Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Infinite Undiscovery - Battle Mechanics

ID is an action RPG. There's none of that sissy "you take your turn and I take mine" stuff here. If you want to swing your sword, you press a button. Special attack? That's another button. Battle technique? You have to hold a button down. Though ID may be an RPG, the fighting system has more in common with Soul Caliber than Final Fantasy.

I don't have a problem with that. Turn based combat can be pretty dull in these Japanese style RPGs. The Western trend towards action based combat as seen in Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fable 2 is a positive direction for the genre. But there's a big difference between those games and ID. In the examples I listed, you play a single character fighting on his or her own. In ID, you have a party of four (usually), and the number and strength of enemies reflects that. Since you can only effectively control one person at a time, that means you get to deal with the AI. And that's exactly where the system breaks down...

The first thing to understand is that you have almost no control over your teammates. You can't tell them who to attack, when to use magic, when to get out of harm's way because they're about to die...nothing. The best you can do is give vague group based instructions like "don't use magic ever" or "always attack what I'm attacking". Then you cross your fingers and hope they listen.

But they don't. At least not consistently. Instead they go chasing after enemies before you've recovered from the last fight. They charge headlong into enemies that are about to unleash super attacks, even while you're desperately trying to get out of the way. They don't bother to heal themselves or each other, even when they're close to death. And God forbid anything should happen to Capell. If you fall in battle, then you get to play a fun game I call "Is one of these retards going to notice I'm dead and fix me up?"

The AI is just plain terrible in this game, and the worst part is that you're pretty much forced to count on your teammates anyway. Particularly at the highest difficulty levels, groups of enemies are too powerful to handle unless your squad is pulling its weight. Boss monsters can often kill you with one ill-timed combo attack, leaving you little option but to hope that one of your teammates will give you a hand.

The irony is that because your party is so hell-bent on diving into the fray and getting themselves killed while ignoring any pretense of teamwork, the best role for you to play is often babysitter. Just stand back from the fight and revive your stricken allies while they do the work. Playing this game on the highest difficulty is like chaperoning three 12 year old kids through an amusement park after they've polished off a case of Mountain Dew.

To add to the frustration, all aspects of battle are in real time. That means that if you open your item menu to use a healing item, the enemies still smack you around as you look through the list. This leads to annoying situations where you realize that your teammates are all down and the enemies are swarming straight at you - you can't fight without your allies but you can't revive them without surfing through the menu for a minute, during which time you'll be killed anyway. All of this could have been solved if the designers would have thought to put some shortcuts or hotkeys in the game. Say, pressing right bumpers uses a revive potion or something. But no, you can't even SORT your items to put the useful ones at the top! You have to open the menu, pick the Items tab, then scroll way down the list until you find whatever you need, all while getting battered by enemies.

Other complaints:
- There's only two settings for your allies use of their abilities - never use them or ALL THE TIME. They never conserve magic points against weaker enemies or ones that are already almost dead.
- Every time someone uses an ability, they shout it's name. I heard the phrase "Grinn Valesti!" so many times that I swear I hear it in my sleep.
- There's a ton of backtracking in this game, and low-level enemies will continue to harass you long after it's worthwhile to fight them. There are a TON of enemies in this game, so going anywhere is a chore.
- Characters in your group get twice as much experience as characters sitting the bench. That makes sense, but it becomes all the more unnecessary to have a dozen people on the team. After all, most of them are going to fall behind and become useless anyway.
- Finally, Capell can use his flute in battle (remember, he's a musician). Theoretically this has beneficial effects. In reality, it's mostly useless and occasionally a pain in the butt. For example, there's a certain type of enemy that is invisible until Capell plays his flute near them (usually while getting whacked by said enemy). Then your teammates can attack it. But Capell still can't...if you want to help then you need to focus on one of your teammates, then hold down a button to activate a special move and wait for it to charge, and THEN you can join the fight. Only by that point, the enemy is probably invisible again, so you have to start the process over. I eventually gave up and just let the invisible guys pummel me while I played the flute nonstop, allowing my teammates to finish the baddies.

I wish that was it, but the design flaws don't end there. Next time, I'll talk about one of the dumbest game mechanics I've ever encountered.

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