RPG Soapbox: Battle Animations and Dialog
This time around, as I step on the soapbox, I want to talk about a couple things that relate to relatively unimportant issues during battle scenarios in many an RPG. Are there larger issues in RPGs to talk about? Sure. But, lately, these have been rather grating on me. So, let’s get in to the meat and potatoes, shall we? Battle animations and dialog: what’s wrong with them and what can we do to fix them up a bit?
First off, let’s talk about battle animations. One of my biggest pet peeves in action-style RPGs are the battle animations. While the animations themselves span from cool to amazingly awesome, the fact that my character can’t multitask is rather odd to me.
This whole issue is fresh in my mind after coming off Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and I mentioned it briefly in my review – the game, like many others, requires your character to wait for battle animations to complete before allowing you to perform another action. The biggest offender in this regard in that particular game was transitioning from attacking to dodging. In fact, that segue seems to be an issue for many RPGs from Star Ocean: The Last Hope to Divinity II and everything in between. Almost every time you’re given an action RPG where you must attack and dodge, this issue arises.
We’re already going beyond the realm of the realistic in these games, why not stretch things a bit farther just to make battles more fluid? I’m already hurling huge chakrams at the enemy in Kingdoms of Amalur. These chakrams are on fire, they explode upon impact, they can radiate magically out from my character into a huge area of effect attack, they come back to me automatically wherever I move.
Unless, of course, I want to dodge. Then, for some mysterious reason it won’t let me because, apparently, the weapons can’t find their way back to me in that particular situation.
One of my favorite action JRPG franchises is Star Ocean, and this issue has plagued those games for a long time, most notably in the latest installment. No matter how many unrealistic, seemingly miraculous feats are performed during combat (blindsides, anyone?), there is no way I can pull off a dodge in the middle of an attack animation.
Playing as Reimi in Star Ocean: The Last Hope, once I let arrows fly, you would think the character would be free to move, but no, you have to wait until those arrows are no longer displayed on screen by either hitting the enemy and dealing damage or missing and disappearing into nothingness. At that point I’m free to dodge, but usually that is too late.
In both these cases it creates an added and unnecessary need to anticipate stopping your attacks in enough time to dodge whatever baddie is currently plowing in your direction. This is not always possible, so it leads to death and frustration in more cases than I can shake a stick at.
The fix is simple – stretch imagination a tad more and allow dodge animations to be performed while an attack animation is in progress. This isn’t a turn-based strategy game, you don’t have to allow only one “action” to be taken before an equal and opposite reaction can be had by the enemy. However, I’m under the impression that this may actually be perceived by some developers as adding artificially to the difficulty of combat, and you know how I hate artificial difficulty added to games “just because”.
Because this is a problem that spans years, and many games, I highly doubt it will be fixed anytime soon, so I will continue to speak out about it in reviews in which this is an issue until it gets changed. Because, you know, developers listen to what I think. They do…right?
The other issue, and the arguably more annoying one, is dialog spoken during battle. The issue here isn’t that there is dialog, but that, in a twisted sort of way, there isn’t enough. Hearing a character say the same thing during combat each and every fight is rightfully rather tedious. “He never saw that one coming!”, “…and stay dead!” and similar exasperating rambling just gets very old after a while, as you can imagine.
One of the biggest offenders of this lately is Star Wars: The Old Republic. While it seems each companion that each class gets throughout the game has their own set of built-in lines, the problem arises from the fact that you’re fighting so often that the eight or ten lines of dialog they have to switch through at random become annoying to the point I would rather dispose of my companion instead of the enemy.
Japanese RPGs are also quite a culprit here, and usually in a worse way. These games usually have far fewer lines of dialog default to each character. Imagine one character saying the same thing during and/or after each battle. Want to turn the sound off yet? Of course you do. I certainly do.
Thankfully, many RPGs these days are giving the option to disable dialog during battle, and this is certainly welcome. What else can be done to spruce things up? In Star Wars: The Old Republic, various companions say different things outside of combat depending on your location. For example, the Smuggler’s Corso Riggs companion, upon arriving on Coruscant for the first time, says something to the effect of, “Just walking through Coruscant makes a person feel so small.” That is cool (although, they tend to say the same thing at random intervals when hanging out in the same area).
Why not have location-specific combat dialog? Here’s why: Typically, in an RPG, you move frequently from one area to the next, so you can have fewer recorded lines of dialog for each area and still keep things fresh because the random pool will change once you move on to the new area. There is no way to completely absolve the possibility of repeating battle dialog, but at least there are ways to minimize it, if the developers really wanted to.
Just like when traveling to a new (real world) location, where the smaller, out of the way places could be some of the most inviting, or some of the most depressing, experiences of your entire trip, the small things in RPGs can improve or deteriorate the entire experience. While I never claimed that either of these two failings completely killed an RPG for me, they are an irritation. However, if done in the right way, they could really add a lot of atmosphere and sophistication to a game, and that extra effort and polish is certainly noted, especially by those of us who go on these adventures.