Game Design Talk: The Bad of Early Western RPGs

Discussion in 'Games' started by Xylia, Jun 13, 2020.

  1. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So in the previous thread of GDT, I was gushing about how awesome Might and Magic is, without addressing the Elephant in the Room, which sadly strikes many early Western RPGs from Might and Magic to the first two Fallout games, to games like Baldur's Gate (and D&D in general, at least the earlier editions, is lousy for this), and that is terrible balancing early-game and a wonky progression curve.

    The passage of time and the number of games coming out have taught us that you should likely start with a gradual curve in game difficulty -- start out easy to let players get accustomed and used to your game and/or game world, its systems, its UI, etc and then as time goes on, gradually build on the difficulty and what you expect the player to know.

    However, Western RPGs at least the early days, got this all backwards -- the beginning of the game is ludicrously hard and then if you can survive that initial huge barrier to entry, then it starts getting easier.

    This is because of bad balancing and how stats in these games are typically set up.

    Usually, these games will use extremely small health pools, such that even the weakest enemies in the game, even if they can only do 1 damage, will kill you dead in a few hits flat, despite how silly it is for someone to die in 2-3 bites from a giant rat the size of a cat. Then, after a levelup or two, they suddenly get this huge boost to health, sometimes 2x or more of their starting health, and suddenly those rats are far less difficult.

    And then there's the annoying problem of Accuracy and Hit Chances in western games. Nothing can be further from fun than whiffing several times at beginning enemies and watching helplessly while they pound you to death.

    How do we fix this?

    Well, let's make a few changes (you can see them doing this in JRPGs):

    1). Make starting health pools bigger. Instead of 5-6 health for a mage, I'd use values based upon 100. Or at least 50. Maybe a squishy mage starts with 50 and your fighters start with 70-80.

    2). Keep the enemies' damage low... those giant rats? They shouldn't be doing any more than 5 per hit. Maybe a thug with a knife could do 8-10, because I could see an unarmored mage with no battle experience dying in 5 hits to a knife. That makes sense.

    3). Reduce miss chances for mundane enemies that shouldn't be so hard to hit. If you want to present the player with a greater challenge, add thugs with armor, or perhaps a monster that has natural armor to make it a bit more difficult. I could understand a thug wearing armor and using a buckler having a 50% chance of whiffing. I don't, however, like whiffing 50% of the time when trying to hit a giant rat for example (these games love having rats being some of your first enemies). On the monster side of things, I could see something like a giant snapping turtle being difficult to hit, or perhaps some sort of large insect with thick chitin plates. Or perhaps birds/bats being more difficult to hit. Those would actually make sense.

    4). Watch sizes of enemy groups. Another thing these early RPGs are so fond of, is presenting the player with ridiculous numbers of enemies per battle. You'll try to fight one enemy and then you'll see 10 of them rushing you head-on before you even really know how to play the game in your first few fights. IMO, it shouldn't be like this. The first few levels, your characters don't have a lot of skills, nor a lot of tools to deal with huge floods of enemies. Start them off small. A camp of 2-3 bandits. A couple rats here, and a bat or two there.

    5). Spells and MP. Yet another thing these early games love doing, is giving you MP pools that are non-existent. Your mage can cast a 'meh' spell that can do damage (at least it will hit, unlike the mage's 10% chance to actually hit something with a staff/dagger/sling/crossbow/whatever), but he can only cast it 5 times before he's out of MP (and then he's useless dead weight afterwards). I would actually increase MP pools a little, so that mages can be mages and not run out of magic so fast. Also, MP Regeneration is quite nice, especially out-of-battle regeneration. Games that have this tend to feel better and more smooth than games that don't. Balance this by having the beginning spells be weak to moderate in damage -- the mage already pays a hefty price by being so squishy, there's nothing wrong with a mage being able to consistently offer damage on-par with the fighters. The fighters have armor and better health. Ideally, later in the game, you want mages being capable of better damage than the fighters. They pay a price for that, afterall, with their squishiness. Otherwise you create a scenario where players will only pick a mage for their group if they offer utility spells, because fighters and sometimes archers are just plain better because they have no limits on their damage output.

    6). Status Effects Early Game. If you want status removal to be difficult, then please don't stick status effects in the very first dungeon, especially not if they are so terrible that they absolutely cripple the afflicted person to the point they are absolutely useless. This is something else Might and Magic does, but also other early Western RPGs too (and some early JRPGs even). If you want status effects to mean something, then they need to be effective, and they shouldn't be shrugged off with the all powerful Esuna spell from the Final Fantasy Franchise, and that's fine... but the ability to remove these should accessible by the time you start finding them. Maybe poison is introduced in the 2nd dungeon and maybe the shop near the 2nd dungeon sells remove poison potions. Or perhaps you can get the Remove Poison spell. etc. It just feels cheap when you have enemies that poison and disease (again using M&M as an example) in the very first dungeon when your only method of dealing with it, is to hike it all the way back to town and go to the Temple to heal it.

    So, these are some of my gripes about early RPGs. I like some of the ideas in early RPGs that were sadly nixed out of more modern ones, so what I'd really love to see is a more modern RPG that kept the retro RPG challenge, but yet took a bit of the edge off of early-game.

    I feel the reason why older RPGs are not well-liked by players is because they start a game and they see how utterly impossible, slow, and boring these RPGs are at the beginning of the game, and they never make it past that initial barrier and end up losing interest in the game. I feel changes like the above might have eased the player into the game a bit more so that they would have gotten to the "good part" with a bit more consistency.

    I don't want games to be absolutely dumbed down like several more modern games have been, either. Perhaps a happy medium would be nice.

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