I, and numerous others, have written about what RPGs—especially JRPGs—need to change to adapt with the times. One thing most of these pieces have in common is a call to end turn-based battles. The turn-based combat has certainly evolved over the years, mostly thanks to the Final Fantasy titles constantly tweaking combat mechanics. In fact, the last FF title, Final Fantasy XV, moved completely to action combat.
While we already know that Final Fantasy VII for current-gen consoles is a remake and NOT a remaster, the question still remained as to what was going to happen with the combat. The original Final Fantasy VII revolutionized turn-based combat with its Active Time Battle (ATB) system. With that history, surely Square Enix would keep that as an homage to its roots?
But with the release of the demo this past week, we now know this isn’t the case at all. Square Enix has created a hybrid of sorts for the remake, with a greater emphasis upon action. It’s actually closer to Final Fantasy XV in terms of combat. This brings a fresh look for the classic game, as it hopes to attract newcomers to the game. But it seems to signify something greater—a shift in RPG combat, particularly with JRPGs.
It appears that we’ve gotten our wish at last: the beginning of the end of turn-based combat.
We’ve seen a decline in turn-based combat across JRPGs over the last five years or so. Considering action-RPGs are on the rise and more popular than turn-based games, it’s not a complete surprise to see this shift. That said, I’m not sure it will go away entirely in the JRPG genre. We’re all aware of how much Japan doesn’t love change.
Some studios in Japan, such as Tokyo RPG Factory, keep instilling turn-based combat in their RPGs. Even Square Enix hasn’t completely forsaken the model, since recently released Dragon Quest XI featured its classic turn-based combat. And how can we forget the Pokemon series, which will most likely always have turn-based battles. We gotta be civil in our digitized cock fighting, after all.
While there is appeal to this system, as it doesn’t pressure players to make split-second decisions and it creates a really in-depth strategy for success, there’s plenty that is unappealing. Yes, it doesn’t force players to think quickly on their feet, and that’s why some of the battles take a long time, especially if attacks have cut scenes. (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy VIIII.) As much as I adored Lost Odyssey, that final boss was an incredible exercise in patience.
One of my biggest gripes with the system was that mistakes were often unforgivable, especially early on. One mistake with an attack, one mis-timed heal and it can be game over. Hope you found your save point before here, ja? And doesn’t everybody love a three-phase boss fight that takes nearly an hour to whittle down just so you make one tiny mistake and have to do the fight all over again? OH BOY I KNOW I DO.
That’s why I say this is the beginning of the end of turn-based combat for RPGs, and not entirely THE end. Some studios and series will try to hold on to it, but others have already adapted faster-moving systems that are more enticing to the modern audience. It’s only a matter of time before the others have to make a decision to adapt or die.
And then in ten years, we’ll have the occasional turn-based game to be featured as a retro throwback. It will probably be 64-bit as well, complete with chiptunes.