In most games, combat is rather straightforward, the player launches an attack from the character and the game checks if the attack has landed, if so, the enemy takes damage and vice versa. Turn-Based Strategy handles this mechanic much differently, and more often than not, relies on a Random Number Generator (RNG) to calculate various things.
For a first example, let’s take a quick look at the Fire Emblem series and how it approaches how units engage in combat.
In the Fire Emblem series, the game takes into account several different things for combat, first of all, the game calculates the strength of the attack through various modifiers. The “Atk” stat changes based on the nature of the attack, either physical or magical, and scales off of strength or magic, respectively. Additionally the attack value decreases the higher an enemy’s defense or resistance. Lastly, Atk checks if its super effective against the specific enemy unit.
The “Hit” stat is largely the biggest source of RNG, in Fire Emblem’s combat. Hit is calculated by the unit’s skill stat and increases the chance to hit an enemy, while the defending unit lowers his chances of getting hit with a higher speed stat. Both those stats together are calculated into a percentage chance for the attacker to land a hit.
“Crit” is another equally RNG dependent aspect of combat, perhaps more so than hit as when a unit successfully crits they deal triple the damage of their Atk. Because of this a successful crit often leads into an instant death. This stat is raised exclusively by a unit’s skill but not as aggressively as it raises the “Hit” stat.
With all these in mind it becomes clear that Fire Emblem is heavily reliant on RNG for its combat. The randomness lends itself into calculating risk for the player, as they must think about the “what if” scenario if a unit fails to land an attack that is crucial in a strategy to keep the rest of the units alive. Or if an enemy unit’s 25% chance to hit miraculously lands and now puts a unit into a dire situation. These are all scenarios which lend to the difficulty of Fire Emblem that each player must take calculated risks on in order to proceed. Although at times the randomness of the RNG can truly be rather unfair to the player, when an enemy unit not only lands a 13% chance to hit, but also successfully crits off of a 1% and instantly kills one of the player’s units. Players must take the good and the bad of Fire Emblem’s system as it is a fundamental style of the game.
The XCOM series handles this very similarly to Fire Emblem with the exception that damage is not calculated by an outside factor but is instead tied to the weapon a unit is using in its attack. So the damage will likely fluctuate if the unit is wielding a rifle, a rocket launcher, or a pistol sidearm.
Additionally while crit is still handled in a % chance it is not nearly as strong as it is in Fire Emblem, where a crit only amplifies damage by an extra 50%. While still strong, a crit doesn’t often lead to an immediately dead unit, but can put that unit into a very dangerous position at low health. Increasing the crit chance is also much simpler in the XCOM series as it too, is not handled by an outside state of the unit, but takes into account if the enemy being fired upon is being flanked by the attacker, the weapon’s own crit modifier, as well as any skills that might change the crit chance.
Hit % is calculated by a soldier’s own aim, which raises as they gain more experience, as well as the effective range of the weapon being used, and the cover the target unit is behind if any. These come together and add up to a percentage chance of hitting your target.
Similarly to Fire Emblem, XCOM’s combat often feels up to RNG as players have felt that a 75% chance in XCOM, might as well be a 0% chance to hit, with how often these shots regularly miss their mark. This in itself lends to a harsh difficulty and requires the player to orchestrate a strategy to ensure the highest chances of success, instead of taking the luck of the draw.
Valkyria Chronicles takes an entire different approach to combat. There are no displayed % chance to hit, no relaying of how much damage is dealt and no random crit modifiers for the combat. Instead Valkyria simply displays the amount of shots that are going to be fired, how many shots need to land to kill the enemy unit, and what types of units the weapon is effective against.
Instead of having a % chance to miss like the other two I’ve discussed, Valkyria Chronicles relies on the player’s own accuracy and how well they can aim the crosshair on an enemy unit to ensure the most amount of shots landing. Unlike First Person Shooters, the bullets fired aren’t pinpoint deadly and accurate, instead they will spray quite a bit in the large circle area displayed. This proves to be the main RNG the game employs in its combat, as some bullets can go off their mark and barely miss a target, making you miss a few key shots on a target.
Effectively this system is much more reliable, and less RNG dependent, and feels more fair to the player as their is a clear visual indicator of bullets landing or flying past their targets. Additionally, because it requires the player to aim at their intended target, when vital shots miss it feels more like a failure by the player for taking a sub-optimal shot or not trying to ensure the crosshair is fully covering an enemy unit’s body. While randomness can still screw you over by throwing a shot in the one tiny area of the crosshair not covering an enemy causing you to miss an exact lethal strike, it is not nearly as punishing of a combat system as the likes of XCOM and Fire Emblem.
All in all, the 3 turn-based strategy games I’ve covered share very similar difficulty mechanics, partially due to the genre they share, but just as often these games take an independent and varied approach about how to implement these challenges and change a tried and true formula for something new and unique. That’s all for now regarding turn-based strategy games, I’ll be returning sometime later with a new topic, until then have fun!