1. IsaOfTheWorlds

    OP IsaOfTheWorlds Advanced Member
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    This is the first in an experimental series of rant posts where I use bad MS Paint diagrams to illustrate my point!
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    Ever since my 10th birthday, when a man 4 times my age at GameStop randomly recommended I play Disgaea 4, I've been a disciple of the tactical RPG. Soon after, I begged my aunt to buy me Fire Emblem: Awakening, and even though today I can clearly and cleanly spot the issues with Awakening, I was then hooked. My taste expanded into the realms of Vandal Hearts, Arc the Lad, Tactics Ogre, Jeanne d'Arc, Stella Deus, Luminous Arc, Stella Glow, Front Mission, Gladius, the Dept. Heaven series (Yggdra Union, Knights in the Nightmare, Gungir), Brigandine - The Legend of Forensa, Shining Force, Langrisser, God Wars - Future Past, XCOM... and then I moved into the indiesphere with Chroma Squad, Mercenaries' Saga, Fell Seal - Arbiter's Mark, Tactics V, Fae Tactics... But something I've noticed is that the games I've been playing are weirdly homogeneous. I've known that "no-tile" tactical RPGs exist for a while -- that is, games where instead of your movement being bound to square- or hexagon-tiles, your movement is tied to a particular "distance" and you can move that distance in any direction, usually indicated by circles -- but every single game I've played has been tiled in one fashion or another. Deciding that I can't call myself a faithful student of tactical RPGs I explicitly looked into no-tile tactical RPGs, and was pleasantly surprised to find there was one in the very series where my love for the genre started -- Makai Kingdom, a spin-off of Disgaea. Immediately and without question I got a copy of the game for the PlayStation 2, sat down to play it...

    and realized that I have a lot of issues that seem inherent in the boundless-movement style of movement. And, worse than that, most incarnations of this sort of game seem to totally remove the core component of tactical RPGs.

    For those who are totally unaware, the default state of tactical RPGs is a game where battles occur between armies on a tiled grid. While some are hexagonal, allowing the player to move up, down and diagonally, such as Wild ARMs XF and Brigandine, most games in the genre inherently take on the form of squared-tiles allowing movement in the four cardinal directions. Either individual units take terms, or turns revolve between the player and the enemy, and on a unit's turn they can walk around the field and perform a variety of attacks with weapons, magic, special techniques and the like. As units engage in battle with enemy units and win, they gain EXP which, when enough is accumulated, causes them to level up, increasing stats like Strength and Defense and allowing them to learn new special abilities. Oftentimes the equipment a unit can use, the abilities they learn and the stats that improve are based on classes, which, if you're familiar with fantasy role-playing at all, you'll recognize as stuff like "Wizards" and "Knights". Give or take games like the Tactics Ogre-style tactical RPG which includes mechanics about dealing extra damage based on height and position, this is the basic-most skeleton of tactical RPGs.

    In these sorts of games, unit placement changes where other units can move. In order to get to the same square you have to go up and around an enemy unit, so you can expect movement to look something like this (looking at his movement in just one direction. In a real scenario, the shape of the tile formation would be replicated in every direction):

    [​IMG]

    While this seems arbitrary a difference, two, three squares in any direction, being able to shut down enemy movement in precise ways is one of the key components that makes up tactical RPGs, called "positioning". In a lot of cases, carefully deciding which two squares you deprive the opponent of can be the difference between losing a key unit, missing an objective or straight-up losing the battle. This principle is seen most often in using a bulky or tanky unit like a Knight taking damage in place of a Wizard, such as in the following scenario:

    upload_2020-7-21_16-12-11.png

    Ordinarily, the enemy would've been able to make a three-square bee-line and attack the Wizard, likely killing him with next to no issue as a Wizard isn't a character famously known for their defensive prowess. By sticking a Knight there, however, in order to get a square where they can attack the Wizard, the Enemy will have to move up and then left twice, doubling the distance between his target and his current position. These sorts of decisions about positioning, especially in battles where there's possibly dozens of units occupying the screen at any moment, make up the quick risk-reward cycle that make tactical RPGs so compelling.

    Boundless-movement, or no-tile movement, however, is a bit of a different beast. In a boundless movement, a unit's movement is measured in terms of "meters" usually, and a circle indicating where the unit can move increases in even intervals with every "meter". The unit is then free to move anywhere they want within the range of that circle, regardless of other units and wherein they may stand. In graph form, the changes in movement look roughly like this:

    upload_2020-7-21_16-17-19.png

    Movement is unmalleable, thus, the positioning of your unit is totally arbitrary. For as long as the Wizard stands, say, 3 meters away from the enemy, the enemy is fully able to attack the Wizard with no opposition, and no more or less challenge regardless of the presence of the Knight. This poses a considerable amount of trouble for the usefulness of the Wizard.

    Why?

    In, say, Disgaea or Fell Seal - Arbiter's Mark, if you were to sit a Wizard four tiles away from an enemy with four movement and cast a spell, the Wizard would immediately be in danger unless you introduced the Knight. By design, Wizards are meant to be protected, and so their usefulness is proportionately tied to how well you're able to protect them while also fully capitalizing on their magical capabilities. In the case of Makai Kingdom, because unit placement becomes a non-issue, the only way to truly protect a mage is to create a line of units between the enemy and the Wizard, reaching from one point in the circle to the opposite point in the circle. However, worse yet, that's only applicable to a single enemy, and enemy in any other position will be able to bypass your greatest efforts to defend your Wizard and strike them down.

    The only true way to mitigate any risk towards the Wizard is for all units in a threatening position to be felled in a single turn. This isn't a reasonable expectation in many, many cases of much of the game. Thus, by design the Wizard's only saving grace -- their ability to be protected -- and the thing which makes them a balanced and active participant in these skirmishes is removed. The Wizard becomes a useless unit.

    This is just a specific issue of something much more endemic to the gameplay style, however. In a tactical RPG, the majority of the tactics centers around positioning. It is a key component of gameplay, and to remove that prevents any defensive measures from taking place. It prevents the players from drawing back if they need the option -- it reduces the entire player's toolbox to "kill the enemy or lose". Things which can't be guaranteed anymore now become a huge part of the gameplay, and much more a matter of chance. The player no longer has the freedom, or the incentive, to plan movements. Perhaps 80% of the decision making process has been totally cut out of the game with the removal of tiles.

    Is it not unreasonable that one unit can move past his opposition to attack a weaker enemy with no struggle? No attempt to stop him? This presents a question: how can you make it so that in this system, units can defend other units? A creative solution has actually shown up in the unlikeliest of places: an obscure indie tactical RPG called Age of Fear. In Age of Fear, the developers implemented, after similar criticisms as I present here, a system inspired by "Attacks of Opportunity" in Dungeons & Dragons. To those uninitiated into the world of tabletop roleplaying, "attacks of opportunity" are attacks which occur when one unit attempts to move past an enemy unit. This creates the incentive to carefully plan out when, and why, you attempt to slide past a powerful foe to attack someone weaker, for every attempt is dangerous.

    I, however, do not find this enough. It is still all too easy for a unit to brave the blow and take out a weak ally with little risk and plenty of reward. As it stands, "free-form" movement in tactical RPGs is a dangerous and unattractive design choice that seems to remove the predominant part of tactical decision making. I, however, look forward to seeing what creative solutions are presented in the future.
     

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  2. TheCasualties

    TheCasualties Just trying to be helpful
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    I don't think i've played any tactical rpg's that have boundless movement and turns. Maybe Wasteland 2 fits this? Or Divinity: OS 2? I never really thought about it too much, those 2 games just require different strategies.

    You really laid out the differences very well, and can see why that kind of movement is worse in most cases.

    I do really like the free movement in RTS w/Pause games though. Like in Pillars of Eternity. I never felt like my wizard was useless, it still depends on positioning, and you can freely adjust the position as long as you aren't casting.

    In these types of games, you can usually position the rest of your party to 'block' the movements of the enemy, by forcing them to engage with other characters first. This all comes down to positioning of your characters.

    Great post. Like I said, never really looked into the differences between grid and free movement and this was an interesting read.

    Have you played the Pillars of Eternity games? I'm curious about your thoughts on that type of strategy. If not, check it out! (on PC, can't imagine how hard it is to control on consoles, unless you switch to turn-based combat, which is not how the games were meant to be played and added much later)
     
  3. IsaOfTheWorlds

    OP IsaOfTheWorlds Advanced Member
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    I don't actually consider the D&D games to be "tactical RPGs", more like action RPGs which feature strategy! I loved Pillars of Eternity, though I will say that a lot of what made mages more battle-friendly were attacks of opportunity and the real-time component, allowing you to respond in the moment to an approaching enemy instead of just having to stand around and wait to be struck.

    This is sort of what I was talking about with the "attack of opportunity" thing, and I wish more eastern boundless tactical RPGs incorporated this feature. This is something pretty unique to D&D-inspired western games, and it hasn't hit Japan yet. In Japan, the issue is that the positioning of units DOESN'T prevent the enemy from moving past them in any way. I like the games you brought up, and I think games like Makai Kingdom could learn a lot from them!
     
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  4. DarkDragonLord

    DarkDragonLord GBAtemp Regular
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    Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven for 3DS uses boundless movement, but enemies do block you from walking past them, so, if you are able to make a "wall" with two tanks, it shouldn't be able to get in range. Still, depending on how near they already are when their turn start, yes, they'll be able to walk around your wall and smack your wizard. It's even worse because at boundless movement system, the characters' range is normally bigger/wider than grid system (e.g. which is normally one adjacent square, if sword) while boundless, they can make one do a thrust, another one do a wide swing, etc.

    See (at :8:36), the player goes around until it finds a good hit on the (green) wizard because pink hair has wide swing, while red head has a punch so it's just like, few pixels in front of him.

    On that matter, this game in specific does have some "girl with sword", "girl with staff", giving the idea of knight and wizard, but their hp/def status aren't like that, they are more balanced with the mind that every enemy has a wider range of attack.
     
  5. FAST6191

    FAST6191 Techromancer
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    Probably not what you would call a tactical game (or least the line is so very blurry) but you might want to look at Eternal Sonata. I will also take the opportunity to bring up Resonance of Fate but that is a very different beast.

    Anyway ignoring ranged abilities then contact and defensive circles are a thing in some games, and the opportunity attack is not a little tickle but out and out stop and engage.
     
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