I posted this rant on Talking Time today. It seemed relevant, considering that I’m smack in the middle of two Let’s Plays. On the topic of strategy in RPGs, a semi-common response is to favor DQ because “status effect spells actually work”. As a die-hard FF fanboy, this has always bothered me. For one thing, status magic has been a huge part of the FF series since at least FF10 (that was ten years ago, by the way). And for another, if the ability to poison monsters or raise your DEF stat is important, certainly FF’s innovations in the flow of RPG combat dwarf that importance by a wide margin.
Anyway, here’s the rant:
If there is truly any benefit whatsoever to the DQ approach of “buff, buff, attack”, surely the random nature of revival and healing effects completely nullifies it. There is no reason in the universe for this kind of thing. Just the fact that spells can miss at all is insane.
There’s a deep conversation to be had here, about the nature of risk vs. reward, and I think both the DQ and FF series struggle with it. However, a random “you spent your MP for nothing!” system isn’t the solution. Penalizing the player for trying to work his way back into a fight is neither fun nor challenging — especially if he’s in the situation he is because the RNG decided to use four breath attacks in a row.
In fact, I think FF2 did more to smooth that whole process over than any RPG before or since. ATB is a huge boon in this regard, because wasted actions are not as devastating. In a turn-based system, if a hero dies, reviving him is always a total crapshoot. You can’t control the order in which your PCs move, so there’s no guarantee Potion-guy will get his turn before Revive-guy does. Reviving on one round and healing on the next is equally dicey, because now your very-close-to-dead hero has to survive upwards of two full rounds before he’s out of the woods. I’m sure we’ve all been stuck in situations where we’re frantically throwing revival items at a dead hero, only to watch him die, round after round, just because the game thinks it’s funny.
In an ATB system you can work it so two heroes get their actions almost simultaneously. Revival and healing happen right away. Comebacks arepossible. I can’t count how many times I’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in pretty much every ATB-based game I’ve played. It almost never happens in turn-based games, though — FF1 included.
The other innovation is the ability to run whenever you want. You can try to run as you’re queuing up other actions. There’s no cost. FF1 was already pretty good about this, since your dudes could run individually; you get four chances every round. In DQ, though? The RUN command might as well say “give the monsters a free round”. (Breath of Fire, I’m looking at you, too.)
When it comes to risk vs. reward, FF2 is a freaking golden god. The choices you make are actually important. Much, much less of the game is based around the idea of “I’ll try this and hope it works.” FF3 expands on this metric by giving you meters that show what order your characters will act in, and by letting you “hold” a critical hero’s turn.
Instead of stacking dice against you, these games increase your range of action instead. That does far more for the element of strategy than “you can cast Upper and this boss is weak to Sleep.”
The reason this topic interests me so much is because I just uploaded a video to YouTube proclaiming Dragon Warrior IV to be the only good game in the series… despite having the same combat problems every other Dragon Warrior game does. I’m sure the answer to this conundrum is something like “blind nostalgia”, but I’m sort of hoping it’s deeper than that.
I’m going to try and collect my thoughts on it and report back. Wish me luck!