I think the Lane System in the combat of Airship Syndicate’s Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is fantastic; today I’ll examine why it’s so effective.
Ruined King is a JRPG with turn-based timeline combat similar to games like Final Fantasy X and Fuga: Melodies of Steel, where you can view the turn order of the next several characters in advance. This style of combat encourages you to think far ahead, and can even let you manipulate the flow of battle to your advantage with moves that, for example, “push” enemies further back on the timeline, delaying their turn.
Where Ruined King sets itself apart is the Lane System, a core part of its combat that ripples across the rest of the game’s design. Its battle timeline is actually split across three rows (“Lanes”), which represent three different types of actions used by the enemies and your party: the Speed Lane, the Balance Lane, and the Power Lane.
When using a Lane Ability (one of your main combat actions), instead of casting it straight up, you choose to place it (represented by the character’s icon) in one of these Lanes, where it will be cast after a period of time. The Balance Lane is the default, allowing you to cast your Ability with standard potency (e.g. damage, healing power) and cast time. The Speed Lane uses the Ability with lower potency, but a lower cast time; the Power Lane does the opposite, increasing the Ability’s strength at the cost of a longer cast.
These three Lanes form the foundation of Ruined King’s Lane System, opening up the strategic possibility space significantly and giving you tons of control over how you fight, while also serving as a clever reference to the actual lanes of League of Legends. The game builds on this foundation in several interesting ways; I’ll examine those below.
Character Abilities & Upgrades
At the most basic level, Ruined King’s Lanes simply provide interesting tradeoffs to each character’s abilities: should you cast a weaker ability in the Speed Lane just to get it out ahead of an enemy, or would it make a bigger impact in the Power Lane, even if you have to wait a bit longer?
Building on top of this, the upgrade system is also influenced by Lanes, letting you spend points to gain new effects when using a Lane Ability in a specific Lane. These sorts of upgrades give you even more flexibility in how you play, while also piling on interesting choices in the middle of a fight. If you have this upgrade you might need to, for example, consider whether it’s worth going for a strong Power Lane heal on a single character versus a weaker Speed/Balance Lane heal across all of your characters.
You can even spend materials to Enchant pieces of equipment with bonuses like a lower casting time in a certain Lane, providing yet another interesting choice to consider in Ruined King’s macro progression systems.
Hazards, Boons, and Wildcards
If you start a fight while standing inside an environmental Hazard like this Debilitating Mist, a Hazard “Region” will show up on the battle timeline in the form of a red block taking up multiple Lanes, moving along the timeline like a normal character’s turn. Upon reaching the edge and taking its “turn,” characters whose icons are caught inside the Region get hurt by its effect (e.g. a Poison debuff, defense reduction, etc.).
The same type of effect goes for Shrines, which can be activated if you find one in a dungeon; its activation will temporarily display a Boon Region on the battle timeline, providing benefits exclusively for your party members when it takes its turn.
Shrines and Hazards deepen the Lane System by skewing the battle timeline to your benefit or your detriment respectively, encouraging you to strategically switch Lanes with your abilities to take advantage of a Boon or avoid a Hazard Region depending on the situation.
If neither a Boon nor a Hazard is in effect, battles will instead have a Wildcard Region, i.e. a Region with a randomized effect that spices up the encounter, again presenting you with a bonus buff to shoot for or an additional debuff to dodge while fighting, and ensuring that nearly every encounter in the game has a Hazard or Boon Region to play around with.
Enemy and Boss Encounters
Many enemies in Ruined King apply buffs to themselves that can only be dispelled by using a certain Lane Ability on them. These include effects like accuracy reduction of all attacks not placed in the Speed Lane, or significant reduction of damage from any source until hit with a Power Lane attack. They essentially influence you to adopt alternate strategies like, for example, use a low-cast-time ability in the Speed Lane to quickly get rid of an enemy’s buff so you can guarantee your upcoming high-damage move will land.
Some enemies’ abilities can even place Hazard Regions on the timeline, spontaneously creating a new threat to navigate. Since the Lane you choose for an ability places your character icon in that Lane while casting it, you run the risk of exposing them to Hazard Regions in that part of the Lane. This makes these types of enemy abilities threatening even without simply dealing direct damage to a party member like a normal ability would.
Boss fights, too, often have unique mechanics that truly test your skills with the Lane System, such as multiple Hazard Regions cascading across the timeline, or minions the boss periodically feeds on to gain strength, which you need to eliminate as quickly as possible. These sorts of mechanics tend to be even more intensive (i.e. more frequent, more damaging) than those in regular fights, forcing you to thoroughly read the timeline every turn and optimize each Lane Ability for maximum effect throughout the fight.
For all the reasons above, I love the Lane System in the timeline combat of Ruined King: A League of Legends Story and consider it a phenomenal innovation in the world of turn-based RPG combat. It takes a simple & intuitive idea (“What if an RPG battle timeline had multiple rows that you could swap between for different benefits?”), and expounds upon it in tons of beautifully interesting ways throughout the whole game. I hope this article helped you appreciate it more as well. Thank you for reading!