Building the Perfect RPG [4/10/01]

Ever since RPGs (role playing games) became a mainstream gamers genre, game developers have been trying to ride the fine line between pleasing casual and hardcore gamers. If they stray too far from the norm, gamers complain that they've changed their game too much, but if they stick with the tried and true formula, gamers complain that they aren't pushing the envelope enough. It's this conundrum that leads to stagnation. Since there are so few RPGs out there for the PS2 and both the X-box and Gamecube are on the horizon, we offer up this list of suggestions on how to make the best RPG ever. While there have been some good game ideas, we'd like the put them altogether and add some ideas of our own.

New Game

The whole concept of the perfect RPG starts at the beginning of the game. When you choose to start a new game, you'll be given a menu (see sidebar) which will allow you to shape the type of game you most prefer. These choices won't alter the game itself, but will let each gamers play as they like. Also, by changing your options each time you play, you can change how the game plays, making everything but the story itself different. It would be like playing a different game everytime if you wanted.

Graphics

Personally, I don't care either way when it comes to hand-drawn sprites vs. polygons, as long as they're done well. While I can appreciate how good the graphics are on some of the old-school games for the SNES and Sega Genesis were, I think that it's time for game developers to come into the 21st century. Hand-drawn sprites should have a crisp, clean quality. Extremely pixilated characters with no personality need not apply. Polygonal characters should be well-detailed with texture mapping. When it comes to the background, developers should go with what works best. Both 3D polygon backgrounds (Breath of Fire IV, Vagrant Story) and pre-rendered (Final Fantasy VIII and IX, Legend of the Dragoon) have worked well when done correct.

Difficulty

Let the players decide how much of a challenge they want. If the game seems too hard or easy, then the only person they can blame is themselves. This difficulty level would determine how strong average monsters and regular bosses were. Special bosses would still be hard, because there's no glory in beating a special boss on the easy setting.

Party Size

Our perfect party size is between six and eight people. Parties that are smaller than this get to be a little boring after a while. More than eight people means that the player spends a lot of time rotating characters out. Also, it's hard to develop characters that gamers can feel something for if they have to keep a playcard to figure out who is who. When it comes to battles the player will be given two choices: 3 or 4. A 3-man party will be more offensive and each character will get their turn quicker. A 4-man party will be more defensive and it'll take a little longer for each character to take a turn.

Characters

Games without good characters aren't as interestingWhile in most games, characters are a dime a dozen. In our RPG, the main character's personality should be shaped by your responses throughout the game. If you treat people kindly throughout the game, you'll have a pleasant, friendly personality. On the other hand, if you treat people like garbage, you'll be hard-pressed to make friends. Also, he should be given two love interests. Taking a cue from Final Fantasy VII, the hero would end up with the girl he treats the best, which might sway the ending of the game one way or the other.

The Villain

Okay, this is important. The main villain will be someone you'll be chasing or fighting throughout the entirety of the game. None of this fighting all of the way to the end and the final boss is someone you've never seen or heard of before that point (Necron anyone?). Of course, there should be a couple hidden bosses that are a challenge to beat.

Battle System

The player's choices would be: ATB (active time battle) and turn-based. Anyone who's played Final Fantasy is familiar with the ATB system, where each character's time gauge fills at their respective speed. Faster characters get to act quicker than slower ones. The other choice, turn-based, will have a little catch to it. Taking a good idea from Breath of Fire 3, if you character is fast enough, they can get two turns in one combat round. Also, to add a little depth to battles, let the player hit a button in time with the attack to do critical damage. On a PSone or PS2 controller, players could hit one of the four face (L1, L2, R1, R2) buttons to do a different special strike.

Items

The player can have two choices here: Unlimited or Limited. Unlimited would allow the player to keep up to 99 of every item with characters being allowed to access all items during battle. Limited would give each character a set number of items they can carry in battle that they specifically can use. Players could trade items between characters and resupply when in towns.

Weapons, the building block of combatWeapons

The player should be able to upgrade weapons or sells them off for different weapons. Maybe let everyone in the game have access to the same weapons, but each character is better at different types, so the player will want to focus on that type throughout the game. Allowing players to pick and choose and then upgrade at their leisure will allow for a lot more specializations of parties. Also, as characters use weapons, their skill at using them gets better.

Travel

When it comes to travel, there should be a number of options for the player. They should be able to freely roam the countryside to get into fights if they wish or take a car or train to nearby cities if players want to avoid fights altogether.

Battles/Encounters

This is another instance where the player should get the choice as to how they like their gameplay. They should be given the option to either have the enemies on-screen or random battles. When it comes to random battles, though, they should be given a choice as to how often battles occur. This would allow gamers who hate to get into fights every five steps to play at their leisure. On the other hand, people who love to level up can fight to their heart's content.

Dungeons

Dungeons should have some challenge to them. The introduction of physical puzzles should at least make the average dungeon worth working through. Static ("this is the start, this is the end") dungeons get a little old after a while and should only be used sparingly. Another option to make dungeons a little more ingenious and challenging is making them randomly generated. This option has worked well with games like Diablo and Darkstone and makes fighting your way through dungeons actually interesting.

Mini Games

Every good fantasy needs a dragonNothing fills out a gaming experience like a number of minigames to break up the constant fighting and traveling. Breath of Fire's fishing game and Fairy Colony and the collectible card games in both FF8 and FF9 are great examples of excellent minigames intended to compliment the main game. Also, you can never go wrong with a whole area dedicated to side games (Gold Saucer from FF7). Games that make poor utilization of minigames are harder for gamers to want to go back and play more than once. Even worse are poorly developed minigames that just aren't fun.

Multiple Endings

Nothing gives replaybility to a game like giving it a couple of endings that are decided by the gamer's actions. And none of this "If you say no to a shopkeeper in town two, you'll get this ending". The endings should show direct repercussions from major events in the story, like the death of one character or another, or winning the love of one girl over another.

All in all, the idea of our perfect RPG is to both allow the player to play the game they like while also giving them choices and opportunities. RPGs can tell great stories that involve charming characters. These great tales are intended to take the gamers away to fantastic places and allow them to live wonderful lives. Since you wouldn't want to mar this adventure with complications, letting the players pick their way through will give them the best enjoyment. Also, being able to change the settings can given them a structurally different game each time they go through. It's this depth that would make the most out of a single game.

- - Kinderfeld

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Click here for a more detailed view.
If we had our way, this kind of menu would greet gamers at the start of every rpg. Click on the picture for a closer view.