kajarainbow: (101010101)
So a while back, I tried Anachronox because I heard it was an overlooked game with a very good story and all. What I played of the game looked to have potential. I got up to those ancient alien ruin tunnels (so relatively early on, like the second dungeon if one counts the Junkyard as a dungeon).

Then I quit in frustration. Why? You can probably guess from my post title, but in short: Anachronox's a Western game, but it appears to have taken inspiration from JRPGs in its combat system, and not in a good way. The problem: every single attack has an animation time of several seconds at least. This combined with the painful combat interface was somewhat irritating (having to click hard-to-identify icons to select both actions and targets). Not to mention that it was one of those time-based battle systems which, really, mainly combined the worse attributes of both action-based and turn-based combat--having the timer tick while you decide on then select your (hard to identify) action but not letting you have full-time control of your action like you would in a more action-based game.

But it really came to a head when I came to a particular fight in the aforementioned ruin tunnels. This fight had more enemies than any prior enemies (I think about six). Not only that, they were the tiny hard-to-hit sort (translation: high whiffage rate). So we got a long dragged out tedious fight where I spent far, far more time watching the overly lengthy animations than actually getting to select any courses of action. It was so bad that I actually quit the program in frustration before the combat finished.

A short time after, faced with a shortage of space on my Windows partition, I decided to delete Anachronox. It might've had very good merits otherwise, but the combat system simply killed the whole experience for me.

I prefer my attack animations fast and furious. Some of my favorite turn-based combat systems actually didn't have much in the way of animations (I'm looking at you, ancient PC games), but real animations can be done in a way that's fun for me. Actually, I'll mention one of my most favorite combat systems: Suikoden. I'm focusing mostly on the combat system in my discussion here. I won't really cover the series' other qualities here (my full opinion on them would be another post entirely).

What I liked in the combat system of Suikoden 1 and 2 is simple: they had a system where you selected all of your party members' actions for the turn and then the turn ran in initiative order--both your and the enemies' turns running at the same time. Not only that, but very frequently multiple combatants would act at the same time, so you'd get a barrage from one or both sides and/or a few meleers hurdling themselves all at the same time. This made battles far more zippy than other JRPGs with comparable attack animation times (and the animations weren't excessively long). If you selected the auto-battle option, battles could be over in a brief time (great for breezing past weak enemies).

It gave the battles a chaotic impression where it was hard to keep track of every single attack (not that it was really necessary), but that just made it more fun for me. The most important overall elements were evident.

Those Suikoden combat systems were fairly standard JRPG systems in other regards, but just those elements served far more to make the games a pleasurable experience than most of the systems that had more intricacies.
kajarainbow: (101010101)
Okay, I buy a game that advertises itself as having open skill choice. I have the option to give my characters only non-combat skills. Cool ones like stealth and charming people's socks off and nifty non-combat magic. By this point, I know better, but let's say I'm less jaded. I pick all the skills that look cool, not bothering with a combat skill, with the naive assumption that I'll be able to sneak, charm, or fly my way past combats. And I get utterly smacked around in the first mandatory combat I run into.

Now, what's wrong with this picture? How about how few choices there are in most games for actually advancing the story? The game designer wants me to fight this big impressive boss combat, or even just fight my way through this house full of boring if kinda disgusting/creepy creatures, and damn whether I'd rather just keep sneaking like I've basically been doing at every single opportunity handed to me by the game.

It seems like the thinking in way too many games is, "Let's force them to run through the specific cool scenes I have in mind." There aren't considerations given to enabling alternative solutions such as charming the boss into believing you're his friend come to safeguard the Plot Device, or just straightforward filching it, instead of fighting your way through whatever gimmick-filled boss combat the designer has in mind.

Some games do far better at this than others. But some of them are just... frustrating. They offer multiple modes of play and then it turns out you can only use the modes when you're supposed to. I.e. you have a sneaking sequence and then a combat sequence. You aren't allowed to fight through the stealth sequence or sneak through the combat sequence. This ends up making both players who hate the combat system and players who hate the stealth system unhappy. The only happy ones are the players who like both systems.

Big offenders for this are Beyond Good and Evil (some very good qualities, but irksome controls and the problem I just mentioned) and Sly Cooper. Sly Cooper especially frustrates me in that I found a given stage nearly impossible to do by sneaking around, and then it turns out my roomie had an easier time by just bashing her way through. This in a freaking thief-themed game. But then again, Sly Cooper's really disappointing in that it's basically an action platformer of a type I don't even like with a thin layer of thief theme laid on top, rather than a proper thief-themed game.

Mercenaries, on the other hand, I enjoyed greatly. Sure, it's combat-oriented and there aren't any options to advance the story other than by combat, but stealthy assassination is a viable combat system. I had tons of fun scouting and then working out cunning ways to pick off all obstacles to my goal of capturing every named villain for the bounty. And most importantly, I could play the whole game this way. At times I failed at stealth and had to just gun my way out, but this felt more like a natural consequence of plans going wrong than forced game decisions. And stealth still did its part in getting me close to the target. It never was arbitrarily useless. Overall, I had more of a blast with the game than the previously mentioned. Games. But then again, this was basically a sandbox war action game.


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