Why Mind Control Is the Most Frustrating RPG Character Ability


Pass me my tinfoil hat.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/evd3q4/why-mind-control-is-the-most-frustrating-rpg-character-ability


Mind control sure is a pain when it works. There been a lack of it used in RPGs nowadays probably due to how either annoying or lack of use.


I gave up on finishing Persona 4 in part because of the elemental weakness system. If you successfully target an enemy’s elemental weakness then you get to do a bonus attack as a result. Also, this can chain multiple times if you have more enemies to hit with a weakness.

The problem is that this happens to your party too. And it includes the elemental type that causes instant death in characters.


Mind control can be a really cool status affliction when done well, but since it effectively ‘kills’ one of your guys and gives the enemy another guy, it’s pretty common to see it poorly balanced for in games.

The enemy design convention I hate the most is “Dude who runs at you fast and then explodes for massive damage.” I’ve never been the fastest player of twitch-based games, and usually I can make up for that with accuracy or tactics or other areas in which I perform better. Sometimes, though, a game will just throw five screaming dudes with bombs running at me full speed and even when I know they’re coming, I’ll die for half an hour straight before leaving to play something turn based instead.

One game I remember being incredibly bad about this is Dying Light, where the devs very intentionally kept hiding these enemies behind doors so you would open a door and immediately get exploded & sent back to your last checkpoint, often quite some time ago. That’s just dirty!


Aaaaanything where a boss/enemy/multiple enemies just spam attacks and you can’t even get a hit in, especially if there’s some debuff placed on you that prevents you from attacking.


Couldn’t agree more about exploding enemies. If I remember correctly this is also similar to Rob’s problem with mine fields in games.
Having to navigate a mine field is always a pain in the butt, because usually it’s accompanied by some other enemy attacking, forcing movement, ending in death.


It’s not that strange for Mind Control to be so frustrating when used against you and so fun when used against the enemy.

It’s an ability that is designed to take away player agency.
As a player the one thing that you have is your agency: your ability to push buttons to make stuff happen.
When that is taken away, you have nothing left. Of course that is frustrating.

Now, when you gain the ability to mind control enemies it extends your agency. “Ooh new toys!” It’s the most fun thing in the world.


The only kind of enemy attack I dislike is the one that can’t be avoided, anticipated, countered, or contained. Like, the berserk or charm status in Final Fantasy is essentially a kind of mind control but 1) you can usually equip yourself to avoid it 2) you can easily heal it. It would be hella frustrating if the party member was jacked with no way to turn them back.


Exploding enemies are certainly terrible, especially if they can catch you off guard or are deliberately hidden as instant-kill traps, but for me one of my biggest frustrations in twitch based games, namely Destiny in this example, is when the game will flood a tight space with enemies that not only zip around and attack you from out of your view, but also throw in effects to practically blind you in more hectic battles.

There’s some part of me that wants Destiny to just be a third person over-the-shoulder shooter because of these disruptions, but I think it could be alleviated with a tone down of special effects. Taken and Hive enemies are especially guilty of this, as they powder your face with black smoke and formless glowy blobs, it eventually feels like you just have a migraine, and it’s a real endurance test for me.
As a side note, the Hive also has hordes of melee enemies that swarm you–in a first person shooter–where your options for dealing with them are severely limited, that’s a frustrating enemy type.

I think Destiny in especially needs its epilepsy warning, because there’s such a frantic light-show just beamed into your eyes at any given time, and it hurts my eyes to play, which leads to disorientation, which leads to me taking cheap shots and being plasmad to death by an alien horde. It’s frustrating and just makes me want to stop playing.
The chaos gets alleviated when playing with co-op partners, but a lot of the most rewarding parts of that game doesn’t allow for matchmaking; that’s another matter entirely that it seems like they’re looking to address in the sequel.


This is the exact reason I dropped off of Darkest Dungeon, except I lost the fight. Mind control against the player in any videogame is terrible, event in tabletop RPGs it issue worse then death. I’ve had a D&D campaign end because a player got mind controlled, so everything spiraled quickly out of control since the big bad always knew where we were. The only time mind control actually worked was when a player summoned a demon, got taken over and had an epic mind battle in his own head.


Mine might be weird. They both stem from a pretty significant allergy I developed from years and years of Dungeons & Dragons: I absolutely hate null actions/no-ops. There’s nothing worse than waiting 5-10 minutes for your turn to participate in combat only to roll a 2 or whatever and end up doing absolutely nothing at all.

A couple things that tend to grind my gears when they show up in an enemy…

  1. Charge attacks, and specifically, charge attacks like Pokémon’s “Fly” where the user cannot be targeted for a time. I don’t think I’ve ever played an RPG that did charge attacks in an interesting way: it’s always something like “skip one turn to do twice the damage next turn”. In theory, that could be useful if the game’s enemies are tuned to, say, have high armor that such an ability would be necessary to blast through. In practice, this rarely happens.

And I’m just talking about those abilities being on player characters! When these abilities show up on enemies, yikes. Nothing like sitting around waiting two turns being unable to attack or otherwise do anything useful! Even better, when the boss reappears, they’ll do triple damage to you, so you better make sure you take the one defensive action the game gave you! “Remember to have everyone block one turn after the boss displays a message about charging an attack” isn’t fun or interesting. :sob:

  1. Healing. Hear me out here. I mean, in some ways, you could argue that healing abilities on player characters are uninteresting, too, since all they accomplish is extending battles and disrupting their pacing. As it is, you can account for that and make sure that it doesn’t turn the game into a slog at a more strategic level: healing will let your party go for ten battles, say, at which point you’ll be done a dungeon or at the next town and the game’s pace can shift. You can’t use that to balance individual battles, however, so fighting foes with healing abilities frequently means that the combat takes anywhere from 1.5-5x as long as a regular battle: it’s essentially like giving enemies a variable amount of health that’s almost always higher than you’d expect them (or want them) to have!

A good counter argument here is that healing abilities are a useful way to make it so certain enemies are priority targets. I’d posit that there are more fun ways to accomplish that goal: enemies that have high rewards for defeat but will run after a few rounds, enemies that become dangerous as soon as they are damaged, enemies whose abilities combo well with their allies, and so on.

  1. Yeah, I know I said there was only two, but since I mentioned missing a lot at the outset, I figured I’d call “Blind” abilities out here, too, where a character’s hit rate with a certain style of attack plummets. I think they’re fine so long as they simply lock some of a character’s abilities out, rather than all of them. In that case, why not just “Stun” the character? Having a character that you can “control” and give orders to, but that can’t actually do anything is super frustrating. Most games aren’t that cruel, thankfully!

Whew. That was cathartic. :sweat_smile:


I actually kinda like healing on enemies, since it changes up the default defensive play in a lot of RPGs. I remember playing an RPG and doing the usual focus on healing and damage the enemy where I can strategy that I had to abandon and go aggressive right when the boss started healing. It meant the battle was more than just attrition, I needed to do more than just outlast the boss, I needed to do enough damage to overcome the boss’s healing or I just wasn’t going to win, even eventually.


The issue with some abilities in the XCOMs and Fire Emblems and what have you, is that your guys are outnumbered and, while your win state is killing every one of your opponents, the opponents’ (possibly imposed by the player) win state is killing ONE of yours.

This means that some abilities are far more useful in the arms of enemies than in your dudes’. Say, the high-damage-but-low-accuracy attacks. Or taking damage in exchange for higher attack. FE: Fates had the skill Life or Death, which increased damage by 10, as well as damage taken by 10. An enemy with it will do ten more damage before dying about as quickly as their fellows. I give it to Ignatius, and it will dramatically decrease his survivability while barely adding to his ability to one enemy in one turn. Why is it even in the game?


Removal of agency is always an huge aggravation. It’s why, despite loving the game, and kind of liking the character, I cannot stand Mei in Overwatch. She is just such a weird confluence of abilities that specifically irk me, in a game I find otherwise really, really pleasant.


uuugh, Mind control is the worst in X-Com. especially since I didn’t have it in me to put down my own mind controlled guys so I had to basically absorb whatever damage the put out while I took out the mind-controller as quickly as possible.


not really an ability per se hordes of fast-moving melee enemies are one of the more stressful things a game can throw at me as someone who likes to play long-range precision characters. the flood in halo and the husks in mass effect are both pretty far up on my list of most hated enemies for this reason. i just waste so much ammo on them

this isn’t to say of course that these enemies are inherently bad just that i really, REALLY suck at fighting them

i also really hate enemies that combine defensive and healing buffs to make fighting them a needlessly long war of attrition. when done in moderation it can make for a really intense fight but at a certain point it just gets frustrating and wastes a lot of time


God, SAME. Thunderblight Ganon in BotW made me fucking apoplectic with rage because of this shit. he just kept on with his endless teleporting lightning-sword attacks where you’re not even allowed to block without dropping your weapon and shield. Fuck that guy.


I guess my issue with all this, Meo, is that needing “to do enough damage to overcome the boss’s healing” is essentially a DPS check: you’ve either won or lost that fight before it even breaks out! I think having some way to be rewarded or otherwise test that you’ve built a character or party that can achieve a certain level of destructive efficiency is good, but I figure there has to be quicker, easier, and more satisfying ways to do it than a boss that can switch to healing itself. :smiley:


Well, the game in particular that had me like it was Dragon Quest VIII, which had post-game bosses that have a self-heal move(the bosses do moves twice per turn so it wasn’t really a mode to switch to, and the heal was a skill instead of a spell so that you couldn’t wait it out). There were enough mechanics, or alternatively, not enough character customization, so that learning that the boss can heal usually meant that you needed to become more aggressive rather than needing to respec everything. That said, there were still elements of that. The boss still did a lot of damage and can disable your buffs/debuffs(which were still necessary to use) so it was an extra element of strategy above the usual.

I generally find turn-based RPG battles to be skill-based on three axis: Preparation, attrition, and reaction. That is to say, the ability to prepare for, the ability to manage resources during, and the ability to react to changing conditions in battle. Although there are other ways of doing a DPS check(gradually increasing power is one of them), many don’t really test the player on their ability to attrition well, which is a core component of Dragon Quest. I think the battle overall tested the player in all three skills very well.

That said, it was late in the game and I think it could be beneficial to be introduced earlier a bit more universal, possibly by giving everybody a bit of passive HP regeneration.


Enemies/bosses that have multiple, difficult phases in which difficulty increases through each phase. I’m thinking most specifically about the Dark Souls 3 DLC bosses that are most egregiously guilty of this, but the general phrase I like (from the fine boys at Bonfireside Chat) is “sustained perfection.” The idea that victory requires not only perfect performance ONCE, but MANY times for a few initial stages is completely uninteresting to me. Gating the late-stage “really have to learn attack animations” component of a fight after one or two other difficult-but-not-as-difficult components not only creates a frustrating roadblock, it demands a degree of attention that borders on the fetishistic.

Now, if the stages get LESS difficult, this inverts somewhat and becomes an interesting experience in not celebrating victory too quickly. Similarly, if the late-stage parts of the battle are balanced so as to be disproportionately less complex than early-stage parts (or mirror those early stages such that you know the patterns well enough ahead of time), a lot of this problem goes away. But suffice to say that this is why Lady Maria and Ludwig from the Bloodborne DLC are my platonic ideals of bossfights in gaming whereas Sister Friede and the Demon Prince from the DS3 DLC are complete wet-fart, “ugh, do I have to” bossfights.

This is mostly a problem I find with games like Dark Souls that have very established conventions for pacing/healing/etc, but there are plenty of RPGs that are guilty of this as well. In some cases, RPGs that have more turn-based systems compound with this frustration by introducing RNG into the mix. If your victory plan depends on reloading and hoping the opponent doesn’t land instant-kill attacks during early phases so you can save your healing items for later or even make it through the fight (e.g. Persona games, where an instant-kill landing on your protagonist just ends your game immediately based on a dice-roll), you’ve done missed what makes the combat enjoyable in the first place.