People are always finding new and exciting ways to change up gameplay and combat tends to be a prime area for experimentation. Sometimes it works, other times it’s downright odd. Sometimes both. Here are 6 games with weird but good battle systems.
While there’s something to be said for a trusty familiar battle system, it’s always interesting to see the crazy things developers come up with. Some of these games see a departure from standard formula for other entries in their series, which draws particular attention to them, while others just came in swinging with weird but good battle systems straight away. Here are some notable ones!
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Being the second game in the Kingdom Hearts series, Chain of Memories doesn’t exactly have a set series formula to break, but it manages to stand out in its unique card-based spin on everything anyway. Everything in Chain of Memories uses cards, be it selecting which world to go to or attacking and calling on your allies for aid in battle. There’s card-based battle systems and then there’s Chain of Memories.
While games like Baten Kaitos slot cards into a more familiar turn-based structure, Chain of Memories doesn’t stray from being more action-based just because you now have a deck. Every swing of your Keyblade is a different card, as well as every summon, spell, and item. You also have Friend Cards which pop up in the middle of battles and allow you to call on an ally such as Donald, Goofy, or whoever the assisting character for a particular world is to do an attack.
When you run out of cards – which is easy to do when they’re used so quickly and can also be discarded by an enemy’s card with a higher number – you have to reload your deck. This builds up a counter, making it take longer and longer to reload to the point where you just have to hope to get enough of a breather to refresh your useful cards.
As if all this deck nonsense wasn’t complicated enough, there are Enemy Cards too (not to be confused with the cards your enemies use, seeing as they’re following the same rules as you). These are stored in a separate menu (making it easy to forget about them) and are often cards with strong passive abilities you obtain after defeating bosses.
It all seems daunting at first – and more so if you ever take a break from it and come back in the middle somewhere – but stringing together chains and re-organising decks to take out particular enemies becomes natural and oddly thrilling as you progress. It’s wildly different from most of Kingdom Hearts, but it’s a good time.
Fate/Extra moves from the standard visual novel format of many other Fate titles to a JRPG, with dungeon-exploring and level-grinding in tact. The battle system is far from ordinary fare, however, featuring a rock-paper-scissors format and a focus on predicting your enemy’s attacks.
Each turn you choose a string of actions for your Servant to carry out, with support from the playable Master slotting in over the top. This string of moves will go up against your enemy’s, with Guard beating Attack, Break beating Guard, and Attack beating Break.
As you face the same type of foe in battle multiple times, you become more familiar with their fighting patterns, making it easier to choose your Servant’s set of actions to maximum effect.
Even intimidating bosses like other Servants follow this formula, and the game incorporates how knowing an enemy Servant’s identity helps you take them on by giving you more clues as to their next moves and an indication of when they’ll use their powerful Noble Phantasm based on how much information you’ve accrued about them beforehand.
No list on anything weird and wonderful in gaming would be complete without a Yoko Taro title, so here it is! Controlling both your current character and their pod simultaneously is just one of the many ways NieR: Automata keeps combat fresh and exciting.
As it’s a game that always keeps you on your toes, being able to fight off machines in two different directions at once is a handy skill. So, how’s it weird? Well, it just is. For one thing, controlling anything other than a camera with the right analogue thing just feels sort of wrong, and the incredibly helpful pod is no exception.
There’s also 9S’s ability to just hack enemies and cause a great deal of damage. It sounds OP and it kind of is! That sure makes a change from ‘you can’t cast this spell on a boss because it would be too useful’ though.
There’s also the game’s penchant for dumping flight suit bullet hell sections on you out of nowhere. Fighting in NieR: Automata can be a bit of a lesson in multitasking, but it’s great fun once you get into the swing of it!
Final Fantasy XII
Let’s talk about Gambits. Though a somewhat controversial mechanic due to its autonomous nature, the Gambit system is a big part of what makes combat in Final Fantasy XII so smooth and unique.
It’s not as simple as Gambits letting Final Fantasy XII ‘play itself’, it’s more a case of getting characters to adapt to your play style and battle strategy without having to tell them repeatedly and without you having to flounder with commands between party members who are all moving simultaneously. Think of it as what happens when you let the programmers have full reign of the battle system.
With choices such as ‘if an ally is below 70% HP, cast Cure’ and ‘get everything to attack Vaan because he has lots of HP and can take it’, Gambits are like taking a peek into the AI of your party members.
Not only do they play a big part in making your party more efficient, but I found Gambits changed how I viewed enemies in battle too. If I’m sitting here with set-up rules to protect my White Mage, does that mean some enemies might actually have a particular Gambit to attack them first? Do human enemies that know who Ashe is avoid targeting her on purpose?
The Zodiac Age adds a little extra here, letting you finally get a look at the Gambits your temporary Ally characters are using and an option to change them. The full range of Gambits is available from the beginning too, letting you craft and adapt your battle strategies with more precision from the get-go. Neat!
While I’m giving Chain of Memories pride of place as far as card-based systems go, I can’t totally gloss over Baten Kaitos and I can’t really pick one over the other in terms of enjoyable zaniness either. Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean sees each party member using their own Magnus deck in a timed turn-based battle system that assigns each card a number and an element.
You then string them by their number (1-9). The longer the combo, the more powerful it is, and you get bonus damage from chaining cards in pairs and straights too. This results in some odd moments in the heat of battle when you throw in cards with numbers that are useful in your combo, with non-combat Magnus all being numbered too. Attack, Attack, Spell, Cheese, Attack!
The prequel Baten Kaitos Origins then changed things up by making you play your cards in an actual sequence and adding the powerful Boost Gauge, which lets you string together combos with no limit, even ones including fancy Finisher Magnus. All 3 of your party members drawing from one combined deck was an interesting change too, as well as a double-edged sword sometimes.
Both games also feature cards hand-picked by the protagonist’s Guardian Spirit if they share a close bond, which are a pretty useful asset in tight spots. Oh, and your recovery items can go mouldy. Battles in Baten Kaitos can be pretty wild.
Shadow Hearts provides a fun twist on the standard turn-based JRPG battle system. The biggest contributor to this is the Judgement Ring, which sees you needing to carefully time inputs to coloured sections on a small clocklike symbol in order to determine a move’s effectiveness, as well as whether it’s carried out at all.
The opportunity to influence the success of an attack, ability, or even item based on skill rather than sheer dumb luck? Count me in! The timing based inputs of Shadow Hearts are somehow a lot more novel than they should be. I know I, for one, would be 100% OK with more JRPGs taking this route.
Characters in Shadow Hearts also have a third meter alongside HP and MP in battle, which is Sanity Points (SP, funnily enough). Let a character’s SP drop fall to 0 and they’ll go berserk and become out of your control. To make things even more interesting, you have a Malice gauge which builds up over time from battles as Yuri’s talisman takes in the hatred from all his slain enemies.
The Talisman will change colour as more Malice is absorbed, and to clear it you must go to the Graveyard and fight a monster. The more Malice accrued, the stronger the monster you’ll face. Let the Talisman become as full as possible, and you’ll have to fight the powerful Fox Face as well as a monster.
Given that everything about Galerians is at least weird, the combat is no exception. On the surface, Galerians doesn’t seem to have a particularly clearly set battle system at all, let alone one that could be described as weird but good. You administer a variety of colourful drugs to the main character and your psychic ability changes depending on which one you use. It doesn’t make a whole lot more sense in context either.
What makes Galerians stand out is the AP metre. Over time, the AP metre fills up, and you have to keep feeding Rion Delmetor to bring it back down. When the bar fills up completely, Rion enters a ‘breakdown’ state referred to as ‘shorting’, where he loses control of his powers and destroys anything and everything nearby. This powerful state can be very effective if used right, helping you clear out multiple enemies in one go, which can otherwise be pretty tricky.
Why not just let the bar do its thing and become an all-powerful psychic killing machine then? Well, as with all very powerful moves, it has some big drawbacks. In addition to your movement being slowed to a pained stagger while you’re in this mode, shorting also gradually drains your HP. So, yeah, choosing the right time and place to go full-blown Akira mode is a necessity.
For all their quirks, these mechanics really helped make their games a unique and fun experience. Did you like these mechanics? What are weird but good battle systems you’ve encountered? Let us know in the comments!
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