The weakest parts of RPG battle design?

Kes

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Personally, the main gripe that I have with jRPGs is how bland the spell selection tends to be. This even happens within the RPG Maker community as well. Most spells just tend to be attack, fire spell, heal, ice spell, debuff, thunder spell, stronger attack, stronger fire spell, and rinse and repeat. I mean, how about adding a spell that does more damage the more defense the enemy has? Or how about a spell that will do massive damage while giving debuffs to the user? There's pretty much no creativity in making several skills and thus we end up with over nine thousand games that suffer from Vivi's Spellbook Principle.
Actually I've seen a good number of spells such as you are advocating being discussed and methods to implement them found, plus other variations that you haven't mentioned, and I have several myself in my current project.  I think things are moving on, but as yet there are probably only a few completed games where these are showcased.  So you may find yourself pleasantly surprised in a while.
 

ArchaicSpoon

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Actually I've seen a good number of spells such as you are advocating being discussed and methods to implement them found, plus other variations that you haven't mentioned, and I have several myself in my current project.  I think things are moving on, but as yet there are probably only a few completed games where these are showcased.  So you may find yourself pleasantly surprised in a while.
I've also added a boat-load of them in my project. But yeah, with Ace's built-in custom formula system there is bound to be some more projects with a more varied combat system in the future. Though so far we'll have to stay content with the typical Fire III>Attack>Heal II>TP-Based Strong Attack> Ice II.
 

kerbonklin

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To me that is what makes an RPG game addictive.  it isn't just the plot or storytelling.  It's building your character in unique and powerful ways so you can win against enemies that once handed you your backside.  To me that is what makes an RPG game fun and unique.
Definitely agree with this.

I've been recently doing my second play-through of Soma Bringer (action-jrpg, Diablo-style), and I just skip every cutscene. I'm mainly playing to fight the stronger enemies while my equipment progression is much slower than Normal mode. My main focus being finding gold treasure chests to obtain red/green-ranked equipments to make myself stronger so I don't get my ass kicked by the mobs/optional minibosses. (which are 10x tougher than regular bosses) And then when I find a good equippable weapon-type, i'll re-spec my character's skill points to said weapon-type and try it out.
 
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Eschaton

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I prefer a very limited amount of actions in combat, but each has very broad utility.
 

TheRiotInside

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Yeah, I never liked the idea of getting Fire I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, etc. with them all doing a mostly set amount of damage and becoming obsolete when they next one comes around; not to mention the space they take up in the menus. A smaller pool of skills that grow with your character are definitely the way to do in my opinion.
 

Caustic

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@Dandydan: And good stories are quite consuming to make. Just like good game mechanics.

Why do people still consider LotR, Ender's Game & its extended series, Journey to the West, and the like to be great stories, even if their authors aren't highly-respected or always well-known? Because these stories grip the reader and won't let go. They tell stories that are timeless and relevant in a deep part to many people. 

Not every game has to be a literary masterpiece to be playable or even fun (just look at the early FF games - be honest, were they ever that groundbreaking story-wise?). And not every game's story has to have the greatest or most original mechanics to immerse the player in the world. See Planescape or the early Fallout games (or heck, Archanum, if you really feel like digging deep) for examples of that latter. FYI: Just coincidence that all three of those were Western RPGs, and made by (basically) the same team.

Each element has its place. Each can be used to great effect to partially make-up for the latter. And each can be ruined by half-assing it.

@Eschaton: Such as...?

I've looked at your posts whilst browsing, and most seem to elude to ideas more than actually defining anything.
Give an example. A definite one.

OT: I'll admit that JRPGs have certainly seemingly been growing stagnant as of late, but they aren't all dead-end streets.

I'll probably get flak for this, but let's take a look. And for the sake of argument, we'll use JRPGs to remain comparable.

Just a fair warning: there's lots of reading between the spoiler tags. Turn back if you're scared of text walls and/or sentences longer than five words. Or be a bum and skip to the bottom. Either way :3

Xenoblade for example (yes it was on the Wii, which was a shovelware litter box, but that is beside the point):

1) No out-of-world combat. All battles take place within the game's "main" world, in real-time, without switching to battle screens or anything of the like that are somewhat unnecessary and would break immersion.
2) There was no "default" attack. You automatically attack throughout every battle, regardless of whatever else you did, until combat ends; however, skills have to be manually activated, and carried a cooldown so they could not simply be spammed every turn. This means the player can focus more upon when and where their special attacks are used, rather than "how long before my repeated default attack beats this annoying f@#%er to death?"

3) Enemies were rather intelligent. They would go after whomever was doing the most damage, and there were skills that could lower a character's aggro so said enemy(ies) would target someone else for a while.

4) Each combatant brought their own skills and advantages to the table. A common thing, but in this case there was no one "useless" character, as they all have their pros and cons. The MC was best against the Mechon and could boost allies's attacks against them, the gun chick could blowblast enemies away from a distance. Heck, even the furry mascot had status abilities that could put enemies to sleep, paralyze them, etc.

5) Maybe I'm the only one who liked this, but I liked the fact that there were enemies on the field that could easily one-shot a party that was far below it's level. It meant that you had to stay on your toes and could just wipe out all available life around before continuing the cycle in the next area. It also promised that, when I got to a high enough level, I could come back later and kick their butts for extra gratification.

Even if it ticked me off upon occasion when I ran into them because I wasn't paying attention. XD

My only complaint is that the set-up could have been more advanced. Maybe alternate between slow-medium-fast auto-attack that would be better in certain situations. Otherwise, I quite liked the game as it was, crack-induced story and all :3
Now compare to another recent title, SMT 4 ( I know this was already mentioned, but its another JRPG I've played within the past few years, so meh... sadly I have only gotten about 10~12 - maybe 15 - hours in, but that's mostly my fault for stopping to play something else, then forgetting where I was at. d'oh! ):

1) While there's a pool of "characters" (in the form of monsters) and they all share certain abilities, the fact that they all have a different bend to them set each one apart. Pixie will not act the same as Cerberus, nor will Manicore be the same as Oni. Despite the 400 or so monster library, most has their own set of weaknesses, and their own place in fighting certain enemies. It helps that the designs are pretty bad-ass for many of them as well.
2) The revised Press-Turn Battle system. My gawd...

For those not in the know, a lot of the more recent games in the SMT meta-series (which include Persona 3 & 4 as well) use the PTB system, which is a modified FTB that rewards players (and enemies as well!) for striking weaknesses in their opponents with extra turns, damage, and so on. 

SMT 4 takes it a step further and turns the system into a Rock-Paper-Dynamite situation; if you hit an enemy with an attack that strikes at their weakness (not always guaranteed, though), you can literally chain-combo them to death by firing back and forth between your characters. Alternatively, if they miss, then you lose ALL your available turns. While this sounds completely unfair, they can do EXACTLY the same thing back to you as well. And it's not just recommended - it's required. It's survival. You play Russian roulette if you ever bring a character with status-effect weaknesses into your party, because these games are also huge on negative statuses.

3) While all of the battles took place within a separate space, it at least made sense for the limitations of the software. Although probably more than likely the game was trying to emulate the "old" days where that perspective was the chief one, before the party actually existed in the game-space and the dungeons were still in the first-person perspective (which I grew used to while playing a few old/remakes of old SMT games).

4) Even when you KNOW an enemy's weaknesses, how they are going to react, and have the "Perfect" party set-up to fight them, you can still lose if you play sloppily (or have bad luck with the RNG). The infamous "Minotaur boss" is the perfect early-game example of how this game separates the men from the boys (or women from the girls, as it were). SMT does not reward the lazy, arse-sitting player whom demands a game give them everything on easy-mode. At all.

It sounds ridiculously hard, but the game is completely fair about how it hands out player reward and punishment. It don't pull no punches - even (and especially) early-on - which, despite the fact that this would normally make me hate the designers and their families, in this case makes me want to come back and try again later, when I'm a little less worked-up. The system is addictive, needless to say.
And another one, Star Ocean 4:

1) As before with Xenoblade, each character has their own set; while some share a few skills with each other or have some that fulfil similar purposes, most are unique to each character. This, again, gives each of the main cast their own identity and allowing each of them to be played in their own style.
2) In most all of the Star Ocean games, enemies are more than likely to favor status-inflicting attacks over just plinking away at my characters, forcing me to change strategies and characters to deal with certain situations. And #4 is no different. I don't do so nearly as often as I did in Xenoblade, but it's a welcome change from the static "favorite" party.

3) Mining resources in the game (ores, plants, food, etc) oftentimes added to a pool of JP (Job Points) that could be used by any character. This means I can level up passive/active skills, or focus upon invention skills - though the latter is more often the smarter choice unless one is desperate. While it also means you can farm skills out to their max without fighting nearly as much, that would take forever, and there's easier ways to get individual JP for each character.

However, one of my chief gripes was that level-grinding became more and more important as the game wore on, which is something I distinctly dislike. It just feels forced if I have to turn back on my first run-through and friggin' grind like I'm playing an MMO just to get past a measly "mini-boss" section that I can't get past otherwise.

I could go on but the points has been made.

Does every game need to be like this? Not really.

Does RPG Maker absolutely need to have these features implemented at all, now or in the future? Not necessarily.

But to sum up a long story, there's versatility even when there are restrictions.

You just have to find the medium that works with your game.

Is it going to be perfect? Likeliest answer: Hell no! But it can be done, and done well.

It's just a matter of how much effort you want to put into it for how much you expect to get out.
 

MagicMagor

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As a fan of both action-rpgs and turn-based battles i will post my thoughts about the subject.

I like turn-based battle, especially in rpg-maker games as i think an action-battle system is best if used in a game like diablo or so. A game where you play a single character that blasts his way through a lot of monsters. And i don't think such a game could be made well with the rpg-maker (at least i haven't encountered any action-battle system in a maker-game that i considered "good" - feel free to prove me wrong).

So that leaves turn-based battles for maker-games, at least for me. One problem i have with how these battles are often seen by makers is that they require "planning", because whats the point of turn-based if not careful planning? For one, i find the important feature of turn-based combat that i can decide how fast or slow i want the battle to be - it is my decision. If there is too much planning involved in surviving basic encounters then i will start to dread those battles. I want to play a RPG, not a strategy- or puzzle-game.

That doesn't mean planning and strategy doesn't have its place, but please leave this to boss-battles.

I find it perfectly okay if random encounteres can be won by just attacking, or by just using the right damage-spell to attack the elemental weakness of the enemys. Throw a special enemy in one or two troops that can be encountered in the area, like a mage where silencing him would a be good choice, or someone with a high physical defense so poison or magic in general would be the choice and you have enough variety in the basic encounters for my taste.

Also how the battles in a game play and feel for the player is connected to other parts of the game design. I want to mention two of these connections, character customisation and item availability.

I'm currently playing Bravely Default for the 3DS and i'm loving it. The special system of Brave and Default was already mentioned so i won't repeat that, but another thing i love about that game is the job-system. Now this may be nothing new - i have never played any final fantasy games, but the ability to train my characters in different jobs and especially change them at will (not in battle though) opens up a lot of customisation for me. Especially since i can combine the active job-abilities with other ones i had learned - for example i have trained my knight a few levels in "spell fencer" so now she has access to sword-magic abilities to enhance her physical attacks with elemental attributes.

Also since the job-levels are more limited and you always get one ability (active ability for the job command, or passive support ability) getting a level up in the job feels a lot more rewarding than a normal level up.

But this also opens up a lot of replayability and the jobs i train my characters in and how i combine the jobs can really change the way a normal battle will play.

In short, adding a way to customize your party can spice up the battles, since different character-builds can change the way the battles are played.

Another thing i want to mention is item availability, especially MP-recovering items. One thing that bugs me in bravely default is the huge costs for ethers. A normal ether recovers 40 MP and costs 1000 gold. To put that in perspective i would need at least need two random encounters to gain that amount of money but the current tier2 damage spells of my mage cost already 15 MP and the mage has a current maximum MP of around 300.

So MP is a scare resource and as a result i rarely use magic at all in normal encounters. This also means that my mage and my healer are mostly useless in normal encounters which i find bad.

I don't think you have to be really innovative to spice your normal turn-based battle system up, you just have to put some thoughts into how other aspects of the game effects your battles. Give the player some customisation options and if you give him a lot of skills or some skills with a wide range of use - make sure there is no penalty in actually using them. And don't forget that short encounters where the party decimates the enemy also have their place - because these encounters show me as a player how powerful my party already is. Without them there would be no sense of progress.
 

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