A thought regarding JRPGs…

There are very few JRPGs which would not be improved by having enemies take less damage and do more. The single biggest flaw of the JRPG genre as a whole is that most combat is fairly tedious and lacks a sense of risk.

0 thoughts on “A thought regarding JRPGs…

  1. *game design degree intensifies*

    That's a hard line to draw. One of the other big flaws of the JRPG genre as a whole is when unpolished scaling leads to your party going up against enemies that are too high level, kill you in a round or two, and give you no alternatives except to either 1) bash your head against them until your cranium becomes as hard as steel or 2) go back to previous areas and grind for years.

    This applies to tabletop RPGs as well. Sure, the party knows you're not out to TPK them 90% of the time, but scale the difficulty up too fast and they'll feel like you're being cheap.

    You're right in that balance is a big issue for any game in the genre, but JRPGs shoot themselves in the foot in that regard by relying on ever-shifting statistics on every entity in the game. A lack of control over difficulty in exchange for the skinner-box pleasure of leveling up.

    *game designer mode deactivates*

  2. Bravely Default does not have this problem. It does have other problems – in particular there's a point after which the gameplay feels like pure padding, up until the final boss. I suspect that the repetitious parts were meant to be buffered by nonrepetitious stuff and they ran out of resources to make that stuff. But I still believe that it was worth my time & money and I plan to purchase & play the sequel.

  3. I've been having similar issues with the D&D4e game I've been running. The party's hit 21st level and combat just feels grindy now. I've been planning to try the “hit harder/die faster” strategy in upcoming sessions, in fact.

  4. I'm currently working on a run for this year's Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta, an event / fundraiser where players try to beat the game using only four out of the game's twenty-plus jobs, randomly selected via computer. Depending on what you get–for example, this year I have a team consisting of a Monk (increasingly ineffective), Blue Mage (increasingly effective), Geomancer (useful, for now), and Red Mage (fucking useless late in the game), while last year I had an exponentially more useful Black Mage / Magic Knight / Bard / Samurai team–one can be forced to rethink how the game works and come up with tactics one might have thought of before, breathing new life into the game. Even so, it's not enough to overcome the fact that once you find a tactic that works, all you have to do is repeat it ad nauseaum, and so I tend to prefer games where battles are as short and unintrusive as possible.

    In the end, I think Nintendo RPGs have been the ones to most consistently have a handle on this issue. The three different Mario RPGs tackled the issue with varying degrees of success, and Mother 3's solution–having to follow the rhythm of the battle music in order to do optimal damage–I thought incredibly clever.

  5. It's less of an issue in tabletop RPGs, I'd say, because there you have a GM. I've always considered it part of the GM's job to cheat in order to maintain balance–if a fight is proving tedious, pretend the enemies die faster than they do or hit harder. If it's proving too difficult and the risk of a TPK is looming, pretend the enemy's accuracy is lower than it is. Etc.

    There have been JRPGs that handle it well. FFIV strikes me as a good example. Enemies tend to be very difficult when you first enter an area, but trivial by the time you leave it, and grinding is almost entirely unnecessary… with only two big exceptions, the Dark Elf Cave and the final dungeon. The former is just a massive difficulty spike that forces you into the problem you described above, and the latter is due to the bosses being WAY too strong relative to the surrounding enemies, forcing you to spend a lot of time grinding.

    Much as I hate to praise anything to do with them, the third Penny Arcade RPG did a really good job with this, through the simple expedient of making items regenerate after battle. In other words, if you have one of the basic healing item, that means you can use it once per battle; if you have five, you can use it five times per battle. This freed them to make the normal enemy encounters MUCH harder.

    Thinking about it, I think getting rid of random encounters (for which there is really no excuse in a AAA game made in this day and age) is a big help to balancing, too, since it gives the designer greater control over the rate at which the party levels while passing through an area. Chronotrigger is another game where grinding was virtually unnecessary (once again, until the final dungeon–I think they do it on purpose).

  6. Yeah… FFV also marks the last point where finding that strategy required effort or depended on who you had in your party, too. The strategy to repeat ad nauseam in VI was “spam magic,” and then from VII on it was “spam physical attacks, use limit breaks when you get them.”

    Another Nintendo game that handles it well is Pokémon. There's a *reason* it's the only JRPG that has a tournament scene. It takes the most basic possible Dragon Quest gameplay, combines it with the high damage/low HP thing, makes the same statistical spreads available to both sides,* and folds in a very complex game of tactical rock-paper-scissors so that it actually has a strategic aspect.

    Adding in aspects of twitch gameplay, as the Mario RPGs do, is also a good approach to making battles less tedious. Interesting about Mother 3–I've always thought rhythm elements would be a good match for an RPG, glad to hear designers are trying it out.

    *What I mean by this is that in most JRPGs, your characters tend to deal more damage than they take by a significant amount, often an order of magnitude, while for enemies it's the other way around. In Pokémon you and the enemies deal roughly equal amounts of damage and can take roughly equal amounts.

  7. You've never played Double Cross; if your PCs don't die at least once each boss fight, you're doing it wrong. The game is so deadly that PCs have a limited number of extra lives per adventure.

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