This week has been an interesting week for me. I have spent most of it in a building that was hundreds of years old, surrounded by medieval weapons and armour, explaining to members of the public how said weapons and armour would be used in combat. Every day, Monday to Friday, I have been teaching people not only how their ancestors beat the ever loving crap out of each other, but also showing them how to do it each other, complete with ways to turn a sword into a tool of testicular shattering force. So my days have been filled to the brim with violence and death in a way that may or may not be healthy.
So of course, after having talked about the history of violence in medieval Europe for the past five days, I started thinking about combat in video games. Because what better way to geek out than to spend my day combining my two favourite hobbies!
That’s right. This week is all about combat for me. I’m going to be talking about some of my favourite ways to slaughter your enemies in video games.
Divinity: Original Sin
When I haven’t been swinging a sword in real life this week, I’ve been swinging a sword around in Cyseal while playing Divinity: Original Sin. For a more in depth review, check out the site next week, but suffice to say I have enjoyed it. A major reason I have enjoyed it so much has been because of its simultaneously simple and yet keyboard-bashingly difficult combat system. On its surface, you have your standard turn-based combat in a fantasy setting, complete with healing spells, magic weapons, and a wide stable of powers meant to help you make your enemies explode in a shower of gore. However, there is a new element to D:OS’ combat, and that is environmental and elemental awareness. Is that orc standing in water? A lightning spell might shock him, causing him to skip his next turn. Has the enemy set your party on fire, resulting in debilitating damage over time? Better cast Rain to put that fire out. And, now that you’ve got the enemy wet in the rain, you can cast an ice spell to freeze them, causing them to miss their next several turns. Paying attention to your surroundings is absolutely key to making it through the game’s harsh difficulty curve. The environment is yet another factor to take into account in each fight.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope
I have a particular affection for JRPGs. I like the art style. I like the silly voice acting. I especially like the humorous tropes that you run into each and every time you venture into the genre. Star Ocean: The Last Hope was one that hits nearly every single JRPG/anime trope you can think of. Cat girl? Check. Frighteningly young looking teenager girl? Check. Space elf? Check. Every single hero looking like they should still be looking forward to learning how to drive? Oh yeah. With so many clichés wandering around the game, its really the combat system that keeps you playing through the exhaustingly long length. You control one of your four person party, running around the battlefield using your techs and combos to either damage your enemies, heal your allies, or provide some sort of buff or debuff to them. What makes combat so much fun in Star Ocean is that the rest of the party is controlled by the AI and are continually doing the same thing. It is chaotic and frantic, with powers and abilities being activated at the same time without you realising, resulting in something similar to a good match of Super Smash Brothers without anyone throwing their controller in frustration and vowing unending vengeance upon that “goddamn shock-rat”.
By now, you should be used to me bringing up Chrono Trigger at every opportunity, but this is another one category that this game fits into perfectly. For the most part, Chrono Trigger is your standard turn-based combat system of its day, as you would expect from the celebrated creators of Final Fantasy. Where it becomes different is in the tech system. Specifically, the dual and triple techs. Many characters, depending on their relationship, can team up to unleash a more powerful version of their own physical or magical abilities. For instance, Lucca can set Crono’s sword right on fire to allow him to strike with elemental damage. Frog and Marle can team up to create a dual ice/water damaging spell that drops an iceberg on the enemy. Ayla can… well, she can get struck by lightning by Chrono and proceed to electrobite monsters into oblivion. She’s a cave woman, so it makes sense in context. And if the characters in your party have a particular affinity for each other, they can unleash a super powerful triple tech, such as Chrono, Lucca, and Marle’s Delta Force, which hits all enemies with three high level magic spells at once. Choosing your party not only because about considering how well each of them function and what roles you need to fill but also about what techniques the characters can do together. Its just another little layer to the already excellent combat system.
So that’s been my look at some of my favourite combat systems in RPGs of all time. Did I miss an obvious one? Of course I did, so let me know in the comments below!
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An American trying to infiltrate and understand English society, Trent is a writer of novels and player of games. He has a serious addiction to JRPGs, the weirder the better, and anything that keeps him distracted from work.