[ARTICLE] Are Random Battles Necessary in 2015?

By Dan Spence on May 14th 2015



With gaming constantly reaching new graphical and technical heights why do so many games still rely on more old-fashioned game-mechanics like random battles? Many old game-mechanics still manage to feel interesting due to game developers incorporating them in fresh, new ways, yet somehow random encounters manage to appear in various games with little-to-no alterations.

What’s wrong with random battles?
Random battles (as they are traditionally used) basically allow game developers to skip quite large chunks of game design and remove player choice.
For example:
In a game without random battles the developer has to think about things such as: enemy placement, number of enemies, type of enemies and the type of battles that these encounters will be; these aspects make the overall game experience richer for the player as actual thought has to be put into the experience by the developer.

Whereas in a game with random battles, the developer ignores all of the above points and instead elects to have areas of random encounters: relying on chance to provide the player with enjoyable or memorable battles regardless of context. In this scenario all the developer has to do is set an encounter rate and choose a pool of enemy types that may or may not appear in the battles.

Having specific enemies, or a certain type of battle occur causes the player to think differently about their tactics and play style. In some cases the player may want to choose to forego the battle entirely; something not possible with random encounters as it essentially forces the player into a battle-state which can become very tedious and often impedes exploration should it happen too frequently while traversing relatively small areas.

Several games have managed to innovate and improve upon the original random battle concept:

– Games like Earthbound and Final Fantasy XIII made use of roaming enemies; foes that are visible on screen in the field. This adds a degree of context to the random battles as well as giving the player the option to avoid them. Earthbound also streamlines random encounters by making enemies that are significantly inferior to the player instant wins.

– Bravely Default gave almost total control of random battles to the player. This allowed players to dictate the encounter rate, allowing them to turn off random encounters entirely; should they choose to do so. This system lets the player tailor the encounter rate to their specific needs, which means that grinding becomes easier and exploration remains uninterrupted.

Bravely Default's encounter slider.

Bravely Default’s encounter rate slider.

But this isn’t to say that random encounters are inherently bad. Many game series that have utilized random battles went on to find massive success and are considered classics to this day (Final Fantasy, Pokémon, etc) but with a large number of older games, it seems like random encounters were implemented due to the limitations of the games themselves. Indeed, maybe many older games would be shorter and less substantial if not for random battles; but in 2015 when the sky is quite literally the limit (in terms of technical capability) why is such an archaic video game practice still used so frequently? Is it for the sake of nostalgia? Surely, there must be a better way to present these battles to the player. Why is the game mechanic of random encounters still so prevalent in modern gaming?

We may never know.


About Dan Spence

Dan Spence is a man with a computing science degree who would quite frankly, like a job writing about video games.

Posted on May 14, 2015, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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