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Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last week we covered the basic brainstorming behind a plot, and the game acquired a set of prospective characters.  Now, we’ll start fleshing them out a bit more.  But not before going into a bit of why it’s so important to consider characters as their own section as opposed to integrating them with plot or writing alone.

Characterization is, in essence, quite possibly one of the most important distinctions most RPGs have over games of other genres.  Of course this is not to say that non-RPGs do not have characters at all–after all, we are all familiar with such figures as Mario, Sonic, Link, and Rockman.  However, the differences involved are notable: For a long time, these characters were less known for their interactions with other characters, and more for either being an icon to the series they star in, or for a pre-set “attitude” they possess.  It wasn’t until later that interactions started being largely notable for the non-RPG games.  As for RPGs, those interactions started becoming emblematic of the genre around the 16-bit era–look at the Final Fantasies 4-6, Chrono Trigger, and Phantasy Star 4 for notable examples here, especially the last one–yes, I will be referencing Phantasy Star 4 a lot in this blog, be warned.

How best do you go about starting character interaction?  The answer is simply to have characters who will functionally bounce off of one another.  This has been gone over in other tutorials (check out Part 3 of Nick Palmer’s RMVXA tutorial for a brief look at character variety), but the point is that if everyone is the same, or too easily within agreement without some means by which to play off of each other, characters will not interact in an interesting and meaningful way.  If they do not do that, you in turn lose the potential to further draw players into the world, and in turn, the game.

But this digression on variety is tangential to the real matter of the post: actually creating characters.  If you’ve gone through the plot creation featured in the previous entry, you will already have a variety of positions where characters are obviously needed to be filled, playable characters particularly included.  At this point, you want to think about these characters in particular, who they are, where they come from, and how they fight, among other matters.  And here is where the matter will end up ultimately getting complicated and yet beneficial–you will not be able to extract the characters, particularly the playable and fought ones, from either the plot or the gameplay ends of your game.  To be more precise, the entirety, if not the majority, of all plot and gameplay integration will occur through the characters.  You can see this below, in fact.


No, really, this is pretty much just one of those Venn Diagrams used to illustrate the point.

Diagrams aside, the point is fairly clear.  The characters’ abilities influence their gameplay in effect, and given that the world is seen through the eyes of and the plot acted upon by the characters, they are the player’s window into the game in the genre.  This is the best way upon which to elaborate the point, and so feel free to extrapolate upon the plot and setting when developing these characters.  In fact, I would encourage such an act, since such connects them to the setting and world, making them further integrated into the whole.  However, by contrast, keep combat ability in general terms rather than specific; you haven’t decided entirely on gameplay yet if you’re following this, and even if you have some mechanical ideas you don’t want to let them inform your characters.  There are other, better ways to fill gameplay niches in a JRPG than creating a character to specifically fill one, notably.  If you’re not sure about what I mean by general terms, look a bit further ahead in the post.

On a similar note, a bit must be said for names: while in theory you could put some names off (naming your game?  Not important), you actually want to come up with character names pretty quickly, since names will aid in informing you about your character’s image, and furthermore make it easier to write about them as people.  If you have doubts about this, then try a mental experiment: Pick someone with a name, any name, and then pick someone only labeled [Main] or [PC 1] or [NPC] or [Villain], or something of the such.  Then try writing about either.  Which do you find it easier to write about?  If you suspect the named person is easier to write about, congratulations, you get why naming characters is important.  Have trouble with coming up with names?  Look some up on a name site–your preferred name site will work more than well enough.

On a tangent with names, you want to fit the name to the character.  Naming a random dude “Renvach von Floofenheimer III Esq.” for the sake of it will get awkward laughs at best, and derision and dismissal at worst.  At the same time?  Avoid the generics.  Overly simple names like “Bob” or whatnot.  If you must use those, at least work with the long form.  It comes off as generic, and to be honest, it’s hard to make an interesting story about a generic person.  And lastly, try to avoid major characters with too similar-sounding names.  It gets samey if done too much and might end up, once again, breaking interest.

I suppose enough rambling has gone on about character creation without submitting the next step in my games.  In the meantime, I’ve extrapolated on seven playable characters, with intent for an eighth that hasn’t quite been fleshed out enough yet.  As follows are the seven prospective PCs, listed in order of conceptualization, along with my ramblings on setting as I fleshed them out with it, and their placement as characters along with it.

Leo – The main character of the game, and the aforementioned “knight”.  I decided that he’d be closer to a squire at the start of the game, and worked with it from there.  The kingdom he’s in employ of (Zeisrell) handles its knights thusly: Children are handed over to join the knighthood, along with payment to handle training and equipment, making it a domain of the nobility and very rich–and those children are essentially cut off from their family name and inheritance, a symbolic statement that the knighthood will serve the kingdom through their own strength, without the need for outside assistance.  Leo is the third son to a noble family, and was a good bit of a troublemaker in his childhood, so he was sent off as someone who wasn’t worth the trouble.  By the start of the game, he’s about 17, and is brash, headstrong, and always feels like he’s got something to prove,, easily baited into challenges just to prove that he -can- pull it off.  Fitting that to an extent, he’s a physical fighter–on the fast side, at that.

“Kiri” – The second character concepted, the dragon in question, Kiri, as the shortened name she gives, is about 350 years old, and keeper of a hoard of magical objects, including an artifact handed over to her by one of the kings of Zeisrell approximately 170 years before the start of the game (As for why, I haven’t decided yet, but I’m thinking safekeeping of sorts).  I decided here to flesh out a number of details about dragons in this setting–they’re not common, they have humanoid forms that are generally used not for blending into other societies, but instead as energy-efficient forms.  Dragons in this are magical creatures in that they have the binary form matter on top of innate magical ability, but they take a LOT of energy to keep going, so when they’re running low they’ll reflexively switch to their humanoid form–and dragons hoard magic items rather than gold because they help sustain themselves off of the ambient magic of the collected objects, so it’s not just a greed thing.  Regardless, she and Leo eventually do fight after Leo goes on a quest to kill her and retrieve said artifact.  But after the fight’s interrupted between the two, a ritual’s done that binds her life to Leo’s–and this doesn’t please her one bit.  She’s got a gigantic ego, a good bit of a short temper, and a blunt streak, not exactly caring about whatever she says.  So she’s actually kind of a gigantic jerk as well, and will have some friction with Leo once the two are bound.  In combat, she’s a heavy fighter/mage hybrid, who can take hits as well as she can give, and then some, albeit very very graceless in her style.

Princess Caecilia Lieselotte Zeisrea – The princess in question, and yes she does become a playable character.  The sole surviving child of the now terribly ill King Everard Tiedemann Zeisrea, Caecilia is not the model of your standard ineffective princess, nor is she the rebellious sort, instead having been raised to rule the kingdom of Zeisrell when the time comes.  As such, she has been taught in a variety of matters, including combat and a dabbling in magic, and thusly is nowhere near helpless in a fight.  Putting herself in the position of a leader, however, she will often come off as cold and aloof, and does not tolerate fools well.  In combat, she’s another fighter-caster hybrid, with a good bit of speed on her end.

Friedrich – When deciding on Leo’s background, I knew I needed some sort of structure to the program, and figured that squires on the late end of their training would be mentored under higher-ranking knights.  Thus, I needed such a figure for Leo, and Friedrich was created as a result.  One of the older knights in Zeisrell, Friedrich is a stern teacher who is more than willing to call his pupils out on their mistakes, but he knows what he’s doing with a notable field record and a good number of squires mentored.  He holds his beliefs first and foremost, that success comes from one’s own strength, and not anything else, which may rub some the wrong way.  He starts out the game accompanying Leo for a bit, but then leaves for a good while not too long after, functioning as the earlygame crutch character.  In combat, he’s a heavy fighter bar none, and will go down to very little.

Alexis Schaldeite – Alexis is a young magical prodigy–one of the youngest full mages in Zeisrell at the age of 16.  He is notably well-studied in a variety of magic, but has been cloistered for most of his life.  However, his status has made him into a bit of a know-it-all, and is sent on a mission with Leo once he attains knighthood to leave the rest of the academia and their theories alone.  In reality, I came up with him when I discovered that I needed someone to cast the plot-important binding ritual, so I needed some sort of magic-capable person.  A very green teen prodigy would be the perfect selection for this, as I needed someone who would know about, and possibly even how to do the ritual, but yet be liable to lose his cool enough to decide it’s the best option, and I feel I already have my old man player character quota filled with Friedrich anyway–I never was a fan of the classical wizard image anyway, so this is an added benefit.  As stated before, he’s a well-studied, naive, know-it-all.  In combat, he’s about what you’d expect; a pure mage with a variety of spells and the squishiness to boot.

Renaud Vertstil – Renaud is half sellsword, half treasure hunter, and all financially motivated with some very, very bad luck on the side.  In practice, he engages in the Lina Inverse-esque philosophy of “rob from bandits to give to oneself”, and is from a neighboring country with shaky relations to Zeisrell.  This ultimately leads to him crossing paths with Leo, coincidentally or not, and while he’s a bit of a scoundrel, he’s got his reasons.  I am guilty of inventing him first to help fill party slots when Leo would otherwise be alone, but I feel his personality and way of life would interestingly bounce off of some of the other characters well enough.  In-combat, he’s a flat-out speedster, and another pure physical sort.

Valeska Kierschav – First off, a nod and a bit of thanks to my friend Ish for inspiring this character for me.  Valeska is a professional dragonslayer from another country, who is embittered with life in general and once sought to avenge the death of her loved one at the hands of a dragon, but over the years has expanded this into an all-encompassing hate of them.  The sort of person who won’t take shit from anyone, Valeska’s a bit humorless to say the least.  I feel she fills a unique niche in the party dynamic, alongside offering an interesting contrast to Leo and his initial quest.  In combat, she goes for pure power, sacrificing defense for sheer killing force.

This is every PC I’ve come up with so far.  The rationales may not have been necessary to write down, but they do show the thought processes behind the characters, and that is something I want to include on these posts here.  However, my work has only just begun.  With a mystery eighth player character in development, alongside a number of other characters from NPCs to antagonists, the work of character design is not easy at all–but it is rewarding once it all starts to come together for a game.  Planned for next week is my start of the gameplay concepting segment, where I determine some core details of the game, and take a look at several notable, but possibly overlooked aspects of JRPG design.


Posted May 13, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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