A Random Encounter Has Appeared!
I love RPGs. If the civilized world didn’t require that I do something productive from time to time, I would sit in my house and play RPGs on my DS all day and night. I’ve never really made the transition to MMOs because having other players running around makes my contributions to the world seem silly and meaningless.
So I’ve continued to play games like Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and Dragon Quest over the years, while steering clear of the growing MMO trend in the genre. But, as much as I love my single player RPGs, the continuing use of blind random encounters in the genre to this day infuriates me to no end.
The random encounter is popularly believed to have been birthed in early editions of Dungeons & Dragons with its wandering monster system. Basically wandering monsters gave Dungeon Masters the ability to fill a dungeon with monsters without having to go through the work of actually looking them up and placing them around every corner. RPGs adopted the system to make programming easier and increase the overall length of an adventure. Over time there arose two different ways of achieving the “wandering monster” in video games: random encounters in which you can see your enemy on the overworld before it engages you, and random encounters that just pop up without any prior warning.
Games like Chrono Trigger, Ultima, and Zelda II allow the player to see the creature before the encounter begins. This gives you a chance to run away or equip your characters before the battle, and they’re infinitely less irritating than the system that games like Final Fantasy and Pokemon adopted where you’re essentially blind to encounters.
Of course, in the early days, developers can be forgiven for blind encounters because gaming was young, and the medium was still getting on its feet. Games were made artificially long and frustrating to suck quarters from gamers, and to provide inflated length. These ideas permeated into home consoles because at that point it was the only way anyone developed games. RPGs were expected to be long drawn out affairs, much like the tabletop roleplaying that they came from. In a game like D&D players would spend months, often years building characters and slogging through a campaign, with the majority of the battles being randomly generated.
So why do we still have blind encounters?
Unfortunately the answer is that many developers still cling for the same reasons they did all those years ago: length. Even the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series, some of the longtime torchbearers of blind encounters, have made enemies in the overworld visible and avoidable in their most recent titles. In addition to being less irritating, it also adds quite a bit of strategy to the game. If you avoid all the monsters you may find yourself under leveled for the next area, but on the flip side no one wants to spend their nights battling hordes of bunnies and rats.
The last major pillar in the battle for less irritating encounters is the Pokemon franchise. Every major Pokemon title has used the blind encounter system, and I say enough is enough. Since I was a kid I’ve felt like every time I’m two steps from the exit of a dungeon with my final Pokemon still clinging to life, I get sucked into an encounter. If I didn’t know better I would say the formula for random battles has a pension for laying the smack down on already decimated parties.
At this point if you’ve been gaming for any sizable amount of years, you’re sick of this formula, and Game Freak really needs to get a handle on this. It’s not okay anymore, and there’s no excuse other than laziness to continue swamping me in Zubat battles every time I enter a cave.
My building frustration with this kind of system has brought me to a point where I finish very few RPGs anymore, and it really is a shame. I don’t mind sinking forty hours into a game, as long as it’s a meaningful forty hours, not thirty hours of random encounters that I had no way of anticipating and ten hours of actual content.
I don’t mean to imply that everyone hates blind encounters, but by making them visible on the overworld gamers that simply enjoy the thrill of combat can engage at will. It’s time we moved past this deprecated practice, and give players a more controllable and enjoyable experience.