I like Strategy RPGs. If you did not know this before, hi, I’m aetherspoon, a pleasure to meet you, you must be one of the three people that read my site that don’t know me personally. :)
I’m just finishing up a run through of Wild ARMs XF (yeah, I know, it came out over three years ago, but I’m slow in getting through my backlog) and, once more, I find all sorts of issues with the game that could have been fixed with a small amount of effort. Just a little more and it could have been an awesome game. It just committed too many Cardinal Sins.
One day, I’d like to make my own StratRPG. I’ve had tons of ideas in mind for several years now (since before I went to college even!), but I know I have little coding ‘skillz’ in order to make such a thing (really, the graphics are the problem; I suck at coding GUIs) and definitely do not have the artistic skills. Similar to the previous post on strategy gaming, that means criticizing someone else’s work and claiming that I can do better.
Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Not Restrict Choice
Noted Offenders: Wild ARMs XF (PSP)
Noted Saints: Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1/PSP)
One of the things I like the most about StratRPGs is the ability to do whatever I want to do with respect to strategy. I mean, it is a Strategy RPG, I kind of expect some form of Strategy. By far, one of the things that pisses me off the most is when a game restricts the choices I can make.
Now, I’m not talking about the beginning of the game. Want me to go through a tutorial where all I have available are people that can chuck rocks at other people? I’m fine with that. Want a class-based system where not all of the classes are available initially? OK.
Give me levels where I HAVE to do it a particular way, and not as an introduction to a new concept? Now you’re pissing me off. WAXF greatly enjoyed doing this toward the beginning of the game, and I tolerated it. It was usually one battle per new class and figuring out their shtick. However, they decided to throw more at the end. I’m at the end of the game, and BAM, Zombie rush. One class’s abilities are so much more awesome against undead that you would be a fool to use anything else; in fact, if you do use anything else, they have a decently large chance to automatically revive themselves. Pretty much any character not using that class’s abilities is worthless or, at best, better be throwing the people with those class abilities at the bad guys (literally).
Not cool WAXF, not cool. This also applies to classless StratRPGs, where one character is pretty much required to do something to the exclusion of others.
On the flip side, you have games like Final Fantasy Tactics. Sure, there are battlefields where one class’s abilities give a bit of an advantage, but there is never a battle where one class is obviously required to do anything significant* in it and you can often find ways of fiddling with things to make oddball strategies work out. This encourages creativity and allows for good replayability.
* – I’m not talking about how some classes are far more awesome than others.
Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Diss the Generics
Noted Offenders: Wild ARMs XF (PSP), Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1/PSP)
Noted Saints: Phantom Brave (PS2/Wii/DS)
There are two distinct styles of StratRPGs, from what I’ve seen. You either have a group of characters, none of which are truly generic (they have story-related events, however minor, based on the character), or you have a small group of “Uniques” and the ability to gain generic characters.
Sadly, nearly all of the cases of the latter that I’ve played just so happen to have an equal number of Uniques as slots in a battle (or worse, more Uniques than slots), and the Uniques are just special enough / more powerful enough where you’d be a fool for using generics.
If that is the case, why even bother having them?
Take Wild ARMs XF, for instance. In the game, you only ever get six slots for characters. Coincidentally, there are six unique characters in the game, all of whom have an ability on their unique class that is far superior to anyone else that lets them equip more abilities. They can do everything a generic unit can, only better (but potentially with worse stats). FFT has this problem, only worse since there are more than five Uniques in the game. The middle of the game becomes, ‘which Unique characters do I want to use for the rest of the game?’ rather than ‘how can I balance my party appropriately?’
On the flip side of the coin, you have games like Phantom Brave. There are a very small number of unique characters (2). Sure, you have to use one of them and you’re likely to use the other, but you can bring multiple generics along with you in every battle. This allows a player to expand in scope beyond the abilities of the pre-created characters in the game – which is the whole point behind having generics to begin with.
Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Finish Thine Plot/Game Before Release
Noted Offenders: Eternal Eyes (PS1), Wild ARMs XF (PSP)
Noted Saints: Disgaea (PS2/PSP/DS)
Now, allow me to make a note: this is spoiler free. Mostly because, due to the absence of plot, it is impossible to spoil these games in the way I describe them.
Eternal Eyes is the great and unholy violator of this principle, to the point where I’m still wondering why the hell I bothered finishing that game. It starts with a plot (not much of one, but eh). It ends with a plot (a bad one). There is practically nothing in between, however. Hell, at one point, they stop even explaining why you are bothering to go from point A to point B! It is just the only option available to you with no in-game justification.
WAXF didn’t look like it would suffer from this, until I hit the long-battle-streak-of-DOOM! toward the end of the 4th chapter. Without spoiling anything, you end up on a particularly desolate battlefield – six times almost in a row (with two battles in the middle to break things up). The same exact battlefield, starting in generally the same spots (the battles to break things up are on the same map). Hell, two of the battles even had the same enemies, with little plot justification as to why they’re doing the same thing twice! This is obviously something that was just not finished in time for release; I doubt any game designer would ever intentionally do that. It is kind of like watching someone paint themselves in a corner, run out of time, and just decide to throw everything out and make the player suffer through their crap. Hell, up until this point in WAXF, I was tempted to rate it one of the best StratRPGs I’ve played – this battle series was responsible for the first commandment being broken as well.
Disgaea, on the other hand… well, I’m not going to say it had a great plot. I’m not talking about the quality of plot – a lot of good StratRPGs basically had excuse plots, and I’m fine with that. There is a pretty large difference between an excuse plot and no plot at all though. Disgaea, through any required battle, maintained its plot and/or sideplots to the end. They at least finished the game. Push your game back a few weeks – unless if you’re going up against some behemoth of an RPG being released at the same time (DQ/FF), it won’t make that big of a difference.
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Not Make One Obvious Overpowered Ability or Character
Noted Offenders: Phantom Brave (PS2/Wii/DS), Shining Force 2 (Gen/Wii/PC), Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1/PSP), Vandal Hearts (PS1),
Disgaea (PS2/PSP/DS), Wild ARMs XF (PSP)… really, it’d be quicker to mention StratRPGs that don’t offend this.
Noted Saints: Fire Emblem Series (NES/SNES/GBA/GC/Wii)
I’m not talking about broken combinations figured out after fiddling with the system; every game has something like that. Those are fine – it takes time to figure it out and implement your Strategy. This is a Strategy RPG; they are meant to be broken, and that’s most of the fun of them for me. My combinations of fast WAXF Grapplers to throw my slower characters at the hard to reach enemies up high to nuke faster is perfectly fine, as at least I had to think of that strategy rather than just having it blink at me.
I’m talking about when it is ridiculously obvious to anyone who has ever played a Strategy RPG. Allow me to state some examples:
- Phantom Brave: Speed Stat Attacks / Bottle Mail / Speed Boosting Items. Any game that uses absolute speed stats for initiative should watch out for this; basically, anything that has a high speed stat goes more frequent. Bottle Mail, the jokeish character type that allows you to take items from the battlefield, has a very high speed stat. You can give them abilities that do damage based on speed stats, making them ludicrously dangerous. You can also equip strange things on characters, like trees, that give huge penalties to stats like HP but bonuses to stats like Speed. Result? They slaughter everything everywhere always without any risk to themselves and using anything else isn’t worth your time in doing by comparison. This doesn’t really count as a combo, given that any ONE of these abilities are overpowered…
- Shining Force 2: Peter. It practically counts as a challenge run to not use Peter because of how ridiculously overpowered he is, to the point where my primary challenge when he is in the party is to not let him become ridiculously overleveled. Mind you, this is a required character for a decent chunk of the game.
Disgaea: Laharl. You know, the main character that you kinda have to use. His abilities are utterly ridiculous and overshadow practically the rest of the cast. The saving grace, in this case, is that this was intentional.Convinced by someone that this is not an example.
- Final Fantasy Tactics: Thunder God Cid. Sure, lets give the powers of four or five separate unique classes to the same character, plus give him higher than normal unique character stats and one of the best weapons in the game – I’m sure players will find that balanced!
- Wild ARMs XF: Intrude. It is a high MP cost ability that allows you to immediately take two more turns (and yes, you can Intrude again if you wish, until you have the next eight turns). It doesn’t matter if you know little else that goes on in WAXF, most StratRPG players can immediately tell that it is incredibly broken.
- Wild ARMS XF (again): Accelerate. It is a non-action skill that gives you extra init points, basically. Every round. A random amount, from 1 to 100, where 100 means you go next. Again, this by itself is so powerful that not using it would be foolish (see my comments about absolute speed for initiative from Phantom Brave); combined with Intrude, it means you get 2-3 actions for each action spent…
- Vandal Hearts: Hawknights. It is the alternate promotion from Archer, tied for the most common player class in the game. You lose your ranged attack but gain a really high movement rate, much higher attack, higher defense, become strong versus the most common enemy class in the game (instead of being weak against it) and weak against the least common enemy class in the game. You can one-shot almost everything you are strong against and most of other things as well. The sad part? The second strongest class in the game is what you promoted away from. Archer-path is way too overpowered.
I could go on, but I hit tl;dr around a thousand words ago. All of these things have consequences – namely, making a party without using these things becomes sort-of a challenge (fun in its own right, but shouldn’t be required for having fun in the game) and also means you shouldn’t use things that the concept itself is perfectly fine. I love the concept of Hawknights; if they were nerfed a bit more, I’d have tons of fun coming up with unique strategies for them.
Anything so powerful that someone could, relatively easily, solo the game with it is something that shouldn’t happen. It means there is less fun due to a restriction of choice (that first commandment, above), since there are obvious advantages with going one particular path over another.
I think the only game series that I’ve seen do this right is the Fire Emblem series, only because practically every character is genericish. There aren’t overpowering abilities simply by virtue of the fact that there aren’t that many varied abilities.
These are the four major sins of the Strategy RPG. I’ll probably make another post with more later, but who knows when. I’ve already greatly exceeded the number of posts that I thought I’d make on this blog, maybe someday someone will even read it without me linking to it. :P