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6571  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 05, 2009, 09:47:00 AM
Comments on Storyline:

To addendumize something I said earlier, yes, linear storytelling IS a design choice, but I don't think it's an appropriate one for a story driven game. Visual novels, while not having a lot of interactivity, focus the interactivity they do have onto the main focus area of the game -- the story. While they're also essentially linear, you still get to pick who dies, or what girl you end up with, or what information you get from where, or basically, how it ends.

The storyline is essentially linear and fully a product of the writers, but you have control over how it turns out/is presented to you.

And visual novels are an incredibly Japanese thing and not that much like western adventure games (which I need to talk about to). Which is why I think that it's more than a little odd that more JRPGs don't incorporate this kind of element.

I've recently been playing Planescape: Torment. While it IS non-linear in a gameplay sense, the main storyline is actually not that non-linear. However, you have different ways of approaching the various plot-points. If, for instance, a character, at one point, asks you to keep something they tell you secret, you can vow to do this and either honor or break this vow, or just lie about keeping the secret, or not promise anything at all, and this'll affect how the character, and the story, presents itself to you. Or at various points you have to pick between helping one faction or another.

Perhaps most interestingly is that a lot of sidequests and optional things can lead you into learning more about the nameless one's past. In this sense the player is involved in the story not because they have CONTROL over it but because they have to make an extra effort to learn some additional plot points -- and the gameplay reward for doing this is often more experience, too. A JRPG example of this would probably be CT's sidequests, as they were all VERY story relevant. Or maybe FFVII's think with Vincent's backstory.

Ultima 7, in a sense, is similar. Again, the storyline is fairly linear, but instead of entering a town/talking to an NPC and triggering a Plot Point into occurring, it's more about getting information and settings events in motion yourself. Ultima 7, despite not having a hugely non-linear/open-ended storyline, uses non-linear gameplay, world interaction, and NPC interaction to give the player a very active role in how its linear story progresses. I can't really think of any JRPG examples of this or uh really many non-Ultima examples of this.

Ultimately, I think the goal should be to involve the player in the storyline as much as possible, if that's your goal. I tend to think that ultra-linear storylines, much like featureless worldmaps and random battles, are kind of an unnecessary throwback to the days when it was hard to do the alternative well.

Comments on Gameplay:

One of, or perhaps in a JRPG context the GREATEST, asset of non-linear gameplay is that it overcomes the problem in grinding. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but in Dragon Quest 4, I happened upon a storyline boss that I HAD to beat to progress, but was a bit under-equipped and under-leveled for. Being in chapter 5 and having the boat, the game was fairly non-linear, so instead of doing the boring thing and grinding, I went off, explored, and found some hidden items.

Non-linearity isn't just being able to do dungeons whenever you want, although I am fond of that style (and if you need a more controlled way of doing things, just... occasionally have moments where the player can do three or four dungeons in whatever order they want.) It's also in things like character advancement, like, not having a linear spell progression but rather being allowed to allocate skill points as you see fit, or being able to class change, or being able to convince demons to work with you instead of getting new party members via plot points. 

Also, weapon advancement is still a very linear thing in almost every JRPG and it kind of bugs me. I'm tired of the "get to new town, replace everyone's weapon" setup.

I also don't believe on placing artificial restrictions on player movement, especially in regards to backtracking. If you want to block them from going forward, fine, but never shut them in an area if at all possible. (I also believe that giving the player new abilities to get past an obstacle -- like a boat in a dragon quest game, or a tool in Zelda -- are better than having plot points remove obstacles. Again, player involvement. Although this is still essentially linear design. Hm.)

I think the other huge merit of non-linear gameplay is exploration. Let the player go off the path and look for treasure. Let them experiment with other skills and spells. Let them find secrets and hidden things. This is what I thought was so cool about DQVIII. Sure, very linear game, but between towns, out in the field, you could look around as much as you want and find all KINDS of things.

I'm also not a fan of TOTALLY non-linear gameplay, like in Daggerfall. It's so wide-open that it tends to lack any sort of clear human touch.

Comments on Adventure Games:

The lack of openness in solving puzzles in adventure games is why I don't really like them anymore. Most point and click adventures, especially, have really limited puzzle solutions. Even a lot of text-adventures have limited solutions. This is why I didn't like the Longest Journey though. Story-driven, but no real control/involvement from the player perspective in the story from what I recall, and the ppuzzles all were single-solution things and the solutions weren't even that sane.

Part of the problem is that you have to consider the personality of the player character. They might now do something that the player would, or would do something that the player wouldn't.

One of the better examples of having multiple solutions I've seen is the old BBC-A sidescroller/metroidvania, Exile. In Exile there's this underlying physics engine behind everything so you're pretty much free to use EMERGENT GAMEPLAY elements and physics to do whatever the hell you can think of doing.

Also, despite not having multiple solutions so much, I like the puzzle design in the Myst games because they generally present you with machines that you have to learn how to use, either by fiddling with them and observing, or finding an explanation somewhere. Again, I think this involves the player more with solving them -- and involvement is the key goal -- because it's not just a matter of finding Key Item X and using it on Key Item Y, but rather a much more interactive process. Aaaand Myst games tend to do a good job of reacting to what the player does. Most notably Riven and it's several million bad endings that happen if you do something really stupid.

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The last FF-game fight that made me think (besides optional bosses) was one of the seymour encounters in FFX where you have to zombify your party. Otherwise it was kind of simplistic overall..

FFX tended to have a lot more puzzle bosses, and I found them harder than I probably should've because I was approaching them from the normal FF mindset -- buffing is uselss, strategy is useless, etc. So I don't know if FFX is really more strategy driven, with the puzzle bosses, but it is a rather more involving.
6572  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Most Annoying Playable Character on: July 05, 2009, 09:23:13 AM
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OK, Quina may have and an awful, ugly design, but she was NOT useless.

To be fair, a pretty, attractive Quina would probably be even more disturbing. She'd be this sultry looking, eternally hungry woman-child.

Basically Emeralda.
6573  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Most Annoying Playable Character on: July 04, 2009, 11:04:16 PM
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Because he's shitty and generic.

You're shitty and generic and in fact you're so generic that I have like forty of you in my basement and none of them cost more than 20 bucks at Dollar General.
6574  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Best Unique Gameplay Feature on: July 04, 2009, 11:02:32 PM
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How Chrono Cross handled ending battles and your hp/mana.  I forget the actual name now.

No mana. Rather, you had a certain number of spells you could use every battle. To use a spell you had to charge up with regular attacks.

if you were charged up enough to use healing spells, at the end of battle you could use as many as possible to heal your guys. You could also have it auto-use as many comestibles as possible to heal you.
6575  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 04, 2009, 11:00:00 PM
Chevalier are you intentionally not reading my posts or something?
6576  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Best Unique Gameplay Feature on: July 04, 2009, 08:01:33 PM
Grandia and Valkyrie Profile are both interesting in that in a large part they play more like action games, in the sense that unlike most turn based RPGs attack animations and enemy positions and movement speed AREN'T totally divorced from the actual gameplay.

I really wonder what Xenogears would've played like had timing been at all relevant to the comboing system. As it stands, XG's combos were more like a really elaborate way of just selecting regular attacks -- replacing a menu with a minigame, like in the case of Judgement Ring.
6577  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 04, 2009, 07:58:12 PM
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I don't like highly open ended games like Oblivion; they tend to be less polished,

Oblivion being less polished is not a factor of its non-linearity. Oblivion being less polished is a factor of Bethesda being fairly inept and everything.

It's also worth noting that Oblivion also fails from an interactive storytelling point since nothing you do has any affect on the story progression. The main storyline there is *COMPLETELY* linear. Every *questline* for the guilds is completely linear. Every *quest* is completely linear, for that matter.

I'm talking more like Wing Commander, where the storyline can be affected by your performance.

Or Persona 3, where the main storyline is essentially linear, but you have a great deal of control over what happens outside of that in regards to your S. Links and how each day progresses.

Or Crusader Kings, which has no set story but TELLS a story, and I can't really explain that very well, sorry.

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On a different note, one way that I think the JRPG genre could evolve is by adding more gameplay outside of combat.

This is also more what I meant and should've brought up, but anyway, going back to Oblivion -- and this is something that the elder scroll games have always done -- every sidequests amounts to lots of killing and little else. Daggerfall is the most egregious and concrete example of this. In a 16-bit JRPG there's not much gameplay outside the random battles. In Daggerfall there's not much gameplay outside of the endless questing.

If you want to make a Go Anywhere, Do Anything game, you have to be willing to go ALL the way in and let me be a goddamn farmer if I damn well want to be a goddamn farmer (or chef, or shopkeep).

GADA's also not really the kind of non-linearity I mean either. GADA, honestly... I can think of a few examples of it being done well, but not a whole lot.

The reason that GADA fails is pretty much because feature creep is near-mandatory and the projects basically implode.

I'm going to write more later tonight. I have to organize my thoughts for a bit.
6578  The Rest / General Discussions / Re: RPGFan Super Game Journal Turbo II - The New Challengers on: July 04, 2009, 07:54:30 PM
People are theorizing it's status effects causing the crashes. Personally I doubt it. People say it crashes while using menus. It crashed on me when Midori left the field.

Atlus really should do something though.
6579  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 04, 2009, 04:34:43 PM
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Have you ever played a Contra game? R-Type? I have a feeling you will love them then *evil laugh*

These are action games and thus inherently a lot more fun than RPGs. Blowing shit up with force pods is a lot more enjoyable than selecting crap from a menu and then whoops you lost time to go grind.

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So, point and click games are really not games because you just...well, click and point? What about something like the Thief/Metal Gear Solid series where you are suppose to hide from enemies instead of fighting them?

You missed the point. The second paragraph, which is, apparently, a reductio ad absurdum breakdown of what I said, makes me think that you don't WANT to get the point I was making, but I don't care. I will explain my point anyway.

Additionally, do not assume that any generalities or vagueries in my writing are intentional and actually reflect how I think. I'm way too tired to be fully coherent right now.

Anyway, games are inherently an interactive medium. And individual games have different focuses. You mention stealth games, for instance. The primary interaction there is between the player and the environment. Your goal is to avoid direct combat, so you have to find ways to hide and manipulate yourself and the environment -- and maybe your enemies -- in such a manner to prevent you from being seen. An example of a non-interactive stealth game would be one where you walked around and as soon as you got near an enemy, a menu with two options would pop up: Hide and Don't Hide. Picking the latter would instantly cause a game over, and the former would, well, instantly hide you.

Obviously that's not very fun. The player needs to be able to figure out how to hide themselves. The player needs to have CHOICES, because if no choices are present there's no decision making and the game's running on auto, and they need to be meaningful choices because if the outcome of every choice is immediately obvious there's still not much decision making going on.

(Of course, a more realistic example of a bad stealth game would be one without crouching, very poor AI that doesn't notice you much anyway, and uh, really, you just strafe behind a box to hide and there's nothing more to it than that).

JRPGs are generally pretty story-focused, to the extent that the other gameplay elements are reduced. You don't really interact with the world much, beyond maybe flipping a switch, and you don't really interact with NPCs beyond them giving you a single line of text. No meaningful puzzle solving or environmental manipulation or dialogue trees, here.

However, you also have a really limited way of interacting with the storyline. Generally everyone has a preset personality, you don't have choices about where your party goes next, or who your main character falls in love with, or whatever. I'm not talking total non-linearity or no pre-set anything. In fact I think an entirely procedurally generated world would be HORRIBLE. I'm just saying that the player SHOULD have some control over how the story turns out.

Star Ocean 2 is a good example (conceptually. Quality of execution of this in SO2 is debatable) of what I mean. You get to choose which characters you get, and how you interact with them in private actions. FFVII let's you end up with either Tifa or Aeris at the golden saucer. SMT: Nocturne let's you pick which reason you want to align yourself with.

You don't even need multiple endings really. You CAN have multiple, different branches that all converge eventually onto the same end goal.

But a strictly set-in-stone storyline that the *player* does not involve themselves with in, in any way, is not interactive storytelling, and not, in my views, appropriate for a story-driven game.
6580  The Rest / General Discussions / Re: RPGFan Super Game Journal Turbo II - The New Challengers on: July 04, 2009, 04:06:17 PM
Stupid Devil Survivor. The mechanics are so damn near perfect but that CRASH BUG is infuriating.

I mean, that Keisuke fight. I just won it. See, I was losing because these one parties had Dark Wave which lets you attack from a distance. So no retaliation. Then it dawned on me to just give Yuzu a demon with Dark Wave. Dark Wave let's you attack from a distance AND retaliate to getting attacked at a distance. I also gave her this one demon with Double Up, so two attacks per turn. Did that, and beat the hell out of that mission. And I thought I was going to have to grind! Oy!

Racial skills might be the most important thing of all, really. I don't know.

Also it's funny that civilian AI sort of breaks down give how absolutely rapefest the demon AI gets.
6581  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Most Annoying Playable Character on: July 04, 2009, 02:21:43 PM
See, I'll never get this. PrimeMover calls Chrono Cross the most cynical game he's ever played. I think it's one of the most exuberantly joyful games I've ever played.
6582  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Best Unique Gameplay Feature on: July 04, 2009, 02:07:14 PM
I thought SH:C's battle system was sort of tedious for other reasons, and while I don't have a problem with the Judgement Ring in and of itself I question design choices that replace menus with minigames. I played Nocturne around the same time since they came out around the same time, and I realized that having a well-balanced game with a fairly normal battle system could be a lot of fun.

I dunno. It's like the conversation ring in Oblivion (although that was done HORRIBLY and I'm only mentioning it as the most loosely connected of examples). It's an attempt to increase interactivity by replacing the menu with something alittle less menu like, but is it really fixing the core issue or helping things?
6583  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 04, 2009, 01:56:49 PM
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Any specific example?

Unless it's a game I REALLY adore, I generally stop playing as soon as I hit a dungeon I find tedious or a boss I can't defeat within three tries.

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Why the stuff done by some random guy from a village should re-shape the aspect of the entire world he's living at?

That happens in linear JRPGs too. An example of a JRPG where a random guy from a village doesn't re-shape the world would be like, Harvest Moon.

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if the creator of the game wants to tell an specific story and set of events, then the game can't be a "write your own story" type of game, and neither is this a bad thing per se.

The problem is, videogames are an interactive medium, and by disallowing the player to interact with the story progression... well, that IS a bad thing. So, yes, no matter how much/how many people enjoy this kind of game design, I am going to maintain that it's bad game design.
6584  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: How can JRPGs naturally evolve? Will we see more "big" JRPGs this gen? on: July 04, 2009, 12:05:47 PM
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I mean the evolution of Traditional JRPGs. It seems to be the slowest evolving genre in video games.

Traditional JRPGs sort of work on adhering to tradition. Expecting them to evolve is like expecting Oasis* to be original.

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Not every rpg made needs to be open/sandbox/choose your path type of game.

I think they do. I don't really have the time or attention these days to play games where I can't do what I want when I want to do it. If I'm playing a linear game and I'm being forced to do a dungeon I don't like, I'll probably just quit playing the game, whereas if I'm playing a non-linear game, I could just go do a different side-quest or dungeon.

The funnest thing ever is going back and playing all of my favorite JRPGs and realizing how much I hate them now :3

* Or whatever the hell you kids are listening to these days. Get off my lawn!
6585  Media / Single-Player RPGs / Re: Most Annoying Playable Character on: July 04, 2009, 11:54:47 AM
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If a games' story is serious, I'd rather not have too many/any characters that colourful.

Yeah but outside of Starky most of the super-colorful characters were optional. Also the wrestler dude was a depressed exorcist so I mean while he looked kind of goofy his personality was sort of grimmish.

And it's not like Chrono Trigger didn't have its share of inappropriately goofy bits, like the entire "Let's go back in time and replace Chrono with a doll from the carnival so that he doesn't die" thing.

I mean, it's Squaresoft. You can't possibly expect them to know how to make a game with a consistent tone and without really stupid comedic relief where it's not appropriate.

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yet they were some of the most normal characters I've seen in a while.

That reminds me. That girl with the doll annoyed me too, mostly for her mannerisms and way of being all like GLOOMYETTA OH MY WHAT A ZING THAT WAS I BET YOU NEED SOME ICE FOR THAT BURN GLOOOOMMMMMYYYYEEEEETTTTAAAAAA.
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