You know what I’ve always found to be really annoying? The--what? Oh. Yeah, I guess I have always been irritated by how hard it is to find an oatmeal cookie that hasn’t been poisoned with raisins, now that you mention it. Good point.
What I was gonna say, though, is that thing in RPGs where you can win a battle with ease, but because the plot demands it, the story acts like you just survived the fight by the skin of your teeth, or the enemy didn’t actually get damaged, or you’re gradually losing ground, or something.
Like, remember during Dragon Age 2’s finale, if you sided with the mages like a decent human being, there’s this battle where you and your allies are holding off an advancing invasion of templars in a large temple room? When I was playing through that, I had an archer-rogue build on my protagonist so incredibly broken that I was killing enemies faster than the game could keep track of. No, I’m serious--Hawke’s shots were so powerful that when each instant-death arrow hit an enemy, there’d be a pause between the damage being displayed and tallied up, and the enemy actually dying from it, a pause greater than the time it took for Hawke to shoot another arrow. My archer Hawke was so obscenely broken that I had to manually select every target for her because she’d be firing another killshot before the game could even realize she should be moving on to a new enemy. The rest of the party could’ve taken a break and had a mid-battle picnic, and everything would’ve been just fine.*
And yet, in spite of the fact that these enemies were basically dying before they’d even finished stepping through the doorway, I still eventually got interrupted by the inevitable cutscene in which Orsino loses his shit about how it’s a hopeless battle, and goes and proves what a stupid fucking hypocrite he is and what shitty writing the ending of this game had by doing his dumb necromancy nonsense. It’s like, bro, this fight earnestly could not possibly be going better for your side without ceasing to fit the definition of a battle!
Or how about all the times you very clearly win a boss battle, and yet afterwards the game acts like the bad guy’s fine and has been wrecking your party the whole time? Like that time in Xenogears when you fight Id in hand-to-hand combat. He’s not tough, even by standard Trying Too Hard Lame-Ass villain metrics. And yet, even though you can and probably are just steam-rolling this self-important little bitch-boi the whole fight long, when the battle’s over, the game acts like he’s still some dangerous threat going strong that needs a whole giant robot to subdue, even though for the last 15 minutes your characters’ fists have been extracting teeth from Id’s jaw like they want to pay off their student loans through tooth fairy bounties alone. Drives me crazy when games pull this shit, and RPGs do it all the time...hell, Xenosaga 3 overuses this frustrating trope so badly that, from a narrative perspective, its “heroes” actually lose the majority of the fights they get in!
What really drives me crazy is the rare occasion when the gameplay’s even set up in a way that, if the writers had actually given a shit about a cohesive narrative instead of just barreling through it solely as was convenient for them, they could have acknowledged the fact that the heroes of the game weren’t actually having any trouble with the battle in question.
You take Stella Glow, for example. There’s a part of the plot of SG in which the good guys launch an attack on the headquarters of their enemy at the time, Hilda. Things go south fairly quickly, and the heroes find themselves ambushed by Hilda’s goons, and have to fight their way through them. No matter how well the battle goes, though, the heroes still find themselves surrounded on all sides by their enemies, including any who were actually defeated in the battle. This is super annoying, of course, even more so if 1 of the goons you beat up in the battle was Dante, because he’ll be his usual smug jackass self in this scene even though he just got done getting beaten as if he’d wandered into Chris Brown’s aggro range. But what makes it more vexing is that Stella Glow has a monitoring system in place that rewards players for doing certain things in each battle, like getting the first strike, or, most often, not having any party member get KO’d. So the game already has a system in place which it can use to determine whether a player has done well enough to keep all characters alive throughout the fight, not to mention also keep track of which enemies are defeated during a battle (as defeating or not defeating certain enemies can sometimes be a part of these reward variables), there’s really no reason, on the technical side of things, that the game couldn’t have had an alternate scenario prepared for players who did well enough that the Stella Glow heroes were obviously not having any real problem.
Hell, it wouldn’t even have been hard from a writing perspective. Hilda only shows up halfway through the post-battle scene, so the writers could’ve just had a version like we see in the game, where protagonist Alto and his bunch are on the ropes, and a version where Hilda’s bunch are the ones in dire straits, but Hilda arrives with enough reinforcements that Alto’s team wind up in need to rescue all the same. You’d easily get from Point A to Point B as needed either way, and at least not make everything that occurred in the preceding fight narratively inconsistent.
I know that the battle screen is, most of the time, only vaguely related to the actual events of an RPG’s story. Still, it’s jarring, annoyingly so, to finish a battle with the impression that the heroes have come out on top--a natural reaction, considering that even these fights which the story says were unsuccessful still usually require the player to have won them--and be presented with a scene completely contrary to the victorious situation you’ve just created. Not only that, but it can even be detrimental to the story as a whole--while few games are such chronic offenders as Xenosaga 3, the player inevitably loses any confidence or pride in the heroes of that game simply because said heroes prove themselves time and time again utterly incapable of winning a fight when it counts. This is just an outright annoying trope, all the more since it only exists because of writers’ laziness, inflexibility, and lack of creativity, as they force the story to potentially ignore its own events’ reality so that they can achieve their means in a single, direct way, rather than perform their office as creators and create alternate means to their end.
* I am not, incidentally, trying to brag or flex about what an awesome RPG player I am, or anything. I suspect, in fact, that I’m generally below average, and creating broken builds in Dragon Age is not a difficult thing to achieve.