Random Battles. These are a staple of the RPG genre. Without them,
long walks between dungeons would be dull and uneventful. Powerleveling
would cease to exist. Most likely, characters would never be strong
enough to fight the Big Bad if they had never sharpened swords against
the vast array of imaginary underlings. Random battles have a purpose
within the genre, but precious little purpose within a game setting.
Of course, this purpose might be circumvented in imaginative ways.
I do not advocate that random battles are a necessity to every RPG
in existence; I merely state that most past RPGs (and in the foreseeable
future) will utilize some form of random battle.
The question I ask: how can random battles be made better?
See Player, See Monster, See Player run
On a personal level, I wish that more RPGs would allow battles
to be avoided; ie, see a monster on the landscape and avoid it (Grandia,
Tales). This seems a plausible method that mostly mimics a real
situation: seeing baddies and choosing to either hightail it or
kick some tail.
Such a method has been around for a good long while (Link's Adventure),
but many RPGs insist on throwing unexpected random battles at players
- even to ad nauseum levels (Skies of Arcadia). Clever game programming
can make enemies hide around bushes, or be surprised when you ambush
them - making immersion that much deeper.
Alternatively, the danger meter (SMT: Nocturne) at least gives
some warning of impending doom.
Button Mashing Is Button Boring
It's a situation that most RPGers have faced at one time or another:
I can't beat the Big Bad, so I need to wail on some Little Bads
in order to get some arbitrary levels. Unfortunately, I can kick
the Little Bads' collective tail without even thinking about it.
What ensues? Usually wandering in a circle until a battle happens
and then hitting a button (A, X, whatever default) as rapidly as
possible in order to get the exp. Rinse, repeat, and try not to
While there are many factors at play, the unavoidable fact is that
this will happen. So what can make it better?
Not an automobile (though running some monsters over ala Carrmageddon
might be amusing), but the simple press of a button that makes characters
act in a predetermined fashion. Some series have used this to good
advantage (Suikoden, Growlanser), but it would be nice for this
to be a standard feature.
Give me Purpose, or Give me Death
Most random battles are simply that: random battles. But what if
there was more to random battles than simply drumming evil spawn
into the ground? What if there was a reason, a purpose behind the
A recent playthrough of Growlanser III showed me something that
I do not believe I had seen before: random battles that occasionally
had a point beyond simply living to tell the tale. Sometimes the
party would encounter a cute monster being attacked by noncute monsters
- if the cute one was saved, it gave a reward; additionally, choosing
to save or not affected the main character's attributes.
Sometimes the party would find a chest, but the monsters would
try to grab its contents and run off the screen, thus necessitating
the premeditated early death of such a larcener. Sometimes the party
helped fend off monsters from a merchant caravan; the merchant showed
his gratitude by offering wares at a discounted price.
All three of those examples could happen instead of a meaningless
random battle. They didn't happen all the time, but they were a
refreshing break from the mindless tedium of most Growlanser battles
- no auto button usage for these.
While those examples might not be able to applied wholesale across
the RPG spectrum, the principle behind them is a worthwhile story
device. Have characters save merchants, rescue the farmer's daughter,
or raid enemy campfires - but don't necessarily make it such a big
deal to count as a sidequest. Just have it as part of the normal
scheme of things.
This idea opens up a wide realm of possibilities: imagine trying
to fend off Bigfoot while avoiding an avalanche because your mage
decided to fire off a level 3 fireball. Beating enemies at an oasis
within a time limit so they don't poison the water which will heal
your party. Making a certain kind of enemy so mad (by killing large
numbers) that an uberenemy will show up to beat you down.
Random battle events could be strung together: saving a merchant
in four different areas will have him open up a powerful shop in
a city. Random battles could have events dependent on their location
- such as the above mountain/desert examples. Even something as
simple as a reward for killing a certain number of enemies by a
grateful farming guild.
Some RPGs have incorporated elements of these ideas to good effect,
but most RPGs still have a standard random battle scheme with no
tweaks. There's not anything necessarily wrong with the standard
scheme, but it is an untapped potential within the worldbuilding.
Such ideas will require more effort (for both programmers and players)
than simple random battles, but will ultimately yield a greater
variety to immersion.