The Anatomy of RPGs, Part 2: Battle

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It is time for Part 2 of a multi-part series on the anatomy of RPGs. This series looks at the many moving parts of turn based RPGs in order to shed some light on how they work. Today’s focus is on the actions that take place in an RPG battle. RPGs have many battles in them, sometimes they are triggered randomly in many areas of any given game. This detailed look will describe the many actions that occur mid battle that can determine victory or defeat. Let’s start by listing the categories of actions covered today:

  • Attacking
  • Healing
  • Effects

For those who haven’t played many turn based RPGs, the goal of any battle is to KO all enemies by damaging them until their HP runs out. If the same thing happens to your party, you lose and have to restart at a save point, or at some sort of checkpoint. Let’s now look at each action category in greater detail:

FFbattle
A sample battle from Final Fantasy VI. Today’s article is all about battles in RPGs.

Attacking:

Attacking is the main offensive action in most video games. In RPGs, there are many kinds of attacks each with different purposes and usefulness. Some attacks are relatively weak, but have the advantage of being used more often than other attacks. A common example is the “standard attack”, these attacks don’t use MP and have limitless uses, and depending on the character, may be one of their least effective actions. In some RPGs some characters can only use this action and healing items, and these characters are better than their allies at using this action. Standard attacks usually have no special effects tied to them.

Stronger actions, such as magic, consume MP, and stronger magic uses up more MP. In some RPGs, every character has MP and has magical, (or stronger actions that consume some sort of point to use) in order to do more damage. These special actions can also target multiple enemies, have elemental traits, side effects on opponents, or even have additional drawbacks for using them.

Actions that target multiple enemies frequently are weaker than actions that target one foe. In the Final Fantasy series, the player chooses to use a magical spell on one enemy, or all enemies. If he targets all of them, the spell will do less damage than if he targets one foe, even though it is the same spell. Some spells in this series always target all foes, and are always just as potent regardless of the number of enemies present.

There are multiple other factors that impact how strong an attack is. Sometimes it is the character who uses the action, his stats may make him better at using that type of action over his other allies. In other cases, it is the target of the action, the target’s defensive stats may make them withstand that type of attack better.

Most often, there are weapon based attacks and magical attacks. Some enemies have stats that withstand one type of action better than the other. There is another factor in play, though, and most RPGs have “elements” or “types”, an attribute of attacks that determine if attacks do more or less damage to certain foes. One example is a fire spell doing more damage to ice based enemies, while the same spell does less damage to fire based foes.

There are several ways to handle elements in games. Most often, it applies to attacks and enemies (and sometimes characters). The easiest way to implement this system is to have enemies of certain elements to always be weak or strong to certain elemental actions. There are several ways to determine this. In some games, the opposite element is strong to its opposite, such as fire deals more damage to ice, and vice versa. In this case, the same element takes less damage from itself, such as fire taking less damage from fire (a common trait in RPGs).

Another approach is to have a Rock-Papar-Scissors type of relationship in terms of elemental attacks. A good example of this is the relationship between Fire, Water, and Wood elements in the Puzzle and Dragons games (many other RPGs use the similar relationships). Let’s look at how this works:

  • Fire does more damage to Wood, Wood does more damage to Water, and Water does more damage to Fire.
  • Most of the time, this would mean that Fire takes less from Wood, Wood takes less from Water, and Water takes less from Fire.
  • Even with this system, it can mean that Fire takes less from Fire as well, and the same is true for when other elements attack themselves.
  • You can also have more elements than this that counter one another in a type of circle (if shown visually).
  • There can also be multiple weaknesses and strengths in more complex element charts.
  • Sometimes a character or monster may have two or more elements, though this may complicate the game too much (Pokemon limits this to two types with a custom type chart).

In some cases, there can be more customized weaknesses that are asymmetrical, meaning one element can have one weakness, but other elements can have more weaknesses. Another variation is having each monster have different weaknesses, without it being tied to elements.

There’s also a matter of how much stronger each attack is in comparison to each other based on a system of weaknesses and resistances:

  • Weaknesses do more damage, as a rule. This is usually no less than a 1.5 times multiplier, and rarely more than a 4 times multiplier. It is often double damage.
  • There is usually a “neutral” effect, where the attack does no more or less than usual.
  • A resistance does less damage than usual. Usually doing between 75% to 25% of the base damage. It is often half the normal damage.
  • An immunity means the attack does no damage!
  • This doesn’t appear in all RPGs, but sometimes, a monster absorbs the attack instead. This means they are healed by certain attacks, and stronger actions would heal more.

With all this in mind, let’s look at the next type of action:

Healing:

Healing is the primary defensive action in RPGs. They replenish ally HP, often preventing KOs. Healing always has some limitations on how many uses it has, either in the form of magic that consumes MP, or in the form of a healing item that the character can only hold so many of.

Weaker healing costs less MP, and is better when characters have taken less damage, while stronger healing requires more MP, (or a more expensive or rare item), and is better when a character’s HP is low, or if the player is in a tough fight. Most HP restoration can benefit on ally, and in some cases, all allies. Its potency can be weaker if healing all allies, or it may cost more MP.

Another form of healing is MP replenishment. This usually has more strings attached, either requiring a certain item, resting at an inn, or using a spell that doesn’t always work, or doesn’t replenish a lot of MP.

Another form of healing in RPGs is the revival action. If a character is KOed (Knocked out due to having 0 HP), they cannot fight, and if all characters are KOed, the game is over. KOed characters can’t be healed by normal means, and certain healing magic or items are needed. Weaker revival actions don’t give the character full HP (usually only 10% to 50% of that character’s HP is restored, depending on the game). In some cases, the revival spell doesn’t always work. The most potent versions fully revive a character, and most of the time, it is only one ally, to prevent the game from being too easy.

The last form of healing is effect removal, where negative conditions are removed from allies. These conditions will be listed next.

Effects:

PokemonTrickRoom
An odd effect move in Pokemon, trick room reverses turn order.

There are a lot of possibilities here. Effects can benefit allies, or hinder foes. These can change a character’s stats (often leading to more damage dealt to foes, less damage taken, or turn order changes, etc.).

Most often, effects include status conditions. Common ones include a form of ongoing damage (such as poisonings or burns), preventing the foe from acting (sleep, paralysis, and the like), or limiting a character’s actions (silence preventing magic use, but not weapon based actions, for example). These effects can be cured by certain healing actions, or last a certain number of turns, depending on the rules of the RPG in question.

Beneficial effects are varied. It can involve a weak auto-heal, preventing status conditions, or other situational bonuses. These actions are limited if you don’t count stat changes as a beneficial effect.

Before I wrap things up, I want to mention two types of actions not always seen in RPGs, but I find kinda neat when they do show up.

Summoning: 

GoldenSunSummon
A powerful summon attack from Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

This action can work in a variety of ways:

  • It can be a spell only certain characters can use. In this case, it shows a monster or deity attacking in the battle animation, but is indistinguishable from other actions. (Such as in Final Fantasy IV)
  • It can be a powerful attack or very useful action that can only be used under certain circumstances, such as being used once every few turns or so (Wild Arms, Golden Sun).
  • The creature called forth fights in place of the party or just the summoner, allowing actions not available to the party otherwise. This can be temporary too. (Final Fantasy X)

Transforming/Morphing:

This is fairly rare, and doesn’t happen in all games, but may work in these ways:

  • The character transforms into another creature for the duration of the attack, otherwise indistinguishable from other attacks. (Breath of Fire 2)
  • The character transforms into another creature/takes on a another form on this turn for a change in stats (usually an improvement), in order to use new attacks in future turns. May gain other features or benefits. Might be a temporary change. Could also remove control of the character from the player (This last one is usually called a “rage” and isn’t always a transformation (Final Fantasy VI)) (Some examples of the former include Ryu’s ability to change into a dragon in Breath of Fire, and Pokemon’s Mega Evolution feature).

And these are all the actions I could think of in RPGs. There are many more in Dungeons and Dragons, but these don’t always involve battling. Such actions can will be explored more in a future post.


So these are the types of battle actions found in most RPGs. Are there any that I missed? Which of these actions are your favorite? Which games take a unique approach to these actions, or have a unique battle system in a turn based game not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments below!

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