Turn-Based or Real Time RPGs?

After having played so many turn-based RPGs over the past year or so, I've noticed quite a few differences with Final Fantasy IX. Most recently on the DS, I played Dragon Quest IV, but I also played Persona 3 and Final Fantasy III relatively recently. I must have a strategic mind because I greatly prefer a turn-based system of battle, versus an active system such as in any Final Fantasy after number 4. I just don't like the idea that if I don't act quickly enough, the enemy will get to go before me or even sneak in an extra attack. This might be why I liked the strategic battles of Final Fantasy X so much: every enemy had a weakness I could exploit, and I always knew the exact turn order of all characters and enemies.

Back to Final Fantasy IX, it continues the FF tradition of employing a real-time battle system. Each character (and enemy) has a timer that fills up at varying speeds. When the gauge is full, that character can take an action. However, in practice, this system still largely replicates a turn-based system. At the most active setting, if you can input your commands without thinking too long, the characters and enemies will pretty much stay in the exact same turn order. So, for example, if the battle order is Character 1, Character 2, Enemy 1, Character 3, Enemy 2, and you don't waste any time picking your actions, that order will remain the same.

Of course, I'm still only partway through disc 2 (of 4). I would expect the real-time battles to get more complicated as the game goes on and you have more skills and abilities to choose from. But maybe not, if the fighter attacks, the thief steals, the mage casts his strongest spell, and the healer waits to heal. In typical usage, FFIX's active battle system is no different than a turn-based system. This may also change later as fast characters get faster, and may start to gain extra turns.

Plus, due to my turn-based preference, I set the battle speed to "Wait," so that the battles effectively pause as I think about which spell to cast. I'm not trying to make the game easier, I just like to have plenty of time to choose the best action.

Otherwise, Final Fantasy IX is going great. The first disc and a half have been largely story-based, with my party moving quickly from location to location, at the mercy of the plot. But I think the game world opens up a bit more on disc 3, and I have more freedom to roam around and go where I will.

I really like how each character has a predefined role or class. I much prefer these types of RPGs to the ones where characters are blank slates and all end up being copies of each other. In FFIX each character is unique: Zidane is the nimble thief, Vivi is the powerful mage, Dagger is the healing white mage, and Steiner is the brute physical attacker. I find unique characters preferable to a game like Final Fantasy VI, where each character can learn every spell in the game, and by the end they mostly are all identical except for a few special abilities.

This is also the first PS1 game I've played on my PS3. I'm not certain, but I think it looks better and loads fast than when played on my PS2. I'm not going to time the load times or anything, but it certainly seems to be pretty speedy. I've also been able to play quite a bit remotely via the PSP, which has been really nice for when my girlfriend would rather watch The Bachelor than me play a classic PS1 RPG.

I'll press onward in my 4th attempt or so to actually finish FFIX, although I will be slowly delving into Half-Life 2: Episode 1 soon. This should provide a nice contrast of games and playing styles.


Anonymous said...

Turn-based or action? I say both.

Anonymous said...

Mmhh, pardon that comment. I wrote it before actually reading the post.

Anyways, I'm with you on this one, but not only concerning the FF games.

I think the main problem with real-time battles is that it punishes the player for acting slowly but it doesn't reward her for acting quickly.
Maybe you can attack first if you make your decision before the AI does. Maybe you get an enhanced chance to do a critical hit if you are fast enough. Maybe the harder it is to access an option in the menu the more powerful it is, so bashing the attack button makes your character attack much more often wile dealing less damage than usual.

I like the concept of real-time battles, what I don't like is it's unimaginative and punishing implementation.

Korey said...

No worries. True, though, that there is definitely a place for both kinds of RPGs.

Good point, though, that in Active-Time-Based RPGS a la Final Fantasy, there are no rewards for performing actions quickly and efficiently. Other than completing the battle sooner, of course. It would be interesting to see an Active RPG that rewarded players for acting quickly, as you said.

Demiath said...

My experience with Japanese/console RPGs is very limited (I've first and foremost been a PC FPS/RPG gamer for many years now), but FF9 is one of those games I definitely want to get around to one day, if only for its glorious old school aesthetics.

I understand why the term "real-time" is used in this post to characterize the Active Time Battle mechanics in FF9. That said, wouldn't the conventional, bare-bones definition of "turn-based" be a system in which characters never attack simultaneously - i.e. they take turns - regardless of whether there's some kind of time management element involved or not? Using that (admittedly narrow) definition, FF9 would be just as "turn-based" as the more leisurely paced FF10, while "real-time" is reserved for games like FF12 and "Oblivion". That's the implicit distinction between turn-based/real-time I've always used, anyway, and that's why the terminology in your post initially confused me somewhat. Not that it really matters what you call it as long as it's clear from the context what you're talking about (which it certainly is in this post)...

By the way, I finally finished Persona 3 a few days ago. Took me about 95 hours or so. I had significant problems with the final boss (specifically the last 5 minutes of that fight), so I had to go back to Tartarus, kill the Reaper, unlock Monad (which I originally hadn't planned to do) and grind my way up to MC level 90, after which the Nyx Avatar could be killed off quite easily. Now I've just started playing Persona 4 (primarily just to see if it's really the noticeable improvement over P3 that most reviewers say it is), and despite being even more melodramatic and over the top in its storytelling and art design the game does look quite promising so far.

Korey said...

Hey Demiath. Congrats on finishing Persona 3. Despite my seemingly constant complaining about it here, I felt the 80 or so hours I spent on the main game was well worth it. I didn't have many problems with the final boss. I had to try it twice, because the first time I had one of those frustrating "main character dies = game over" experiences on the last form. As much as I want to try Persona 4, especially since I've hard it's even better, I just don't know if I want to spend that much time on one game at this point. Maybe some day.

Thanks for calling me out on my post. Reading back over it, I find that I didn't define my terms regarding types of RPGs very clearly. I'm going to make a follow-up post soon going into more detail about the distinction I was trying to make.

I highly recommend FF9 as a light-hearted RPG romp. I particularly like how it's sort of a culmination of all things Final Fantasy from the previous versions. I've just now reached the farthest point I'd ever made it in the game, after several aborted attempts. So my next play session will be venturing into uncharted waters, halfway through disc 2. It's been a long time since I played a game spanning multiple discs. Anyway, it's serving as a nice change of pace from both Half-Life 2 and Persona.

Todd L said...

You know, its funny, I owned that game since its original release and I never finished it until last year when I was on a "Finish all the FF's I never got around to" kick which also included FF8 (terrible game, ok story, good ending), and FFX-II (exploitive, a little silly, oddly engaging combat mechanic tho, and the story was spotty but ok).

Something about FFIX just made me stop playing about halfway thru the first two times... There's a period in the middle of the game where the story just seems like filler to make the game longer. I dunno, glad to have finished it tho and it IS a decent FF.

Like you, I loved the turn based battle in FFX (I know I'm in the minority, but that's actually my favorite FF to date. (Before you flame me, yes, I acknowledge that FFVI and FFVII were masterpieces, ok?) I was disappointed with the real-time in FFXII (gambits! Fun! You get to program the AI for your party in C++, so we don't have to! Thanks, Square).

As for console RPG's that have gotten real-time battles RIGHT, I suggest playing the following:

* Rogue Galaxy (hugely underrated game. so good.)

* Tales of Vesperia (X360) (beautiful graphics, great characters, excellent combat, and your buddy/girlfriend/wife can play as one of the other characters in battle)

*Tales of anything else (Symphonia (gamecube), the Abyss (PS2), Legendia(PS2), etc) Just playing Symphonia and Abyss now, but they seem solid so far. Just don't get the one for PSP, it blows. I played that one first, and it ALMOST made me dismiss the entire series, which would have been a big mistake.

* Star Ocean (pretty much any of em) - These are basically "Tales of" games in outer space... with swords, bows and magic...

Now, here's to hoping they get the combat system in FFXIII right.