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Game Mechanic Analysis: Bard's Tale 4

Role Playing games have come a log way since their humble beginnings. My own start in video games was a little RPG called The Bard's Tale. The second I loaded it up I was in love. I had always loved Dungeons and Dragons, and now here was a D&D game I could play on my own without needed my annoying brother!


Like most RPGs of its era, Bard's Tale's combat system was turn based. The player went, then the enemy went. There wasn't much more to it than that. Definitely a tried and true formula.


Times and technology changed, and real-time RPG combat came into vogue. I myself was a part of that during my time at New World Computing. Real time combat brought an intensity that was not always there in turn-based games. It was exciting! It was like real life!


But nostalgia being what it is, there were still lovers of turn-based games. The success of Fallout, X-Com, and Final Fantasy can attest to that. Games that I still love to play today.


Since the mid-90s there has been a split in the computer RPG community centered around turn-based combat. This split is usually referred to as 'Western RPG' and 'Japanese RPG', and you really can see the difference. Take a look at Fallout 1's combat system vs. a Final Fantasy. There is a huge difference. Fallout, as an example of a western RPG is much more tactical. Final Fantasy, as a JRPG has a combat system that is simpler and focuses more on huge cinematics than its western counterparts.


Which is better? That is an argument for the ages. I myself prefer the western style. I enjoy the ability to think tactically about the fight, and I believe that a combat system that is still in the world keeps the player more immersed in the gameplay. Also, I hate unskippable cutscenes, which have always been rampant in JRPG spell systems.


So what does this have to do with Bard's Tale 4? Well, everything!


Bard's Tale 4 is a classic western RPG. From it's art style, to its first person perspective, it is a clear evolution of its own roots. With one glaring exception: It's combat system.


They've called the combat system a redesign, a re-evolution, and something completely new, which it isn't, and that's OK. I would call it an evolved version of the classic JRPG combat system with some hints of western RPG systems inside.


So how does it work?

The monsters exist visibly in the world like any western RPG. Like Skyrim and Fallout 3, you can see the enemy before you have to fight it. So if you're careful, you can think tactically about where you want to be inside the level before you initiate combat.


Grid based JRPG combat in a first person game

Once combat is initiated, you're taken to a overlay screen with a character layout grid for both you and your enemies. Sounds like something new, but we had a similar order system in Might and Magic (although it was somewhat of a hidden feature - BT4 sticks it right in your face). Player characters in the front row are more vulnerable than the ones in the back row.


The rest of combat plays out like a standard JRPG with the characters taking turns attacking from a distance. Players can do melee attacks, or spell attacks, or special attacks. Not a lot new there. Granted, I haven't gone too deep into the game yet, so there may be features I haven't seen.


Does it work though? I think it works about as well as it can. For my tastes, it's a bit jarring to be pulled out of the game world to do combat. That's something that JRPG players are more used to than me, and is something I think you would get used to.


Personally I think we did turn-based better in Might and Magic where you weren't taken out of the world to fight. Though you could argue that BT4 is a more sophisticated and robust turn-based combat system. And you'd be right.


It's a common issue with party-based first-person RPGs. How does the 'hydra' act in combat? (Hydra was the term we used at New World to refer to the one body-multiple heads perspective). It's not a perfect solution, but I think it's pretty good, and I have to give kudos to the guys at inXile for taking a giant risk like that in a somewhat niche game.


until next time....

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