I thought that I would take a stab at defining what it is that I love about my favorite combat system of all time, the battle system in Final Fantasy VIII, with the hopes that I can convince some people to look back on this classic game (available on PS1 Classics!) and perhaps hear some of your favorite combat systems.
What I think makes this game so unique is its redefinition of the role of enemies and combat, specifically its use of the draw, junction, and item refinement systems in conjunction with scaling enemies. The enemy scaling in Final Fantasy VIII scales enemy’s stats and abilities based on the average level of the player’s party. Enemy stats scale proportionally based on level, but enemy abilities make abrupt jumps in power at levels 20 and 30. As a result, enemies are hardly a threat while the main party’s average level is lower than 30, but they can become a handful when they pass that threshold. This is doubly true if you try to grind out levels, since the junction system makes character level almost completely unrelated to character power. By tying character power to items and magic, rather than level, Final Fantasy VIII begs you to find a way to cheat the system and min max every encounter.
Fortunately the game gives you a ton of ways of extracting resources from combat without killing any enemies (and accruing exp in the process). In any given battle you can extract resources by: 1.drawing magic 2. stealing items 3. turning enemies into cards 4. eating enemies. On top of those options you can always actually win a battle and in the process win items and ap, which are way more important than exp. Each of these options allow you to either convert items into magic (which you then junction) or, in the case of eating enemies, receive direct stat boosts. Also when you win battles and gain ap, your gfs (magical creatures that power your characters like a battery) gain new abilities, many of which are super useful.
By having all of these ways to goose the system and a scaling enemy system, the game incentivizes the player to milk every fight for all its worth, rather than plow through enemies and get levels and money; this is fundamentally different from most systems which make enemies an obstacle that the player must overcome, which is what makes me love this system so much.
So what are your favorite combat systems and do you know of any systems that are similar to FFVIII that I should try?
Edit: Thinking about the combat system a little further, by tying draw points and monsters to particular locations on the map the combat system also incentivizes the player to explore the world map more than a conventional combat system. The three best examples of this are the islands closest to heaven and hell and cactuar island. The islands closest to heaven and hell contain draw points for the best spells in the game and each of those draw points have very fast regen rates, allowing the player to quickly stock up on the best spells in the game without fighting. Both of those islands are not pointed out to the player in any way, thus their bounties reward layers for exploring the world map. Cactuar island is similar in that it contains high ap, low exp cactuars as well as a boss cactuar that the player can fight. By confining these prime targets to an otherwise unremarkable island the game again incentivizes the player to explore and find these unique grinding spots.
Edit: I did not expect to see this kind of response to this blog post, so it got me thinking: would anyone like to see more posts like this looking at different combat systems in a similar way? I have a deep love for these kinds of systems and would be happy to write more about them.