Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part 1)   2 comments

Welcome to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last time, we covered a large deal about world creation, and the principles of flavor, pathing, and gating.  In addition, the game in production was given another layer of fleshing out with a bit of worldbuilding and history.  This week, however, we are covering another multipart topic, and beginning to assemble the mechanical parts that will comprise the game’s base, starting with the very important matter of skillsets.

It is notable that a large number of RPG characters are very well-defined in what they can do.  In technicality, however, a RPG does not necessarily need its characters to have any skillset.  Fire Emblem is a very notable case of a series that has largely gone that route with some notable exceptions(Nailah from FE10 has a petrification ability, and Laguz from the Tellius set with their transformations count overall for active skillsets).  However, it is worth remembering that the Fire Emblem games are Strategy RPGs, and can largely get away with that simplification more than others due to the increased number of variables.  Most other games are going to want proper skillsets for their characters, however, and this is where skill building will come in.

To best understand skillset building, it would be prudent first to cover the varied types of skills out there.  The majority of these skills fall into one of a few categories: Offense, Recovery, and Support.  These supercategories can be further broken up, but it is more notable that all three of these categories have overlap with one another, and in theory it is possible for a skill to cover all three of these.  However, in most games, a majority of these abilities will fall under one of these categories, rather than two or three of them, with one or two exceptions.  Such an example is the classic lifedrain spell, which is combination offense/recovery–damage to the target, and healing to the user.  However, to clarify what I essentially mean here, I will be going into each category below.

Offense, the first category, can be defined as “skills that inflict a negative effect upon the enemy”.  This has five subtypes that can be mixed and matched as need be.  The first is the most obvious: Direct damage.  Your basic attack will do direct damage.  The commonly-recognized offensive spells will do direct damage.  Direct damage is the most recognizable because it is what the player will traditionally associate with offense–directly subtracting from the enemy’s HP until they are dead.  It’s also the most basic form of offense, frequently running off of your offensive stats and defended against by the enemy’s defensive stats–though exceptions are plentiful to say the least.  The second type of offense is negative status, which can be broken down into its components mentioned earlier–incapacitating, restricting, control, and debilitating, though special mention must go to permanently incapacitating status (Instant Death and/or Petrify in most games) and damage-over-time status (poison) as they have an argument for their own niches within this.  The third type is resource damage, and is frequently derided by players in numerous games, regarded as an annoyance at most and useless at the least.  This has a twofold cause–popular RPGs frequently making resource recovery readily available (see, again, Final Fantasy and Ethers, Elixirs, and Tents) making it an annoyance at most on the enemy end, and a low frequency of resources as an enemy concern making it seem useless on the player end barring a resource absorption ability.  The fourth subtype is negative statistical modifiers–weakening the enemy to allow a better strength , so to speak.  Last covered on this is dispelling effects, removing positive effects from an enemy–while this is normally not seen as offense, it serves a similar purpose and fits under here more than anywhere else.

Recovery, the second category, can be defined as “skills that remove a negative effect from oneself”.  Similar to offense, this has multiple subtypes within it, largely a mirror of Offense in this case.  The first subtype of recovery is direct healing–again, the traditionally-seen version of this.  It removes damage (the negative effect) by restoring HP to a target.  Similarly, resource healing–a category normally seen only with items–is present, and typically taken for granted due to availability.  Revival is a special case of restoration, as a permanently incapacitated (usually dead, though sometimes petrified) character usually exists outside of status and healing, requiring special means to recover from.  Notably, some games do avert this (SaGa series games are notable in this–all healing doubles as revival).  This is typically separate from the fourth category, status recovery.  Once more glossed over due to an abundance of readily-available blanket status cures (or less than effective status) in many cases.  The last category of recovery is statistical modifier recovery–the removal of negative statistical modifiers from oneself or allies.  While status and statistical modifiers can be lumped together, they are frequently enough handled differently that they deserve to be treated separately in this case.

The last major category, the Support category, can be defined as “skills that bestow a positive effect upon oneself”.  A much narrower category than the rest, this can be easily divided into two subtypes: positive status and positive statistical modifiers.  The former may notably cross over into the recovery category in two common cases, however–regenration and auto-revival statuses.  Both of these are status that give a healing effect, and so may be tempting to place into the Recovery category, but since they are placed ahead of time and considered a beneficial effect as opposed to directly removing a negative effect, they fall into the rest of the Support statuses.

Lastly, there are miscellaneous abilities, which can in turn be grouped into three general types.  The first are acquisition abilities, such as stealing.  This often spends one or more turns’ worth of time to acquire more money and item resources, some of which may in fact be equipment.  These tend to get a bad reputation, once again, due to the popular examples being particularly ineffective outside of acquisition, more often than not.  (Examples include many thief characters, including Locke in FF6, Shilka/Shir in Phantasy Star 2, and the Thief jobs in FF5 and FFT).  The second are transportation abilities, exemplified in Phantasy Star’s Hinas and Ryuka techniques–the former teleports you outside of the dungeon you are in, the latter teleports you to your choice of town.  These are often for player convenience–except when they are out of resources to begin with, though this often comes in item form.  Lastly comes utility abilities–these abilities sometimes have use in combat, but frequently exist for out-of-combat uses instead.  The best example of this is the set of HM abilities in Pokemon, being usable in combat but more notable for their out-of-combat benefits of unlocking tool gates, but most of these only serve as the aforementioned tools for unlocking said gates and nothing more (Music in Phantasy Star 2).

Now, of all the skill categories, a good number of games will dip into the first three large categories, and if desired possibly into the fourth.  Within these, however, most of the offense and recovery abilities will be of the direct variety, with some allowance for the rest.  More poorly-designed JRPGs (not accounting for SRPGs because a good deal of those factor in matters such as area of effect, range, and the like) will have its only notably effective options be direct damage and direct healing.  How one goes about selecting their abilities for their game depends, but the lazy option of going largely on damage and healing is not a recommended one.

Before covering my own game, I would like to take a second to go into the matter of the choice of player-usable skill names.  While this may appear to be a purely aesthetic choice, the reality is that this will elicit some reactions from your playerbase in one manner or another, and affect opinions slightly.  Names themselves largely come in five varieties–the first being what I would call full utilitarian.  Anyone who has seen early Final Fantasy games with spell selections of “Fire, Fire 2, Fire 3” knows what I’m talking about–no explanation required..  In fact, the default spells work this way as well.  The problem with this method is that many will find it boring, and some will be drawn towards the few attacks and spells that don’t have this sort of naming because they’re that different.  And to the ten-year-old in us that played Final Fantasy 7 for the first time, we all know that Contain had to be an awesome materia because its spells did not fit the pattern of the rest of the game’s attack spells.  Same for Shadow Flare, and so on.  The Wild ARMs series among others does it less blandly to a degree, with only two “levels”, the second being prefixed with ‘Hi-‘ than suffixed with a number, though “Cremate” is more evocative than “Fire”.  Rule of thumb, utilitarian numbers in ability names are boring.

The second variety of ability names can be described as flavored utilitarian.  The primary difference between this and full utilitarian is that you largely do not use a number or flat power descriptor to denote a higher-rank spell in sequence, but instead some variation in the name, usually with higher-level spells denoted by more impressive-sounding names.  For example, one would imply that “Crematorium” is a higher-level, more powerful skill than “Flame Shot”–both being possessed by Lemina in the Saturn and PSX remakes of Lunar:Eternal Blue.  This is perhaps one of the more frequently-appearing skill naming conventions in JRPGs.

The third type of ability names, heavily flavored, tend to be a type used more frequently in Western RPGs than eastern games.  This is differentiated from flavored utilitarian in that it will frequently incorporate names of places, characters (old, dead ones, frequently), and in-setting divinity.  Naturally, this one needs to be used with care since overuse will only result in the name-dropping looking silly at best, and overly self-indulgent on the creator’s part in the worst cases.  There is also the risk that the flavor can obscure exactly what the ability was meant to do, though one can usually discern the very general purposes of it–I recommend if anyone goes this route that they start investing in good tooltips.

The fourth ability name type is what I’d call a patterned esoteric naming convention.  This is to say, that the ability names just sound out there and don’t indicate anything on their own, but there is a pattern frequently used to denote higher-rank abilities and the like.  This is most evident in both Phantasy Star and the Shin Megami Tensei series (for PS, it’s all in prefixes.  Gi- is a level 2 spell, Na- is a level 3 spell, and Sa- indicates multitarget.  SMT instead uses suffixes for level and prefixes for targeting, with the Level 2 suffix depending on the element (or -On for light/dark), -Dyne for Level 3 of standard elements, ma- as a prefix for multitarget, and several other quirks).  Some people level complaints at how it’s not readily apparent what does what, though patterns are frequently learned faster than its detractors would state.  It might be effective still to invest in good tooltips at this point if you do not want to require experimentation.


This is a large set of techniques.  And he’s still got two more to learn.  Keep in mind that PS4 had to work around a five-character limit for techniques, eight for skills, and four for character names.

The last ability naming convention is full esoteric, or what some would call non-indicative.  This overlaps with the third type in places, except some names you cannot discern any use from without tooltips and it typically does not need to reference the in-universe lore.  While this may occur more frequently in boss attack names (where bosses do not need to know what the attack does to use it, obviously), the other game it appears frequently in is Labyrinth of Touhou, which…let’s just let the picture speak for itself.  The game gets by on this by having effective tooltips, as an aside, and that the spells frequently reference spellcards in the Touhou games themselves.


One of these four spells is a heal, another is a defensive buff, and the other two are damage spells.  Damnit Minoriko.

Ability naming conventions aside, I feel it’s now time to start taking a look at the skillsets for my own game.  As stated before, I’m using a half-template system, and to follow my own advice from earlier about not making the template skills overshadow the non-template skills (that which isn’t unique versus what is), I feel it would be best to cover the Sigil Crest skills–the template portion–first.  For how Sigil Crests work in-game, they are items that each PC can equip two of that give minor statistical boosts and a small selection of spells.  For now, I’m just going to cover the three basic spells anyone gets when using one–Exceed skills and High Arcana can be covered a bit later, as those are more in-depth and special.  There are sixteen Sigil Crests, three for each element and one non-elemental (or “Void”) one, and each has its own set of spells.  Statistical buffing spells happen along the crest’s own element, while debuffs happen along the destructive cycle.  Keeping this in mind, and that numbers haven’t been placed yet, the set of Sigil Crest general spells is as such:

  • Glorious Blaze [Fire, +5% POW/WIL]: Empower (Support: boosts single ally’s Power), Ignis Blaster (Offense: single-target fire attack spell), Ignis Saber (Support: Imbue[Fire] to one ally.)
  • Consuming Wildfire [Fire, +5% POW/Critical rate]: Ignis Blaze (Offense: random-target fire attack spell), Armor Ruin (Offense: lowers single target’s ARM), Charge (Support: boosts self POW for next attack)
  • Burning Resolve [Fire, +5% WIL/Critical Rate]: Willpower (Support, boosts one ally’s WIL), Weapon Ruin (Offense: lowers single target’s PEN), Revive (Recovery, revives an incapacitated target with a small amount of health)
  • Tranquil Sea [Water, +5% Max Stamina/Magic Evade]: Aqua Pressure (Offense: single-target water-element attack spell, hits target PDEF instead of MDEF), Seal (Offense: inflicts Sealed on one enemy), Acuity (Support: boosts one ally’s MNT)
  • Winter’s Stasis [Water, +5% Max Stamina/MNT]: Chill (Offense: reduces target’s POW), Freeze Crack (Offense: single-target water-element attack spell), Freeze Saber (Support: Imbue[Water] to one ally)
  • Eternal Rainfall [Water, +5% Magic Evade/MNT]: Erosion (Offense: reduces target’s WIL), Cleanse (Recovery: cures physical status), Haze (Support: raises target magic evade)
  • Fleeting Breeze [Wood, Counter rate+5%, Evasion+5%]: Gust Cutter (Offense: single-target Wood-element attack spell, low penetration), Turbulence (Support: raises ally EVA], Unburden (Recovery: removes negative statistical modifiers from the target, also removes Imbue)
  • Thunder Flash [Wood, Counter rate+5%, FOC+5%]: Spark Burst (Offense, single-target Wood-element attack spell, high penetration), Flash (Support: raises ally FOC), Soul Breaker (Offense: raises(worsens) target Magic Armor Factor)
  • Verdant Growth [Wood, Evasion+5%, FOC+5%]: Regenerator (Support: adds Regeneration status to an ally), Venom Saber (Support: Imbue[Wood] to one ally), Soma Breaker (Offense: raises(worsens) target Armor Factor)
  • Unstoppable Blade [Metal, PEN+5%, ARM+5%]: Sharpen (Support: raises target PEN), Iron Saber (Support: Imbue[Metal] to one ally), Clarify (Recovery: cures mental status)
  • Unyielding Steel [Metal, ARM+5%, 5% Reflect rate]: Reinforce (Support: raises target ARM), Hold (Offense: lowers target evasion), Bind (Offense: inflicts “Disabled” status to one target)
  • Silver Mirror [Metal, PEN+5%, 5% Reflect rate]: Lucent Lance (Offense: single-target Metal-element attack spell, cannot be reflected or dodged and not subject to Magic Armor Factor), Dazzle (Offense: lowers target FOC), Reflector (Support: raises target Reflect rate)
  • Flowing Sand [Earth, Magic Armor Factor 95, Max HP+5%]: Wrack (Offense: single-target Earth-element attack spell, deals ST damage instead of HP), Lock (Offense: lowers target Magic Evade), Daunt (Offense: lowers target MNT)
  • Immovable Mountain [Earth, Armor Factor 95, Magic Armor Factor 95]: Soma Guard (Support: lowers(improves) target Armor Factor), Soul Guard (Support: lowers(improves) target Magic Armor Factor), Obscure (Offense: inflicts Blind to one enemy)
  • Grand Earth [Earth, Armor Factor 95, Max HP+5%]: Restore (Recovery: HP healing to a single target), Shockwave (Offense: single-target Earth element attack spell, subject to Evade and Armor Factor instead of Magic Evade and Magic Armor Factor, cannot be reflected but can be countered), Stone Saber (Support: Imbue[Earth] to one ally)
  • Ephemeron [Void, no bonuses]: Disintegrate (Offense: non-elemental attack spell, ignores target WIL), Vanisher (Support: greatly reduces caster’s chances of being targeted by single-target attacks), Emptiness (Offense: dispels positive effects from enemy)

As you can see, skillsets in games can easily get massive, and simply with the spells anyone can get from Sigil Crests, there is already a large amount of variety.  Furthermore, these spells can be used as a generic “common pool” for enemies, reducing the need for effort in the future when it comes down to enemy skillset construction.  But that is a later point for a later time.  As for now, this concludes Part One of this extended entry.  This is Epic Alphonse, signing out.


Posted July 1, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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2 responses to “Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part 1)

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  1. I find it interesting also when a game’s skill-naming scheme changes in localization (which is actually a highly frequent occurrence), for example: Final Fantasy pre-VIII went from patterned esoteric to full utilitarian in localization; NES-era Dragon Quest games went from patterned esoteric to flavored utilitarian. Modern Dragon Quest games keep some of the patterned esoteric (example: Frizz-Frizzle-Kafrizzle) while changing other things to something not unlike flavored utilitarian (Heal-Midheal-Fullheal).

    I can’t actually think of any games other than Labyrinth of Touhou that go full esoteric; even the likes of classic Wizardry is, at worst, somewhere in between patterned esoteric and full. Some of Wizardry’s spells do go full esoteric, but only for not existing in a series at all. One thing that _is_ notable to me with Wizardry’s spell esoterica is that the patterns aren’t entirely consistent, though, especially if comparing attack spells to support spells or the like. Wizardry’s general pattern seems to be that ma- and la- prefixes indicate increasing tiers of AoE damage; ba- sometimes indicates a reversed version of a beneficial spell (e.g. Dios is the basic healing spell, Badios is a priest attack spell that does exactly the same amount of damage that Dios heals) but sometimes it’s a potency prefix as well (Matu is a priest spell that makes the party more evasive, and Bamatu is a higher level version with twice the effect).

    I’d also note that flavored utilitarian is really common in WRPGs as well, in fact I’d say it might be more common than heavily flavored these days. This might actually have more than a little to do with the fact that when Wizards of the Coast released the core D&D spell list under the OGL, they converted the whole thing from a mixture of flavored utilitarian and heavily flavored to purely flavored utilitarian (dropping eponyms from spells especially, since the characters they were named after were not open content).

  2. Yeah, localization does have a tendency to do that frequently, when all is said and done. Usually due to character limits (FF4 is an example–I’m pretty sure it had a 5-character limit on attack names, which means you had Meteo rather than Meteor, and Fire/Fire2/Fire3 rather than Fire/Fira/Firaga. Of course, convention (the only previous FF game had Fire/Fire2/Fire3) and possibly an attempt to not sound funny (let’s admit. “Firaga” or “Thundaga” would’ve sounded silly to us back then.) Though I suppose the other major Full Utility I can think of would be the Shining series (“Blaze Lv. 3”, “Bolt Lv. 4”, and so on)

    And while LoT may be the only full esoteric that we know of, it may not be the only full esoteric. And sometimes skill names come up as pretty cryptic anyway (how are we supposed to know, for example, that Godless in SaGa Frontier is a counter from the name? But then again, SaGa).

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