Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Bravely Series's Convenient Battle System

You all know by now that I don’t play RPGs for the visceral so-called joys of their gameplay, a genre whose interface is based roughly 90% of the time on an inherently dull, plodding foundation. It’s just not what I like about the genre. But that doesn’t mean I can’t identify and acknowledge that some RPGs manage to arrange just enough tricks and features in just the right way to make them far closer to diverting to play than their peers. Do I appreciate the fluid, intuitive complexity of the Bravely games? The skillful way that Fallout 1 and 2 broke ground and developed a battle system that actually made fire-arms based turn combat work? The ability of Bahamut Lagoon to seamlessly bring tactical and turn-based systems together into a single entity? The way most Fire Emblems manage to offset a somewhat imbalanced difficulty with patently obvious ways to cheese your way through the game? Sure. Do I enjoy them? Nah, not especially.

...Although I do have to give it up for the extremely rare occasion that a developer brilliantly manages to create a battle system that subtly underlines and expresses major dimensions of its characters, or themes of the game as a whole. Like how Tales of Berseria’s aggression-based battle system is consistent with its protagonist Velvet, or the way Lunar: Dragon Song expresses its developers’ disdain for the human race in a careful symphony of infuriating gameplay anti-features.

So even though this sort of thing doesn’t affect my estimation of how good an RPG it is, I think it’s only fair to mention that the Bravely series has got a terrifically fluid, intuitive, and useful auto-battle system, especially Bravely Second. It is, in fact, pretty much the best example I’ve seen thus far in the genre.

First of all, let’s just acknowledge that the fact Silicon Studio bothered to do anything more than the bare minimum on this matter is laudable. In like 90% of the RPGs I’ve encountered with an auto-battle function, said feature basically just has everyone in the party mindlessly attack enemies until the battle ends in either victory or defeat. It’s just a more convenient version of mindlessly mashing the confirm button for every character over and over again, a process so simplistic that even most Kemco games possess it. KEMCO, for Abadar’s sake! And don’t get me wrong, I’m still appreciative of an auto-battle feature, even in its most basic form--I’d go so far as to say it and the battle speed option are tied as the very best characteristics of just about every game from Kemco’s catalogue--but actually taking steps to make the auto-battle commands in Bravely Default and Bravely Second anything more than just mindless Attack commands in succession represents an uncommon level of effort in this genre.

And that effort is spent so effectively! Silicon Studios makes the auto-battle system in Bravely Default so natural and handy. Just because you want a little more complexity to your battle performance than “everyone just hits Attack” doesn’t mean that every damn turn you take has to be a completely new strategy than the last--most of the time in an RPG, there’s only really a handful of combinations of characters’ abilities in a single turn that you’ll use with any great frequency. So Bravely Default’s clever way of handling auto-battle is to simply have your party repeat all their actions from the last turn again. Once you’ve explored BD’s shockingly complex and yet even more shockingly intuitive battle system enough, you’ll have a general idea of what effective strategies you want to repeatedly employ in most random encounters, meaning that getting to simply press a button to repeat them for as long as you want is incredibly convenient--and yet, since you can disengage and change tactics 1 turn, then repeat those new tactics over and over again, this gives you all the convenience of an auto-battle system with none of the limitations! And possibly best of all, you can keep using this repeated-turn system even in a new battle, without having to manually create the first turn you want reiterated each time.

And then Bravely Second improves the system even further by allowing you to not only select auto-battle to repeat a turn’s actions, but also have the option to select from 3 preset turn strategies you’ve designated for repeated use. So basically, all the benefits of Bravely Default’s take on the auto-battle system, combined with the functional convenience of a battle strategy system like Dragon Age 1’s tactics system--only also smoother and better designed.* You can preset 3 strategies that’ll presumably take you through most battles and have’em ready to go at the press of 2 buttons, any time you like, giving you convenience without sacrificing the ability to explore the many nuances and possibilities of the Bravely combat system.

It’s basically like Final Fantasy 12’s Gambits, if that system had been streamlined, attached to a well-constructed combat engine, player-friendly, and actually effective. And if the FF12 developers had possessed the collective 12 brain cells necessary to know that the Gambits should be optional, because otherwise it’s less like playing a video game than it is making some meek suggestions to a video game. And if the FF12 playing experience was good in any capacity whatsoever. So...basically like Final Fantasy 12’s Gambit system, but at the same time, absolutely fucking nothing like it, really.

And although I’ve spent most of this rant talking about how great the auto-battle system is with the Bravely games, I’ll also give major appreciation to the games for the fact that they also have a battle speed-up feature, too. I’ve already made my love for this function known in a previous rant, so no need to get into it here, but the fact that Bravely Default and Second have simple, effective fast-forward options as good as any I’ve seen in the genre is as valuable to me as their having such an effective and reliable auto-battle system.

Bravely Default and Bravely Second’s developers clearly had a lot of pride in the mechanics of their games, pride which is fully justified, as valuing gameplay conventions goes. But what I really appreciate about Silicon Studio is that they didn’t let that satisfaction blind them to seeking to make the playability of their games as convenient to the player as possible--no matter how proud they were of their creation, they didn’t hesitate to give the players a uniquely efficient set of tools to hasten our way through that creation to our content. Considering that over the course of both Bravely titles, I engaged in hundreds if not over a thousand random encounters, I feel significant gratitude to the developers who put these tools of convenience together. It feels like they valued my time.

* Don’t get me wrong, though, I think the DA1 tactics system is quite thoughtful and effective overall. And in fairness, while there’s a surprising level of innovative depth to the Bravely games’ combat, Dragon Age 1 still has a lot more going on in regards to what’s happening when, under what circumstances, and to what priority, so it’s pretty understandable that its use takes a little more work.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding Dragon Age Origins: I spent like 95% of my trash mobs watching Morrigan sleep everything and nuke them with Waking Nightmare, with me and Alistair going in with the swords and shields for cleanup. This in no way diminished the game for me, and I have complete confidence that playing on a mode higher than Normal would make more of the mechanics relevant.

    If Bravely Default/Second had a story and world half as interesting as they do, I'd probably barely hear it over all the fun the gameplay offers. In fact, I have serious differences with the story of Default and the repetitive humor of Second's camping scenes, eternally to the degradation of Edea, the Best Girl. But man, FF5 was a masterpiece of a Job System, a high I spent four playthroughs of FF X-2 chasing moments of, and several aborted playthoughs of FF12 because my god does the game suddenly turn into a plotless death march at multiple points. The Bravely games, though? Finally, the Job System was done right once again.

    It is terribly important that I point out that speeding up the battle animations causes the summon movies to be skipped entirely. No more 30 second FMVs for what is usually glorified Black Magic.