Archive for the ‘Plot’ Tag

The Structural Architecture of JRPG plot   Leave a comment

Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  I would like to first give an apology to everyone for this post being four days late; Issues at home aside, I have been distracted by this year’s Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta charity run ( http://www.letsplaying.com/FF5FF/ ).  If you have some free time and a way to play FF5, I encourage you to join in.  You do not need to make a pledge to play, simply sign up for the challenge and try your best to complete it.  It’s great fun and helps out a good cause.  With that out of the way, last week we covered the wide, wide world of status effects, picked apart the RMVXA default effects and enumerated some of our own.  And now, my game design thoughts have gone back to the angle of plot, and with it, the common patterns of plot in JRPGs.

As has been stated previously, plot is a constant in RPGs.  It’s what largely drives the characters to action.  However, what form this plot takes can and may vary, and even without accounting for this variance, will typically allow for more fights to be covered than a standard novel or show–as to facilitate mechanical character growth, and in turn the acquisition of new abilities and equipment.  It similarly has to facilitate the gameflow of the particular game, be it the town-to-overworld-to-dungeon-to-overworld-to-town cycle, the much more linear pattern that a lot of Final Fantasy 13 likes to take, the open-world format of WRPGs, or anything in between.  But this facilitation can come in one of many forms.

The first, and simplest form of this are what I like to call Objective-Based Plots, and what some may call “Excuse Plots”.  These are the oldest form of RPG plots, belonging to such titles as the first Dragon Warrior.  While each game has an objective, these games have the plot literally be the objective.  The plot is there, but it’s laid out at the beginning, often with little character interaction or the like (because frequently they are single-character RPGs!).  This is the RPG equivalent of prefacing your game with “The president has been kidnapped by ninjas!  Are you a bad enough dude to save the President?”  Aside from older games (Dragon Warrior, Shining in the Darkness), the only games to pull this plot now are dungeon-crawlers and roguelikes.

WhatPlot

The Evil Emperor has kidnapped the chancellor!  Are you a bad enough knight to save him?

The next form of plot for RPGs is a World-Based Plot, which is a whole different beast from the other plot types.  World-based plots are largely more episodic in nature, with the PCs acting more in the capacity of wandering heroes going from town to town, running into the local problem of the village and solving it, before moving on.  What drives them to wander from town to town might be present, but the formula is present.  Usually around the end, a major plot arc will spring up to try and retroactively tie the matters together, but a majority of the game is built around the episodic format.  This does nicely fit the town-overworld-dungeon-overworld-town pattern, but can result in things feeling disconnected. Games involving this sort of plot aren’t common to my knowledge, though I have heard a number of the Dragon Quest games among others use this sort of plot structure.

WorldBased

Tune in next episode!  Same JRPG time, same JRPG day!

Following that is the basic arc-styled format, what I simply call a Single-Arc Plot.  The plot stays about the same arc and topic the entire time, though it may have its twists and turns involved.  In general, no new major enemies will show up, there will be no “Man behind the man”, and so on.  As a result of this, these tend to belong to shorter games, as it is much more difficult to keep a plot focused on a single arc in a longer-running game.  An example of this includes Shining Force 1; you’re constantly fighting the forces of Runefaust, and by extension Darksol, with no real change from this focus.

SingleArc

Pretty much the simplest possible.  Don’t expect too many surprises here.

The first of the more complicated common formats is the Switching-Arc Plot–defined by having the arc switch heavily based on events.  The simplest variance of this is the Man Behind the Man scenario, or for those not fluent in tropespeak, setting up one character as the primary villain before eventually revealing that there is yet another higher villain controlling that villain’s actions.  This is frequently done as a means by which to extend games, so it is advisable to be careful when attempting to write with this plot structure.  Furthermore, for this to have a worthwhile effect, it has to be executed roughly around the normal arc’s height.  A large number of games decide to pull this more as a means by which to have a more graphically impressive final battle, however.  For examples of this, look no farther than Final Fantasy 4.  Looking right at you, Zemus.

SwitchingArcOkay DamnitZemus

On the left: the flow of a more well-pulled-off change-up flow.  On the right…oh damnit Zemus, what the hell are you doing here?

The last major formula that will be given a look-over is the Compound-Arc Plot.  This is another tricky form of plot that requires a notable use of introductions and foreshadowing.  What typically goes on here is that sometime in the middle of the initial plot, there will be the hints of a second plot arc coming to rise, often with a part that previews the focus of that.  As the first arc starts to come to a conclusion, the second arc overtakes it and continues the action of the plot.  This is unlike the switching-arc plot insofar that the first arc is not suddenly invalidated by this, as much as gets overtaken in its resolution.  This is frequently done with starter villain arcs, such as in Tales of Graces F–halfway through the second to last dungeon in the first major arc, hints at the second arc start showing up more and more–albeit as a result of events in the first arc.  Of the arcs here, this takes the most pre-planning to work into the story without it feeling like two separate plots, so care is needed once more.  Of course, this also happens to be the plot format I’m using.

CompoundArc

They’re totally not seeing the second one coming (okay, they are.  Foreshadowing and the feeling the game is way too short otherwise.)

With the basic plot formats out of the way, it would be nice to take a look at what matter of plot structure is largely needed for a JRPG.  The most important factor of plot is that it has to tie in any towns, dungeons, and possible overworld segments to the world.  As such, when developing a plot skeleton, you are going to need to place room for several kinds of genre features as follows:

  • Dungeons: Every RPG’s going to have at least one area that can be qualified as a “dungeon” of some sort.  By dungeon, I mean a defined area in the game that typically has a desired endpoint to access, more difficult enemies than anything in the surrounding overworld, an inability to save, and must be completed to progress through the game.  These areas do not have to be literal dungeons, of course, but the point is that you will need a few of these for your game assuming it is not a Strategy RPG, and it would be best to account for them in your writing along the way.
  • Bosses: Any story with fighting will need its climactic battles.  And being a video game, your bosses are going to need to be an entertaining fight.  While gameplay supporting plot is helpful, in this case it would be better to work around the other way, have plot support gameplay.  A sidenote at this point, is that while it may be realistic for some bossfights to take little longer than normal fights (particularly against human enemies), but for the sake of a more interesting battle, it’s encouraged to segregate plot from the gameplay for the sake of a more entertaining conflict.
  • Towns: Towns, cities, castles, and the like are the typical safe points in RPGs.  They’re usually the checkpoints along the plot, where you can stop, restore your characters, take a break from the game (assuming this is a game without fixed randoms, limited randoms, or a save-anywhere feature).  However, towns are a bit of a tricky matter to handle, since it is perfectly within reason to have one or two out-of-the-way towns that have no plot relevance whatsoever.  Typically these are going to be either a base for an optional dungeon, or a place at which the player can obtain things they normally would not be able to at the first point they can access it.  The ones that aren’t irrelevant, however, are good places to set up plot direction and chances to interact with NPCs outside of plot cutscenes.
  • Shops: While it normally comes with towns, it’s worth noting that your plot should account for the ability to go to the side and buy things from shops.  And even a game where every playable part is linear like Final Fantasy 13 found a way to integrate shops.  The main point is that it is generally desirable to have a way to upgrade equipment, buy items, or otherwise have a way to manually advance your character outside of leveling from combat.
  • Exploration: This one is optional for some formats (IE: those doing a more superlinear or “streamlined” game), but this is more an advisement for those who are using a more traditional format to have room for out-of-the-way stuff.  By which I mean optional dungeons, out-of-the-way towns, and the like.  They don’t need to be covered by plot, but offer something for going off the beaten path on the overworld.

Keeping this in mind, I feel it is about time to start with the formation of my own game’s plot as I have it so far into a more proper plot “skeleton”.  This is only going to be partly finished, of course, but the point is to illustrate how plot should be organized alongside gameflow.  So without further ado:

  • GAME START — because the game has to start somewhere.
  • Story starts with Leo and Friederich arriving at a village under attack by a gang of bandits.  Knights were called for to help out here, and Friederich was the nearest one there so he got sent.  And so we start with an intro [Dungeon].  I was tempted to have it start at Zeisrell’s capital, but then decided that’d be a bit too slow and I wanted to plunge the player right into the action.  It worked for more than a few games already, it works here, and Zeisrell’s capital’s going to be visitable soon enough anyway.
  • Halfway through or so, we’ll have a [Midboss] of sorts–probably some bandit lieutenant with some non-trivial backup.  Once he’s beaten he’ll set off a bomb to blast down something (either a building, rock, or a tree.  It’s big and path-blocking), separating Leo from Friederich.  He’ll be on his own until he runs into Renaud, here in part because the village hired him, and in part because he’s certain he can loot something from the bandits he takes down.
  • Continue dungeon until meeting the bandit gang’s leader, our first [Boss].  Upon beating him, Renaud notices the knights are coming and flees–noting that any loot not taken directly from the village that belonged to the bandits will be claimed as the kingdom’s money.  Not wanting to go to jail, he exits stage left.  Leaving Leo there alone, and the impression that he beat down the bandit leader solo.  Surprised (albeit a bit suspicious), Friederich decides this at least looks worthy of promotion from squire to knight–be it he got some help from presumably a nearby guard or not.
  • Cut to Zeisrell Castle, at the end of the knighting ceremony.  At this point, Leo is on his own and can freely explore the castle and attached city.  He can’t leave yet but he can talk to varied NPCs (worldbuilding funtimes).  When he walks into the knight commander’s office, though, he gets his first mission, complete with “Good timing, we need you for something.”
  • The Southwestern Archives have been under attack by an unknown person, and the local forces haven’t been able to get to them.  However, since Leo has little in the way of magical ability or knowledge himself and the Archives are loaded with spelltraps and wards and the like, the captain requisitioned someone from the Zeisrell Magic College to come along–and enter Alexis, who was unanimously volunteered.  And totally not picked as an excuse to get him out of there and stop being such an insufferable nuisance.  Introduce Sigil Crests and how to use them here, by the way.
  • With Alexis having joined up, the two may leave the castle and city.  If the player wishes to go out of the way, they may return to the village they saved earlier [Town], or head out directly for the Archives.  Entering the Archives, it’s another [Dungeon].  Halfway through the two encounter someone else–the eighth PC who I’ve decided to name Azalea, who has gone in on her own for reason she refuses to disclose.  She’ll be covered in a bit after this.
  • Further traveling into the dungeon with Azalea in tow, they eventually run into the actual culprit (note to self, flesh this guy out later), who fights the party briefly before bringing in a golem to act as a distraction as he leaves [Bosses.  Well, sequential boss].  As he leaves, he takes a tome with him–one that’s valuable historically (and kept there), but not well-understood by anyone who was on-site.  Azalea leaves, to track down the thief as the other two head out to report their failure.
  • Upon their return, however, it seems like their report is delayed in the light of a tournament of arms starting up–with the rewards of a “great quest” and the Princess’ hand in marriage pending on the success of said quest.  Impulsively, choosing to prove he’s as awesome as he thinks he is alongside wanting to accomplish that heroic fantasy in his head.
  • Following the announcement at the tournament’s commencement, cut to a scene where the princess, Caecilia, is raising her objections to her ill and bedridden father–who brings up that one of the kingdom’s generals came up with the idea to begin with.  (note to self, name and come up with a profile for this guy as well).  She goes off to contest the matter with said general.
  • Back to Leo, he gets to have his own nice little Tournament Arc while Alexis is off explaining the failed mission with the commander.  Not quite a dungeon, but it’s a chain of fights.  Regardless, plot requires him to win this set, though he can restore his HP (not his ST) between fights easily enough.
  • With the tournament finished, Leo gets his new assignment–trek far northwest to find the dragon’s lair containing [artifact, need to name this], and return said artifact.  Alexis voices his doubts–they’d be crossing Zeisrell borders into another country–but the general quashes those doubts.  Once Alexis and Leo leave the capital again, they’re accosted by Renaud–who overheard statements of a quest to kill a dragon and take its hoard.  Which, of course, can be sold for a big profit.  Awesome profit.  He joins up, and our party is back up to three.
  • Traveling northwest, it’s pointed out that the border crossing is…difficult to say the least, since [other country] isn’t too accomodating to outsiders.  Renaud points out a way past the border, though it’s via a dangerous mountain pass. [Dungeon].
  • Moving west and exiting the pass, the three move out into the open again.  [reserve some of southwest overworld for later.]  When they head north, they’ll happen upon a mining [Town] situated in front of the northern mountain path.
  • Turns out the path is the only way to get up to the desired location, but it’s been closed off because of a notably bad drake problem.  And naturally, pulling status won’t work, there’s nowhere to sneak by.  With this, the party may then head to the bar to discuss the situation.  Overhearing the discussion there is Valeska, who is about to go on the drake-slaying herself.  Overhearing the discussion, she eventually cuts a deal; she’ll help clear out the drakes, but in exchange, she gets to go along on the dragonslaying job and gets first pick of the hoard if it remains.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  And heaven help them if they try to ditch her on the job.
  • And so the four go into the mines to try and deal with the drake problem [Dungeon].  While this may look like a filler dungeon, it’s actually a way to help introduce Valeska–typically each character is going to get a dungeon to showcase their abilities in one way or another, and this one is no exception.  Some discussion about in-universe stuff happens as well (differences between dragons and drakes, for example), and eventually the party comes upon the drake broodmother, which has made the mines its nest.  [Boss] time!
  • Clearing out the mines, the party then gets to finally move north.  Some side-areas are available here, but going straight up will lead to a climb up another mountain trail [Dungeon].  Coming up to the peak, they finally find what they’ve been looking for for the time–the stated dragon’s lair.  Inside, the party ends up meeting with the owner of the lair–Kiri(she doesn’t give her name yet, of course).  In her high-energy form, and none-too-pleased with what she suspects is another group of people trying to steal what is hers–and after some exchange of words (Alexis attempts to be the voice of reason, but between Leo’s hotheadedness, Renaud’s greed, Valeska’s particular hate for dragons, and Kiri’s own possessiveness, he gets nowhere, fast) the two parties fight. [Major Boss].
  • The fight itself looks to be going to a draw when suddenly a massive surge of magical energy blasts into the room–knocking everyone out and nearly killing Leo and Kiri.  When they come to, Renaud is missing, Kiri in particular notices a few things: she’s in her low-energy (humanoid) form, she feels weak as hell, the artifact that she kept was missing, and her hoard got completely disenchanted.  Naturally, she is furious.  Alexis reveals that to save them both–largely out of panic–he tried using some locked-away magic he studied a bit of when he was at the magic college, binding their lives together.  It saved them–but with the side-effect that if one of them dies, the other does too–and it consumed the charge in all of her hoard in the process.  Kiri ends up butting heads with everyone present, before heading off on her own while the remainder of the party present follows–Leo so he makes sure she doesn’t die (so he doesn’t die), Alexis to continue making sense of things (and because he’s still following Leo), and Valeska so that once this spell gets lifted, she can resume her fight with Kiri.
  • Meanwhile, at the Zeisrell capital, the king’s state has taken a massive turn for the worse, as he lays in bed dying.  Caecilia is by his side, as are Friederich, the general from earlier, another knight (tempted to have had this guy also show up at the tournament earlier for earlier introductions), and several others present.  He gives his last words, intending to give his official endorsement of Caecilia’s rise as queen, but dies before it can be said.  The situation gets harsh as tensions rise between her and the general, before the latter leaves for the time being, and Caecilia orders everyone else out of the room to be alone…

And that’s all I have so far.  Gameplaywise, following that would obviously be another dungeon of some sort to introduce Kiri’s gameplay, and the start of a few plot threads from there.  I feel I’ve only got about the first…third or so of the game done, and there’s already been this much.  There’s already been five dungeons, four bosses (five if you count the tournament sequence as one), and six out of eight PCs introduced so far.  Writing plot out for a RPG can get tough–especially given that I admit I got a bit carried away and wrote more plot than just skeleton form.  It, however, does fit around the varied genre conceits.  I will be honest–plots can get quite long here.

Lastly, since Azalea, who was formerly the Mystery Eighth PC, was revealed, I feel it’s only fitting to use a bit of this post to introduce her character block, both in profile and statistically.  Because this post wasn’t long enough.

Azalea – She’s not giving away who she actually is or where she came from, but what is known about her is that she serves someone she just refers to as her boss.  Her behavior is…unprofessional to say the least, often provoking allies and her employer for the sake of deriving some amusement–something her boss finds themselves notably exasperated about.  Despite this, she displays a surprising amount of competence, when she feels like it at least.

Azalea’s fighting style is different to say the least, gracefully combining her knowledge of swordplay and archery with her magical talents in a manner that is notably similar to but far, far more refined than Kiri’s brute-force approach to fighting.  However, she also does not stake much on taking hits, with her preferred defenses to be either to not get hit at all, or to leave a corpse where an enemy stood.  Her skillset reflects this, with a large variety of physical/magical composite attacks backed up by a selection of spells for when the combined arts don’t work out.

  • HP 1, ST 4, POW 3, ARM 3, PEN 5, MNT 4, WIL 3, FOC 5
  • Equipment: Light Swords, Bows, Light Armor, Hats, Circlets, Foci, Off-hand Daggers, Arrows

And…that’s it.  Next post will be covering the important aspects of worldbuilding and world design with it.  Hopefully on time.  Until then, Epic Alphonse out.

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Posted June 20, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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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.

vennthingy

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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Why we do not Hire Novelists to Write JRPG Plots   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  Last week, we went over the importance of the conceptual phase to a good game, and what to and not to do insofar as brainstorming your JRPG.  And to kick off the concepting phase, I will go over the matter of writing for such a game–which at this point consists of high-level plot and character concepting.  And to kick this off, I’ll be discussing the matter of how writing in RPGs works, since it is most definitely something not covered in any high school english class.

Put simply, writing for a RPG is completely different from writing for a novel, a play, a movie, or even other genres of game.  It’s a new paradigm, and one that I feel hasn’t been too well-explored in comparison.  Particularly in the realm of JRPGs, genre conceits require the writing to conform to these conceits.  These will typically include focus on a single primary viewpoint character, or set of characters, for a majority of the story, exploration sequences that will call upon player resolution for conflicts (navigation, puzzles, and especially battles; plot bosses in particular amount to climactic conflicts), optional player interactions (NPCs, optional areas), and the important element known as plot and gameplay integration, among other elements.  All in all, a different beast from conventional writing, and one not taught in schools, at that.

So where would one manage to find a reference for writing for a JRPG?  The answer lies in the other interactive medium where a small group of defined individuals goes around the world, exploring, fighting, and solving problems: tabletop RPGs.  In particular, on the GMing side.

the_gm_has_had_it-4b8034dcb2b1aa5900e4e0890180a08b

When the guy hasn’t snapped to the point of making their players play ordinary rabbits, anyway.

In fact, this goes back to the original Final Fantasy, which was essentially nothing more than a full-length D&D campaign on the NES.  All of the elements were there from D&D (the way spells were handled was an abstraction on spells/day, for example, the class system was there, the varied monsters largely could be identified if you cross-referenced them with a Monster Manual), and in essence, the game was D&D with the serial numbers filed off.  And as far as writing goes, it’s still the general model for how to write a JRPG.  In its purer forms, this will continue to remain the case.  The only things that have largely gotten added in the process have been character interaction and cutscenes.

So what of this plot and gameplay integration?  Truth be told, this is a finicky subject to work with, and a difficult matter for games to some degree.  This is different from maintaining suspension of disbelief (“don’t have the dude oneshot the other dude in a cutscene when it’d take five hits at minimum to manage that in the following battle”)–integrating plot and gameplay can come in a wide variety of manners, at that, and I will cover this in-depth at a later point, but suffice it to say for now that a good way of achieving this is keeping the plot elements in line with the gameplay elements, or representing gameplay elements within plot.

But speaking of plot, we are back to the process of designing our own JRPG.  Plots can be tricky, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying too hard to be original, or trying to hard to avoid what you feel is cliche.  It’s important to remember that a good story is not good because of its base structure, but because of its execution.  The truth is that every story can have its details stripped away and be boiled down to general components.  In fact, it would be best to start with those general components in a sense–starting at the simple level and working down to the details is the best way to begin on RPG plot creation.  Hope you remembered that notebook, everyone, since it’s time to break it out if you’re creating a game alongside me here.The ideal way of making a RPG plot would be to start from a skeleton, and then flesh it out–and with that you can draw a line from the top of the page to the bottom, to start.  And if you don’t know where to start, put two entries, one at the beginning and one at the end.  Label these exactly that–“Beginning” and “End”, since those are what this, your, and every story that exists will have: a beginning and an end.  It’s an oft-overlooked, but important fact for this, not to be taken for granted.  Once you’re there, feel free to work at high-level concepting of your game’s story.  You don’t have to consider any setting details now on here, nor do you have to think about anything that chronologically happened before the beginning of the game’s story.  These are irrelevant.  Your story starts with where the game starts, and thus prologues can be exempt from this chart entirely.  As can epilogues (barring something like Lunar:Eternal Blue’s where it’s less of an epilogue and more of a denouement of sorts; a final act).

You will probably note that you will come up with characters in the process of making your plot.  This is inevitable in storytelling–a plot and its main characters are always interconnected.  If they aren’t, they’re not the main characters, because the focus of the story is not on them.  You do not need to consider too many details about the characters outside of their relation to the very basic plot at this point in time, but simply acknowledging that they are characters and what characters they are in the story will suffice.

And here I finally start showing off my game’s creation.  For the sake of expediency, I decide to try and start with something very simple, not caring too much about how cliche it may appear at the time being–especially since I care more about finishing the game than impressing a group of literature professors, critics, or couch-critics who bash every JRPG for simply being a JRPG.  As such, the story starts with a knight in the employ of a kingdom going on a quest to slay a dragon in order to try and win over a princess.  Expanding this, I decide to throw in a twist–an outside third party interrupts the fight, nearly killing both the knight and the dragon as they take something that the dragon had in their possession and leave.  Following this, to save them both, the knight and the dragon are only saved by someone binding their lives together via magic, and now if one dies, the other dies.  And thus the two now have to go and find some artifact to undo the enchantment so they can go their separate ways.  In the process, the kingdom the knight served and an empire elsewhere are both attempting to obtain the artifact to their own ends, thus creating the conflict that the two have to get to this artifact before anyone else.

This is a serviceable plot, if bare-bones so far, and it leaves room for detail to be added.  There’s protagonists, antagonists, and several conflicts to be had.  To sum it up in bullet points below:

  • Knight goes on quest to slay dragon, to win the favor of a princess
  • Knight fights dragon
  • Third party interrupts fight, nearly kills knight and dragon, steals item from dragon’s hoard.
  • Knight and dragon have to be saved by someone joining their existences via magic, making it so if one dies, the other dies.
  • The two have to find an artifact to undo this so they can go their separate ways.
  • The knight’s kingdom wants this artifact for their own purposes.
  • There is an empire out there that is also in search of this artifact, again for their own purposes.
  • The two must get this artifact before the others do.

This is by no means a complete plot, and were I to try and make a game from a plot in this state, its plot would be unsalvagable, no matter how much attention I give the gameplay or characters.  But this is easily a starting point for the plot, a jump-off point from which I can do more.  Chances are, any plot you start will go through this state first, no matter how creative the initial points may be–you simply will not have enough detail.  Do not worry, this is simply the first stage of design.  In this, try to look for chances to add characters, since RPGs do tend to have far more notable characters than other games, more often than not.  In the process of creating my plot, there are several people who I can easily pin down as potential or likely characters, listed below:

  • The knight
  • The dragon
  • The princess (I refuse to have a princess who exists only as a reward.  She will be more important, I’m deciding now)
  • One or more people in the third party who disrupts the fight
  • More people in the knight’s kingdom
  • People from the empire

And this is a workable start!  More characters can indeed be added, and indeed must be added, since I can only see two characters who are most definitely PCs at this point (the knight and the dragon).  Your initial list of characters may start to look this way as well; very bare in regards to likely PCs–player characters.  And this is okay, since this lack will be filled in once you start to work on characters in more detail.  However, since the discussion is quickly going the way of characters, I feel it would be ideal to cut off here, and leave the very complex subject of characters to my post next week.  And with this, this is Epic Alphonse, signing off for now and asking you to keep an eye on this next week.  Feel free to work alongside in the process of making your own game, if you so desire.

Posted May 6, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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