As much as I love JRPGs, there is one problem that can somewhat drag the experience down, which is random encounters. Some people can tolerate more random encounters than me, most can tolerate less. I`m generally pretty forgiving when it comes to random encounters, but in really long dungeon with only a few different battles, even I will get tired of fighting the same battles over and over again. I will talk about some ideas I came up with for reducing random encounter fatigue for a game I am developing.
There is an alternative to random encounters that is sometimes explored but I`m not really sure if it has an official name. The earliest I can remember it being used is in the SNES game Earthbound, and more recently it was in Final Fantasy 13. The idea is that there are a bunch of enemies running around the dungeon and if you bump into one you will enter into a battle. Now this is a good system if, and this is a big if, you want to avoid battles. If you want to fight battles, or more likely if you find the boss too difficult you need to grind a level or two to beat him this is a bad system. Every single game I’ve seen that implements this system makes grinding very inefficient, because after bumping into all the enemies you have to leave and reload the area to get more enemies to fight.
Now you might say if the game is well balanced you won’t need to grin levels and a few battles will give you enough experience to beat any boss. Well the response to that some people are better than others at playing the game and no matter what somebody will need to grind levels to beat the boss. And this is okay. That’s the whole purpose of leveling up is to make it easier. You make the game exactly as hard or as easy as you need it to be. Fortunately I came up with a solution. I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder if this is not an original idea but I cannot think of a single game that uses this, so I will cautiously claim credit for this idea unless someone else can show an earlier instance of its use.
The idea is to allow the player of adjust the rate of random encounters or even turn them off. I wouldn’t recommend turning it off unless you are really hardcore, because most people will probably need at least a little bit of experience and gold to beat the bosses. But for people who want a challenge at low levels you can turn off the battles to give yourself that challenge. If you are having a lot of trouble with a boss you can briefly crank up the random encounter rate to grind a level. If you really love the combat you can leave the random encounter rate cranked up all the time. If you are deep in a dungeon and you are almost out of Health and healing items you can turn off the random encounters and safely make your way out.
Now up till now the idea is for this to be a Final Fantasy-esque jrpg, with a small twist that you have several rows and you and the enemies can advance left and right across the battlefield. Of course giving people the ability to reduce or even turn off random encounters changes things a bit. A key part of Final Fantasy is preparation, buying the right equipment and stocking up on items, and then being slowly worn down by random encounters as you fight through the dungeon. Now that you can reduce and even turn off the random encounters the dungeons lose their edge. Now random encounters are not there to wear you down, they are optional battles to prepare you for the bosses. Really this game stands or falls on how interesting the boss battles are because that’s the only part that isn’t optional. I do have some ideas for making that interesting which you will see over the next couple of months.
Another problem is that with random encounters greatly reduced the game is going to be pretty short. Even with random encounters padding it out, I’d be lucky to for the game to be half as long as a Final Fantasy. One idea I thought of is to add a few puzzles to the game, which isn’t really that uncommon for a jrpg to have puzzles in its dungeons, which will add maybe a couple more hours to the game.
Also this adjustable rate of random encounters is only part of my plan to reduce random encounter fatigue, the other is to add more variety to the battles. As I mentioned in a previous post each row can have values which give bonuses to defense and magic defense for the units standing there. One thing which was really easy to do is to randomize which rows gets bonuses and to set certain limits on what the bonuses would be. Another is to randomize the type, number and location of enemies for each battle. Its not completely random there are certain rules so that long range enemies tend toward the back and melee guys end up near the front, but even within certain rules there is room for variation. I need to adjust that algorithm a bit but so far randomizing the random encounters to produce a wide variety of battles is showing great promise.
I believe the two things I mentioned in this post should go a long way toward alleviating random encounter fatigue, and possibly eliminating it entirely. Only time will tell if I am correct. I was planning on releasing a rough demo to demonstrate the core battle mechanics some time this week, but then I realized, even though its technically got some playable functionality, its still in a really rough shape. I really don’t have anything to gain by releasing a demo this early. Maybe in a couple of weeks. Maybe if I’m feeling brave I’ll post some screenshots or videos showing off the graphics I made for this game.