I recently acquired an Xbox 360, so I’ve been working my way through some of the exclusives I’ve missed over the years (Blue Dragon, Shadow Complex, Iron Brigade, that sort of thing). Most recently I’ve been playing Lost Odyssey and, while I’ve been enjoying the classic turn-based RPG combat, I find myself constantly confronted with one of my biggest frustrations in RPGs: status ailments. Poison, sleep, paralyze, mute, stone, etc….basically, all those little things that can make an adventurer’s (and their attached gamer’s) life turn into a living hell.
To clarify, I’m talking about turn-based RPGs where you enter a separate screen for every battle, and where each time you fight an enemy or group of enemies, they start out with full hit points and no detrimental effects. Status ailments in this situation are almost completely a one-way street: they’re great for your enemies to use on you, but a terrible idea for you to use on them. Consider this: you’re walking along a mountain pass, or a cave, or a ruined temple or whatever. You encounter a group of enemies and begin to fight. These enemies begin with pristine health and, because they will fight to the death, have absolutely nothing to lose. Your turn comes up, and you consider using a spell or item that causes a status ailment, but unless you’re using a strategy guide, you have no idea if the enemy is immune to status effects or what chance the spell has for success. Besides, even if you DID want to spend the time trying to pull off a status effect, the odds are the enemy will be dead in a couple of turns due to physical attacks or attack magic anyway, so what’s the point?
FACT: THERE ISN’T ONE.
Meanwhile, all of your enemies are free to status ailment the crap out of you. This is a single battle for them—a one-night stand, if you will. They’re going to use you and give you some horrible disease, physical impairment, or worse, and then you’ll have to spend valuable magic or items dealing with it. And whereas every foe in the game tends to have some innate status resistance, you and your party members will welcome debilitating ailments with open arms and a smile on your face. Moreover, while there is often equipment out there that can protect you from status changes, they either only protect against one type of change (leaving you open to the rest of a wide world of misery), or are exceedingly rare and/or obtainable only near the end of the game.
OK, so the situations described so far apply to regular mooks; but, you may argue, what about boss battles? Well, honestly, the prospects aren’t much better. In theory, status effects should be much more useful against a boss, since it’s a longer battle against a much stronger opponent. This would be a great idea if not for the fact that bosses almost universally have blanket immunity to every status ailment. Because, you know, THAT’S FAIR. Occasionally you’ll find one that’s susceptible to a negative status (IF the game is nice, it will reveal this to you when using a scan ability), but what if you only have one character who is able to use status effects? Odds are that character is also your healer and/or buffer, and during a boss battle they should be focused on those things rather than status effects. So yeah, even in boss battles, status effects are still pretty useless.
Now, there are exceptions to these rules. In tactical or real-time RPGs, status effects are more useful, as battles are often longer and against equally matched teams (in the case of tactical RPGs, i.e. Pokémon or Final Fantasy Tactics), or you can zap an enemy with a status ailment then avoid them while it does its work (real-time, i.e. Kingdom Hearts or Secret of Mana). Also, weapons that cause status effects can be rather useful in any RPG, as they allow your characters a chance to inflict status effects while still doing damage.
But in most games, status effect spells/skills will clutter up nearly a quarter of your menus, tempting you to use them with false promises of battles instantly swayed in your favor. Do not heed their siren’s song, my friends! Best stick to your tried and true methods of dealing overwhelming force damage. It may lack finesse, but it works a hell of a lot better.