In my short 18 years on this planet, I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time catching up with an industry that’s been running since the late seventies. And if there’s one thing I noticed that I miss so much is the traditional turn-based RPG. Yes, you still have some, but they have really fallen out of favour with the rest of the gaming world.
I mean, I understand why I suppose – people are less and less inclined to wait for things in the digital age when they have access to so many things almost instantaneously, be it music, films, books or games. It’s true they are one of the least interactive gaming experiences, ultimately boiling down to players plugging in a set of commands and watching them play out in cutesy animated segments before returning to a ready screen. But I think that’s the charm and the point to them.
The waiting was where the suspense kicked in. You waited and watched the round of battle carry out to see how your chosen strategy fared against this new, never before encountered enemy or intimidating boss and hoped to not see an out-of-nowhere super attack that felled your whole party. It’s all in the strategy for me, and most “traditional” RPGs seem to have left that behind.
The Final Fantasy series was really where it began and sadly a turn-based RPG ended. With the switch to the more real-time combat of later games like VII to the abysmal auto-combat of Final Fantasy 13, Square Enix’s seminal title turned its back on its own heritage. Whilst it’s true that a franchise with as many titles as it had must have room to breathe and grow, I still find it sad that they couldn’t find ways to bring it back.
I mean, I am well aware we have had some amazing turn-based games in recent years. The first Dragon Quest I played, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies was stellar. A DS title packed with charm and wit but also proper, old-school turn-based combat that was brought to life with the series’ signature flair as well as the interesting combo-attack system that allowed you to power up attacks by targeting the same monster made for some interesting new ideas. Basically, Level-5 updated the system with some cool new tricks to bring it back up to modern standards.
Equally we’ve had things such as Square Enix’s Bravely Default, another revival by the undisputed masters of the genre made stand-out by the two systems in the game that serve as its namesake. Simply put, a fantastic romp that may have suffered slightly in the story department near the end but with beautiful animation and environments that really popped on the 3DS’ display as well as beautiful score and combat systems, it was another corker.
Just as a thought, it’s interesting that both my examples sit on portable consoles. I know I haven’t used many, but the fact is this is the best home for them. “They’re too grindy” some cry, whilst others say they become stale because they are repetitive. So, put them on a handheld and now you can avoid these problems by playing for an hour or two here and there on a lunchbreak or commute and cut out the nine-hour binge.
What I’m trying to say is this: Just because gamers want all the action they can get with your high-octane this and your high-fidelity that doesn’t mean we couldn’t occasionally do with a good sit down and a think about our game plan. Who’s attacking what, when, how and why is a much more interesting process than just hack and slash because you have to engage and think. And isn’t that just a little bit more fun than mindless slicing and dicing, even only occasionally? Let’s stop relegating Turn-based RPGs to RPG maker games spat out on Steam but as serious as the next triple-AAA advancement, at least for a mini-resurgence.