[Editor's note: SurplusGamer writes about how much he hates random battles for his Monthly Musing. -- CTZ]
You've just found out that the king is secretly using his own citizens as test subjects in some terrible experiment. A complex web of intrigue has led you here but you are finally ready to confront him in his own throne room and find out what he has to say for himself. Is he truly evil? Or is he being controlled by some outside force, mysterious and ten hours of gameplay away? Whatever the answer, now is the moment of truth. You're prepared, the entrance to the castle laid out in front of you. The answers you have been waiting for are just seconds away! In just a few more steps--
The way I understand it (from my non-existent and quite possibly not 100% accurate research) is that way back in the mists of time when someone was making an RPG, they found that it was quite resource intensive on those clunky computers to have monsters roaming around the map. They could cut out all of that and save computing power for other things if they make it so that a battle just 'happens' every so often as the player walks around.
Some years later, when things had improved and developers rejoiced at being able to do things that they could only dream of before, JRPG developers were busy pretending that the nineties had never begun.
For some inexplicable reason, the random battles (among other things) remained as a holdover from that past era, as if they were an essential aspect of the gameplay rather than a simple convenience/necessity for the programmer. There were brilliant games like Chrono Trigger that showed just how much non-random battles can add to a JRPG while taking nothing away. Yet random battles persist and through some sort of sleight-of-game, many people are still convinced that they are actually a good idea.
You may very well be one of them. Yeah. You.
Having random battles, to me, is like having a really obnoxious personal trainer. They mean well and work hard to get you fit but they're so focused on throwing challenges at you that they doesn't realise that maybe you'd just like stop to admire the trees in the park for a while, or that perhaps you've been working a little too hard and now isn't the time for another run around the block. They're completely oblivious to your wants and needs.
That's how it is with random battles. They scream: 'I don't care about what you want, you will traverse this field at my pace and you'll love me for it. I don't care if you're out of potions and want to find a save point, boo-sodding-hoo, here's a nice skeletal horde for you. I don't care if you're only three paces away from the plot development that you've been playing five hours to reach - you can pointlessly fight this gelatinous blob first, just because I say so.'
All this, of course, is assuming that you actually know where you're going and we all know that that isn't always the case. Nothing gets my random battle hatred up more than going through five random battles only to reach a dead end, then having to go all the way back with another five battles just to correct my navigational error. Sure, I can give myself the illusion of choice by using 'escape' when I don't want to fight but it's not usually certain to work and it still leaves me feeling like the game is wasting my time and that pisses me off like nothing else.
GRAARGH, or some other such furious outcry.
And another thing! When you have random battles, instead of having screens teeming with life you tend to get empty worlds. I suppose you are expected to suspend disbelief and just imagine that there are really plants the size of buildings walking around catching the team unawares. Well, that's a victory for the imagination, I guess but wait - this is a visual medium we're dealing with. If you seriously believe that the designer's 'artistic vision' is to ignore graphics in favour of the monster-populated world the player can imagine in their head then you're fooling yourself.
To this day there is only one game with random battles that hasn't driven me too crazy to finish it and that's Final Fantasy X, which I know is an unpopular choice for some. Its path is so linear, avoiding a lot of the backtracking that I mentioned earlier, and the enjoyable combat system, randomness-aside made it just about tolerable enough for me to get through once - but never again.
You know what? I'd like to finish Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII and IX someday, too. I hear Dragon Quest 8 is excellent and it was charming for the ten or so hours I could bear playing it. There are many other games I can add to this list.
The sad thing is, it's just not going to work as long as my desire to explore their rich, interesting worlds and stories is countered by the utter hatred I feel for their miserable random battles.