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Without conflict, stories would become mundane and all too similar. Battles in RPGs allow for characters to gain experience and generally this goes towards leveling up or otherwise improving the characters in the game. Without some change or improvement, a game would become stagnant and not as enjoyable. So, a solid battle system, whatever its use or depth, is very important to an RPG and can be the point that makes or breaks a successful title. While some games like Harvest Moon find their RPG zen without any battle at all, a battle system is the base for nearly all other games whether good or bad. What stood out most for the readers when it came time to gird their loins was the awe-inspiring battle power of Tales of Symphonia.

Best Battles 2004 Winner
Tales of Symphonia

Tales games are renowned for their battle systems that are involved and interesting, and the GameCube incarnation proves for many readers to have the most important aspect of a good battle system: it is simply fun. Being fun is the easiest and most effective way to successfully bring a battle system together. Tales also keeps things simple, which means anyone can pick it up and play, whether the person will play only few hours per week or a few hours per day. What makes it fun is difficult to define, but it likely has something to do with the fact that there is always something to be doing or someone to be controlling.

In Tales, enemies are shown directly on the map as characters travel, allowing for escape before battle begins if the player so chooses. Once in battle, each character has unique abilities which can be used individually or combined together with other characters for bigger and more elaborate attacks. Otherwise, there's still ranged, magic, and melee characters which can all be used to put the beat down on the various enemies found in the game. The readers found that this was the battle system that appealed to them the most this year, and it netted top spot on the voting.

Second Place - Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Another solid battle system in 2004 ended up being very similar to Tales of Symphonia, but only climbed to the second spot on the reader side, is the much-lauded and anticipated Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Much like Star Ocean: The Second Story, players and enemies are free-moving within the battle area, allowing for many different styles of attacks as well as using characters together for various combination attack. These fast paced-battles included all sorts of flashy combination attacks that combined together to make another fast-paced battle system that blew away the competition and made leveling up characters fun and easy. However, it lacks a solid blocking system, which was a huge detraction for many RPGamers. Even so, Till the End of Time manages to capture the hearts and minds of enough readers that it takes the silver position.

Third Place - Shadow Hearts: Covenant

Tromping into the bronze slot is the darkly realistic Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Using the Judgment Ring system found in previous Shadow Hearts titles, the battle system is further refined again in the third entry in the series. The main purpose of this Judgment Ring was to do additional damage. A line travels around the Ring, which is shaded in different areas. If all these areas are hit, then the characters will do increased amounts of damage. Even smaller areas inside the shaded areas can increase the damage given, yet again. This same system was used elsewhere in the game, such as with the lottery or while in shops, purchasing items. The downfall of the system is that there will always be an element of randomness which is far more evident than in other battle systems where they simply come across as misses or criticals. While a good idea, the Covenant battle system had enough flaws that the readers opted to grace it with the third spot.

by Anna Marie Whitehead

Honorable Mention - Phantom Brave

Honorable Mention - Paper Mario 2

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