Thursday, January 18, 2018

Energy Breaker's Time Limits

You know what’s really annoying? Battles with time limits.

I mean, really. Think back to any and every RPG you’ve played in which you had to defeat your enemies within a set amount of time, or else get a game over. Which of those battles were fun? Hmm? Any of them? Certainly none that I can immediately think of.

Oh, to be sure, there are times when it’s narratively sensible to put a time limit on battles. When you’ve gotta beat a boss before a time bomb goes off, then sure, a timer on a battle makes some sense. When you’ve gotta take out some guards as part of a heist before the next part of the plan is set to start, restricting how long a battle can go on can draw the player a little more into the situation, engross us a little more in the story’s events. Shadowrun seems to do this pretty well, for example. When you’ve gotta battle hostile sewer rats who inexplicably make their home not in the sewers but in the rafters of an opera house so that you can reach a narcissistic purple talking octopus before he drops an anvil on top of a military general masquerading as a performer so that she can trick a gambler into giving her a dirigible ride...well, in a situation like that, the time limit may very well be the only part of it that makes sense. But regardless, even if it helps sell what’s happening in the game’s plot at that moment, having to work against a timer is a gameplay mechanic that’s invariably annoying.

So what in the world was Taito thinking when it put a time limit on every single battle in Energy Breaker? From bosses on down to random encounters, every battle in this game has a set number of turns in which it must be completed, or else it’s game over. It’s incredibly damn annoying; even if you’re capable of defeating your foes, you may still lose to them over and over again because you can’t do it quite fast enough.

And besides the basic irritation of it, it’s also a really stupid idea given that Energy Breaker is a tactical RPG. Now, not every tactical RPG absolutely has to have battles that take a long time complete. Live-A-Live manages to have its battles go about as long as regular battle systems take, for example. But generally, tactical RPG battles are a longer process, for the simple reason that planning out what positions and strategies of advancement you want to adopt is inherent to the system. Sometimes just finding the right position for your units is more important than actually doing anything with them immediately, like getting an evasive tank into a bottleneck spot in any given Fire Emblem title, or grabbing the high ground when you’re a Jedi in an unspeakably shitty movie. But if you put a time limit on the battle, then a huge amount of your strategy goes flying out the window! In Energy Breaker, you don’t have the luxury of creating a formation, testing enemy movement reach, seeking out advantageous have to get in there and kill your enemies pronto! The turns you have to spend only moving toward your enemy are suddenly frustrating time wastes when you know they’ve cost you 20% of your time budget!

Always having a time limit on your battles also limits a player’s interest in exploring strategies in terms of party setup. Now I’ll grant you this isn’t too big an issue with Energy Breaker, since it, early RPG as it is, doesn’t have a lot of room for party customization, but on a conceptual level, it’s a problem. Because, you see, it narrows a player’s focus on character building down to over-valuing a specific kind of team member: the glass cannon. True, I trend toward glass cannon setups myself (I’m not the patient sort), so it wouldn’t be as big a problem for me, but still, anyone who might have enjoyed experimenting with creating defense-oriented setups is going to forego all versatility possible in favor of party members who hit as hard and as fast as they possibly can to end the battle within the turn limit.

Putting a time limit on some battles can add a gameplay dimension that requires the player to explore different strategies, and it can get you more invested in a particular scenario, story-wise. It’s annoying, but it has benefits. But putting a time limit on every single battle in the game? That’s just a frustrating, pointless gimmick with no benefit, and doing so in a tactical RPG undercuts a huge portion of the strategy component to the combat, which is the entire point of having a tactical battle system to the begin with. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to do this with Energy Breaker, but they were, quite frankly, dead wrong.


  1. The universal time limit feels too game-y, and pressures me to play a way I may not want. If it were limited to places where it made sense in story, like say the train(IIRC?), it'd be a nifty way of demanding some efficiency in what is supposed to be a fast-paced sequence. But everywhere? Yeah, they stumbled here.

    I tend to go for what Fire Emblem folks call Low Turn Count, just because I want the experience of every action being significant, but I can only imagine the salt from those sad people who play JRPGs defensively. Press F to pay respects, and such.

    1. Yeah, it makes sense on the train earlier in the game, given the situation, good point. Just not in almost every other battle.