The Radiant Historia Battle System Post, Take Two

I have mixed feelings about Radiant Historia’s battle system. I like the way it works, but I’m not sure I like the way it’s implemented.

Radiant Historia has a battle system that’s all about your characters’ special moves. RH is the kind of game where leaning on your autobattle function won’t get you anywhere, as standard attacks simply do not deal enough damage — instead, prudent use of magic, status effects, area-of-effect attacks, and positioning are the key.

The way it works is that the enemies are positioned on a three-by-three grid. Enemies near the front deal more damage and take more, while enemies at the back deal less and take less. You characters have attacks which can manage the enemies’ placement, pushing them around the board or squeezing them into the same square. This last one is crucial, because if a character attacks a square, they deal damage to all enemies in that square. Thus, a big part of the gameplay is arranging the enemies such that your actual damaging attacks can devastate them all at once, rather than picking them off one at a time.

And you have to do this, too, because the enemies are really tough. They always attack in swarms — it’s rare to see an enemy group with fewer than six monsters (out of a possible nine) in it once you move into the midgame, and these monsters don’t screw around. Most of them deal pretty respectable damage, many of them will harry you with incessant stat-downs and other status effects, and not a few are more or less invulnerable to either physical or magical damage. This isn’t a game where the minor fights are just there to wear you down while you’re on the way to the boss.

And really, I think it’s a worse game for it.

See, Radiant Historia has something of an identity crisis. It wants to be a game without throwaway battles, where every fight could potentially be your end if you don’t pay attention, but it doesn’t give you the tools to win those kinds of fights. The actual battle system it has lends itself more towards flashy combos, where you see just how thoroughly you can dominate the bad guys. The ideal fight in Radiant Historia is one where, with clever usage of the character’s special abilities, you shred them with one long combo before they can even take a turn — but the actual game never gives you the opportunity to do this. Instead, it gives you a bunch of potentially fun and cool techniques, then spits in your face and says “All those tools you have? Yeah, they’re not going to work. Have fun!” Pushing three bad guys into a square and then blasting them with magic loses much of its pizzazz when this fails to kill them and you take nine attacks on the chin before being able to take another action. Winning fights takes forever and you’ll likely be nearly dead once you’ve done so. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, since the game is quite generous with healing items, but it does make what should be the best part of the game feel more like a pain. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself avoiding fights you could win just because actually going through the motions of winning them is such a pain in the ass. This should never happen in an RPG trying to sell itself on its unique battle system.

Really, I think this game would have been well-served by either toning down the difficulty of the enemies, making doing cool stuff more feasible, or adopting some variation on Baten Kaitos Origins’s battle system, where you’re automatically healed after every fight and thus the challenge comes from negotiating the individual fights, not trying to string together a bunch of perfect ones. At the very least, I feel the Assault moves, which move enemies around the field, are such staple techniques that they really should cost no MP. This doesn’t break the game at all; just makes it a little more convenient.

There are other problems… you’ve got something like seven PCs, but several of them are unavailable for large portions of the game, meaning that when you do have them, they’re invariably underleveled. Worse, some of them will join you for like one boss fight or mission then immediately leave again, meaning that purposefully picking fights in order to level them up simply is not on the menu the majority of the time. (Do not put [spoiler redacted] in your party the first time she joins, just as a consequence of this.) Many of these characters have unique abilities that don’t see much use of because of this.

I dunno. My initial thought was that these problems would become less apparent as I grew more experienced with the battle system, so I should give it more time, but I’ve played quite a bit further since then and if anything it’s become more pronounced. Are we at a point where I can claim boredom with “piss-in-your-eye” difficult games yet without losing my gamer street cred?

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