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Author Topic: The Degredation of RPG Magic  (Read 4012 times)
James8BitStar
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« on: July 25, 2006, 12:05:11 AM »

I always love it when the "Sleep" spell works.

   Yea, funny how that is.  So many RPGs, especially today, have backed into this pattern that, if they even have a "sleep" spell at all (or a "poison the enemy" spell, or a "turn enemy to stone" spell, or a "paralyze the enemy" spell, and so on and so forth) that it basically, never works, except on monsters who are so weak that you barely need it anyway.

   Starting with the Super Nintendo and getting worse ever since, "Magic" in RPGs has become little more than another type of attack, unless it's being used to restore your characters' hit points or relieve them of some malady that ails them.  And yet, it's magic, a supernatural force that should, theoretically, be able to do anything, provided that the caster is strong enough!  How uncreative can Console RPG-makers be, that the only use they can think of for this supernatural force is "a quick way to do 1000 damage to the upcoming boss?"

   What happened to games like the original Final Fantasy where magic could be used to eliminate enemy special defenses or turn monsters against each other, or games like Might and Magic or The Bard's Tale where magic could be used for things that had nothing to do with combat such as allowing you to pass through solid walls or walk over water?

   All right, I'll be fair:  You could argue that to allow such uses of magic would disrupt a game's storyline.  After all, if you could walk on water, it could allow you to skip an event in a certain town that would've come into play later, or you might end up not meeting a certain character.

   But, would it really?  For example, you could make "Walk on Water" a spell you don't get until halfway through the game.  Alternatively, you could make it so that dialogue indicates towns are inter-connected economically.

   Suppose Fishia is the next town you're supposed to visit, but you decide to skip continents and head to Marketia, where you hear people discuss how their supply of fish hasn't come from Fishia yet and they're getting worried.  Obviously, the player would be tempted to head back to Fishia and see what's wrong.  Okay, suppose they're not, suppose the player simply decides to water-walk to an even later town.  But again, you could pull an eleven degrees of Fishia and have them run into a character who claims her husband disappeared on a trip to Marketia... whatever, the point is there would always be a string that connects the player back to Fishia, and that string would not disappear (and consequently, important plot events would not take place) until the player decides to water-walk back to Fishia and see what the holdup is.  Sure, you could say that's a form of railroading, but since when have console RPGs ever not railroaded the player in some way, shape, or form? Even Dragon Warrior used a sc eme of "monsters in this area are too much for you, so come back later" to keep the player's progress on a presupposed path.

   Another thing I could see critics of more varied magic claiming is that it would "disrupt game balance."  A spell that allows you to walk through walls would, obviously, nix the need to find that secret switch, and a spell to take you to the bottom of a dungeon would make dungeon-crawling all too easy.  Or, back to water-walking, you could walk to a much later dungeon, raid it for powerful weapons and armor, and come back to where you're supposed to be and plow through it.

   My response is to call no way.  The original Bard's Tale allows you to do precisely the things I named above and it's still considered one of the most challenging RPGs ever made.  Many other RPGs, such as the early Ultimas, also have such spells and yet do not suffer in challenge.  A part of this is because those games have counter-balances.  Creatures who can drain levels being a persistent example, and you have things to worry about besides monsters.  Personally, I would also argue that in most cases, being able to walk through a wall to get treasure, instead of having to solve a puzzle, would actually be an improvement, as would being able to skip to the bottom of a dungeon--why would you want to spend hours hunting for a key to unlock a door when all you really want is to hear more of the storyline?

   And as for the complaint that you could go to a later dungeon and get powerful weapons and armor, that really would not work:  most likely said dungeon would have monsters and traps your characters couldn't begin to handle.  And even supposing your characters could handle it and they did raid that hole for all it was worth, how would this be any different from power-levelling, which practically all RPGs allow you to do?

   Look, I want to see magic in my RPGs.  I want to see enemies caught in spider webs, walls that dematerialize, transport to higher planes. I don't want to see endless retreads of your basic fireball.  Thunder, Thundera, Thunderaga is not magic, it's cheap and uncreative, and barely scratches the surface of the gameplay potential of this unique fantasy force.

   If there's a spell called "Waka Laka," it better as hell make me fly.
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Testament
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« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2006, 12:29:01 AM »

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga I/II use special effect magic incredibly well.  It's damn useful and it's a total bitch when you get hit by it. :)

I can see what you mean though, when I'm playing something like Final Fantasy (current ones) I don't ever bother with anything but attack spells.
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Morridor
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« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2006, 12:35:35 AM »

I'd say magic (specifically in the Final Fantasy series) died in Final Fantasy VIII.  That game basically told you never to use magic!  Many other games haven't done so great of a job, but I found that Dragon Quest VIII used status effects quite well with monsters except for bosses.  However, status effect spells probably shouldn't work on bosses because they should be strong enough to resist or have some kind of defense against it.  

Danny
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polybius42
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« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2006, 01:02:07 AM »

Yes, we know. It's RPG cliche #34091.

Most of those types of things worked pretty well in DQ8 though.
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Eusis
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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2006, 01:17:15 AM »

I think part of the problem for battles is the fact that they can't make random encounters too long - why the hell should I bother casting a status spell when I can just make that character whack an enemy that'll be dead in a turn anyway? DDS and, to a lesser degree, DQVIII manage to make it worthwhile to cast said status spells, yet battles are still very quick.

What might also be a contributing factor (though DDS kinda disproves this) is the increasing number of games that only feature 3 characters at a time. Heck, I think more games have just 3 party members this generation than games with more, though I'm not inclined to go and count each and every one (note: strat RPGs don't count, nor do most action RPGs).

For the non-combat spells, I think that'd be a great idea - but what immediately comes to mind are the adventure games like Zelda and the Metroidvanias. Still, if anything that strengthens your case: You /can/ make magic that can be used to make the adventure more interesting, and not harm game balance whatsoever. Perhaps let the player walk only through wooden walls, but not brick or stone? Maybe waterwalk for a short distance, thus making continent-to-continent travel impossible, while letting us cross the rivers and head to the cave in the middle of the lake?

But this brings up a whole other problem: Earlier RPGs have a stronger sense of adventuring compared to modern RPGs. Nowadays, it feels like rather than take games further than before with better technology, they're shrinking back - we could have had several games by now with overworlds like DQVIII's. Instead, most of the time we're lucky to see even the traditional overworld, usually getting limited field maps ala SO3, or maps where you just select your destination and completely bypass the actual travel. But then, it's costing more to make games - and better to save that time and effort to make an extra dungeon or two, or some cutscenes.

Meh. It's getting easier for stupid shit like this to bug me, years ago I'd just be a little disappointed and move along. :P
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Lovely
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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2006, 07:00:02 AM »

Yeah, the fact that status spells often don't WORK in rpg's has often been an annoyance. Though now that I think of it, status spells aren't even being included that much in RPG's anymore ...

Having status spells that not only worked, but were helpful is actually one of the reasons I think I enjoyed Wild Arms 4 so much. (that and the battles were wonderfully quick :) .)
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daschrier
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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2006, 09:54:46 AM »

PC vs console RPG's....

Look at something like wizardry 8. Those battles could last for a loooong time. You needed every bit of magic you had. If you DIDN'T put your enemies to sleep or blind them etc, they would kill you.

Console RPG's have always been more about story telling than battle tactics and exploring the world.
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Ventrue
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« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2006, 10:08:23 AM »

Status spells live strongly in MMOs at least.... ;_;
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Dincrest
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« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2006, 10:18:22 AM »

As someone mentioned, games like Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne (and other MegaTen games) have it such that magic is very important, perhaps even more so than physical attacks.  In many console RPGs, defensive magic spells are all but useless, but in Nocturne a good defense could be the difference between winning and losing a battle.  In many console RPGs, the only magic I find even remotely useful are healing spells so that my tanks can bulldoze unabashedly, but in Nocturne I had to utilize every magical resource I had big time during battles.  

I believe there are/were PC adventure/RPGs where you could do things like you said.  For example, let's say there was a locked door you wanted to open.  You could either search for the key or blast it with a spell or whatever.
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daschrier
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« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2006, 10:23:06 AM »

Heros Quest from Sierra :D

You could play as a fighter, thief, or mage, (or paladin in later games), and you would basically have 3 different solutions to each puzzle depending on your character class.

Damn good games.
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James8BitStar
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« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2006, 10:41:01 AM »

Quote from: "daschrier"
Heros Quest from Sierra :D


You mean Quest for Glory, right?

Yea.  Everything Sierra made was pure gold.
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daschrier
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« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2006, 11:11:23 AM »

Well...actually it was called Heros Quest originally....:p So we're both correct.
http://www.gameplanet.co.nz/images/mag/Features/Pictures/0001674,02.jpeg

Name was changed after the board game of the same name.
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demifiend
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2006, 12:38:16 PM »

I feel the same way when it comes to consoles. In Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, I only use magic if the character with it is woefully deficient at fighting. SMT is really the only series I know of that includes useful "utility magic". Hell, the "-kaja" and "-nda" are all that you need to see to know that their magic system is far beyond other console RPGs. Add in Debilitate, Dekaja/Dekunda, the shield, drain, and repel, and you'll quickly find that you have quite an arcane cornucopia to pick from.
American RPGS, however, blow Japanese RPGs away entirely in this field. I can't even begin to go into the variety of magic to pick from in Baldur's Gate, except that it makes a wizard capable of filling just about any niche you could possibly need.
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... You have created a demon of your heart's designs, fallen angel? Then doom shall set us apart... now and forevermore... -YHWH (?), Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

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Lost Fragment
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polybius42
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« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2006, 07:29:24 PM »

Quote
I believe there are/were PC adventure/RPGs where you could do things like you said. For example, let's say there was a locked door you wanted to open. You could either search for the key or blast it with a spell or whatever.


Oblivion's a good example of this.

Well, actually, maybe not, cuz magic is overpowered as hell when you start getting around level 20 or so.
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Tridius
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2006, 01:51:00 PM »

Quote from: "James8BitStar"
I always love it when the "Sleep" spell works.

   Yea, funny how that is.  So many RPGs, especially today, have backed into this pattern that, if they even have a "sleep" spell at all (or a "poison the enemy" spell, or a "turn enemy to stone" spell, or a "paralyze the enemy" spell, and so on and so forth) that it basically, never works, except on monsters who are so weak that you barely need it anyway.

Look, I want to see magic in my RPGs.  I want to see enemies caught in spider webs, walls that dematerialize, transport to higher planes. I don't want to see endless retreads of your basic fireball.  Thunder, Thundera, Thunderaga is not magic, it's cheap and uncreative, and barely scratches the surface of the gameplay potential of this unique fantasy force.

Hmm you know i have to agree with you about this you know just once  i'd like to see status ailement spells works on bosses for once.

Speaking of which it would be more beneificial if there was at least an Strategy RPG that actually made status effects more useful.
If there's a spell called "Waka Laka," it better as hell make me fly.
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