In 1992, Square released a simplified RPG called Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest in an attempt to broaden the appeal of role playing games. One of the primary features of Mystic Quest was the lack of random encounters; instead, enemies were clearly visible on the screen. Combat began when you touched one of these on screen enemy images.
At the time, I found the game to be slightly insulting, but still a very satisfying experience. And, strangely, the non-random encounters were part of the appeal. The designers placed enemies in strategic locations so that the player could not simply avoid battles 100% of the time. It was a nice touch on a cute little game.
Despite enjoying Mystic Quest, when Square revealed that their upcoming title Chrono Trigger also would feature visible enemy encounters, I was annoyed. Square marketed Mystic Quest as, well, an RPG for Americans. Chrono Trigger was a feature title for all of us “true” RPG fans. It felt like Square was abandoning their core audience in favor of less sophisticated, and therefore lower quality, games.
I was wrong. Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest games of all time, in no small part due to the clever placement of enemy encounters. Sure, you can avoid a lot of the battles if you choose, but there are also scripted encounters that occur when you walk on a specific tile, open a chest, search a cupboard, and so on. The combat was well paced and enjoyable, as opposed to the tedium of the random encounter.
(By the way, Chrono Trigger was great for so many more reasons than the battles. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that, so let’s just revel in that greatness for a moment.
Non-random encounters removed a lot of the frustration from traditional RPG’s, and let the player focus on the meat of the game instead of battle after mind-numbing battle. They also helped to engage the player into the game, adding to the realism and setting. And even though random encounters are still a staple of many modern RPG’s, nom-random encounters were a great idea that broke the mold and improved on the genre.