In this day and age, where real-time combat against opponents scattered throughout a bustling open world is the norm, are random encounters simply too old fashioned for today’s generation of gamers?
Random encounters; a mechanic within a game where upon taking five to ten steps, the game halts the player to say “Okay, stop approaching the treasure chest on the other side of that hill, I have decided that you must battle against enemies that you have defeated several times already, simply to extend my overall play time!”. When viewed from this angle, the practice appears ridiculous! How would players react if after spending fifteen seconds staring at the menu screen on Mortal Kombat, they are forced to beat up Shang Tsung, simply because the game has decided on it? Many players feel frustrated when a game so blatantly snatches control away from them to force them into gameplay that may be undesired at that moment in time (this is, of course, one reason why the mechanic of quick time events has slowly garnered gradually more criticism over time). The practice of random encounters stings all the more when considering that many popular RPGs today, such as Skyrim and Final Fantasy XV, emphasise non-random encounter based gameplay. Because of this, random encounters are understandably declining in popularity, and gradually becoming a thing of the past.
Despite these criticisms, a community of gamers still favour random encounters as a staple of RPGs. This is no doubt due to nostalgia generated from non-modern RPGs (Final Fantasy VII, for example). Of course, the ever-popular Pokémon franchise still flaunts random encounters, although they are confined to specific identifiable areas of the map, such as tall grass. Surprisingly, a simple design decision such as this dulls the sting of loss of control by the player (although it does not extinguish it completely).
So why do random encounters exist in the first place? Well, the act of programming movement patterns for a variety of enemies within a gameplay field requires more hardware power than it does to implement random encounters. In RPGs utilising non-modern hardware, random encounters allowed game developers to sacrifice enemies being visible within the gameplay field, preserving cartridge/disc space in the process. This preserved space could instead be applied to the creation of a larger game world, or more extravagant battle animations, for example. Of course, in our modern day of blu ray discs and 50gb digital downloads, game developers no longer have to worry about preserving space anywhere near as much as they did in the past, and have relatively limitless freedom in creating a game of overwhelming scope. Because of this, what purpose is there for random encounters in modern gaming beyond satisfying a minor sense of nostalgia within a niche community of gamers?
In conclusion; yes, random encounters are outdated and technically inferior to modern RPG mechanics. However, this does not mean they should be retired from gaming permanently. Every traditional quirk of any artistic medium, whether it be random encounters, vintage cameras, vinyl records etc. will carry their own legion of followers, either driven by nostalgia or a yearning for past trends. Our fascination with what has come and gone within artistic mediums is a beautiful thing, and should never be neglected. If somebody holds random encounters dear to their heart, then let us all hope in unison that they will continue to be practiced by a small margin of games (even if random encounters are technically really stupid!).