Combat Strategies

Some games depend on weakness exploitation.  In Shin Megami Tensei games, for example, your demon partners have elemental strengths and weaknesses.  Demons strong against fire are probably not that good with ice magic, meaning that you’d need to pick between high damage or high defense.   Pokemon games have circular patterns of, say, fire killing grass, but grass working against rock, and so on.  Combinations of types result in covering some weaknesses in favor of other weaknesses.  Since these aren’t displayed unless you know the type of monster, there’s  experimentation or memorization to find out what things are weak against.

Jack Frost is pretty obviously fond of ice (the bufu family of spells.)

Problems with weakness exploitation?  If you can’t remember what’s weak to what, the game becomes a guessing game, and late in the game, you’re getting punished for not mind reading.  If the game isn’t balanced, certain types may be drastically more powerful than other types.  In Pokemon Red / Blue / Green, Psychic is a very powerful type, though this changed over time in the series.

Status effect type combat is basically a lot like weakness exploitation. In Final Fantasy II, 99% of encounters can be ended with a high level Toad spell (this includes the final boss, thanks to a bug.)  In Dragon Quest games, there’s usually a fair amount of buffing and debuffing.  In the first Dragon Quest, the Golem boss is killed via keeping it asleep.  In later games, attack up and defense down magic is almost required to kill certain bosses.

A priest in Dragon Quest III has several buff and debuff options.

Problems with this type of combat?  Well, if there’s tons of status effect types, you’ll end up having to guess which ones work.  If you’re just as weak to them, you end up having to worry more about protecting from the more annoying ones.  In the second Star Ocean game, you can fight enemies that attack with paralysis, petrification, and poison.  Since paralysis and petrification is basically death if all people are affected, you basically have to have protection or risk dying.  If the game uses buffs and debuffs, you’ll have longer boss fights thanks to having to build up the levels of spells.

Another common combat type is damage estimation.  By this, I mean that your characters do a net damage of X, and your enemies do a net damage of Y.  So long as your health can withstand Y, and X is high enough, you win.  If the enemy has a suddenly stronger attack, or if you don’t have healing items or abilities, you may suddenly lose.

The problems with this mostly comes down to planning.  Games of that type tend to assume you stock up on healing items or that you save magic for healing.  It also tends to assume you’ll upgrade weapons before armor.  If the weapons are very expensive, then there’s no choice but to grind until there’s enough money to afford it.  While there aren’t really typical boss fights in Phantasy Star II, the enemy difficulty is enough that you must upgrade your weaponry to progress easily.

A cyberpunkish woman with guns behind her.

Despite the large amount of mesatas, I can't afford certain weapons.

So how do you handle this, say, in a strange game?  Well, first of all, new status curing items  should be bought as soon as you see them.  Then, while grinding to afford the new weapons (assuming they seem reasonably priced,) check what status effects are common.  (Assuming they’re not debilitating, usually using the doctor equivalent is cheaper than using items.)  When going to the next dungeon (assuming the game works that way,) stock up on status effect cures for said status effect.  Save as best you can before the boss, heal up and test elemental weaknesses while buffing up.  For 99% of games, this method will get you past most challenges without needing to reload.

When this method doesn’t work, however, there’s often interesting ideas going on in the combat system.


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