Making sense of random battles
If you've been paying attention to video game reviews here, you're probably aware that I'm simply not a big fan of many genres. As Galvatron's images show, I'm pretty abysmal at fighting games, mainly because of the fact you have to input a long chain of button and directional commands to hurl a fireball or something when your character is meant to be a master of the mystical art just doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't stop me from kind of loving them, though, as their graphics, storylines and overall complexity are usually fantastic and still intrigue me greatly; unless those elements aren't good, in which case I have zero reason to like it. Which ultimately means I treat them more as something to observe and admire rather than participate in, and for good reason as the only thing I'm good at is playing as Big Bear in Fatal Fury Special.
Similarly, I like the basic concept of RPGs; taking a fantastic role, saving the world from monsters and other assorted whatnots, the storyline actually being important and fights that meant to force you to strategise. Except, well, that's the basic concept, and often those elements are screwed up.
Starting off as a fantastic warrior is great, but it adds more depth to be a weakling who powers up to be the greatest warrior there is; like a rags to riches story, except with giant muscles. But the problem is that the weakling is a generally a baseball-cap wearing child who whines and whines all the time, if he talks at all. It's okay to know who you're taking the role of, but this is precisely why I like the first Final Fantasy out of the entire series: Absolutely no characterisation. It means you don't grow to hate your characters because of their silliness. Like in Final Fantasy 8. Potential to be decent, but you know when a story involves teenagers then that's all it needs to justify any ludicrous idiot ball moment or out-of-character attitude lapse.
Similarly, strategic fights are things I love. After all, in the games I play the strategy mostly boils down to "keep on firing, dodge a fireball or two and don't touch spikes." However, when you're given the choice to attack, defend, use an item of varying effect or make use of your wide range of magic or similar replacement, it often just boils down to hammering the attack button in a fight. Sometimes magic is busted out for a strong enemy or one with a particular weakness, most often in boss fights, but it really just boils down attacking all the time. After all, it's not like you can actually move your characters to avoid anything.
It's more likely that I either play low-quality RPGs, don't play them well enough or I'm simply just a big whiner man.
Most likely that last one.
The problem I find with RPG battles, however, is that they're random. You can't see them coming, and you have to hammer through menus to get them over with. Even if it's just a goblin you can kill in one stroke of your axe, the game will force you to stop and pay incredible attention to this hazard in your way. Super Mario Bros. didn't stop the game for twenty seconds so you could encounter a Hammer Bro., but it was recommended anyway because those guys are sneaky mothertrucks. You didn't stop for a Goomba, so why should you for a low level distraction that will reward you with the equivalent of zilch?
Admittedly, it's more the fact the battles come from nowhere that bugs me. If you could avoid them then that'd be super, but instead you have to wait for the battle to start and then run away, but doing so is pointless if it's an inferior specimen as doing so will likely net you damage (albeit minor). It boils down to a waste of time when in reality you could just walk past or lop off it's noggin on one raise of the arm.
But more importantly, where do they come from??
After all, you or your party of whatever amount are just traipsing the world map idly, without a care in the world besides how much health you've got and whatever fiend it is you're trying to defeat.
And then suddenly a monster or monsters attack! Whether the screen flashes or swirls or anything is irrelevant, because you've got a monster to kill. Whether or not that's hard depends on how much forest wildlife you've eradicated in the name of "experience," even though I sincerely doubt killing a snake is the same as a killing a demon lord.
But... where could it have come from? You could be in a dense forest, a ruined castle or even the middle of nowhere, yet you'll still run into the bloody things. You can be in the middle of a positively barren environment, yet you'll still get harassed by monsters.
One could view this as the world map being an interpretation of the world; you will not run into beggars in the cities, inaccessible buildings are really just unimportant buildings, and therefore monsters are only important when they're in your face and demand the screen to flash.
Of course, modern RPGs with all their extensive detail make that unlikely, so I guess the monsters could fly. After all, there's flying serpents and winged horses and all that, so who's to say the orcs don't get dropped off on one of those, and it happens so fast that you don't notice? In the time the screen shimmies and shakes a train from Monsterville could've passed by.
Similarly, you could say that the monsters wait underground in a railway system of burrowed tunnels before striking. It happens all the time in Pokémon, and it's not like birds are exempt from the hole burrowing business. Heck, even having a ghost train attacking would make sense by coming from a hole. Phantom subway!
Whether or not they'll bite your ding dong is debatable.
However, a more mystical answer: What if they're invisible!? There are flying castles and ancient civilisations and elves in a lot of old-style RPGs, so it only makes sense. There's invisible people, invisible doors and invisible menu selections, so why not invisible monsters?
Alternately, keeping up with the interpretation-of-the-world map idea, there's no harm suggesting you're walking through an onslaught of the monsters already, and a battle starting is just their way of saying you invaded their personal space just too much. Then that opens the question of why they won't attack other monsters for doing the same. Maybe they pick and choose who they hate?
Then there's the rather masochistic approach of the hero or heroes dragging monsters along with them in cages that periodically open to attack. It's a bit nonsensical, that one, so let's ignore it.
Beginning with Final Fantasy 7 (probably; it's not like I've been paying attention to the history of this genre!), it seems RPGs have found it hip to have main characters that are mental freaks, having prophetic dreams and going into seizures and lapsing out of consciousness and other such abnormalities. Therefore, the monsters, random battles and map-wandering interruptions could all be in the mind of the protagonist. There are no monsters, but he merely battles with his conscience. Of course, how this drags a whole party into a fight and why it doesn't involve awesome things like mind bullets is something I still need to work out.
Best of all; what if you are the monster?
After all, you take this party into saving the world. Maybe they're destined or not, but it's still something big and probably not that fun. You're taking them away from their homes, their families, their jobs and their places where they do things, all to slay goblins several dozen times in the name of growing stronger to solve whatever crisis the world is facing. It's not good, son.
After all, who's to say the monsters are real? They could be metaphors. Life-threatening metaphors, for just how unkind it is to drag these well-meaning people through hell. Palette swapped, tactics-impaired metaphors, at least, that are essentially the equivalent of your average Scooby Doo villain by trying to make you take the characters back to their normal lives.
Though in trying to do so they just kill you. Harsh. But fair?
Ultimately, this is just ludicrous hyperbole and doesn't change my opinion on RPGs, random battles or menu based battling. I'm still not a big fan of either, and trying to reason with it all just makes me more confused; not to mention that all this whining has probably made people more dubious of my opinion's value than before. What's new?
Besides, doodling my own RPG is a lot more fun than slogging through a real one.