Little things that make a big difference: Visible enemies in RPGs

Playing Chrono Trigger today, I noticed what a nice change of pace being able to see enemies on the screen was. The Saga games may be another RPG that shows bad guys, but that series does it in a way that makes wandering maps akin to a running play in 10 Yard Fight. Chrono’s enemies are different.

Sure, you can avoid many of them, but the little animation they run through pre-battle goes a long way to immerse us in their world. These aren’t invisible baddies who materialize randomly – they’re always out there, even if they’re hiding in the bushes.

Shining the Holy Ark modified this concept of stumbling upon villains in their native environment. Enemies don’t frolic like they do in Chrono Trigger, but rather make an entrance unto the battlefield worthy of a celebrity. Skeletons rise from the earth, rolly bugs spiral in from behind you, slime drips from the ceiling, or bats fly in from the East or West. It may seem insignificant, but seeing bad guys meet your party for combat instead of just appearing goes a long way psychologically. Dungeons feel inhabited, enemies feel like they belong in their individual environments and the game is that much more immersive.

Shining the Holy Ark went an extra step and even added the ability to preemptively strike appearing enemies by coordinating the correct strike – Faeries, Sprites, Leprechauns and so forth that your party collects can be sent out to land this initial blow. Some players don’t like twitch gameplay in their RPGs, but I find it prevents dungeon boredom from setting in. You know, blindly barreling towards the exit or boss while holding down the attack button the entire time.

Many modern RPGs now display encounters on the map, but many also fall into the same trap as the Saga series – you see an enemy simply so you may avoid him at all costs. Few have managed to present us with bad guys in a way that makes them look at home and makes us believe we are the adventurers – the intruders. Better graphics may be able to make a game more immersive, but it is more often the subtle touches that pull us into another world.

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