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The Irrelevance of a Battle System

by Red Raven 

Submitted by: redraven@iwaynet.net (Red Raven)
Spelling 2
Grammar 2
Coherency 4
Strength of Arguments 4
Presentation 4
Originality 2
Penalties 0
Total 18
Grade

Most RPGamers have gotten so used to a certain element present in every single console RPG, that we no longer think about it anymore. We pay it no great amount of attention even though it consumes roughly half of the entire time spent playing the game. What is this thing that is always present, but never questioned? The answer: a battle system. From the most primitive RPGs ever made, right up to the latest Squaresoft release, it is there. It seems almost absurd to question such a common staple of this genre... is it not? Have we not been exposed to it since our very first RPG? Isn't the battle system the very thing that defines our genre? I have came here to tell you that no, it is not.

Saying that any form of a combat system is what makes RPGs what they are, is like saying that racing games have to take place on a track. Do they? They absolutely do not have to; they do not even have to involve vehicles for that matter. RPGs, especially the console variety, should not rely on archaic battle systems for their fun, but rather on involving plots and great story telling. The earliest RPGs had to depend on a repetitive combat system because designers simply could not completely flesh out their stories within the confines of a cart. A combat system with random encounters could easily extend a player's gaming time into the 20-30 hour range, and thus keep the player happy that they had gotten their money's worth. With today's technology, that simply does not have to be the case. A single CD contains plenty of room to do the job a cart was not able to.

So how would I propose changing such a large part of current RPGs? By making battles fewer and more important, or preferably, replacing battles with more story and interaction with characters and environments. It seems like every time I enter a new town in a typical RPG, the first place I go is to the weapon shop. I do this so that I will be better equipped to handle the new set of enemies the game is undoubtedly going to throw at me. This seems perfectly fine, until you realize that this is supposed to be a town, a gathering place of people and cultures. And there I was, immediately preparing for my departure, while on an adventure no less! Battle systems in general have become the most important thing to worry about on one's way to another plot point, but should it not be the other way around? Or not at all?

I say that it is about time to end this overused gaming device once and for all. Gaming epics such as the currently released Shenmue do exactly that, forgoing random battles in favor with increased interactivity, to great results. Remember, a battle system is not what makes a RPG or game what it is; it is the player participation. It is time to relinquish that outdated illusion of participation, the battle system, in favor of more of the real thing.




Notes:
For a start, you should note that this is a very highly opinionated editorial, there's no doubt about that, almost rantlike, but very focused indeed. There was not a point where you'd see him wander off and rant off-topic.

However certain things should be pointed out. The fact that many RPGs are based in a warlike setting, or at least in a world where there is a large amount of conflict (An example would be Final Fantasy 7) so it isn't that odd to run to a weapons shop first, and in some cases it would be odd not to, particularly in games such as Shining Force and Front Mission 3. They also meld more of the plot into the battle system, as battles are mostly plot based, athough many don't give the interactivity of other RPGs and battles are the main focus, but neither the less it could have helped mentioning them, maybe as how some have tried wandering to that direction somewhat.

Other than that point, it was well constructed, well written and something to think about.

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