Some people like to binge on their favorite genre, but for me, I like a healthy mixture of experiences. A potpourri, if you will. If I’m reading a bunch of science fiction, I’ll watch some fantasy. If I’m playing an action game, I might indulge in a peaceful audiobook.
The same goes for game mechanics. I like a bit of everything in video games, but many of them are combat heavy—while I like a good action scene as much as anybody else, I also like games that try something different, whether it’s abstaining from combat altogether or putting a new spin on it to keep it feeling fresh. There have always been games without combat, of course—sports, adventure, and puzzle games have always focused on other areas of gameplay first—but a surge in experimentation has made games without combat a growing field.
Undertale Subverts Genre Expectations by Punishing the Violent Path
To say that Undertale has no combat would be false—in fact, it can be a pretty brutal game if you take that route. Despite its cutesy graphics and emphasis on friendship and silliness, the game can get quite dark if you take a violent approach to the encounters, leaving a trail of bodies in your wake that the game is quick to call you on. But violence is only one possible solution.
It’s clear from early on that Undertale knows that the modus operandi of most video games is combat, and it gives you the option to not engage in it. Instead, enemies still attack you, but you can choose to respond differently, using actions like ‘flex’ or ‘flirt’ to disengage from combat and interact more positively. By doing that to every NPC you encounter, you unlock one of the game’s endings that rewards you for all your hard work.
Games in similar genres, such as the classic JRPGs that inspired Undertale, typically require combat to progress. Sometimes that combat can be non-lethal, but it’s almost always required. Giving you another option and actually punishing you for choosing combat anyway is an almost unprecedented twist; in fact, Undertale actually gets more difficult if you choose to fight, throwing new enemies at you and commenting on your choices. While combat does exist in the game, you’re not rewarded for it—completing the ‘genocide’ run permanently alters the game, reminding you of your violent choices each time you play, even if you don’t hurt anyone on subsequent playthroughs.
Intensity Comes from Loading Human’s Relationships, Not Combat
While combat is often our primary mode of interacting with a game, there are some stories it just doesn’t flow with. In the case of virtual reality title Loading Human, you play a man struggling with the important relationships in his life and the complications that those relationships can cause. There’s little need for intense combat sequences, though that doesn’t mean the game is devoid of action.
Most of your interaction takes place through examining objects and talking with other characters. As the protagonist, Prometheus, you’re dealing with themes like love and death, duty and passion, and the intensity of the story comes through in how fraught each conversation is. Your father, a brilliant scientist, is at the edge of death and needs a powerful energy source to stay alive, but pursuing that path comes at a cost.
Inspired by classic adventure games, the gameplay focuses on puzzle solving and narrative development over violence, with a modern virtual reality flair. In this title, you’ll be dealing more with the drama of heavy emotional weight than high-octane combat, giving you a fresh take on the sci-fi genre devoid of the almost ubiquitous spaceship or alien battles.
Puzzles and Conversations Drive the Bizarre Narrative of Catherine
Catherine is a unique hybrid of RPG-style choice and consequence gameplay and brutally difficult puzzles. To say it’s not violent would be incorrect—in fact, it’s quite a bloody and at times even horrific game, though nearly all the violence is indirect, and there’s no real combat other than trapping or otherwise hindering your pursuers.
Despite it being an RPG/puzzle hybrid with little combat, Catherine is still very much an adult-oriented game about infidelity, maturity, and life choices. Instead of focusing on straightforward physical combat, what happens in Catherine is all based on your dialogue choices—while you might not be throwing punches, your choices still have strong consequences. And by balancing out the interactions with truly difficult puzzles, the game never gets boring.
Adding combat into the strange mix of role-playing and puzzles would likely tip the game into too-difficult territory. As it is, it’s an odd but balanced mixture, but throwing in combat against the monsters that haunt the protagonist in his dreams would be too much. Catherine succeeds without combat because it has plenty of other opportunities for interaction, just like the adventure and puzzle games of old.
Combat is Common, but Not Necessary for Tense, Dramatic Games
Though combat is a common feature of video games, it’s not the only way we can interact in them. Now more than ever, games are pushing the limits of our expectations and trying interesting new twists on familiar gaming concepts—you can have a tense, dramatic game without combat, as titles like these prove. Combat can be a lot of fun, but intentionally straying from our expectations adds a bit of refreshing potpourri to our gaming lineup.
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