Which is better: Set Attacks or Random Attacks on Bosses?

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  • Random Attacks

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Awesomejr44

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In my RPG, I had the idea to make the abilities used by the boss set per turn. So on turn 1, they would always use attack 1, on turn 2, they would always use attack 2, etc.
I think this gives the benefits of having wins/losses against the boss less random as well as have it be something that the player can predict and prepare for after a couple of deaths, allowing them to create strategies for that specific boss.

However, before dedicating any time to making this system, I wanted to see what the general community consensus was. Which is better in your opinion? Randomly chosen abilites or set ones? Explain why in a comment if you’d like. Also note that this is for bosses only, normal enemies would use the standard randomly selected abilites.
 

Aslanemperor

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This is one of those things that greatly depends on the boss you're using. There are bosses which very much SHOULD be set to use specific attacks on specific turns. A perfect example of this would be a game I recently played where the player could do friendly duels with some of the townsfolk, and each had a bit of a gimmick. One of them had a powerful attack, but he had to wind up to smash it. You could learn this info by talking to the other townsfolk to learn his weakness.
Set your bosses according to what makes sense in your story, or what theme you're going through. Even then, make sure you're not too predictable unless that's specifically what you're going for (As in the previously mentioned example) So, for instance, if your boss is set to use "Lightning bolt" every three turns, you might still have a few other things in there so that they're still dangerous. But you can have someone warn the party "He uses a powerful Lightning Bolt, but it takes him a couple of rounds before he's ready to unleash it again!" This way, your player will be able to prepare for the battle and feel like they accomplished something special, but your boss doesn't suddenly cease to be dangerous.
 

Saucenberg

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The downside to having a boss follow a set script is that they end up removing any sort of reactive playstyle that the game might have had. You can always go 50/50, which is what I believe every big JRPG does.

I know countless examples in old final fantasy games where if a certain amount of hp is reached, some attacks trigger 100% of the time. Beyond that, it scrolls between different skills that vary in frequency depending on health, turn, and so on.
 

kirbwarrior

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I feel like these are extremes on a spectrum of enemy AI. Completely random means nothing you can plan for. Exact script means easily figured out. Both should be intentional, not just 'regular' design. Now, the latter isn't actually bad. In fact, I love puzzle games. That's largely what you're making with it, and with a heavily linear game that has a focus of difficulty and figuring things out, that's actually good design. I actually made a game like that a couple years back.

But if you have more choice in character builds, especially things like stat picking, skill trees you can't go back on, and other permanent upgrades that you kind of have to hope you guessed right on, then bosses that are very clear and intentional in what they do can backfire and punish the player for either thinking outside the box or feel like they had only one choice they were supposed to make and chose wrong.

On the other end, completely random leads to very reactive gameplay. You basically have to let the enemy do whatever they will, then decide on your turn how to deal with it. Common in older rpgs, that's just how they were built. And if you want that feel, go for it, bosses in those games were largely just a collection of differently named but similar attacks.

I'd say you want some sort of 'learnable' tactics. Maybe the boss alternates between party hit and single target attacks with different versions and always picks the one that will do the most damage to one unit. Maybe a boss focuses on replacing debuffs with buffs. Maybe a boss only counters, being the reactive party. Maybe the boss is a party that tries to do set ups such as buffing one unit that has a powerful attack with a cooldown.

With that in mind, you can have bosses that are the two extremes. There could be a golem or robot that's quite powerful but also quite literal in it's decisions, so it just runs down a list. There could be a scared, hurt, or parental beast that's lashing out without any thought. There could be a karate tournament where the contestants are intentionally following specific set ups. You could fight a cloud guardian who starts the battle confused and work around dealing with it choosing randomly or remove its confusion and deal with a smarter but learnable pattern.
 

bgillisp

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One thing you need to consider is if you go completely random there is nothing that stops the boss from doing this:

Fireball
Fireball
Fireball
Etc...

In other words, nothing stops the boss from spamming the best AOE spell it has all the time. Case in point I had this happen to me in a boss battle in Trails of Cold Steel 2 where the boss got 3 turns in a row (somehow) and did buff, best AOE I got best AOE I got. Needless to so that was impossible to survive (especially as it even hit my really high Evade character both times) and I had to try again.

So I think you would need some sort of pattern or at least any AOEs are on a use every 3 turns system or something so they cannot just spam the best AOE and give the party 0 chance to win the battle unless the RNG likes the player.
 

The Stranger

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I think patterns are better than pure randomness. Patterns can be learnt, randomness can't. With randomness, all you can do is react, and sometimes it can make a fight unwinnable simply because a foe might spam their most powerful attack over and over and over again; or spam an annoying sleep or paralysis spell. On the other hand, randomness can make fights trivial because, for whatever reason, a foe might do nothing at all apart from heal itself or use junk or low damage skills. Personally, I don't find losing to randomness all that fun.

With patterns, players can prepare properly, and the outcome depends upon that preparation and understanding of the mechanics.

It's not as if a boss needs to stick to a single pattern throughout the entire battle. Maybe, after falling to half health, the boss changes their pattern. They might either include new attacks or simply change the order and frequency of old ones.
 

jonthefox

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Good question. I wonder if there's a way to marry the two concepts here. I have 2 ideas:

First idea: Make it random, but give the "really strong" skill a cooldown, so the boss doesn't spam that multiple turns in a row due to bad luck.

Second idea: Make it a set pattern, but every 3rd turn make it a random choice between two different abilities that are roughly equal in strength, but have different effects.
 

Milennin

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If it's something that impacts the battle majorly, it should be predictable in some way or another. For weaker attacks/skills, random is fine, in my opinion. I prefer to mix randomness with fixed triggers/patterns for my bosses, so knowing how to deal with it should be enough to assure victory, but having the degree of randomness can still allow for some surprises during the fight.
 

Wavelength

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Superb advice from everyone so far in this thread IMO, especially from @kirbwarrior.

In practice, I don't think entirely random choices nor completely set patterns are bad, as long as the enemy's moves themselves are intuitive (player knows what's happening) and balanced (not overpowered nor useless).

In the past I have generally gone for mostly random enemy patterns so that each battle against the same troop feels different. I have used simple conditions, or sometimes MP costs that are greater than half the enemy's max (alongside moves that restore its MP among other effects) to ensure that enemies don't spam their strongest moves multiple times in a row, or otherwise make very "stupid" decisions (like using Poison All twice in a row when the Poison has a 100% chance to apply).

However, as of late I've started to really appreciate the playability that simple and predictable enemy patterns provide - the player can learn and strategize around what will be coming over the next few turns. It doesn't even need to get that stale either - as long as it's well-telegraphed (through visual effects, dialogue, etc.), an enemy's entire pattern can change under a few simple conditions such as "disabled" or "has gone under 50% HP" - this helps keep things fresh if the resource fatigue of a boss battle isn't enough to force the player to change up his tactics.

I want to suggest one more thing that hasn't been brought up here - either form of enemy patterns (random or patterned) is enhanced with Telegraphs, which show the player in advance some (or even complete) detail about what the enemy is about to do, and I think it provides even more benefit the more random that enemy actions are. This may include the category (damage, debuff, heal/support, prepare, etc.) of action, the name and description of the action, the intended target, etc.

This Telegraphing mechnic allows the player to strategize around the enemy's intent on a short-term basis (even if the actions are chosen randomly and/or the player hasn't figured out the enemy pattern), while still getting the best of the dynamics that random choices (replayability, staying fresh throughout long battles) or patterned choices (learning, long-term strategy) provide.
 

kirbwarrior

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This Telegraphing mechnic allows the player to strategize around the enemy's intent on a short-term basis (even if the actions are chosen randomly and/or the player hasn't figured out the enemy pattern), while still getting the best of the dynamics that random choices (replayability, staying fresh throughout long battles) or patterned choices (learning, long-term strategy) provide.
Oh man, a new game I played has telegraphing and even if the enemy is completely random, telling the player what will happen this turn before they choose their actions can make things so, so much better.
 

tiabuni

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Set patterns, with multiple different patterns based on the health % of the boss. A new player will not know the patterns, and you are not screwing over speed runners by having a bunch of enemies filled with randomness.
 

G-G-Games

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I think enemies having predictable behavior is good, but it doesn't need to be easy to predict. Even the default enemy AI allows you to use various parameters to control enemy behavior. It can also be good to have enemies forecast their actions so players can better plan their turns (imo).
 

LovelyFlower

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Random behavior with limitations.
Definitely not bullshit like infinite heal charges with no MP cost.
Really makes you think if they bothered playtesting their game.
 

Arctica

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Boss attack randomness can make them challenging since you don't now what they will do. However if you don't add randomness, it can have the player plan their attacks, which lends towards making the encounter more engaging. Like the next 2 attacks are gonna be the big "all party members will be hit with every status effect in the game(lol the last boss of Suikoden II does this but it is random), you know in 2 attacks you need to think of a safety net and maybe you wont have one, just hope your gear defends against one of the more debilating status effects. You can also be sneaky and that attack DOESN'T appear in the next 2 turns but instead it's a regular skill.
 

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