Seven Deadly Sins of Strategy RPGs

This writer will admit that he’s not a fan of the tactical RPG subgenre, and will detail the sins committed by what critics consider to be the best and worst simulation roleplaying games.

Permanent Death

Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem series, Suikoden Tactics

The original Fire Emblem was one of the pioneers of the strategy RPG subgenre, and among the first to feature permanent character death. There are instances where, in the title’s remake Shadow Dragon, where the death of enough main characters will populate the player’s cast with faceless units, but to lose a character a player has worked so arduously to grind can certainly be frustrating and lead to restarts, especially among compulsive gamers.

Marathon Battles

Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics, Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity

Some tactical RPGs, after the player has labored long and hard to win one battle, like to instantly grant the player another battle with no opportunity to back out or grind. Admittedly, some titles such as the original Final Fantasy Tactics attempt to rectify this situation with save opportunities between fights, but to face consecutive battles, especially if the player’s characters are under-leveled, can certainly be frustrating, as well.

Wasted Playtime

Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics, Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity

This one’s a biggie, especially if the player has spent a long time in a particular battle only to lose it and face a return trip back to the title screen, sometimes having to endure the unskippable company logo screens should corporations engage in user-unfriendly design. Honestly, what sane human thinks that it’s fair to render the player’s periodic investment in a battle, especially if it lasts a few hours, a waste should they lose? Thankfully, some titles such as the Shining Force games, the second and third Arc the Lads, and Disgaea 3 allow the player to retain their characters’ levels should they lose a battle.

Escort Missions

Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor

Many tactical RPGs sometimes have battles with objectives other than or in addition to slaughtering all antagonists, with a common variation being “escort missions,” where the player must protect a character from death or else face a dreaded Game Over and trip back to the title screen if the game’s design is poor. In some instances, the character the player must protect can be pathetically weak, making their protection to be nothing short of difficult, and developers could certainly try alternatives such as plot branches should the player fail to save a character.

Long Periods without Permanent Save Opportunities

Offenders: Suikoden Tactics

This is somewhat related to the sin of extensive wasted playtime, but can sometimes occur even in titles with anti-frustration features. The ability to make quick-delete saves in titles such as the aforementioned Suikoden Tactics may alleviate some frustration in players that have busy lives, but if players live in places where power outages, blackouts, and brownouts are frequent, such games can be absolute nightmares to play. Thankfully, certain titles such as Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice allow for permanent saving mid-battle.

Difficulty in Leveling Weak Characters

Offenders: Arc the Lad series, Fire Emblem series, Shining Force series

Grinding is more or less a necessary evil in and out of the tactical RPG subgenre, and is tolerable as long as titles actually make it easy and/or fun to do so, although there are some instances where doing so can be tedious, especially if a character is low in levels and deals little damage against enemies, and they obtain the bulk of experience by killing adversaries. Sometimes grinding can even be risky in titles with permanent death such as the Fire Emblem franchise and other titles where players can potentially waste time grinding against a losing battle. A few titles such as Suikoden Tactics attempt to rectify this by making experience gain proportionate to a character’s level, something all strategy RPGs should accomplish.

Points of No Return

Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem series

This offense is relevant even outside the tactical RPG subgenre, some titles such as SaGa Frontier and its sequel being liberal in this poor design decision, although many strategy RPGs face this flaw, which can consequentially make a game unwinnable if a player is unable to back out of a battle to grind or purchase better equipment, sometimes forcing players to make multiple save files if they face this situation. Unwinnable situations are never a good design choice, especially if players are compulsive about finishing what they commence.

Honorable Mentions

Schizophrenic Difficulty (Offenders: Final Fantasy Tactics)

Inconsistent difficulty is always a big no-no for this writer, with some battles being difficult, but others being breezes. For instance, Final Fantasy Tactics can be daunting until the player acquires a character in the final chapter that can basically take on all enemies himself.

Conclusion

In the end, strategy RPGs would be far more accessible to mainstream gamers if developers avoid these common pitfalls characteristic of the genre. Mercifully, contemporary titles such as Fire Emblem: Awakening have only begun to move forward in accessibility, that particular installment of its series making the franchise’s characteristic permanent death system optional, and other tactical franchises should certainly follow suit. Admittedly, masochists certainly wouldn’t appreciate increased accessibility, given the thought train that less frustrating titles automatically suck.

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