Turn based resurrection: how the classic combat system is getting a second chance on mobile 

The rise and fall of turn based strategy

Video games are a space for innovation, and within them we explore the limits of what technology can bring to the experience of games.  The controller is one such innovation that revolutionized the way we generate inputs for games, with greater fidelity allowing for extremely dynamic gameplay moments.  However, with their roots in simpler analogue games, many games started with basic input systems which still featured immersive player engagement.  One such  reduction of a complex system into simple inputs is the translation of combat into a turn based system.  Using the animations and UI to tell the story of a long drawn out fight sequence, players took their time using strategically timed sequences of attacks, protection, and restoration mechanics to survive a fight and win.

atbffvii(Final Fantasy 7 combat)

The Final Fantasy series, while not being the only turn based strategy game, propelled the gameplay model to the forefront of culture and the tbs model for combat was adopted for its ability to deliver a deep combat experience.  However, as games and platforms became more capable of delivering combat sequences as dynamic events, the focus on a turn based model began to lose favor and even was removed from the Final Fantasy franchise, which had built its foundation upon it.

New platform, new opportunity

img_3486(Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, turn based combat system)

With the increasing power of mobile devices we have begun to see a renaissance in old gameplay models; ranging from text adventures, to long form strategy games, and yes, even turn based strategy games.  Tbs’ revival as a viable combat mechanic system lies in the overlapping of the desire mobile developers have to include deeper combat experiences and the strict technical limitations of mobile platforms.


img_3488(Summoner Warmap and turn based combat system)

Some titles such as Summoner War and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, stick to a simple model of battling and progressing through a linear order of dungeons.  Others are exploring the possibility of creating console like games which also feature world exploration such as Evolution: Battle for Utopia; although their combat system features a hybrid of turn based and real time elements, it definitely features elements inherited from the tbs model.


img_3490(Evolution: Battle for Utopia, map and real time / turn based hybrid, combat system)

It is exciting to see the resurgence of tbs as a combat model, its ability to deliver a strategic  aspect to combat is something that it does especially well, and can fit certain types of games much better than real-time action.  Do you have any fond memories of tbs games from older generation titles?  Do you enjoy tbs as a combat model or do you believe that it is a relic of performance limited games?  I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to playprofessor@gmail.com.



Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookInstagramand Youtube.


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