Posts Tagged ‘Final Fantasy’

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.

 

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No doubt people will read this and disagree. If you do actually like the game I would be interested in what it is that you liked about it. The main reason for writing this is to refute an argument somewhere else. Jeff Dunn from the Escapist has written an article tearing down a straw man argument for why fans don’t like FF13. Get this, the reason fans don’t like it because it tried something new, and didn’t fit into the classic template of final fantasy games.

Now if you’ve ever played more than one game in the  Final Fantasy series this might seem like a pretty odd. Doesn’t every game in the series try new things? Some more than others. Final Fantasy 13 tried more new things than some games and less than others, but on the whole its pretty average in that regard, not some huge paradigm shift the article makes it out to be.

I could list every single game in the series and list the new things they tried, but that would take a long time so I’ll just go over a few games in the series, for more details about Final Fantasy games check out this series of articles I randomly found online, which goes pretty in depth into each game and should give you a better idea of how each and every game was unique ans tried things never done before in Final Fantasy.

Well I should start with FF2. Right from the start they were trying things not done in the first game. Gone were the set classes and instead every character could use every weapon and use every spell. And instead of just gaining experience and leveling up, each stat leveled up on its own. The more you used magic the better you got at magic. The more you used physical attacks the better you at physical attacks. and so on. Although they had some similarities the differences led to a very different experience in the first 2 Final Fantasies.

Final Fantasy 4 was the first game in the series where the player had no control over the abilities of the characters. In 1 and 3 you could choose the classes of the characters, and in 2 there where no classes but you decided which spells the characters learned. Taking all the control out of the players hands was a significant change, but its overshadowed by the real game changer of FF4, the active time battle system. No longer could you just wait around all day to decide what to do on your turn, now enemies would continue to attack you. The ATB system would be a part of every final fantasy in the main series form then on, with the exception of 10. Even though 12 and 13 have made some changes to the battle system its still based on the ATB system at its core. Final Fantasy 4 was a greater paradigm shift than anything 13 has to offer.

And what about Final Fantasy 8? Most people either love it or hate it, because it had a lot of really strange changes. Like 13 there is no MP. You have to first draw magic from enemies or special draw points, which will give you a stock of magic to cast later on. Or you could junction magic to your stats to increase them, with different spells increasing stats by different amounts. It was really weird. And you could summon GFs which are basically comparable to summons/eidolons/espers in other Final Fantasy games. However rather than just being instantly summoned and doing damage like in previous games,  it would take some time to summon and while this was happening, the GFs could be attacked and even killed.

And another change is the stripped down equipment in FF8. There is a lot of variance in the equipment in the series. Some games let you have helmets, body armor, gloves, boots etc. Some only let you have a single slot for armor and one for weapon, and maybe an accessory. FF8 was the most stripped down with no armor at all or accessories, and only a weapon. You couldn’t buy new weapons but you could upgrade them if you had the right parts and found the magazine that tells you how to make it.

And really this wouldn’t be complete complete without mentioning FF12. No more battle screen where your guys stand on one side and the enemies stand on the other and you take turns walking over to attack them and then running back to your own side. No this game you fought monsters right in the dungeons with no transition to a battle screen, and you could move you character around during the battle. Some attacks had an area of effect, so where your characters where standing could make a difference. I mean FF12 was a far greater departure from the supposed Final Fantasy template than 13.

So that pretty much destroys the straw man that fans hated FF13 just because it tried new things. I don’t know what sort of template he thinks Final Fantasy games fit into but if it includes games as diverse as FFs 4, 8, and 12, then it must be broad enough to include FF13 as well. It just so happened that the new things they tried in this game mostly sucked. But before I get into that I should mention one change in the game that I did like. There is no MP for using magic in this game. There is an ATB gauge that fills up as in most previous games but its divided into several sections, and more powerful actions take more sections of the ATB gauge. So basically you have to wait longer for powerful actions. Its a new twist on the classic ATB system and I thought it was pretty interesting. So much for hating things just because  they’re different.

Now lets get into some problems. The straight line dungeons of course being they main issue people complained about. Unfortunately this problem has been a long time coming. Way back in the playstation era FF7 had far shorter and more linear dungeons than previous games. It wasn’t quite as bad as the later games and there was still a world map in between dungeons and towns to give some sense of exploration, but anyone who played the older FFs would notice a huge difference in the complexity of dungeons in FF7.

The problem got worse in FF10 when the world map was done away with entirely and all you had to explore was the dungeons, which were shifting to be a bit more linear. Really, FF13 is only a little bit worse than FF10 in terms of linear level design. Its not some huge paradigm shift its just a trend started in the PS1 era finally brought to its ugly conclusion.

So what other changes were made? Well buying items is basically meaningless. Stocking up on items doesn’t have the same impact as it did in previous games. There are far fewer items, and since you get restored to perfect condition after each battle, the items you do get are basically superfluous. Generally in FFs preparation is more than half the battle. With the exception of a few bosses you can skate through the games pretty easily as long as you are prepared, with the right items and equipment. The preparation aspect is completely destroyed in FF13. That alone wouldn’t be so bad if there was some areas of the game that were actually interesting, but there aren’t.

The combat is hopelessly dull, where you can autobattle most of the time and win without thinking. Any enemies that are tough enough where you have to spend some effort are only interesting the first time, and once you figure out how to beat them, its the same every time. Now you might say the previous Final Fantasy had repetitive battles, and you’d be right. The difference is that previous games the battles slowly wore you down. You tolerated the repetitiveness because it wasn’t about the individual battles, but about preparation and endurance. Now the only reason for the battles is gone, and they are just an annoyance that will never have a chance at defeating you.

This is turning out to be a lot longer than I expected and I could just go on and on, but this might go quicker with a quote from Sid Meier, “A game is a series of interesting choices.” So what are the interesting choices in FF13? There really aren’t any. This isn’t some new direction for the series to go, the combat is still built around the ATB system, and it has only minor differences from previous games. The only difference is that they stripped out all the interesting choices. No exploration, no wandering around towns talking to NPCs, and stockpiling items to prepare for a dungeon, no conversation choices, extremely limited choices in battle and in most cases autobattle is the ideal choice anyway. The leveling system is basically the sphere grid from FF10 only less interesting and more restrictive, which I scarcely thought possible.

I’m not one of those people who hated Fallout 3 because it was an FPS rather than a turn based RPG. If Square-Enix wanted to make some completely different gameplay for FF13 it may have pissed a few people off but me and plenty of others would have been happy with it if it actually had interesting gameplay. It did not do anything new, its just a stripped down version of the final fantasy core mechanics, and what was left had no interesting decisions. If they want to make a more streamlined game, okay I’ll give it a shot, but they’ve got to give me something, anything. Some aspect of the game has to have interesting choices.

Sequels are very hard to do right. Looking at games like Fallout 3 or DragonAge 2, its obvious that changing too much will seriously piss off the fans of the original. The most notable exception being Final Fantasy, which is the only series that has an overhaul of the main mechanics, as well as brand new setting and character, in every single game, and people still accuse it of doing the same thing over and over again. Aside from that notable excpetion, the general rule is if you mess around with core gameplay too much people will be pissed.

DeadSpace 2 is pretty much the best that can be hoped for in an environment hostile to change. The gameplay is pretty much the same, everything that was in the old game is still here. It also adds a few new guns, a few new enemies, and of course new levels to explore. Of all the new enemies that they added the most shocking is probably exploding babies. It’s just so edgy. The worst part is that they don’t even drop ammo like all the other enemies do.

The gameplay, like the first DeadSpace, is quite similar to Resident Evil 4 or 5. The main difference being that you can still walk while aiming a gun. Another thing that really sets it apart is that you have to cut of the limbs to kill the enemies. For this reason, the line gun is one of my most used weapons. its available fairly early in the game, and it can hurt two limbs at a time.

I didn’t have the luxury of buying all the weapons in the game, maybe cause I was spending my money on stupid things like ammo and health, so the only new weapon that I tried out on the first playthrough is the javelin gun. Its primary fire is incredibly powerful, and was invaluable for killing the final boss quickly. It secondary fire causes an electric shock of surrounding the place where you just fired a primary shot. I often use this to take out crowds of weak enemies, but it is also useful for taking down stronger enemies. No doubt the expensive weapons I didn’t buy were incredibly awesome and would have made the game much easier.

A pretty big difference between DeadSpace 2 and the first one are the zero gravity areas. In the first DeadSpace, in the zero g rooms you could look at the walls and ceiling, and press a button to jump between them. But no matter what you were always restricted to moving along the floor, walls and ceiling. In this game you can actually float around the whole space of the room, so its much more interesting to have real zero g battles

People who are used to regenerating health may find this game frustrating because it doesn’t have regenerating health and you have to consume items to get your health back. I played on normal difficulty and even I was starting to get frustrated by the last couple chapters. They really pile on the bullshit, with an invincible regenerating enemy that you have to run from, while still killing the regular enemies in the path ahead.

Aside from a few frustrations late in the game it was overall a good game I think. The same solid gameplay mechanics of the first with a few new things added to keep it interesting. If you were a fan of the first game, or a fan of similar games, you should definitely check it out.