I’ve thought off and on since my post, the I may have taken too hard a stance against random encounters. Maybe I’ve forgotten the original context of my writing, but there’s something I think I want to clarify about what purpose random encounters serve.

I stumbled across a tropes page, for something like “sliding scale of gameplay to cutscene length,” and there was an interesting comment that changed the way I looked at some of the earlier Final Fantasy games. Not setting aside the fact that the majority of the series features crap stories – there’s this competing viewpoint.

Final Fantasy V was one of the first games to ...

“I hit it with my axe.”

If you view the Final Fantasy games not as roleplaying games, but rather as large-scale fantasy-themed beat’em-ups. It’s definitely a different way of looking at them as games — as the characters being fairly non-descript heroes of questionable morals wandering from place to place thrashing monsters.

Many quests nowadays are really just excuses to go out and beat up monsters, and I think there may be a valid point to the argument that the combat system has to be fun to justify the justification. I think what may have happened along the way is the games’ purpose was made grander than it was ever intended.

Rather than the story of console roleplaying games being “the point,” it seems more they are the result of emergent gameplay. Players weave their own narrative into the gameplay, and that becomes the focus of their enjoyment. It certainly worked when many of the enemies were being seen for the first time.

Ten iterations later, fighting the same slimes and goblins just isn’t as appealing. I can see how it might be important to mix up character classes and attacks and whatnot between iterations of the game – and monsters too. Settings as well. Sort of the bread-and-butter of beat’em-ups, I imagine.

Beat 'em ups, such as Streets of Rage, feature...

“I hit it with my fist.”

And the combat needs to be good.

So what I’m saying here is not totally backpedaling on what I said about random encounters, because there’s still a problem when they’re being used as filler – it’s important to tell a story through your combat when the game is about telling a story – but random encounters can also be part of the point.

In that case, I guess you have a difficult balance to strike between making the encounters fun, and making them challenging. When they’re too hard, the player may wind up backtracking a lot, and losing lots of time in the process. I know this appeals to some gamers, but I think it’s sort of an acquired taste in game styles.

There’s always more to talk about when it comes to designing and using encounters.

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