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What Zeboyd Games Does Right With RPG Random Battles

Zeboyd Games: Breath of Death 7 and Cthulhu Saves The WorldWhile I wait for Zeboyd Games’ latest RPG Cosmic Star Heroine┬áto be released, I finally got around to playing their first RPGs. I bought the double pack of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves The World from the Steam Winter Sale and I am not disappointed.

Overall, the games are solid retro-styled JRPGs with great humor. If you are not a JRPG fan, these games won’t convert you, but if you like JRPGs, specifically those of the NES, SNES and Genesis days, these make a great nostalgia trip. All in all they are pretty by the books. However, there is one major feature that sets Zeboyd JRPGs apart from their peers. Something that makes these games so much better than every other JRPG I have played. Both of these games allow the player to skip random battles.

Don’t stop reading. Let me explain. One of the most frustrating features of pretty much all JRPGs in existence is the reliance on random encounters with monsters. You are exploring a cave, you see a treasure chest up ahead. You take a step toward it and *bam* you have to spend 5 minutes fighting monsters. Now you are out, you start heading toward the chest again and halfway there, *bam* another 5 minute fight. Now you are almost there, just one more step and that chest is yours, but no. *Bam* another fight. Super frustrating.

The guys at Zeyboyd also hated this part of JRPGs. So they decided to change things up for their games. While they didn’t get rid of random encounters, they made a change that makes exploration so much better. They added a hard limit on the number of random encounters you can get into for each dungeon.

random battle counter
Up there in the top right corner, under “Battles Left”

When you get to a dungeon and look in your menu, there is a battle counter. It could be 20 or 30 or sometimes 10. That is the max number of battles you have to experience while in that dungeon. Once you finish that number of fights, there are no more. You can explore at your leisure. So now, when you see that chest, you can walk right up, get the goods and continue with the game.

That doesn’t get rid of fighting though. You can self initiate a fight if you feel like you need to grind for levels or gold, but that will be pretty rare if you complete all battles in each dungeon.

So why is this such an impressive feature? Because it ends one of the most frustrating aspects of playing JRPGs, the amount of time you waste fighting battles that you don’t need.

I recently played Breath of Fire 1 and 2. There is no such feature in these games. Out of the 20 or so hours I spent in each game, I can tell you that more than half of that time was spent fighting frustrating battles. I longed for the ability to shut them off.

With this simple mechanics change, Zeboyd set themselves apart from their competition and have made me a fan of their work. I look forward to Cosmic Star Heroine and seeing just how they make the battles in that game more interesting. They have already promised a lot of cool features, such as making status ailments something that you will actually want to use. That is something that has always been pointless in other JRPGs.

6 Comments

  1. MechaCrash
    MechaCrash April 29, 2016

    One unintended feature, or at least I assume it is unintended, is that you can cheese your way through the random battles in a dungeon easily. There’s always a save point that refills your HP and MP in the dungeons, so what you can do is just stay near it, use the Pick Fight option, and do that until all the random encounters are used up. That way you can easily get the random encounters over with and be at full health and MP for every one, so you can unload with your biggest guns right away. There might be a solution for this, but is it really the kind of problem that needs solving? If a player wants to (or has to) cheese away all the random encounters like this, screw it, that’s their prerogative.

    A similar thing is in Bravely Default, where you could dig into the Difficulty menu to adjust the random encounter rating: +100%, +50%, normal, -50%, and -100%. If you did this, however, it would warn you that turning off random encounters means not gaining experience, which in turn means not gaining levels, which could make the game harder in the long run. Bravely Second also allows you to adjust the encounter rating, but puts it as a first layer menu option you don’t need to dig around to reach.

    • Zachary Knight
      Zachary Knight April 29, 2016

      That wasn’t an unintended feature. That was designed that way. I appreciated it. It meant that I was able to cheese through all the battles and then save my full MP for the big boss at the end.

      In traditional JRPGs, you suffered through random battles avoiding the use of your magic so that you had enough MP when you got to the end boss.

  2. Andrew Eisen
    Andrew Eisen April 29, 2016

    So long as the encounter rate is balanced well, I’ve never minded random encounters but that might have a lot to do with the fact that I grew up with that mechanic.

    Something that does bother me in a lot of RPGs though? When magic is useless. Why use a fireball when my main attack does more damage? Why cast a status ailment spell when it’s not going to work on enemies I’d actually need to use it on (I don’t need to sleep or poison a slime)?

    Too often my magic is treated like free restorative items. (Let’s see, with full magic, I can use my heal spell five times. That’s five free medicinal herbs! That saves me 100 gold! Woot!)

    Andrew Eisen

    • Zachary Knight
      Zachary Knight April 29, 2016

      Yeah. Magic, especially status effects, being useless is always a bother. I think that Zeboyd did a fair job with the status elements they had in these two games (they were mostly variations on poison). They have been talking up their status ailment system in Cosmic Star Heroine, so I hope they live up to the promise.

      Additionally, the magic in the game is actually pretty good and you use it more than your regular attack. Part of why the magic system works is the combo effect. Every attack or magic spell adds a certain number of points to the combo meter. Then other spells will empty that meter for an even larger amount of damage. So you could end up using some smaller cheeseball spells to quickly fill up the combo meter and then hit the boss with a massive amount of damage in a single attack.

      • MechaCrash
        MechaCrash April 29, 2016

        One of the big issues with badstats and their utility is when there’s no feedback on why it didn’t work. If the spell has a chance to hit and it didn’t work, did it miss? Does it have a reduced chance to hit? Is the boss completely immune to it? And then there’s the question of how it works. If Poison (or equivalent) does a fixed amount of damage, it may not be worth using at all. In the early .hack games, poison is a fixed damage amount, so at low levels it would kill me if I didn’t cure it right away. Later on, I didn’t care.

        There’s also action economy to consider. Sure, I could throw Poison at it and maybe deal a few thousand damage over the course of the fight, but why take the risk when I can throw a fireball and do that damage right now? Because if you throw a spell and the boss is immune, you wasted your MP and your turn, and turns are super important.

        It can also be incredibly potent, of course: in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, one of the bosses you fight along the way has an absurd amount of defense, but very few hit points. Poison damage snowballs, so if you manage to land it, you can beat it fairly easily.

        I did have a similar issue with attack magic in Final Fantasy 12 and Dragon Quest 8, though. In FF12, magic could really ruin a monster’s day if it was weak to it, and if not it wasn’t worth the casting time compared to “just hit the bastard.” The problem is that one of the major mechanical things for the game was the Gambit System, a prioritized series of if/then statements for your party members to carry out. The “if weak to (element)” stuff wasn’t available until way too late in the game, and by that point, you probably already had your “buff to the gills, beat them down” strategy pretty well set. Dragon Quest 8’s problem was just…why would I have Jessica cast a spell when I can use Twin Dragon Lash for practically free and deal a ton more damage?

        • Zachary Knight
          Zachary Knight April 29, 2016

          That was one of the issues that the combo meter fixed. Every time poison (or one of its equivalent spells) did its damage at the end of the turn, it ticked up that combo meter. So you had an incentive to cast poison in the first round and then follow it up with your other attacks in later turns.

          I remember playing Dragon Warrior 4. There was a great cast of characters, but my end party were the four heavy physical fighters. The magic users never got the time of day.

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