: Editorial: Turn-Based RPGs Flatline

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Editorial: Turn-Based RPGs Flatline

For the longest time, I played almost nothing that wasn't a role-playing game. Even those who don't enjoy the genre probably can't blame me, considering the time period in question stretched between the early-to-mid-'90s and...well, a few years ago. Remember the glory days of the late '90s? With all those wonderful PS1 and PC RPGs? If you're a fan, you know exactly what I'm talking about, and you also know the significant and appreciated difference between the WRPG and JRPG in those days. These days, though, with the apparent death of the turn-based RPG - even on the Japanese front - I have found myself extraordinarily disappointed. Even straight-up pissed.

I suppose you could call this nostalgia. You know, pining for the good ol' days that were only the "good ol' days" because of the rosy memories that occasionally flit through my oft-overloaded brain (no, not bragging; it's mostly just debris). But in retrospect, and as I sit down objectively and look at the situation now, I miss the turn-based RPG because it offered a legitimate, and more importantly, different, role-playing experience. Some will claim there's no challenge involved with "a bunch of menus," but chances are, the only people who claim that are under the age of 20 and just think all RPGs use a real-time mechanic. Well, yes, they do now. I enjoy the micromanagement and preparation and strategy and everything else that comes with the turn-based RPG. And I could turn around and claim that a dungeon-crawler with hack 'n slash is far more repetitive than any old Final Fantasy.

The debate will always rage, and the supposed elitists will say there's more depth, realism, and freedom involved with real-time combat. There is some truth to that, of course, but it's merely ignorant to think all turn-based RPGs consist of "select Attack and watch." I have played well over 60 RPGs by now, and the most diverse experiences have always been between the turn-based RPGs. Take it or leave it, but that's how it is. For example, my experience when utilizing the Judgment Ring in Shadow Hearts is nothing like my experience using the Demon recruiting/breeding system in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The Suikodens were nothing like the Final Fantasies. On the flip side, today, I have real trouble distinguishing between one real-time RPG and another; what exactly is the mechanical gameplay difference between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect? Of course there are differences, but did they affect the way I interacted with the game? Not really.

Furthermore, I think they could've gone much further with the turn-based idea. Look what they were doing with the Star Ocean series; 'Til the End of Time was an interesting hybrid that played like nothing else out there. Or something like Suikoden III, where the characters would actually move from fixed positions during the course of battle. Or how about substituting characters in and out like they did in Final Fantasy X? There are any number of ideas, and many of them will never be realized now that the turn-based RPG appears to be dead and buried. And unfortunately, I attribute this to a generation that simply has no patience. They constantly have to be pressing a button; it's as if the entire planet is loaded with the twitch-gamers I detested from yesteryear. Those who couldn't wait 30 seconds for a cut-scene and had to drop the controller and run out of the room to bounce off the walls for a few hours.

I think it has more to do with the general lack of patience in the game-buying crowd, rather than with developers believing they can "do more" with a real-time mechanic. Because I don't even think that's true. Depending on how you view the situation, what's stopping you from implementing countless different mechanics in a turn-based system? The Arts in Legaia and the Judgment Ring in SH would only be the start; it's just a glimpse of what might be possible. How many different ways can you have a character move and use a weapon, and on top of which, how close is that really to any action/adventure title? How close are we to blurring the lines between Devil May Cry and Fable? Yes, of course, they belong in separate categories, but it may not be much longer before one genre borrows enough elements from the other to turn what used to be black-and-white to a very hazy gray. I still think that I have seen more variety in the turn-based RPG realm than in any other "sub-category" of any other genre in gaming.

People just can't sit still. They refuse to even bother to understand the full range of the turn-based mechanic. All they see is "Attack," "Defend," and "Item," and in fact, there was always a great deal more beneath the surface. If they're not pressing a button to swing a weapon, they think they aren't doing anything, and strategy and planning fly right out the window. Yes, I know there's strategy in real-time RPGs, too, but it's hardly to the same extent. I have searched high and low for a turn-based RPG on either the PS3 or 360, and I can't find one. I'm talking about new titles, here, by the way. I thought Infinite Undiscovery might be one, but it's not, and then I looked at Eternal Sonata and Tales of Vesperia. Nope, no go. The last one was Lost Odyssey, which I loved, and as far as I can tell, it may be the very last turn-based RPG they ever make for next-gen consoles. It saddens me.

As a general, open note to developers out there: there are a lot of avid RPG fans out there who don't require medication to sit still long enough to play a game. We enjoy a well-written story with nicely drawn characters and we're not so enamored with the pseudo-freedom we have with games like Oblivion. We like turn-based gameplay because it's something entirely different from everything else out there, and we can sit back and plan our next move. We like the different mechanics we've had over the years, and how so very unique many of them have been. We don't require flashy action every second of every moment to keep us interested, and we'd rather do a little thinking when facing an opponent. Yes, we're well aware it's not realistic, but what part of fantasy-based real-time RPGs is "realistic?" I doubt any RPG on earth can be considered a freakin' simulator. So while we all enjoy a great RPG, be it real-time or turn-based, could we at least have a little of each?

The turn-based RPG took a bad rap from people who are absolutely clueless about the genre, and with a new generation that has the patience of a flea, one of my favorite gameplay styles has now flatlined. And by the way, I do know about games like Disgaea 3, of course, but we all know that's closer to strategy than role-playing. I also know FFXIII won't be turn-based, but of course I'll still play it because it will be amazing. I refuse to believe, however, they couldn't make an equally amazing turn-based experience. That's where I stand.

9/3/2008 Ben Dutka

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Comments (29 posts)

LightShow
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 10:55:57 PM
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I always divided my time between Turn Based RPGs and Zelda. The whole reason of playing a TBRPG was strategy and they fact that when you paid $40 for that Golden Sun Cart, you were gonna get a ridiculous amount of gameplay time just maxing out your characters and collecting EVERYTHING.

There Were always more sidequests back in the day. Half the fun was taking a break from what you HAD to do to do something you WANT to do.

actually, that last statement isnt entirely true. in Mercs 2, for example, Half the game isn't required.

sometimes, its nice to disengage and navigate menus and world maps for an afternoon...

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iliimaster
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 @ 3:59:21 AM

the ONLY reason i got a ps2 was because of final fantasy, god i use to love turning on my ps2 or ps1 and just getting my HP to max out i would spend hours doing so... watching the GFs when you summon them... Turned based, now all there is left is world of warcraft type of crap! i mean i cant even play final fantasy anymore because this realtime for me just sucks its not what final fantasy was about and they force this change and we cant say a thing about it...thank god for lost odyssey that was a breath of fresh air for me.... as far as im concerned FF is just another wannabe world of warcraft

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SerendipityDeus
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:15:55 PM
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So true, its pretty sad, I bought Final Fantasy I-II for the psp, I love being able to outfit them with the best items I can get, I have no problem with turn based, personally I prefer them too, hell I even turn to pokemon considering that its also turn-based to an some extent, don't worry Ben we'll have that one great game that will give turn based games a good send off, and who noes, it might just revitalize it and give it another chance lol

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AntDC
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:18:21 PM
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I agree totally Ben. When I first played FFX when it first came out, I hated the turn-based random battles. Now, more then 6 years later, I miss them :(

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Zapix
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:25:47 PM
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I think Disgaea might be something like tactics, which if it is, that would certain tickle me with a smile.

As RPGs go the way of real time battles, I move away from the genre, as it was that very turn based battle system I enjoyed. No worries of combos, have time to think about your actions. Now it feels more like button mashing if you ask me.

I don't know about you Ben, but my last hope is deep within Sakaguchi, the godfather of RPGs. I believe my faith is well placed in him, I strongly believe he loves what he does and takes great pride in it.

Square, since becoming SquareEnix has moved away from his traditions...

And like you, I was looking through all the so called RPGs.

Heck, but the standards of what RPGs are, might as well start calling shooters an RPG... "CoD4, the RPG! Play as Soap McTavish, and save the world from evil! Use real time shooter combat, and explore urban warfare zones." ... Really don't know what the definition of RPG is anymore, 'turn based' was always what made an RPG, an RPG.

Mass Effect, Crisis Core, Oblivion, etc... Those are not RPGs to me, never will be.

I have to admit, I'm moving away from SquareEnix. They're not making RPGs anymore in my mind. I've gotten into other games again for the first time in 10 years. Ever since the original FF and Dragon Warrior, RPGs were pretty much all I played. I could never beat Super Mario Bros (to this day I never have, and still can't), I sucked at fighting, action, and adventure games. RPGs kept me gaming for 20 years, NES through the PS2. Compliments of games being dumbed down for casual players (or sucky no skill people such as myself), those games I sucked at are now often playable.

Farewell RPGs.
Sakaguchi, the fate of RPGs is seemingly in your hands... Make us proud!

Last edited by Zapix on 9/3/2008 11:39:48 PM

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Qubex
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 3:27:07 AM

Zapix, did you ever play Ultima III on the Commodore 64... ahh, those days :)

Q!

"aLL RoAds LeAd ToO HoMe"

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vulcaroth13
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:43:44 PM
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Ive noticed a growing number of people complaining about turn based rpgs being gone. i being myself have gotten away from modern rpgs because they are not that good old turn based i have grown to love. i do see a lot of people wanting them back though and in time the demand for them will cause more to be created till then we just get to hold our breath.

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MetalHead09
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:44:09 PM
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ben i completely agree with you. i can honestly say that i dont like the real time rpgs. give me a turn based like final fantasy or a strategy based like arc the lad. ive only played 2 real time rpgs and i really didnt like them at all, i couldnt get into them. i never did pick up final fantasy 12 for that reason. should i go out on a limb and get it or am i gonna have a hard time adjusting?

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Zapix
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 @ 11:59:58 PM

final fantasy 12 was nothing more than a single player FFXI with eye candy. I got deep into it, but as soon as I got internet back, I went back to FFXI. Personally, I wasn't impressed by anything other than the eye candy... SquareEnix is all eye candy now imo.

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AceTatsujin
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:07:53 AM
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FF XII kinda sucked man ... didn't like it. and HATED the main character (kid as main character, wtf?! seriously).

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Geobaldi
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 2:15:26 AM

"kid as main character, wtf?! seriously"

I don't see the problem with having a kid as the main character. You seem to forget that some of the best RPGs, in the past, had kids as the main characters. Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Earthbound (a bit kiddy but one of the better RPGs the NES had lol) all had kids as the main character. Being a kid or not shouldn't matter as long as the story is well written and believable.

I for one, would love to see the old traditional turn-based RPG make a return. Action RPGs are great and all but not everybody wants to be chasing down enemies or constantly pushing buttons just to move forward in a game. I too miss all the strategy that was involved with RPGs of yesteryear. It's sad to see what was once one of the most popular genres of gaming, disappear from that popular form. If it disappears completely, in my opinion, gaming will never be the same. Sadly, as stated already in this article, we may have reached that point already.

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BigT_1980
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:13:03 AM
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I really enjoyed the turn based RPG games of yesteryear, but I also enjoyed games like KOTOR and Mass Effect. I may have to say goodbye to the Turn Based RPG but their will still be RPG's. I will be happy as long as writers continue to bring good story telling in the games. And besides I think the handhelds will continue to have turn based RPG's for a little while longer.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:20:45 AM
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Don't get me wrong; I like plenty of real-time RPGs, too. I've just always preferred turn-based.

As for FFXII, I loved that game and did everything there was to do (including beating Yiazmat; 50 million HP gone, baby!). As usual, Square-Enix delivered something entirely fresh; the whole Gambit and License thing worked out really well, IMO, and I really enjoyed the more open-world feel. I thought the story was a little slow at times but I VERY much liked the ending. And we have to remember, that was some of the best voice acting in game history.

But at the same time...I have to say, I would've preferred it to be straight-up turn-based like previous FFs. :)

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Fatcat3788
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:20:50 AM
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Look for hope in companies like Atlus, Ben. It's what I've done. Persona 3 was turn based and VERY traditional and yet it still was one of the best GAMES I have ever played. I just think that the companies who are still doing turn based games just haven't finish the projects that they started on the PS2. Persona 4 seems to be the same gameplay type as Persona 3. Some companies still know that people like turn based RPG's (Though I think Square-Enix has turned a blind eye to it and are therefore dead in that genre.) There is still hope.

As for some of the other games coming out and are already out... Disgaea 3 is played a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics. Tactics is better I must admit, but that is due to the AMAZING storyline. Disgaea 2 was and still is awesome, and Disgaea 3 seems to be taking that same direction. I've also heard that White Knight Chronicles isn't as action oriented as it first comes across as. I've read that most of the fighting in the game is strategized in your menus before the battles. So it's not exactly push x x x x x x x x x x to win battles, you have to strategize a bit in order to come out on top. This to me is a comforting thought about that game. I'm sorry if I am mistaken but I believe that WKC creators are the same people who did Dragon Quest VIII as well. If so, then I am even more reassured that it isn't going to be button mashing action considering how traditional DQVIII was. As for the games to come out in the future... We can only hope, right?

A great article, Ben. Evoked many thoughts and made me ponder about the Game industry even more (Obviously). Can't wait to see what other people have to add to these comments as well. Oh, and I will try to find that interview about the battle system in WKC.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:24:24 AM

Thanks, and I do have high hopes for White Knight Chronicles. As for Atlus, I'm not quite so partial to their games, even though they are usually traditional. Nocturne and DDS and those games were great, but I couldn't get into the Persona series. I like more of the old-school fantasy setting (you know, mages and forests and stuff like that) rather than sci-fi, futuristic settings. And I WOULD play Disgaea 3, but I simply don't have the time.

I'll be closely following along with any WKC developments, though, that's for sure.

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Fatcat3788
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 12:29:19 AM
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I found it! Here's the link. http://www.gametrailers.com/player/26008.html
What you want to watch is at time 0:35 - 1:00ish. I quote, "This is not an action game, so we wanted to incorporate a lot of strategic elements..." Hope this helps some people who wanted to know more about this game and didn't know where to look. Sorry to anyone who's seen this, I know it's old.

Last edited by Fatcat3788 on 9/4/2008 12:30:44 AM

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Scarecrow
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 1:53:58 AM
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Ben...you're looking at it wrong
What makes a Jrpg a Jrpg is its heavy focus on story elments, deep characters with personalities and backstories.

A progressive storyline which acts out like a story(taking you through it)

Wrpgs are more 'bout generic characters which you control and with whom you can do whatever you want and be him/her in a world of endless hunting and leveling up with many missions.

You just miss the fact that there are not many rpgs anymore(specially on the ps3) and that are not made by Square-Enix.

Just wait 'till ATLUS enters next-gen again.

But the biggest point I think is the fact that there are not many companies which are cranking out QUALITY rpgs....

If it's not a Final Fantasy, a Tales of, or a Shin Megami it really isn't a great rpg.

Back in the days you'd get Legend of Dragoon, Legend of Legaia, Breath of Fire, Thousand Arms, Parasite Eve, etc.

A lot of quality rpgs.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 10:01:13 AM

...this isn't about JRPGs and WRPGs. It's about turn-based and real-time. Both genres have both styles.

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Geobaldi
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 2:20:17 AM
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Atlus has made some great games in the past, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen being the main highlight for me, but it seems they make more strategy games than traditional RPGs. Maybe I'm wrong, but from all the ones that I've played in the past, they were more turn-based strategy. Maybe I just didn't try the right ones lol.

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cheng
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 2:42:04 AM
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ok my favourite jrpgs are ffvii, dragonquest viii,shadow hearts and grandia 2(which has the best battle system in my opinion)...anyway there's still hope, just have to believe :)

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Qubex
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 3:30:37 AM

Who knows, maybe one day we can add "The Dragon War Chronicles" to the list... that is if I ever finish the damn mythology and associated stories... it takes years :(

Q!

"aLL RoAds LeAd ToO HoMe"

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TEG3SH
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 6:33:06 AM
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you and me both ben ,i just miss those title and i never really could get into a WRPJ (mass effect excluded).i just find them as boring as a lame action game.IMO

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Gabriel013
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 9:46:21 AM
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Ben, I always set KOTOR to be as turn based as possible because I liked that style of game. I loved the planning elements.

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vfsandman
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 10:11:45 AM
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I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in the rooting section for turn-based RPGs. My roommate and I at the time were always fighting for time on the PSX when we played FF:Tactics. I didn't sleep when I played Front Mission 2. You mentioned Disgaea being more strategy than RPG. That's probably why I prefer them over Real Time. It's more on the thinking and less on the reflexes.

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Jordahn
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 11:05:06 AM
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Squaresoft were the ones who brought me back to console games when FFVII was released, but now SquareEnix is practically off the radar for me. I just had to get that off my chest after reading some of the responses. Anyway...

Sadly, the masses here in North America can be accurately stereo-typed as the "instant gradification" types where the results of mashing a series of buttons are more rewarding over overseeing an outcome from executing commands. Granted that some gamers prefer this, others would comdemn turn-based RPG's just because of their perception of lack of quality when in fact thay are confusing it with a lack of understand and/or a failure to respect another gamer's preference. These are the masses we are talking about, and sadly, they will always exist as the gaming industry grows bigger.

I remember reading an issue of Nintendo Power as a kid where a bunch of games were reviewed in almost every genre for its time. Action games got higher rating for graphics while RPG's did not. But it was explained what scores were most important for which genre. This is not to say that RPG's now should have bad graphics. But what I am saying is that there should be a group of developers who still concentrate on turn-based RPG's, concentrating on what's most important (storyline and statistical character development). This would help cut production costs, be less of a financial risk, and can sell the game a lower price than the typical $60 new release. The game would cater to its genre base while potentially attract other buyers because of its cheaper price. I think we are kind of seeing that with Disgaea 3. But I would like to see more turn-based RPG's without the developers having to fear to match the quality and budget of games like MGS4.

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Zaben
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 2:51:49 PM
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I greatly wish that more RPG's were turn-based as I believe that you get more into the strategy of the game. However, I do enjoy my share of real-time and do not rule them out of my wishlist. If every aspect of the game besides the gameplay is exceptional, real-time doesn't really bother me. Being turn-based just gives it an edge.

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jeffokiecorry
Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 6:39:11 PM
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I'm new here to this site, but I saw this conversation and wanted to offer my two bits. Here they are:
#1 Turn based Rpgs get me all the time. I have just discovered Dragon Quest VIII. AWESOME. I had no idea. I love Final Fantasy 1-10 and 12. FF12 in my opinion is still turn based, just without the random battles. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross are STILL awesome. Planning. FFIV for DS is HARD and requires tons of strategy and quick thumbs. I had to turn the battle speed down on a couple battles just to breathe. Loved being frustrated.
Bit #2: Action RPG's like Zelda and Secret of Mana are fun for me. Eternal Sonata is quite good. BUT the option/skills/choices ARE not there for fighting. Star Ocean: Til the End of Time did have a lot of options, and Zelda has awesome tools and puzzles, I love the series like everyone else...but I think my heart will always lie with a true turn based RPG. Lost Odyssey was a great example of how it can feel fresh. I miss the style of the "old" Final Fantasies. I will be honest. I am still more nervous facing Ultimecia in FFVIII (Even at LVL whatever with perfect Junctions) and other "old school" rpgs than I am with Ganon. What about the Seymour fights, or Jecht (who obliterated me over and over, or the battle with Jenova after Aerith dies. (These may have been easy for some of you, but my first time I was always annihilated. It's so rewarding to have strategy and status spells and finally get your way with a boss who is owning you. That happens more in a turn based RPG for me. Gongora in Lost Odyssey was REALLY hard for me. I squeaked by...but I must have fought him for over an hour.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Sunday, September 07, 2008 @ 6:29:55 PM
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Mad props to this guy, I miss my turn-based RPGs big time. FF12's system was straight stupid IMO, and 13 doesn't look much better. I enjoyed Star Ocean TET and yes you could take control of each character, but just controlling one and letting the others use AI is a waste because I want to control my whole party. Hack n slash is good for a hack n slash game like God of War or Heavenly Sword, but RPG's shouldnt be so quick to dump everything that has worked in the past. "Real time" is overhyped and causes one to lose sight of their other characters. I mean, how can you have an epic battle with a boss if it devolves into a Zelda situation (not hating, that's an action rpg) in which you are forced to just exploit a weakness. If Suikoden 6 doesn't let me tell all six characters what to do I'll be upset to say the least.

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Draguss
Monday, September 15, 2008 @ 11:06:16 PM
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I have nothing against real time, but turn based shouldn't be pushed aside just for idiots who like to mash buttons and see flashy combos over those who like strategy. Besides, real time boses are way to easy, there's almost always some way to evade every attack they through at you, turn based makes you have to face them. And to the idiots who think attacking is just "press attack and watch", they should know that it's possible to include combos in turn based, The Legend of Dragoon (my all time favorite game) and Xenosaga are a good example.

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