typically harder to do but I like having a unique mechanic for each boss to give them both a little story flavor and make them challenging in their own rights. HP boss tanks are aggravating and overdone so perhaps I want a glass cannon type boss but as the type suggests he hits significantly harder than tanky bosses while also taking much more damage. To make up for this we make him a single target opponent in most cases with obvious tells for large spells that are severely ineffective against a defending player / a player with a specific state. We also give him a minion or two that protects him so that they have to be defeated in order to get to the boss adding both some tactics, some caution and a little flair.
 

Andar

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I do not like any time pressure in my games, but one of the biggest weaknesses of the turn based combat is that it limits the choice of the player by giving only one action per party member.


What I prefer are games where you can choose between fast and weak skills or long-charging but stronger one, only without the pressure of a time counter. If a player has enough action points for the next action, then the game should pause for that decision.
 

LightningLord2

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What I feel most turn-based games (and, in fact, action RPGs to an extent) do wrong is failing to make the enemies interesting. In a turn based game, most enemies only have one or two damaging skills which you can just outheal (or even burst down the enemy before it matters), which tends to be insanely dull. Do things that force the player to switch up tactics: Maybe start burning down that healer's MP. Let the boss grapple that dual-wielding damage dealer and force the other party members to set them free. Make the fire-breathing lizard turn around and have it shoot blizzards out of its tail.


Note that the lack of enemy variety often applies to poorly made action RPGs as well, in which you dispatch 99% of the enemies by blocking/circlestrafing constantly until an obvious weak spot can be hit.
 

Basileus

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I think the reason I'm not terribly impressed by Action Combat Systems is because the answer to everything is almost always Z-Target, Raise Shield, Circle-Strafe. I feel like most action games never progressed past Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64 sometimes. But some games like Dynasty Warriors let you just rag-doll dozens upon dozens of weak mooks with awesome and fun to use combos that feels just awesome to execute and chain together. Until Lu Bu arrives.


I'd like to think that somehow a Turn-Based system can capture that feeling of having fun just executing the skills and combos. I think any game with combat should at least try to let the player have fun in each battle just playing with the combat system. If the only fun thing about combat is the post-combat reward system then something is wrong.
 

LightningLord2

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@Basileus It sounds silly, but the Banjo-Kazooie games have way better action combat than most ARPGs due to no auto-targeting, meaning you actually have to aim, and the enemies actually leading their shots, making it not possible to just run in circles to dodge projectiles.


And my idea of doing fun things in TBS is when the game has enough tactical tools for insane burst combos (just trying to land as big of a hit has possible can be hugely satisfying), optimizing for alternate goals (like dropfarming, chaining battles or beating enemies with a knack for running away) or whooping the main bosses with a Level 1 party.
 

Lord Semaj

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@Basileus Turn-based battles and the thrill of combat is actually what card games are well known for.  I recommend checking out the HEX TCG on Steam as it's the best example of digital card games and what they can do in a proper format.  Unlike other TCGs, which make no attempt at separating from their paper counterparts, there are many mechanics in HEX that are impossible to replicate in the physical world without great difficulty unfitting to a casual game.


For example, I can look at your hand using a card that assigns a secret effect to one of your cards I have selected without needing to tell you which I selected.  I could insert cards into your deck or permanently buff my own regardless of where they end up.  I can modify existing cards in cost, strength, or add new abilities to them.  Even randomly... like the next three troops in my deck get the Flight ability.


Card games give quite a visceral feel to combat.
 
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Milennin

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I love turn-based combat, it just gets a bad reputation because RPG Maker games rarely are thought out well enough to make it fun to play. A lot of people seem to think it's OK to start off their characters with no skills, or only with the default skills, or have skills that merely do more damage than the basic attack, or solely rely on a rock-paper-scissors that has no depth whatsoever. Or they give you slightly more interesting skills, but then they won't have any effect on the enemies that you actually want to use them on (like Sleep on bosses).


There's no point in going in-depth about this, as it's just a matter of making sure to plan out your combat system so it won't suck. Turn-based has so much potential, and just because it's the easiest thing to go with, doesn't mean you should skip out on tapping into that potential.


I dislike ATB, because it's like turn-based, but with a constant timer ticking in the background. A common problem is that some games have very slow moving bars, making combat move at a snail's pace. Another thing is that it promotes skill spam to get more actions done within a certain time-frame. Unless, of course, we're talking about ATB that pauses the combat whenever you can move a character, which I like a lot better, and also has a lot of potential to be interesting to play. It's just a less elegant system than purely turn-based, and can get very messy if the system includes a lot of skills that manipulate characters' Speed.


Pure action combat is fine, but it generally lacks the depth that a turn-based system has. It's more focused on testing the player's reflexes by hitting the right buttons at the right times, or for the player to aim at the correct spots of an enemy's weak spot. It's rare to even see it in RPG Maker games, and I can't recall any game that made it feel as solid as I'd like it to.
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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@Milennin and not just in RPG maker games, even commercial RPGs sometimes actually have bad designs when it comes to their turn based battle systems which in turn makes it boring. XD

It's more focused on testing the player's reflexes by hitting the right buttons at the right times,



I hate those games that rely heavily on right button timing, my hands are generally faster than any other controllable part of my body so my eye-hand coordination or even my brain-hand coordination is actually a bit off.. XD
 
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Espon

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Mana Khemia 1/2 and Atelier Shallie does a good job at making turn-based combat fun and engaging.  If you play on the higher difficulties in Shallie, you really need to make use of having a proper team of 6 characters.  Battles are set up with 3 characters in the front and 3 in the back, and the characters in the back can jump in at any time to follow up with attacks or take the hit for someone.  Since it's not ATB, you can still carefully plan before taking an action.
 

Blair Pendragon

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I wanted to make a small contribution to this thread.

Mario RPG.
The genre of quick time events mid turn based combat ranges from simplistic as Mario RPG, to as advanced as Mario&Luigi.

The most simplistic version is the most preferable for a combat system with strategy over quick reactions.
And one that plans to be quirky and use more extreme variations of flashy attacks and button presses, is better suited for the mario&luigi version.

But reading ur thread made me think of something else.

How about a mix between ATB, and FFX?

People hate sitting there waiting for their turn on an ATB system, and people hate being rushed "too much".

Essentially the enemy has a bar, and when it fills up, they attack, regardless of what ur doing.
This bar fills up slowly, and i do mean slowly.
essentially no one should ever REALLY feel like its the reason they lose.
But it does feel like it helps to move faster.

but to get this illusion off, the bar fills up by a set % every time u select a teamates attack. (based on the enemies AGI)

So to put simply, if i put the controller down, and stopped inputting commands, an average speed enemy would have their bar fill up in 30-40 seconds. Which is very slow.
But the moment I hit a player input/command, the bar would fill up 25-50% of the way.

You characters speed effects the order in which u can select their actions, but u can have a teamate "wait" w/o giving the enemy some of its bar to fill up.
yes u can make the healer go after the tank, but at the cost of the enemy bar filling up 25-50%

(your total speed will be compared to the enemies speed, to determen the bar fill speed.)

This should please the ATB fans, and the FFX fans.
It wont please the action rpg fans though, which is where the mario input part semi helps, but id then suggest freezing the enemy bar during the attack animations.
 

Tai_MT

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Personally, I like the standard Turn Based combat oldschool RPGs offer... or even default RPG Maker games. If I've played long enough, I generally know what order my teammates are going to react in (been in combat so long, that it's obvious who is faster than who), so the only surprise left in "turn order" is when enemies will act. Spend a couple turns in battle with the same enemies and you learn where their turns fall as well. I find it simple memory and paying attention. But, there are people who refuse to "pay attention" when they play a game. For them, it's a lot easier to have Action Battle Gauges. Or... whatever they're called now.

They are also a system I don't mind... provided it's executed well. Pro tip: It rarely ever is. If you have gauges that fill up according to your speed, then you need to DISPLAY THE ENEMY'S GAUGES TOO. You also need to make the stats and skills that make these gauges fill up faster... be either extremely important... or extremely unimportant. You cannot do a middle ground with them where, "eh, it could be important, but it really won't affect combat much at all if you don't bother with it". At that point, your gauges need not exist at all. So, you make it either extremely important in order to get players to focus on filling those gauges faster... Or you make it so incredibly unimportant that it's a visual representation of who gets what turn and when, in order to easily determine turn order. Maybe even determine turn order clear out to Turn 10 or more if you're really good at mental math (I am when it comes to things like gauges like that :D ).

As for the "on map combat" that is basically games like Zelda and such... It's boring unless it's ridiculously challenging like Dark Souls. Or, your bosses do neat things like Zelda. Everything else? Boring. Pointless. Usually just padding to the game. Though, I would love to see another game use a system like Secret of Mana or Secret of Evermore again. Probably the only games I've ever played with a good "on map" combat system.

As for "tactical systems" like you see in Final Fantasy Tactics or in Fire Emblem... That really depends. I think I only ever played one game that used these systems that I actually enjoyed using and actually felt tactical. "Bahamut Lagoon". A game where you can freeze lakes and rivers, start forest fires, destroy walls, bridges, turrets, towers, buildings, level mountain tiles, create poison clouds on map... and lots of other really cool things. Combat in that game wasn't just about getting over to the enemy and bashing them to death, it was about setting traps, ambushes, destroying enemy fortified positions, blocking their move routes, creating new routes for your own troops, and just general really cool military stuff.

All of that being said... There aren't really many "RPG"s with a good combat system aside from maybe Tabletops. RPGs of today rely too much on being super punishing to the player or on being super lenient on the player and letting them have a power fantasy. Personally, I just enjoy a fight that isn't too short, isn't too long, and shows me a neat trick with the combat mechanics. I like enemies using neat combinations of moves on me, or things I haven't seen, so I can prepare for them, or maybe adopt those same strategies... and then see how later monsters get around even THOSE strategies. I like that. Keeps my brain working. Makes me enjoy combat for more than just the uptick of XP, Gold, and Loot. I don't like enemies that are stronger than me just by virtue of having higher stats. I want them to be stronger than me, because they have a strategy that's more effective than what I'm doing... or gets around my defense strategy. That's what kind of combat I enjoy in pretty much any RPG. I like to be challenged, I like to learn during the challenge, and what I learn can be applied to all future combat. I like getting that toolkit and then having it upgraded as I go along, learning new things to apply to the original lessons. You know, kind of like older Zelda games used to do with their Unique Dungeon Items. Oh sure, this dungeon uses the Pegasus Boots to smash these crystals. But, this other dungeon uses it to lengthen your jumps. This other dungeon uses it to knock things off of walls and get over cracks that collapse if you stand on them too long. I like that. Giving me a base and then building on it.
 

Applesaws

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I hate action time battles. I'd rather play vanilla RPG Maker games than have to suffer such a thing. I do love action battles (Zelda) and find them the most fun but for a 2D engine like RPG Maker I don't think they work that well, even when done professionally (don't yell at me but I don't even care for the 2D zelda games too much; the only action battle games that work well in 2D imo is side scroller
types).
 

Failivrin

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If it's any consolation, some of the biggest names in game development constantly struggle (and fail) to revolutionize RPG combat. Bravely Default claims to have reinvented RPGs but in fact the series leans heavily on tropes for narrative and level design. For combat and customization there are no new ideas, just a different balance in which the player controls factors normally controlled by the developer, such as encounter rate. And yet the franchise has been successful--not because it's revolutionary but because it streamlines traditional systems.
In my opinion it's best to focus on making your game enjoyable and not worry so much about whether it's unique. In today's market enjoyable, well-crafted games are more unique than "revolutionary" ideas.
 

Evion

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the type of combat i want to build in my game is, turn base combat, but the monster only moves and/or attack when its the monster turn same for the players and the order they all go one would be random with a better chance of going first depending on a specific stat, like dungeons and dragons the table top book game. if there's a plugin like this one please point me at the right place, I'm new to RPG maker MV like days old lol, can't wait to build my first game.
 

S.Court

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Turn Based Combat, as basically any other battle system is not bad per se, it's a resource and as any resource you use, the important is how you use it, but let's be clear: It's a bit hard to innovate in a pure Turn Based Combat and this is why people tend to use another battle systems, but there are some ways to put interesting twists to this system.

For example, Octopath Traveler does it really well imo, letting your character to boosts its turn to increase the power of their abilities (or the number of hits the attack command can make) and that combined with the break system adds some interesting strategy layers to the system. Should I use my boosted turns now to put enemy's shield points to 0? or should I reserve it when I create a Break state? It's a system I find it particularly interesting and even when it's not arguably the biggest twist from this system, it makes its work to keep things fresh for Turn Based JRPG.
 

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I have been enjoying a game on my iPhone, called Wonderbox. It is just a little game where you create adventures, share them, whilst also being able to play others. It's a bit zelda-esque. I have started some youtube for those, gonna start with RPG maker things soon as well. So if you wish to see, do check it out :)
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I feel QSprite for MV is underrated. I basically am able to use my chibi sideview battlers I drew on the maps and have all the motions available. this'll help a lot with cutscenes.
I've figured out how to reasonably tall-ify chibi sprites on my editor. I like that making tall sprites gives me control on expressing how tall characters seem on the field relative to each other as well as better differentiate adult sprites from child sprites.
doing some wacky experimental stuff in MV right now :kaoluv: I cannot wait to drop what I've been working on

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