[This can be construed to containing spoilers for Final Fantasy (original) or Pokemon Red.]
At the top of the shrine under the sea surrounded by maids. You wander around talking to everyone and finding treasure. As you try to work out where to go from here, you realise something odd: this isn’t frustrating, this is fun. One mermaid tells you to that the Kraken was at the bottom of the castle. You go back down ready to find the next stairs. Maybe it’s round that corne – random encounter. OK, back to !random encounter!.
I’ve two tags for this post: Pokemon and Final Fantasy. The original ones for both these series relied on random encounters, however in a way Pokemon manages to do it better than Final Fantasy. In a large way, I think that the simplicity and easiness of the Pokemon dungeons is a chief help. In Final Fantasy you are trying to solve where to go, only to be interrupted by a tedious battle.
The point of tedium is also more present in Final Fantasy than Pokemon at least in the first Final Fantasy. In Final Fantasy each fight can be defeated by one of a few staple strategies done from the beginning and the fight is just implementing one of them. Personally, near the end I armed by Ninja with a Healing Helm and my White Mage with a healing staff, this change of strategy lasted me to the exact end and gave me something to pay attention to see how often my party was at full health without using MP (that sort of thing amuses me, not sure it works as general advice). In Pokemon you’re learning new moves and they’re more fragile – and for other reasons – you’re more likely to change Pokemon.
The SNES era of Final Fantasy however had their changing Job System, or changing party systems. This kept the tedium at bay, and indeed it was only playing my Final Fantasy Origins that I really appreciated the risk of random battles. In the SNES versions, dungeons were also less likely to have unrewarding dead ends. This made dungeons less of a puzzle that the player had to solve, more an opportunity to explore with wonders around every corner.
In both these franchises the random encounters are there to create a constant sense of risk and danger. The problem is when they’re not dangers they’re annoyances. The fragile Zubats being the Pokemon case. In general, however, this is more likely to happen in the original Final Fantasy where monsters do single point damage to triple point health bars. One again the fragility of Pokemon is a positive boon.
The second roles that random encounters play in these franchises is to strengthen one’s team by giving a way to level up. This can also be done simply through respawning encounters or some form of arena. In Pokemon, of course, the random encounters also have the other minor tiny near-invisible benefit of giving an opportunity to catch it.
This analysis of how random encounters work is hopefully going to be useful for my own attempts at creating more effective random encounters. In that vein, my next blog post shall be titled ‘Games Need A Lose Condition’. The games I’m trying to build and exploration and story-based, but the things I’m focusing on is everything but. I assure you that makes sense.