Status Critical and Critical Condition   Leave a comment

Welcome to another installment of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last post, we scratched the surface on equipment and skill design and concepting for a game, covering equipment types, templating versus innate, and general skillset layout for the seven revealed PCs of the game.  This episode, we are going to talk about something that is both ubiquitous and divisive in the domain of JRPGs: Status effects, and their brethren, statistical modifiers.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how seemingly diverse your skillset is insofar as damage types and elements, no matter how remarkable your characters are, no matter how exactly well-thought-out your damage equation and statlines are, if your non-damage options amount explicitly to healing, then your game is going to be an absolute slog barring the chance that you have made an Action RPG with the perfect battle system.  And if you believe you have a perfect battle system, I have some land in an eastern fantasy wonderland fueled by disbelief to sell you next.  Status effects are the factor that elevates support roles in JRPGs beyond simple restoration of HP, since it adds another layer of combat on which one may attack, defend, and reinforce their motley rag-tag gang of PCs.  Of course, how effective status is in a given name is impossible to predict.

Status in a RPG is something that has a wide tendency to fluctuate between games.  Not only widely for the series given, but even within games in a series.  Availability, accuracy, potency, mitigation, and many other factors can be considered, and they run the gamut from useless to overpowered depending on the game.  In a large number of Final Fantasy games, for example, one can largely get by while ignoring all but a few indirect spells, those often being the game’s Haste, Protect, and Shell equivalents–the status buffs that most directly affect combat ability of one or more given PCs.  Offensive status in most of those games, to say the least, is left to the wayside, on the basis that it does not work on anything you can’t kill for a similar level of resource expenditure anyway.  Enemy status being easily negated in turn, be it through ribbons, the Esuna spell, Remedies, or one of a variety of other options in the series, doesn’t help.

Elizabeth_

“Status spells don’t matter?  I bet you’re great at Final Fantasy.”

Excuse Elizabeth there.  She hails from the Persona series, an offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei series that Atlus is famed for.  SMT has become well-known for its brutal difficulty, to which its use of status is a contributor, and in turn rewards players for utilizing status spells, be they the evade-boosting Sukukaja or the wide variety of instant-kill attacks.  Phantasy Star 4 is notable for its widespread proliferation of instant death abilities in the hands of the PCs, and even the first Dragon Quest had useful and efficient status in the forms of Sleep and Stopspell (the former, in fact, enables luck-manipulating speedrunners to beat the game with characters at level 7–the minimum level at which one can learn Sleep).  The king of status, however, is not a console or computer RPG, but a tabletop one.

die

If you’ve seen one of these dice, you probably have heard of what game I’m referring to.

Third Edition D&D (and its updated versions 3.5e and Pathfinder, but particularly 3.5e and 3e) have gained some degree of notoriety, and in fact retain some popularity to this day.  3.5e has in particular been notable for its extensive character optimization community that has reached one general conclusion about the game: direct damage is the least efficient manner in which to accomplish anything in the game.  This is an indirect result of, among many other factors, Monte Cook’s favoritism towards spellcasters in general and wizards in particular, and the rigid tiering of classes is a consequence of this imbalance.  This is most definitely a case of the opposite direction from JRPG players’ preconceptions about status being ineffective, where status is instead king and anyone focusing on damage is essentially playing suboptimally.  The major point of this is that making status too effective will essentially make the game’s gameplay as flat as making it nigh-ineffective.  Additionally, it’s a reminder to keep biases in check when designing a game, lest gameplay be negatively impacted, but I digress.

With the discussion of status versus non-status effectiveness, and the importance of balancing such out of the way, status in RPG Maker games can be categorized on two axes: effect and availability.  A further side-category can be made for stat modifying abilities, as well, for reasons to be explained.  In effect, every status has a position upon each axis, or sometimes multiple positions on an axis on occasion, but in a given game, not every position is taken by every status, nor does it necessarily need to in fact.  Keep in mind that categorization is intended more for organization and reference purposes than a quota to be filled.  Just like elements, do not create a quota you feel must be filled, it only leaves to designing something that may not need designed to begin with.

The effect axis can be divided into multiple categories, starting with the disabling category.  This is basically all of the status effects that will take someone out of the action until said status is restored, including classic examples as Sleep, Paralysis, and Instant Death effects.  These effects, due to their nature, have to largely be restricted in most cases due to how effective they are, and are the least frequently effective on bosses, and are incidentally the other big contributor to “status is useless!”.  There are a number of exceptions to this, however.  Both Record of Agarest War Zero and Labyrinth of Touhou are games where status is useful against bosses; the latter in particular has paralyzing bosses as a very viable, and sometimes required strategy, and it is in fact possible (albeit impossibly difficult) to instantly kill Chaos in the first Final Fantasy.

The next category on the effect axis is the restricting category.  This is different from disabling status insofar that disabling status completely negates its sufferer’s ability to do anything, while restricting status only negates part of that character’s ability set.  This form of status includes such as the Silence and Pain statuses from the Final Fantasy series, Arteseal from Tales, and so on.  Similar to disabling status, this tends to not work on bosses, though this is comparably loosened.  At the same time, while it is not as debilitating as disabling status, its impact may vary; silence on a mage is about as bad as paralysis, for example.  This should be kept in mind.

Next on the list is the control category of status.  In contrast to the former two categories, control status doesn’t interfere by taking away character abilities as it does by interfering with your ability to decide for the character.  This falls under three possible categories: automated control, which includes the trinity of Berserk, Charm, and Confuse; interfered control, which involves some forms of Confuse in a games, and others such as SMT “Fear” or paralysis status; and lastly AI direction, such as provoke in Wild ARMs 4 or Final Fantasy 13.  While less outright debilitating for a character most of the time, this form of status can turn out to be far more irritating for players due to the frustration associated with control loss, or devastating if that control loss is turned the wrong way on the wrong character(for example, Ultima Weapon equipped Cloud hit with confuse becomes a very real threat to your party in FF7).

Following this and the last of the exclusively negative status types is the debilitation category.  This is incidentally the widest category, but in general will negatively impact a character’s performance without necessarily stopping them from doing anything.  This ranges the gamut from lowering an elemental resistance, to decreasing their HP every turn, to making them take damage from every attack they make, to increasing your ability costs, to negating experience gains for the fight, and everything in between.  In essence, these are too varied to note, but the main differentiating factor between them and negative statistical modifiers is that they frequently affect parameters that are not visible or affected in turn by equipment.

The fifth form of status is enhancement-type.  The opposite of debilitation status, enhancement status gives varied beneficial modifiers to a character’s performance.  The most frequent of these tends to be a boost to action count, a regeneration ability, damage reduction, or spell reflection.  This tends to be described as non-status support at times, but is technically status if it’s not an explicit parameter boost–apply the same metric as you would to debilitation status versus negative statistical modifiers here.

The last form of status is transformation type.  This is probably the least frequently seen type of status, which creates a full change-up of character parameters.  This is at times confused with debilitating status such as Mini in FF, or restricting status such as Frog from the same series.  More accurate examples would be Access in Wild ARMs 2, and Ryu’s dragon transformations in Breath of Fire 1, 3(not verified, might need to check this), 4, and 5, which give notable changes to the user’s skillset and stats while it lasts.  This is also not to be confused with formshifts on bosses, where a boss takes multiple, progressive forms throughout a fight.

Availability of status is the other axis along which status can be categorized, but it is comparably less complicated than the effect axis.  This can be boiled down to three forms: player-exclusive, player-available, and enemy-exclusive.  These are self-explanatory, but it should be noted that player-exclusive status is usually tied to plot abilities, and enemy-exclusive status to specific bosses and the occasional enemy.  This means that most of the status you are going to consider before enumerating skills for PCs will fall into the first two categories.  The lattermost can be considered on a fight by fight basis.

Lastly, a note must be made for parameter-changing effects, that alter common parameters.  While this is its own category and normally not the realm of status, in all RPG Maker iterations between RPG Maker 2000 and RPG Maker VX Ace, all stat-altering effects have had to be expressed through status.  There is nothing stopping this, but if you wish to treat them differently, mentally note the entries you wish to use as such so you don’t end up using them like status.

The last thing to consider is how to remove status.  Unless it is intended to be permanent (which few status that isn’t plot-derived is), there is going to be a removal method depending on the status and the type of game.  Status removal can take one of many forms, which is up to the creator of the game in question as follows:

  • Full Restores: It’s typical to have an inn stay heal all status, including death.  Some games averted this, interestingly enough (Final Fantasy 1 required you to take dead party members to a clinic to be revived, for example, and nothing but a Soft would cure petrification.  Inns were still a good cure-all otherwise, though)
  • Blanket Cure: Some games have a one-stop cure-all for status, be it items or spells.  These vary, but examples thereof can be found in Final Fantasy (Remedy, Esuna), Disgaea (Fairy Dust, Espoir), Epic Battle Fantasy (Garlic, Purify, Cleanse), and Xenogears (Physimentisols)
  • Categorical Cure: Some games lump status into groups, to prevent clutter of restoration methods.  The most obvious example of this is Xenogears (Physisols, Mentsols)
  • Individual Cure: Some games, particularly those with a more oldschool bent, will instead require one stock up on individual status curing items or spells.  To keep management slightly easier, the quantity of status is often reduced.  Examples include older Final Fantasy games, Phantasy Star 4, and anything made by Tri-Ace.
  • Cure by Damage: Some status is cured just by taking damage, or physical damage.  This may be based on chance or a 100% rate, but it is most frequently reserved for Sleep, Confuse, and Charm statuses.
  • Battle Only: Some games have some or more status only persist for the battle it is applied in.  As such, it is automatically cured at the end of the fight.  Epic Battle Fantasy games apply this method, among others.  Pen and paper RPGs tend to avoid this, having a seamless transition between combat and out-of-combat.

And to tie this all together, we will take a look at RPG Maker VX Ace and its default status options.  It has a lot of them, but many of them overlap in one way or another or are used more for mechanics or event flags (Guard and Immortal coming to mind).  Keep in mind that all status chances are very slightly influenced by Luck, though negligibly so in RMVXA’s default settings.

  • Death: Only listed as the “0 HP” status here.  Nothing inflicts it instantly, but it’s got two spells and an item that cure it.
  • Poison: Enemy-exclusive, debilitating-type.  Sufferer takes 10% mHP damage per turn.  Cured by two items (Antidote, Dispel Herb) and two spells (Cure, Cure II).  Only other status than Death that does not self-remove at the end of battle.
  • Blind: PC-available, debilitating-type.  Reduces accuracy by a flat 60% rate.  Does not apply to magic.  Lasts 3-5 turns.
  • Silence:  PC-available, restricting-type.  Disables magic, cured by one item (Dispel Herb) and one spell (Cure II).  Lasts 3-5 turns.
  • Confusion: Enemy-exclusive, control-type.  Character targets random ally or enemy.  Cured by item, spell, or damage (50% rate).  Lasts 2-4 turns.
  • Sleep, Paralysis: PC-available, combination disabling/debilitating-type.  Character will not act and cannot evade.  Cured by item, spell, or damage (100% rate, Sleep only).  Lasts 3-5 turns for sleep, 4-6 turns for Paralysis.
  • Stun: PC-available, disabling-type.  Character will not act.  No cure.  Lasts 1-2 turns.
  • Cover: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character will take attacks for weaker party members.
  • Provoke, Hide: PC-exclusive, control-type.  Character is 10x/10% as likely to be targeted by enemies.
  • HP Regen, MP Regen: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character regains 10% HP/MP per turn.
  • TP Regen: Unused status.  Character regains 10% TP per turn.
  • Ironbody: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character takes 10% as much damage from physical attacks per turn.
  • Counterattack, Magic Evade, Magic Reflect: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character has a 100% chance to counterattack physicals/evade magic/reflect magic.
  • Fire Force, Ice Force, Thunder Force: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character’s element becomes fire/ice/thunder, gains 50% resistance to fire/ice/thunder, gains 10% ATK.
  • Ailment Guard: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character becomes immune to Poison, Blind, Silence, Confusion, Sleep, Paralysis, and Stun.
  • MP Cost Down: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character’s MP costs become 1/4 of their normal value.

As one can see there, there is a very heavy weight of PC-exclusive statuses to the other types.  This is most likely to show off the mechanical features of VX Ace, but it is one of the more unusual cases.  Cutting out the latter half, which are relegated to skills that will rarely see use due to VX Ace’s TP setup, PCs get access to similar status in general, with enemies gaining poison and confusion exclusively, leaving five common status effects between PCs and enemies.  Two of these are off of TP skills (Stun at 30%, Blind at 50% but multitarget), and the other three are split between two characters, with only one instance of a status being shared between two characters(between the defaults, .  This looks like specialization, but an excess thereof.  Adding to that those with notable on-demand (read, not TP-based) statbuffs,   Simply put, offensive variety is lacking–and if you include statdowns, it only adds another character to those with offensive options other than “damage”.  Summing it up, RMVXA defaults are bad, do not need to restate this in detail.

Quiz1Quiz4Quiz2example4example5

Most of the indirect offense in the game?  On these five.  On three in particular.  Guess which ones.

With that out of the way, we can get to one of the fun parts: laying out the varied statuses available.  I’m going to leave out parameter modifiers on the basis that they’re different enough and we can assume they’ll exist in some way, shape, or form.  Keep in mind that this is going to be a tentative list, so it will be subject to change, and not cover individual player-exclusive cases.  How much of this will remain depends on how the player skillsets turn out, to be precise.  Furthermore, I will be categorizing statuses into physical and mental categories, so to make restoration cleaner.  But anyway, without further ado:

  • Death: Yeah, it’s here too.  Instant death effects do exist, at that, though in this case I’m tempted to make it so that it either ends at the end of battle, or force resource expenditure on out-of-combat revival items.  In-combat revival is going to be harder to get a hold of by comparison.
  • Poison: debating a higher amount of MHP damage than usual for the normal case for PCs: 23% mHP per turn.  There will be multiple versions to make it viable against stronger enemies without it being overpowering–12% and 4% damage versions that piggyback on PC skills and allow it to continue being a useful investment.  In essence it’d be three statuses, but the general idea is the same: player-available debilitating-type, damage per turn.  Persists outside of battle (testing permitting), physical status.
  • Stun: Player-available, disabling status, lasts until next action.  This is basically a way to remove the target’s next action.  No cure possible.
  • Sealed: Player-available, restricting status, disables magic use (but not physical ability use).  Mental status.
  • Crest Sealed: Enemy/plot-exclusive, restricting status, disables magic from sigil crests (and only sigil crests–innate magic is not affected) Mental/Plot status.
  • Disabled: Player-available, restricting status, disables physical attacks and physical techniques.  Physical status.
  • Daunted: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, decreases target’s Exceed to 0 next turn.  Mental status.
  • Fatigued: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, target’s Stamina decreases by 10%  per turn.  Mental status
  • Sickened: Player-available, debilitating status, target does not benefit from healing.  Physical status.
  • Enraged: Player-available, control status, fixes on AI control, and disables Defend for players.  Varied AI effects for enemies.  Mental status.
  • Bound: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, target cannot evade or counterattack.  Physical status.
  • [Element] Imbued: Player-available status, enhancement status, target’s weapon attacks become [element], gains 50% resistance and 50% weakness pertaining to [element]’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Blind: Player-available, debilitating status, reduces target accuracy by 40%.  Physical status.
  • Sleep: Player-available, disabling status, target cannot act until battle end, cured, or hit.  Mental status.
  • Paralysis: Player-available, disabling status, target cannot act until cured or status ends.  Physical status.
  • Unlucky: Enemy-exclusive status, debilitating status, reduces target critical rate and critical evasion by 100%.  Mental status.

This isn’t all of the status effects I can think of, but it’s definitely a large sampling, and a starting point.  Of course, as a tentative list, it’s to my advantage that while I can build around it, I do not necessarily have to stick to it, and may in fact change it as necessary, most likely during skillset evaluation when it will most definitely stand to be pared down.  As it stands, this is more than enough on the subject for now.  Status is quite a useful tool to vary the offensive options in a game, but care must be used in its implementation.  This has been another post of Gratuitous JRPG, and this is Epic Alphonse, signing out until next time.

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Posted June 10, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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