How battles play out in RPGs is one of the most definitive measures of how fun the game is. Frankly, the most action players see in RPGs is usually through battles, which can take place hundreds of times throughout the game. Battle systems can range from very simple to very complex, neither type necessarily constituting a good nor a bad game. The RPGamer staff racked their brains to decide which RPGs of 2004 had exceptional battles systems. These are the ones that stood out the most -- in a good way.
Phantom Brave, with its addictive turn-based strategy battle system, takes the proverbial cake when it comes to making battles fun. Created by Nippon Ichi, the developers of Disgaea and La Pucelle Tactics; Phantom Brave sports the same look, feel, and battle system as its brethren. In games where battles take place on a strategy map, it's safe to say that battles are virtually the entire make-up of the game play. Though there may not be hundreds of battles, the player will spend the vast majority of his or her time playing through battles and just a little bit in shops and reading the story’s progression. It's in cases such as these that the battle system is crucial to the enjoyment of the game.
Phantom Brave sticks out among its two Nippon Ichi counterparts in that it is generally considered to be a more serious game with a more complex battle system. Different from most other turn-based strategy RPGs, Phantom Brave has done away with the typical grid system and allowed players to place their characters wherever they want, within a limit, making environments look more natural. Phantom Brave also introduces the Confine System, which is a battle command that allows the lead character to summon phantoms into physical objects on the field, granting that object special abilities to be utilized by the player. This battle system isn't afraid to try new things and does a great job at sticking with what's tried and true. For these reasons, Phantom Brave gets the nod for best battle system.
Second place in the best battle category goes to Namco's Tales of Symphonia. The battle system is a cornerstone that players have come to expect from each game of the Tales series and Tales of Symphonia is no different. With the same fast-paced, frenzied, real-time-action battles, the game delivers what fans of the series crave with the entrance of each successive title into the market. Unfortunately, it falls a bit flat in the originality department; not too many new enhancements were made to this system over the systems of previous games in the series. Nevertheless, though, it's still an addictive battle system that keeps players hooked all the way through the game.
The bronze medal in the battle system category goes to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The battles of Paper Mario 2 played out with a turn-based system, akin to most RPGs. What is unlike most RPGs, however, is that the battles in this title are set up as stage plays, complete with audience members. The audience reacts to how the player performs in battle with and cheers and boos, depending on the events that take place. It's quirky inventiveness such as the preceding example that earns the battle system of Paper Mario 2 a top spot in the hearts of the RPGamer staff.
by Elliot Guisinger