It’s important to note that I love jrpgs. They are likely my favorite genre in spite of their issues, and going by sheer number of hours, they are my home in the world of video games. That being said, there are issues, and places where jrpgs include game mechanics that are (to me, at least) just plain unfun. So lets talk about one of those mechanics: random encounters.
A lot of what I talk about in these musings will overlap, so I’ll try not to get too far ahead of myself and wind up taking about everything at the same time. Now, to the meat and potatoes. For me, jrpgs have always been about the story. Even simple games like Final Fantasy (NES) were something I played to experience the tale of. Sure, most of them are convoluted messes, but I grew up with that and still like it. But when I’m trying to enjoy a story, or get the story to advance, the last thing I want is random encounters.
Just imagine it; you’re reading a book, the characters are making their way to the next important event in the story, and the book tells you to “slow down buddy, you need to do some boring and simple math problems before you get to read anymore.” Who would even read that? Apparently me, when I was 17 and younger. But that’s not the point – the point is that I’m not 17 anymore, and games aren’t what they were when I was. It’s time for jrpgs to grow up with me.
The genre of jrpgs doesn’t need to die, it needs to learn and grow. When encounters are random, they are meaningless. If fantasy books forced you to slog through boring (but admittedly usually brief) descriptions of the heroes slaughtering every animate flora and fauna every time they went anywhere, fantasy would have died out ages ago.
This isn’t an argument against repetitive fighting experiences in games. Action and brawler games are built on progressing through the same fight over and over again. But that’s the catch: the progress is tied to the fight, the fight doesn’t stop you in your tracks while you try to forge ahead.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair for me to complain without proposing a solution, so here it is: scrap random encounters, and make each fight more interesting and have a real point to it. Give me a reason to fight, and an engaging way to do it. Look at Megaman X: give me resources I can afford to lose in the course of learning so that I can figure out the correct strategy. Look at Shadow of the Colossus: give me tense, epic battles that are the point of the game instead of a distraction from it. Look at Live A Live: give me a hundred enemies and let me kill all, or none, or some – but each and every one has a place and a purpose. I know it’s possible, and I want to play it so very bad.