Welcome to the start of my 4-Part series on Combat systems in RPGs. These will be a set of “The Five” lists that highlight some of the games that show how interesting each combat method can be. For the first list, we will go with the traditional turn-based combat systems. The games I have listed involve simple command inputs that have little to no reflexive requirements. This list highlights some of the games that go above and beyond by having a system built in to keep the combat gameplay interactive and interesting. Without further ado…
Xenogears is the first game on my list that I found really broke the mold for me. The turn-based system allowed for combo moves, which I found a lot of fun. With a certain amount of AP, you can launch a series of attacks during a characters turn, based on any combination. Each attack would have an AP cost (Light, medium, heavy). If done in a specific order, you could land a deathblow, which was a special attack move that did additional damage. As you progressed through the game, you could perform larger and longer combos, meaning more damage, and more powerful deathblows. The nice thing was that there is no time limit to complete a combo, so you could take your time, or if you needed to refer to a deathblow chart to do the right finisher, you could. I know I needed one once I got to the 7 AP deathblows. There may have been a lot of other things about the game that were questionable, but the combat is not one of them.
This was an interesting bag of tricks here. Attacks were turn based, but commands were entered for pairs, and not individually. For the best effectiveness, you need to come up with pairs that compliment each other, like pairing a melee attacker with an archer or mage. Once all commands are entered, characters will move on the map. Melee attackers will go towards their target, and so on. This could be an issue with casters, as some spells have an area of effect that can damage both friend and foe. An easy way around this was to simply not use fire spells, since they were the worst offenders for friendly fire (which makes sense, thematically), but when the game focuses around the True Fire Rune, it can be a bit difficult.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Next up we have an entry from the Atelier series. This game shows all player and enemy turns on a series of cards, which show turn order. What makes this system stand out is the fact that the turn order can be manipulated in a number of ways. For one, attacks can have the ability to knock someone’s turn marker back, delaying their action. There are also some skills that can create multiple occurrences of itself for several turns. Enemies can also be stunned for so many turns, leaving them in the same spot in line until they recover.
The game does also offer a very minimal reflex system that allows you to sub in characters mid-attack for more damage. They can also be subbed in for defense. The windows for this are large, and not much reflex is needed for it, so its focus remains on its turn-based structure.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Atlus developed one interesting combat system with their Press Turns. Each round, you are given a finite number of presses. These allow you and your demons to take one action per press. If you land a critical hit, or hit an enemy weakness, then you gain additional presses, allowing you more actions with your party. There are ways to manipulate how often you get criticals too. My favorite was learning the passive skill that guarantees you a critical hit when you fight during a full moon (it may or may not have been REAL handy in the final boss fight).
Knowing your enemy is half the battle here, since hitting something they are strong against or absorb can lead to losing presses, and even your entire round. Then the enemy gets to attack using the same rules. Strategy, knowledge, and trying boss fights multiple times is truly the key to victory.
While on its surface, Persona 4 does not have much in the ways of innovative combat, but there are some subtleties that really make it engaging. First off, like any other SMT game, your goal is to target enemy weaknesses. When you hit a weakness or land a critical hit, the enemy falls down. If all enemies are down at any given time after an attack, you are prompted to perform an all-out attack, which does massive damage to all enemies.
Another feature is follow up attacks. The more you bond with your party members using the social link system, the more likely they are able to help you out in battle. This can lead to having them perform follow-up attacks after you score a critical. Some of these follow ups can score additional damage, or just take that enemy off the field completely. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to keep things interesting, and Persona 4 proves that.