These days, JRPG's like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy are a dime a dozen. They all feature similar if not the same gameplay mechanics where you and your opponents take turns dealing damage to each other until one side is declared the victor. But while this may make people think that if you've played one JRPG, then you've played them all, there were some small unique features to a particular game's mechanics that made that game stand out in its own right. So without further ado, here's my top ten gameplay mechanics in JRPG's in no particular order.
(Please keep in mind that my opinions may or may not reflect your own, this list is entirely biased)
The "Brave/Default" Commands in Bravely Default
Bravely Default is a newer game for the Nintendo 3DS made by JRPG genre veterans Square Enix and follows in the footsteps of Final Fantasyby having many of that series staples like a team of four, job classes, and turn-based combat. Unlike that series though, it has two features called Default (an action similar to defend in which you give up that character's turn to store one point for future use), and Brave (an action in which you use up that character's saved Default points to attack multiple times in one round). This made battles much more strategic as you had to think of the best times to use these commands in order to win, especially in more difficult fights.
The Odometer Health Bar in EarthBound
EarthBoundis the second game in the Mother trilogy of role playing games made by Hal Laboratories and APE inc of Nintendo. Going outside of the tradition of having games of this genre set in a medieval setting, EarthBound breaks that trend by having the game set in a modern setting more analogous to the United States set in the mid 90's. Another feature that made this game stand out was its health bar system. Whenever a character got harmed, their health would slowly roll down like the numbers on an odometer. This caused a level of tension and urgency that was not common in turn-based JRPG's of that time and it was a nice way to change up the tired formula.
The Active Time Battle System in the Final Fantasy Series
While this series originally started off without this feature, it eventually became a series staple when Final Fantasy IV came onto the scene. This battle mechanic made it so that turn-based combat was completely phased out in favor of performing your action when your turn meter is filled. Enemies could also do this and attack before your turn can begin making battles much more tense as your character could potentially die before you get a chance to finish casting a spell or using an item. I've always been more partial to normal turn-based battles, but this is a nice change of pace.
The Type Match-Ups in the Pokemon Series
Pokemon is probably the biggest cash cow that Game Freak and Creatures inc has created for Nintendo. It has literally hundreds of monsters that you can recruit and train for battle against other monsters that have been trained by the opponents you will face in the game. Now because you can literally make your own team of six of these beasts, they had to be designed with unique qualities about them. These qualities, called "Types," causes them to resist or falter against attacks of specific types that clashes with their own. Since each pokemon could have a mixture of any two types, it creates a large array of strategy that made the turn-based combat very interesting, especially since attacks got a power boost when they were used by a pokemon of the same type as the attack.
The Grid System in Radiant Historia
This game is a rare gem. The entirety of the game is focused around time travel and the exploration of two separate timelines created by the main character early in the game, but that's not what I'm going to be focusing on. This game had a rather unique battle system where all the enemies were placed on a 3x3 grid and could freely move around in the space that they had control of. Now because a lot of your attacks would be AOE-based instead of just attacking an enemy straight on, you could push, knock aside, or grapple enemies so they would all reside on the same square so you could attack and finish them all off at once. This made battles much more involved as it made the player think of strategies that could vanquish foes as efficiently as possible.
The Stylish Commands in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door hold a very special place in my heart for its fantastic story telling and surprisingly engaging battle scenes, plus it had clever ways of implementing the game's art style into the gameplay which hadn't properly been taken advantage of since then. My favorite things about the battle scenes though would probably have to be the Stylish Commands. These actions could be performed at specific times during attacks, but because a prompt doesn't show up for the right time to perform them, they are often overlooked and difficult to time correctly. Successfully pulling off a Stylish Command however excites the audience and gives you more stage appeal which charges your special meter much more quickly. I had a lot of fun with this feature.
The Dual and Triple Techs in Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is masterpiece among the JRPG genre. It had a fantastic story that flowed naturally and had organic character development for its time. Even the music was perfect for setting the atmospheric tone of each area and time period in the game, but the gameplay was rather unique among JRPG's around the same time. Instead of the standard four party members on one side of the screen and the enemies on the other side, you had three party members that could stand anywhere on the field assuming there was solid ground. This was also featured in a few other JRPG's around the same time, but no other JRPG (at the time) had the Tech system that Chrono Trigger had. In addition to each character having their own special attacks that use up Tech Points, characters could also team up and unleash Dual and Triple Techs that would be far more useful that the sum of their parts. This made battles much more interesting and had a very unique strategy about it.
The Djinn System in the Golden Sun series
Golden Sun hearkens back to the golden age of JRPG's when they were just starting to get popular. It has a simplistic combat system and a story that was compelling, but easy to understand, but the customization with the game's collectible Djinns was what made the game interesting. In each of the three games, there was a multitude of small creatures called Djinns that you could find and equip onto each of the characters in your party. Each one would boost the stats of the character that it was applied to and would also grant them access to certain spells. In addition, while in battle you can activate one (or many) of the Djinns at the cost of the bonus stat boosts they offer and it will perform an action like attacking the enemies or healing your party. This gave combat a very nice risk/reward mechanic that I wish would be implemented in more games.
The Gather Command in Pier Solar
Now this is an interesting title. Pier Solar and the Great Architects is a much newer game made in the style of JRPG's from the 90's and released physically for the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and Sega Dreamcast, and digitally for many modern consoles. It had the same tropes of JRPG's of that time like turn-based combat, element-based spells, and random enemy encounters, but what made this game stand out was it Gather command. This ability, that all party members could perform, caused the character that used it to gather energy for increased power or to use specific abilities, or to transfer to another party member so they can use a specific skill earlier. This strategy of saving and sharing power among teammates gave the game a much better appreciation toward the characters as a whole as they all play important parts in battle and would help each other to get the job done more efficiently.
The Row-Based AOE Spells in Magical Starsign
This game was an unusual one, and probably a little overlooked as this was the only game from this series that was released overseas. Magical Starsign was a space themed JRPG for the Nintendo DS with heavy emphasis on the use of magic spells. Tapping the character that just cast a spell at the right time increased its effectiveness, and spells act in accordance to an element wheel that is similar to Rock-Paper-Scissors. But what really made the battles interesting and fun was the mechanic that caused the spells to change their area of effect depending on whether the character that cast it was in the front or back row. Spells cast from the front row would only target one, but if it was cast from the back row, it would target all in the area. This would make changing rows a strong priority as many enemies were immune to, or could be healed from certain elements and this would cause trouble for the player if he/she didn't take immediate action.
Well, that's my list folks, if you disagree with my choices, tell me why in the comments and what you would have chosen instead. Until then, I'll be seeing you.