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Final Fantasy II and Modern Character Progression Systems - Editorial

InstaTrentInstaTrent OpinionatorRPGamer Staff
edited July 2012 in Latest Updates
New staff writer Trent Seely discusses the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series and the problem with contemporary character and skill progression systems. Is he bringing light to a failing of modern RPGs or is he upset over nothing?

http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2012/072312ts.html
"To tell you the truth, I like drinking tea and eating fresh vegetables, but that doesn't fit with my super-cool attitude. I guess I have to accept this about myself."
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Comments

  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2012
    My only problem with FF2 was the actual lack of 'levels' being used. I know that defeats the purpose of the system, but it's nice to be able to look at a stat and see "Oh, my HP is at the level 3 range (which could be 400 to 800 HP). I think I'll grind it so it's at the level 4 range", or things like that. While the traditional numbers WERE there, in terms of Strength being at 43 and things like that, it was very hard to tell if you were overleveled or underleveled for the battles in FF2. Just having a 'level' number probably would have made people like the game more.
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  • DravDrav A Serious Man Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Article would be improved by replacing all instances of "RPGs" with "Final Fantasy games".
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2012
    ThroneofDravaris said:
    Article would be improved by replacing all instances of "RPGs" with "Final Fantasy games".
    You're saying we don't have instances of failure in any other RPG series? You are either mad or crazy. Meaning you are either General Baal or you're Lezard Valeth. WHICH IS IT!?
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  • LOLOttertardLOLOttertard Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    The editorialist must not have finished FFX, since customization really opens up once the player finishes each character's sphere grid path. Basically, I think the writer is upset over nothing.
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    It's not really customization if you can't do it until the end of the game.

    And I didn't really have a problem with FF2's lack of levels, although it kind of does have levels. I'm pretty sure it would list the current levels of spells and weapon skills and the like. My problem with FF2 was exploits, the fourth character slot, and the difficulty of leveling so many abilities. A lot of them leveled so incredibly slowly. I wanted to use more spells, but I remember putting a lot of time and effort to get one to high levels and it still did pitiful damage. It was a chore and the story wasn't interesting enough to make up for it. Maybe if progression was faster or new spells acquired later on were more powerful from the start, it would have been more fun.

    In other words, there was nothing wrong with the IDEA, but the execution was flawed. Saga Frontier had a very similar system and it works fine.

    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
  • Fowl SorcerousFowl Sorcerous Dread News Editor RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2012
    Simba B said:
    The editorialist must not have finished FFX, since customization really opens up once the player finishes each character's sphere grid path. Basically, I think the writer is upset over nothing.
    It's not really customization when you max out one track and then start slapping stuff from a second class at the end of the game. Customization comes from choices where all options are of comparable value. When you buy a car and they let you decide which interior you'd like and then what colour it is, no one is going to let you get away with saying you customized it.
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2012
    TG Barighm said:
    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
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  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
    Maybe so, but you have to realize Skyrim's progression system is actually more linear than previous Elder Scrolls games (can't make your own spells; limited enchanting options; very obvious directions for what to do next; the cost of some perks is so high it's actually not possible to hybridize effectively until high levels; perk tree system arguably encourages players to stick to specific trees). While Skyrim is still one of the most nonlinear RPGs out there, compared to previous ES games, it is the most linear one yet; thus, it can be argued the addition of a more linear progression system made it MORE popular. I'm not saying that is exactly what happened, nor do I believe that (I think Skyrim's success was the result of a big fanbase being pleased by the first long awaited sequel to actually deliver in an age where so many new entries in major franchises are a disappointment). I'm just saying the comparisons are there and it can be argued that way.
  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2012
    My problem behind the idea of "How you play will determine your character's growth" in FF2 is that it simply doesn't work out too well. The main issue behind all this is that the only impediment to making your characters good in all aspects is time. Granted, I don't remember much about FF2 other than disliking it, so I don't have much room to talk on that subject. Frankly, I think FFX does a better job with the sphere grid, because the time taken to max the entire sphere grid for each character would take far too long than a "normal" playthrough would allow. FF12 on the other hand dropped the ball miserably, as even though the License Board acts as a way to customize each character, you can easily max out the entire thing, or most of the relevant parts, effectively making every character clones of one another with only very minute stat differentials, and no real varied limit breaks that each character had to make them unique in X. 13-2 also screwed up big time, because they never tell the player that leveling a certain class on the larger nodes will yield more stats of that class type than the smaller nodes will. Its especially egregious when you consider you never had to worry about this type of BS in FF13, and largely appears to be the same system at work. 13 to me was perfect, I didn't have to worry about my characters becoming clones of one another. They each had 3 classes they could use effectively, making all of them different while having the option to focus on a role for a given time, but knowing that you'll never screw yourself in the end.
    TG Barighm said:


    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
    I completely agree with what you're saying here, TG. My main problem with with choice based stat and skill customization is that often the player is punished in some way for being asked to respec. It just kills experimentation to me. Why would anyone want to have fun experimenting with abilities if, for example, you need to regain additional levels (Etrian Odyessy) or god for bid not to even have the option to reset entirely, which as you say, is extremely insulting. Then there is the problem with the game not telling you exactly what the mechanics are behind a certain skill or ability. Take Nether Tentacles from Diablo 3, for example, an ability which was "secretly" incredibly powerful because its slow moving properties allowed multiple hits on larger enemies due to how the floating ball worked in dealing damage. How is the player supposed to know it has this additional effect unless they observe it for themselves? Any time you only have 1 short sentence describing what a skill will do, generally the player will be forced to try it out or even look to one of those guys with spreadsheets to determine if the skill has any value rather than being able to do so themselves.

    Viability is also a huge problem. In Devil Survivor, you just weren't creating a very strong MC unless he was devoted to either Strength or Magic with some points being spent in HP. Agility really wasn't needed at all, and if you tried to make a jack of all trades, you simply ended up with a much weaker character by comparison. Looking at Diablo 3 again, the Witch Doctor has so many useless abilities/runes that "comparable value" can hardly even be applied to them. If you're going to make nonlinear progression, there has to be enough decent alternatives to choose from.
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  • scorpio_7scorpio_7 Tactic's Ogre I choose u! Full Members
    edited July 2012
    I find nonlinear character building to be an interesting concept... challenging... and can be very frustrating if you do not know EXACTLY what kind of character you are building.

    If a player does not fully understand the schematics around building their characters... how do you build strength, how do you build HP, how do you build your capacity for magic?... then they may find themselves with a very weak or imbalanced character. Players with a sound understanding on how to build their character, will have the higher advantage.

    I remember ff2 and my frustration when one character would be a really bad weak spot, because for some reason they had a lot of trouble gaining HP, it wasn't until I read online that you should hit your own characters to help speed up the hp-building, that I was able to fix that problem.

    A leveling system keeps players in check and balanced so that all players/characters stand at relative equality in build/power.
  • XR2XR2 Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    One thing I give credit to the Final Fantasy series for is the willingness to try new things. Granted, they don't always work, but at least they try.

    Final Fantasy XIII focused more on the tactics in a battle than the party advancement. Where as games such as Etrian Odyssey focus more on party make-up. Then we have games such as SMT:Nocturne where party makeup and progression change significantly as you recruit and fuze new demons.

    I'd rather a game pick a few areas they like to focus on and do them well, and not try to do every aspect of the game to the Nth degree.

    I know it's been mentioned, but one very valid question is how permanent should advancement be? Can you respec? Can you paint yourself into a corner with a bad build? I like that Diablo III makes the build all about selected skills and equipment, and not about how you spent points on each level up.

    There are also other questions to consider. At what level of skill with the build system should you target the game's difficulty? If you fail at building a good character, should the game become impossible? If you take advantage of a few tricks, can you make the game a breeze? What if a boss requires a skill that you just don't have?

    The character advancement system impacts the entire rest of the game. It doesn't stand alone. I do like games that allow for different builds and different play styles, as they lend themselves to better replay, but they also have to work with the rest of the game.

    Also, can we get rid of the notions of buying skills that do nothing but make buying more skills cheaper? Ugh.
  • ShinseitoriShinseitori Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    At the risk of sounding like Cranky Kong, there's just too much hand-holding in today's gameplay for this kind of free character customization. At some point (probably during the 16-bit era), a JRPG's story-driven gameplay flow took priority over the "adventuring" concept, and it's made waves throughout other genres. Instead, character progression and combat are tweaked just enough to keep things at a certain challenge level while moving the player along.

    I like the idea of building a character from scratch and having full control over development as I progress. Unfortunately, it's quite difficult to blend it well with the campaign. Even one of my favorites, Final Fantasy Tactics, is a bit clunky in this regard.
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  • JitawaJitawa Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    I enjoy the more free-form leveling style of games like SaGa Frontier (or Romancing SaGa... or any of the Gameboy SaGas). There's a random element, but it also tends to make every party you make a little unique in some ways. It's a good thing. For me, the "I got a bit stronger swinging this heavy sword" (but not better at anything else) makes more sense than "I killed my 8th moblin, now I'm level 3 and can cast new spells."

    Also, there's a hilarity factor in making a character super-strong and realizing he's too slow to actually hit anything. In contrast, Dark Souls lets you pick your stats and very slowly increment them by single points (your level mostly reflects cost of the points). The viability of your character has more to do with skill than optimum stats.
  • Rya_ReisenderRya_Reisender Solipsist Snowflake Full Members
    edited July 2012
    The "whatever you do, you will get better at exactly that" leveling system is a brilliant idea. The idea itself is far superior than all other character progression system. Its main advantage is that the game is able to automatically adjust to the player's playing style. The player isn't forced into certain system and doesn't have to play the character exactly have the developer wants him to. Instead he gets a choice and this is awesome.

    Theoretical application: You think the magic system in that RPG sucks and you don't really want to bother with it? No problem, you just never use magic and thus your physical skills will increase a lot, balancing out the disadvantage you get from neglecting a game system.
    This is of course a very general example, but it also works if you go deeper into the details.

    While game design-wise this progression system is perfect, its execution isn't very easy. The system needs to be perfectly balanced but on the same time needs to be so complicated and random that it's impossible for a player to figure it out (which would allow him to just exploit it or even worse, cause him to play in a way to optimize his stats - once a player starts caring about how the system works, it will ruin the improved experience the system offers).

    FF2 is an example where the system isn't executed very well, because it is too easy to figure out that the HP you gain is always "HP lost / 2". So you basically never equip any armor and always try to get damaged as much as possible without dieing.

    SaGaFrontier is a good example of a much better implementation of the system. Here you really won't be able to figure it out easily or at all.

    Back to FF2 - Honestly including "HP" in this system isn't such a good idea anyway. The only reason to gain HP/Def would be if you play the character like a tank. Y'know with taunt and protect skills. Or maybe differentiate between "Def" and "I prefer evading the attacks", by making it depend on how good you can evade (assuming it needs player input to dodge). Making HP/Def gain based on how much you get damaged might be realistic (in real life if you endure much pain, you get used to it much better, your skin will also get harder), but doesn't really work out gameplay-wise.

    Also one more thing I like about this system: It doesn't really limit you like the traditional leveling system. If you want, you can grind out your weak points.

    In the traditional leveling system you either need too much Exp for the next level or just reached max level already anyway. It seems much more limited. Honestly the traditional leveling system doesn't even make much sense, unless the game is designed around grinding and leveling up has a clearly noticable effect. In that sense it's much better executed in WRPGs / Pen&Paper where progression is strongly noticable (as you have access to "too hard" areas from the start and realize how much stronger you got when you come back to them later and just squash those mobs).

    Yep that's pretty much it. :-)
  • CidolfasCidolfas Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    I would say exactly the opposite: it's games where you can't figure out the basics of the system which turn me off this style of leveling. For example, in some games, magic is mostly ineffective; in others, it overpowers physical attributes. What's worse, in many games you don't know this is the case until late in the game (early spells might be pointless but late ones can wreak havoc). Because the games hide their details from you, you are not making an informed decision in your builds. That's why I prefer having leveling be more or less linear, and making the strategy rely on equipment, skill set, party makeup, etc.
  • KiralynKiralyn Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    DarkRPGMaster said:
    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
    Heh. Head on over to the Skyrim forums, and see all the arguments about how unbalanced the game is, how broken the leveling is, etc. ("The game is too easy, even on Master! I just have to level ______, and I can kill everything at level 10!" Meanwhile, people who leveled their skills and spent their perks differently find the game challenging at Adept difficulty. Yeah, there's obviously a player-skill component, given that it's an action-combat game; but how you level up your skills has a huge effect on game balance. The difficulty system really doesn't take into account your build at all.)
    XR2 said:
    I know it's been mentioned, but one very valid question is how permanent should advancement be? Can you respec? Can you paint yourself into a corner with a bad build? I like that Diablo III makes the build all about selected skills and equipment, and not about how you spent points on each level up.
    Hmm. I know that some people like that you can respec at any time, but that was one of the things I found disappointing about D3.... I'm an alt-a-holic. In games with all sorts of varied builds (especially ones where there's less story and more hack/slash/loot), I like to try making new characters, trying different approaches, etc. I'm not one of the people who believes in the "meh, there was no customization anyway - everyone just followed The One True Build from the guides" position. So having infinite total respec (and skills unlocked by level in the same order every time) killed a lot of the replay value of that game - there's no reason to ever make a second character of a class, except for the "level two barbarians/monks/etc to level 60" achievement.


    ------

    Yes, non-linear, "gain skill in what you use", freeform leveling systems are more interesting. I know it's one of the things I enjoy about the Elder Scrolls games. But it really is a great deal harder to balance. Not surprising that most games go for the more regimented approach.
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2012
    Kiralyn said:
    Heh. Head on over to the Skyrim forums, and see all the arguments about how unbalanced the game is, how broken the leveling is, etc. ("The game is too easy, even on Master! I just have to level ______, and I can kill everything at level 10!" Meanwhile, people who leveled their skills and spent their perks differently find the game challenging at Adept difficulty. Yeah, there's obviously a player-skill component, given that it's an action-combat game; but how you level up your skills has a huge effect on game balance. The difficulty system really doesn't take into account your build at all.)
    I think that's what I like about it. I'm playing mostly as a stealth class, with my sneak, lockpicking, light armor, one-handed, blocking, and archery skills being among the highest. I also know smithing to make alot of the lighter sets of armor easier. I must say, I like how challenging this makes the game in terms of surviving. I actually fight creatures often where I'm having to spam health potions to avoid dying, despite the majority of my level up points being put into health and Stamina equally. I also have some points in Magicka just for casting some of those lovely invisibility skills.
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  • Rya_ReisenderRya_Reisender Solipsist Snowflake Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Cidolfas said:
    I would say exactly the opposite: it's games where you can't figure out the basics of the system which turn me off this style of leveling. For example, in some games, magic is mostly ineffective; in others, it overpowers physical attributes. What's worse, in many games you don't know this is the case until late in the game (early spells might be pointless but late ones can wreak havoc). Because the games hide their details from you, you are not making an informed decision in your builds. That's why I prefer having leveling be more or less linear, and making the strategy rely on equipment, skill set, party makeup, etc.
    You need to learn to let go of trying to analyze the game system.
    Back when I still was in a community where we could philosoph about game design all day, we noticed that everybody who liked SaGaFrontier didn't try to understand the leveling system. Those who didn't like the game tried to understand the leveling system and criticized just like you that it's impossible to understand.
    The conclusion is: Don't try to understand it!

    And again: As I said it depends strongly on how well executed the system is. It HAS to be perfectly balanced meaning that no matter how the player plays, he will always we similar as strong (as long as he keeps his playing style).
  • scorpio_7scorpio_7 Tactic's Ogre I choose u! Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Jitawa said:
    I enjoy the more free-form leveling style of games like SaGa Frontier (or Romancing SaGa... or any of the Gameboy SaGas). There's a random element, but it also tends to make every party you make a little unique in some ways. It's a good thing. For me, the "I got a bit stronger swinging this heavy sword" (but not better at anything else) makes more sense than "I killed my 8th moblin, now I'm level 3 and can cast new spells."

    Also, there's a hilarity factor in making a character super-strong and realizing he's too slow to actually hit anything. In contrast, Dark Souls lets you pick your stats and very slowly increment them by single points (your level mostly reflects cost of the points). The viability of your character has more to do with skill than optimum stats.
    I'm sure it is hilarious when you reach the final boss with that character who can't hit anything, and then you realize those 40+ hours that you have played were completely wasted. Random growth = time wasted in my opinion.

    A more organized form of character growth/customization is much more effective. It doesn't have to be "levels" per say.... but something that can be controlled/directed.

    Jitawa you make an interesting point about character growth/viability should be more based on skill instead of optimum stats.... I think this mentality comes from the streamlining of rpg's into more action oriented games. Look at the difference between character building in the diablo series... at one point you could add attribute points as you level your character.... whereas in diablo 3 that was removed to create a more streamlined experience.

    This creates an aguement between those who play for customization/control in their rpg, and those who play mainly for the action/gameplay. The question becomes what type of gamer someone is, and what type of game they want to play.
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Not sure why everyone is saying Saga Frontier's leveling system was chaotic and random. It worked on a priority queue: stats. tied to specific weapons and skills first and then everything else after that. You could gain Strength while casting nothing but spells (rarely, but you did). Some skills and some weapons earned more of a certain stat. then others (mech weapons were great for pure HP, for example) and everyone gained HP at a decent rate regardless. Not that it was ever an issue for me. I just built the team I wanted, equipped them as best I can, played the game and they eventually maxed out all the stats. they should all on their own.
    The "whatever you do, you will get better at exactly that" leveling system is a brilliant idea. The idea itself is far superior than all other character progression system.
    It's got ups and downs like everything else. It doesn't work well at all in a loot heavy system and it's nearly impossible to experiment. If you spend hours building up a sword to become an almighty swordmaster, you're handcuffed when you stop finding new swords. If you then suddenly pick up the Almighty Axe of Kickbutt +1000, you can't use it because your axe skill is too low. Loot needs to be planned and carefully distributed in a "growth by common sense" system. Also, you can't experiment. If you suddenly realize it's very important to have some healing spells around, but you've never spent time leveling the skill, you're stuck grinding healing levels. The only way to try something different is to go back and replay the whole game.

    You need to learn to let go of trying to analyze the game system.
    The conclusion is: Don't try to understand it!
    You should really make more of an effort to understand other people's tastes in games. Many of us love to pick-apart a game's system to make the most of the game. Knowing how things work allow us to create new strategies and builds. If we go into every game without making an effort to understand it, we never learn it and end up not appreciating its subtleties and quirks. As a result, you become intolerant of any game that isn't easy to pick-up right from the get go and doesn't boil down to repeating the same basic actions over and over again (hey, wait a sec...that's you!).
  • JitawaJitawa Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    scorpio_7 said:
    I'm sure it is hilarious when you reach the final boss with that character who can't hit anything, and then you realize those 40+ hours that you have played were completely wasted. Random growth = time wasted in my opinion.

    A more organized form of character growth/customization is much more effective. It doesn't have to be "levels" per say.... but something that can be controlled/directed.

    Jitawa you make an interesting point about character growth/viability should be more based on skill instead of optimum stats.... I think this mentality comes from the streamlining of rpg's into more action oriented games. Look at the difference between character building in the diablo series... at one point you could add attribute points as you level your character.... whereas in diablo 3 that was removed to create a more streamlined experience.

    This creates an aguement between those who play for customization/control in their rpg, and those who play mainly for the action/gameplay. The question becomes what type of gamer someone is, and what type of game they want to play.
    Hilarity is relative of course. There was a HUGE difficulty spike in SaGa frontier for the final boss of, say, Blue's scenario. However, I think the same was true with the final bosses in Final Fantasy Legend 2 (SaGa 2). That's a somewhat different problem than not being able to hit the final boss. It's hardly the only game to have leveling or difficulty quirks (Tactics Ogre, to pick on your portrait blurb, could punish the player in terms of stat-gains for characters in the late game depending on how you'd been leveling since the beginning).

    I think you have to ask how you feel about a "use-it" based skill-leveling system by itself. How the designer chooses to tailor difficulty (scaling them to an unseen level like in SaGa Frontier) and progression in the game is a large factor in how the game's leveling system will be received. If progression within the game is poor, could that be fixed while retaining the more intuitive leveling system? SaGa's system isn't COMPLETELY random - you receive gains in the things you use, but the rate of gain is more random than something like FF2. It's that somewhat chaotic element that makes things more interesting.

    If you worked up only physical skills and fought a boss that was physical resistant - you'd be punished for that decision regardless of most leveling systems. That's less an issue of leveling system, per se - and more one of planning the encounters for the player.

    If a game makes it impossible to win by player choice (say, leveling choices), that's bad design. If it just makes it really difficult, then I don't have a problem with that.

    To the point of skill as opposed to stats, I think that exists exterior to action-oriented games as well. Let's face it, many RPGamers are lazy. It doesn't have to be that they can't handle twitch gameplay, they may expect to be able to use the default attack command through every encounter in the game. The work-around for hard encounters is often, "level more". Wanting difficulty of some sort isn't an action-specific thing.

    Plenty of people spoke of doing the low-level or one-character playthroughs in Final Fantasy "1". That wasn't a matter of action or reflexes. The skill involved was strategy and a little luck. I don't think all games should require you to have super-reflexes, but requiring some thought or strategy seems ok to me. Dark Souls requires a bit of both. I think I'm ok with SaGa-type games requiring one of the two. You can beat SaGa Frontier even with horribly built characters, it's just much much harder.

    To me, the anti-thesis of the good rpg is one that "requires" grinding. When levels are handled in such a way as to make progressing impossible, that's bad design. For example, various games incorporate player level itself as a number that plays into your "to-hit" chances and so on - even while giving you stat choices. This defeats the point of that very customization to me. If you're going to "gate" encounters arbitrarily by level, why even bother giving the player some illusion of choice with stats?
  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2012
    TG Barighm said:
    It's got ups and downs like everything else. It doesn't work well at all in a loot heavy system and it's nearly impossible to experiment. If you spend hours building up a sword to become an almighty swordmaster, you're handcuffed when you stop finding new swords. If you then suddenly pick up the Almighty Axe of Kickbutt +1000, you can't use it because your axe skill is too low. Loot needs to be planned and carefully distributed in a "growth by common sense" system. Also, you can't experiment. If you suddenly realize it's very important to have some healing spells around, but you've never spent time leveling the skill, you're stuck grinding healing levels. The only way to try something different is to go back and replay the whole game.
    Once again I find myself agreeing with you TG. My experience with RF Online was similar to this, in that if the player wanted not to permanently gimp a certain stat or ability, they had to use them equally across the board the whole time. It was especially heinous considering the time sink required and the fact that there was a PVP element to the game. Competitive games involving leveling should NOT be based around how much time a player has to invest before they can even begin learning how to win. Skill, strategy, and information should be the determining factor to victory, not "Well, I messed my character up, now I need to spend 60 more hours in order to even be on the same playing field as my opponent." It is something that bugs me about the complex nature of the Pokemon games too, with those EVs, natures, and IVs as well.

    Lets see here. I'm going to agree with you and Jitawa, Rya, that the SaGa's (Frontiers and Romancing are all I've played) are probably the best implementation of leveling based on how you play. You make some valid points that it needs to be difficult to exploit, Rya, otherwise you will end up with amazing characters that break the game's difficulty. Not to mention, many players would opt to make themselves this good if the effort required is low. Why play a game with your feet if you can use your hands, after all? I can also understand the appeal about making the games mechanics very difficult to understand. As someone who is prone to stressing over things like irreversible choices and messing up your character, I can see what you're saying here. Seeing as how I play single player or Coop RPGs to relax and have fun, I don't want to have to stress about it. Certainly, making the game's mechanics too difficult to understand would keep me from worrying about it, but I think making them very easy to understand would open my eyes and allow me to make more informed decisions regarding customization. There is always the chance that I might stress over it even then, but there's also a greater chance of joy with this philosophy as well, IMO.

    My main issues with the SaGa style is that I've had negative experiences related to the leveling system. For example, in Romancing SaGa (PS2), being able to experience the story, acquire certain characters, and open up the world is all based around the players current "level". If the level is too high, then the player is locked out of ever being able to receive a set of quests and all the benefits that come along with them. In battle everything worked great, I really enjoyed the experience. But I sure what have liked it alot more if I didn't have to worry that over "leveling" (and it WOULD happen if you didn't try to avoid most of the enemies in a dungeon) would cause the player to miss out on so much of the world.
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • InstaTrentInstaTrent Opinionator RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2012
    DarkRPGMaster said:
    You are either mad or crazy. Meaning you are either General Baal or you're Lezard Valeth. WHICH IS IT!?
    This comment made me smile.
    "To tell you the truth, I like drinking tea and eating fresh vegetables, but that doesn't fit with my super-cool attitude. I guess I have to accept this about myself."
  • retrodragonretrodragon Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    I really enjoyed this article! I think that what makes a game fun is what I like to call "breaking" a game. It's that point at which you discover what the system within the game is, and how to exploit it. Granted I've always been a color outside of the lines kind of person, I really enjoy studying the details of a game and discovering the hidden methods of level grinding etc. (Though I never used gameshark. I mean c'mon right?)


    I remember playing FF2 and discovering how the system worked, and then playing it accordingly (take serious hits and get extra HP, or focus on a certain weapon). I actually really liked it because it was so different from your typical level up fare. But it certainly wasn't without problems, and honestly, I didn't play the game as it "was meant to be played" and instead just tried to break the system the whole time. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who played it this way!

    So the real issue, is that while "level it up when you use it" is a more interesting and realistic leveling system, it is kind of impractical in a game, because it ends up working against the players immersion into the game world. A great example of this is Oblivion and Skyrim, games where attention to what skill set you are working on pulls you deeper into how you grow your character, to the exclusion of the world and the story. Maybe that's a good thing for some people, but I can see how that makes the immersive experience kind of lose out.

    In the end, I think I prefer games that have some small room for freedom, such as skill point allocation or stat placement, while still utilizing traditional levels. Or even a system like FFX which has (at least) a feeling of choice, if not actual choice. It's always nice to be involved in the growth process on some level right?

    So what is my favorite level up system ever? I think it's probably Star Ocean 2. It had traditional leveling, with a pretty standard skill system that was fun to get into.

    My least favorite's are the Morrowind games. I end up stressing so much about how many levels I just earned in agility that I forget what a beautiful world I'm in.
    My 2 cents...
    Playing: Wild Arms 3, Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning, Star Ocean First Departure
    www.retrodragon.wordpress.com
  • ShinseitoriShinseitori Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    TG Barighm said:
    Many of us love to pick-apart a game's system to make the most of the game. Knowing how things work allow us to create new strategies and builds. If we go into every game without making an effort to understand it, we never learn it and end up not appreciating its subtleties and quirks.
    I'm one of these people. At the risk of derailing the thread, I wish game mechanics were a bit more transparent, especially in JRPGs. I think we've come a long way from, say, Final Fantasy IV (oh, that item increased my Int? huh.), but there's still a bunch of games that don't explain their stats and stat growth well.
    Rise!
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    A great example of this is Oblivion and Skyrim, games where attention to what skill set you are working on pulls you deeper into how you grow your character, to the exclusion of the world and the story. Maybe that's a good thing for some people, but I can see how that makes the immersive experience kind of lose out.
    Well, I wouldn't say it's that bad. NPC's will often make remarks about your skills, and sometimes those skills do play a role in how quests play out (especially Thieves guild quests, although that was more true in earlier games), but yeah, I can see how one can get too immersed in the statistical side of things. To be fair, that will happen after you been through the story and done every quest.

    I would say MMORPG's have a problem with losing players to statistics. Many players don't even read quests. They just want to hit the "Accept" button, follow their checklist, and turn it in for loot.
  • KiralynKiralyn Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Shinseitori said:
    ....but there's still a bunch of games that don't explain their stats and stat growth well.
    Sacred 2 is a great example. Ten million different statistics plus abilities on equipment, almost none of them explained or defined. (what's a better thing to look for on weapons, for instance... Reduction in opponent's chance to evade, Chance that opponent cannot evade, Chance to disregard armor, or Reduction in opponent's defense value? And how do those compare to spending stat points to increase your Attack value? And what about the difference between inflicting Open Wounds, Deep Wounds, Serious Open Wounds, Deadly Wounds, or just a critical hit? AAAAAAAA! :) )

    Of course, it's a Diablo-style "random loot" game, so it's got somewhat different priorities, but still....... eek.
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2012
    Sacred 2 is a great example. Ten million different statistics plus abilities on equipment, almost none of them explained or defined
    Thanks for that. I was starting to feel a little guilty about passing up a new $15 copy a few weeks back. Not anymore.
  • Rya_ReisenderRya_Reisender Solipsist Snowflake Full Members
    edited July 2012
    @ChickenGod
    Your last paragraph is just again what I said: Do not try to understand the system.

    Unlike TG, I really hate having to read through walkthroughs and guides for hours just to understand how a game works. I just want to play the game. PLAY the game. As in I sit in front of the TV screen and input stuff on my controller based on what I want to do. Not browsing menus or trying to understand the character growth, but walking around, following the story, become a great hero, do all the stuff you can't do in real life because you are weak as hell there.

    In conclusion I like games like the SaGa games where you really should just not understand the system. If you don't know how to grow your stats you just play however and it WORKS. It really works. Neither in SaGaFrontier, nor in Unlimited Sa-Ga nor in the The Last Remnant you need to understand anything about the game's system other than "your character get stronger most in what you do with them most". In fact, trying to understand it completely ruins it for you. In SaGaFrontier you will stop selecting random skills which you think might look good or haven't used for a while, instead you will start thinking which skills you can chain or which skills you need to use to get the highest chance to learn a certain other skill. In the end you will always use whatever you think is the best combination, this is just a boring way to play the games. In Unlimited Sa-Ga you will actually waste hour trying to put stuff into your grid to get the maximum stat outcome instead of just putting it where it looks you can get a line combination bonus or just replace the lowest level panel or whatever panel you deemd useless from your last dungeon run. The Last Remnant is no fun if you always have in your head that you have to prevent encounters as much as possible to keep the difficulty low. Just don't care about it, you will somehow squeeze yourself through the game without knowing anything about it.

    To get back to your paragraph, same is with the story progression and sidequests. Of course if you read a walkthrough and realize you missed a sidequest because you leveled too much the game is ruined for you. But usually you wouldn't even know about the existence of such a sidequest. And if you play it a second time it might even catch you as a surprise. Jeez, I played Romancing Sa-Ga games in Japanese and it was always soooo interesting to suddenly end up in a random dungeon even though I didn't understand a word of the story lol. It seemed like super random and interesting. Running around, talking to NPCs randomly and then a seamingly unimportant NPCs teleports you to some dungeon, yeah that's great.

    SaGa games basically scream "Don't understand me, play me!", that's why I love them so much.

    What I really can't understand is that people enjoy menu browsing. This is unbelievable.

    My second favorite leveling system is the "random stat increase and it tells you which stats increase one by one" used in Shining Force, Shining in the Darkness, Beyond the Beyond and Lufia. This is pretty neat because it's so exciting, especially when it feel seemingly random but you still end up similar as strong in the end.
    It's like:
    "Rya gained a level." <-- I'm like "Wooo, let's see what I get."
    "Attack increases by 4." <-- WTF this much, he's a mage!!!
    "Defense increases by 1." <-- well average
    "(end)" <-- oh noes, I didn't get any speed OMG OMG, damn you system!!!
    Soooo emotional lol.
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2012
    Rya.Reisender said:
    My second favorite leveling system is the "random stat increase and it tells you which stats increase one by one" used in Shining Force, Shining in the Darkness, Beyond the Beyond and Lufia. This is pretty neat because it's so exciting, especially when it feel seemingly random but you still end up similar as strong in the end.
    It's like:
    "Rya gained a level." <-- I'm like "Wooo, let's see what I get."
    "Attack increases by 4." <-- WTF this much, he's a mage!!!
    "Defense increases by 1." <-- well average
    "(end)" <-- oh noes, I didn't get any speed OMG OMG, damn you system!!!
    Soooo emotional lol.</div>
    You forgot Fire Emblem. Nothing more exciting to see a Mage suddenly gain 2 points in defense and several in HP, as that means they can actually take more damage. It's especially fun when the randomness causes them to MAX OUT in defense, magic and HP. Ever see a mage tank? I have, and his name was Soren.
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