Heretical Statements In The Name Of Game Design, Part II   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  Last week, we covered some aspects of character design, including some general matters where the defaults did many, many things wrong, and laid down stats for the currently existing characters in the game.  This week will go over the topics of equipment and skillsets, two more defining matters of a RPG, as well as look into the wildly varying ways to handle both.

Two posts ago, we went into the idea that all equipment would largely cover partial customization.  We’re finally going to go in-depth on what pieces of equipment go where on who, and manage what they do at that.  First, notably, is the decision made here that everyone will share equipment classes to some degree.  This is most definitely not needed; as said previously, sharing weapon classes is not customization.  However, this does open up a number of factors.  The first and foremost being that equipment will need to be balanced for all their users, as opposed to just one; a piece of gear that works one way for one person might end up overpowered in someone else’s hands.  The second is that it opens up the possibility of unique (that is to say, singular on a given playthrough) weapons or armor with the potential for multiple users, forcing the player to decide on a user, or giving them the chance to use the weapon as long as they use one of the prospective wielders.  The last is that it does affect the decision as to whether one wishes to give each character any definitive “ultimate” equipment or not, as the presence thereof would negate the previ0us decision-making.  Given my preferences, I am perfectly fine with not giving ultimates out, so the decision on shared types stands.

We are jumping the gun here, however.  An equally important question is simply “what equipment slots do characters have?”  This is an important question to consider, if only because there is no point in coming up with helmets or shields if you decide the only things a character can use are a weapon, body armor, and an accessory.  The point is rather self-explanatory, but for the sake of illustration, RMVXA’s defaults utilize a selection of weapon, shield, armor, helmet, and accessory.  This game deviates slightly from this in manners that will be shown soon, with equipment slots for a given character designated as Main Hand, Off Hand, Head, Body, Accessory, and two Sigils.

This will bring us to what will fill these slots.  As stated before, there will be multiple equipment classes, which will in turn be shared between characters.  For an example of how RMVXA’s defaults handle equipment, each character gets access to one and only one weapon type, and then access to both “General” armor and at least one of “Magic”, “Light”, or “Heavy” armors–these cover both body armor and headgear.  Some characters then get access to either light, or all shields, and then all characters can use an accessory.  The armor classes do not differ wildly across types; “Magic” armor grants magic power, magic defense, and elemental resistances at higher tiers in exchange for physical defense, “Light” armor is dead average, and “Heavy” armor sacrifices very marginal amounts of basic attack speed and evasion for improved physical defense.  Needless to say, a case where there’s design issues once more, since there is zero reason not to use heavy armor when possible.

This game will be handled differently, and as such a breakdown of equipment would happen to be in order.  This will be notably long and in-depth, but I will try to keep matters organized as much as possible;

Weapons:

  • Heavy Swords: This category covers your archetypal longswords, alongside their two-handed varieties.  In short, think of every standard RPG sword.  This will have above-average power, but below-average penetration.  The two-handed versions, of course, hurt more but take up your off-hand slot.  These will range from two to three swings on a basic attack
  • Spears: All of these are two-handed, and they’re notable for having the best armor penetration in the game.  Power hovers around average, but servicable for how well they get through enemy defense.  Two swings.
  • Axes/Hammers: These two are clustered together on the basis that they all have the same users, and these are another two-handed weapon category.  Axes enjoy very high power, a boosted critical rate, and subpar penetration.  Hammers sacrifice the critical rate for improved armor penetration.  They suffer minor accuracy problems, however, and only get two swings on a basic.
  • Knives: Light and fast weapons, knives are low on power and not good at getting through armor, but they make up for it with a boosted critical rate and a high swingcount at four–making them the easiest to build up Exceed with, though you’ll lose out on power with them that way.
  • Bows: Bows are a special type of weapon.  Below-average damage, above-average penetration, and their attacks have initiative.  On top of that, equipping a bow allows one to use off-hand arrows, which are detailed below.  Three swings on a basic.
  • Staves: Staves are the defensive weapon choice of the lot.  Below-average damage and penetration, they provide a notable evasion boost to those who can equip them, ensuring a greater amount of survivability.  They give three swings on a basic attack.
  • Light Swords: This covers rapiers, epees, and the family of fencing swords, these weapons sport average damage and above-average penetration.  Their attacks give three swings, but they’re more notable for the fact that they give access to off-hand daggers, which are also detailed below.

Off-Hand Items:

  • Shields: The ubiquitous off-hand item, these are nice little evasion- and resistance-granting boons to the people who can use them.  Those people do have to sacrifice the benefits of their heavier weapons or more offense-oriented  gear to take advantage of this, however.
  • Gauntlets: These are another off-hand item, allowing for minor defensive or offensive benefits when equipped.  Same caveat as the shields, though more people can use them, and thus the restrictions don’t hurt as badly.
  • Foci: Spell focuses!  The offensive choice for mages.  They take a bunch of forms but basically have the general tendency to improve properties of spells one way or another
  • Arrows: Only usable with a bow in the main hand, arrows add extra elemental and status properties to bow attacks.  They’re a good way of getting some tricks on the bow-users you normally can’t, so try and experiment.
  • Off-hand Daggers: Only usable with a light sword in the main hand, off-hand daggers have the benefit of adding an extra bit of punch on top of giving secondary benefits.  While arrows give elements and status, daggers give other mechanical bonuses that you’re less likely to see on an off-hand item.

Body Armor:

  • Heavy Armor:Covers mail armors.  This armor is about what you’d expect, heavy, metallic, and damn good at taking hits.  Provides the most ARM out of any of the armor types.
  • Medium Armor:Covers leather and other such armors.  While providing a minor amount of ARM, medium armor is better at lessening the impact of attacks than nulling them altogether, giving a percentile reduction to attacks.
  • Light Armor:Largely covering cloth armors, while this may cover some robes, it also handles cloaks and the like as well.  Split between evasion-based and magical defense-based armors.

Headgear:

  • Helmets:To give you a harder head, no matter how hard it already is.  They provide some extra ARM and sometimes other benefits.
  • Hats:They’re fancy!  They’re well-sought commodities on TF2!  They’re hats!  And they largely give status protection along a minor base defensive boost.
  • Circlets: Circlets are the favored headwear of magicians who are looking for a trinket to help with their willpower and ability to focus.  A number of these tend to be elementally-aligned in some capacity as well.

Other:

  • Accessories: Only enough room for one, each character can use any of these, which provide a myriad of oddball benefits.
  • Sigil Crests: Each character can use two of these, which provide notable statistical modifiers on top of spells and even Exceed abilities!

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Guess the relevance of this pic, win a prize!  No really, go ahead and guess it. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any real prizes to give)

Similarly, there’s the list of who gets what equipment, though this one is thankfully much more concise than the last.  I’ll spare the rationales for this one on the basis that it kind of breaks up the list in this case, but needless to say that they feel to me like they fit the characters.

  • Leo: Heavy Swords, Spears, Heavy Armor, Medium Armor, Helmets, Hats, Shields, Gauntlets
  • Friederich: Heavy Swords, Spears, Axes, Heavy Armor, Helmets, Shields, Gauntlets
  • Renaud: Knives, Bows, Medium Armor, Light Armor, Hats, Gauntlets, Arrows
  • Alexis: Knives, Staves, Light Armor, Hats, Circlets, Foci
  • Valeska: Spears, Axes, Medium Armor, Helmets, Hats
  • Kiri: Heavy Swords, Axes, Heavy Armor, Hats, Circlets, Gauntlets
  • Caecilia: Light Swords, Staves, Medium Armor, Light Armor, Circlets, Foci, Off-hand Daggers

Okay, so that’s a rather exhaustive list of equipment types and who gets what.  But that last note about sigils is a good point on which to start on the next point: Innate versus Template skill systems.  The question of whether to have characters possess their own distinct skills, be blank slates that can be customized, or a mix of the two.  On the innate end, you have games like Phantasy Star 4, the Shining Force games, and Final Fantasy 4, as well as the RMVXA defaults.  On the other hand, you have template systems like the third and fifth Wild ARMs games, and Final Fantasy 7 and Tactics.  And then somewhere in the middle, one has what can be described as “half-template” games, which offer characters with distinct skillsets, but also a template upon which to build more.  Examples of this include Final Fantasy 6 and the PSX remake of Lunar:Eternal Blue.  This latter setup is notably difficult, and I am going to go out on a limb here, but Final Fantasy 6’s handling of its own half-template system is an example of why it’s not as good of a game as a large number of people remember it to be.

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Woah, hold on, not yet!  Let me explain!

Before the Final Fantasy 6 fans among my readers go out of their way to hunt me down and kill me, allow me to elaborate on why.  Anyone familiar with Final Fantasy 6’s setup recognizes that there are functionally two halves to a character’s skillset: the innate half, which varies from character to character, and the half learned through magicite, which is the template half.  Now, the problems with how FF6 handles its skill systems can be boiled down to three major issues: Redundancy, Tiering, and Obsolescence.  Redundancy in that a large number of the same things the innate skills do are covered by magic.  Tiering insofar that there are tiered skills within the template abilities that are far and ahead better than most others (Ultima in particular comes to mind, nevermind things like Quick).  And  lastly, Obsolescence in that there is very little that the innate skills can do better than magic.  The lattermost can be illustrated in particular by several characters who have either redundant innate skills (Sabin, Shadow), innate skills that largely are the template skills (Terra, Celes), or innate skills that are flat-out not useful (Celes, Locke, Cyan, Relm when not glitching the game, Edgar about half the time) or abysmally documented (Gau) by the game in practice.

So, what is my point in picking Final Fantasy 6 apart to the chagrin of its fans everywhere?  When constructing innate skillsets in a half-template system, let those skills be the ones that stand out, rather than being overshadowed by the template skills.  The latter should be decent for customization and filling in gaps, not for subsuming what makes the character unique.  I’m going to pains to point this out in part because the sigils are my own attempt of constructing a half-template system for skillsets within my game.  For those familiar, consider it a mix between Wild ARMs games 3 and 4.  For those not familiar, consider that each character can equip two Sigil Crests.  Each of these Sigil Crests provides a minor statistical bonus based on the crest itself, a small grouping of spells unique to itself, and one Exceed ability unique to itself.  However, each character retains their innate abilities in turn, which cover a wider variety of abilities than what the crests do.

At this point, I feel that it would be relevant to flesh out the current characters’ skillsets in general terms; I am nowhere near the point of constructing individual skillsets, but I can go to the point of outlining what they’d be able to do.  In addition, I can conclude that with sigils, I can make individual skillsets smaller, tentatively aiming for roughly eight innate skills and three Exceed skills on average, with some room for variation.  But these are only statements for future intent.  I encourage those of you following along with your own projects to try your hand at this for your characters.  Getting to the skillsets:

  • Leo: Leo’s skillset was the hardest one for me to come up with.  In general, he focuses a good deal on fast single strikes, with many of his moves having initiative.  In addition, he possesses a small number of pseudomagic shockwave attacks.  It may be a cop-out, but it’s a JRPG, someone needs to have a projectile shockwave attack from swinging their sword just the right way.  In addition, he can get a bit evasive when he wants to…
  • Friederich: Friederich’s skillset is an unusual one.  To say the least, his main source of damage outside of his 25-EX skill is simply the use of basic physicals.  However, this does not mean that he’s stuck with a lack of a skillset.  With a couple of physical stat-debuffs alongside a large variety of free-action stances to modify his attack and defenses in a variety of ways on the fly, Friederich shouldn’t be underestimated just because he lacks a variety of damage skills.
  • Renaud: Renaud’s a scoundrel, and that is ultimately reflected in his fighting style.  Needless to say, he fights dirty, using cheap shots, precision attacks, tricks, poisons, and whatever else he can get his hands on to turn a fight to his favor.  In short, status, and a good deal of it.  And of course, filching from an enemy or two doesn’t hurt in his eyes.  After all, it’s all for profit.
  • Alexis: It is fairly obvious that Alexis is a mage, so it’s not surprising that this would show in his skillset–nothing but magic.  Possessing a small count of elemental spells on top of party support abilities, Alexis is more built for group support, and this shows in his healing and buffing options, having the only pure multitarget heal in the game.  His Exceed abilities reflect this as well, though he will be getting notable extra abilities from Sigils compared to other characters.
  • Valeska:Valeska’s skillset can be summed up in a few ways.  Defense-piercing, high-power, focused skills that focus on killing the enemy above all else.  Factor in some notable offensive buffs and one tricky anti-magic ability and it becomes apparent that she is very good at what she does, and what she does is kill things.  Painfully.
  • Kiri:Kiri is unfocused, to say the least.  Not to say that she has a smattering of everything, but her abilities tend toward smashing as many things as possible with little regard for accuracy.  This shows in less-than-accurate skills, random-targeting skills, and group-targeting effects.  All the time she uses and blends both physical and magical power, with chained and composite effects, in her powerful but indiscriminate abilities.
  • Caecilia:Caecilia’s “theme” for her abilities can be summed up in one word: Dueling.  While she has been trained in both magic, having a repertoire of some useful buffing and healing spells, and swordsmanship, her skills are almost exclusively single-target.  As such, she may not be the best at handling groups, but single enemies are well within her ability to handle, with the ability to land strings of piercing blows, bleeding strikes, and deft ripostes among other abilities.

And that’s that for character skillset concepting.  Further down the road these skills will be properly quantified, but as with the rest of the concepting phases, this is satisfactory for the time being.  Skillsets are a very important tool to flesh out characters, and may possibly require the most attention out of anything in a game.  However, considering these skills means covering another matter of JRPGs that has been left uncovered as of now: the wide world of status effects.  However, that is a topic for next time.  As such, this is Epic Alphonse, signing out.

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Posted June 2, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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