Before I begin this time, I need to make one quick note: I picked up Grandia on PSN. It’s quite surprising just how close the combat system is to what I had in mind, in its own retro way. If you think about it, I’ve almost designed a more hectic spiritual successor completely by accident. I stopped playing fairly quick, however, thanks to everything else being terrible (especially that camera). I’ll definitely try more, though.
In any case, moving on, now that we know how combat will take place and have laid out some of how the progression works, I need to figure out how the player gets from fight to fight, and how they get their items and equipment.
Items and Equipment
Something that immediately comes to mind is how it wouldn’t make sense for a villain to frequent a blacksmith unless they were in on the evilness part of things. Similarly, I don’t see a villain going into normal stores spread throughout the world to buy items. There is one way to make sense of the whole thing, though: Why not have the protagonists run a store themselves? They could order generic weapons and the like, or even have their own made.
This would also solve the question of money. In most RPGs, money is nonsensically dropped by monsters as you will them, to the point where a certain MMO I played as a kid had an optional quest where you knock enemies out so you can plant money on them. However, if I handle things by taking the store idea to its logical conclusion, the issue disappears. I could just have the protagonists harvest the body parts of defeated monsters and use that to make items to sell at the store at a profit, or to make items and equipment to use in battle.
Which is a good idea that I have to be really careful with or it’ll suddenly turn into a terrible idea. Let’s try thinking the implementation of this through for a moment. This actually ties well into the minigames I wanted to discuss, so that works out well.
I tend to prefer when minigames are tied into the experience in an optional, non-obtrusive way while also being meaty, fun experiences when played. This means no tying it to ultimate weapons or something, because that’s just dumb.
There are two games that come to mind that have gameplay I could make minigames out of that would fit with this idea, so let’s talk about those now:
Shopkeeping (Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale)
I recently went back to Recettear while preparing to write this post to see if the store part of the game was really as good as I’d remembered. As it turns out, yes, this is indeed the case – it’s still my favourite indie game, too.
What makes Recettear‘s shopkeeping so nice is that, aside from the debt hanging over your head, you can be quite laid-back. At the same time, the debt gives you an active goal to work towards, which is important in keeping the appeal. I saw many people complaining about the time limit in this and Atelier, but endless mode in Recettear shows why this isn’t the best of ideas. You have no explicit goal to go for, so things get dull fast after you unlock and clear the final dungeon… and possibly beforehand. Most of the shop upgrades will be obtained during the game’s story, so there’s really not much more to do. If it was on a handheld, however, I would gladly turn it on and play it a bit every so often instead of checking on it on my PC very rarely.
It is important to note that, after Recettear‘s release, there have been two other attempts at a storefront simulator on the 3DS with Hometown Story and Weapon Shop de Omasse. Also, Rune Factory 4 had a barebones shop minigame. I have played the latter two, but not Hometown Story (since it’s not sold at retail in Canada and sounded and reviewed as boring). Rune Factory 4 stripped things down so much it became pointless and Weapon Shop de Omasse has so few customers frequenting the store that they expect you to wait and watch what’s basically a comedic Twitter feed between customers.
What I’m thinking of doing here is simple: Add in a store minigame with roughly as much to do as Recettear, but also make it so players can have it automatically handled so anyone who doesn’t care just sees their stuff become money. This gives me an excuse to build a sort of spiritual successor to Recettear into the game, perhaps even making it an extra mode in the game.
In fact, since I’m dealing with a large cast, I could have more little mechanics added to this as party members join. Maybe you have to deal with generic stuff until someone joins who can craft good items. Speaking of which…
Alchemy (Atelier series)
There’s just something about a meaty item crafting system. I makes me feel more attached to the items I make, and feels like I have customized my experience in a meaningful way. I feel a connection to the items I use and feel proud of myself when they work the way I want them to. Sadly, most games try to handle it in the most barebones way possible if they do it, but there are games that at least try something interesting. Where better to look at for item crafting than a series focused entirely around it – the Atelier series.
Atelier focuses so much on item crafting that the combat feels secondary. Recipes are flexible, and so are the effects of the resulting items. I’ve spent hours making my items have ideal effect combinations to defeat the foes in front of me. To make matters even better, the game simply does not let you completely ignore items, as they’re the majority of your fighting power, and many entries allow open use of them by having some manner of duplication or mass-production method for the items after you’ve made the initial prototype.
Another game series that did something nice with item crafting was the Ar tonelico series. You could pick one of the game’s three heroines and craft your item with her assistance, and heroine plus a few other party members would get into a conversation about the item or how nonsensical either the item or the protagonist’s ability to make it is (each heroine would trigger a different conversation per item – skippable, too). Afterwards, the protagonist and the heroine would suggest a name for the item. If you make each item with each heroine, you eventually get to pick the name of the item out of the four options suggested by them. This is a little thing, but it makes it feel like a cohesive part of the experience.
Like the shopkeeping, I don’t want this to get in the way for players who don’t like this mechanic. There’s actually a fairly easy way to handle that, actually. I can have a generic version the player can just press a button to make like any ol’ item crafting system, and optionally unlock a deeper Atelier-like system after a character specializing in such things joins the team.
I could also, potentially, have the player leave a character to craft items and a character to tend to the store while the rest of the party is out fighting in exchange for some sort of bonus. If I do that, though, the bonus has to be fairly notable to make up for the character not being present to gain experience. There’s also the question of what happens if the player decides to put the protagonist on shop-watching duty or something – would I still allow the plot to progress without the protagonist present?
On a note unrelated to the subject of items and equipment, there’s one other thing I may want to adapt into the game:
Cosmospheres (Ar tonelico series)
In the Ar tonelico series, reyvateil characters allow you to enter their subconscious and learn more about them. A sub-plot happens in there, told in a visual novel style and completely separate from the main game (though they may have you do things in the main game to continue). It’s given in chunks you can optionally see, and you need to progress the story to unlock more of it. It tells you more about the characters involved, gives gameplay bonuses and even affects endings.
I actually believe that adapting such a thing would be an excellent way to handle a large cast such as the one I intend to work with without bogging the main story down by spending more than a little while focusing on each character. Let the players know what’s absolutely necessary in the main game, let them do this to learn more.
For example, in Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, Finnell seems like a poorly-made tsundere, but checking her cosmosphere reveals her quite heavily masochistic nature and her suicidal thoughts, colouring your perception of her character for the rest of the game. Well, as far as the game’s admittedly spotty writing could take it, anyway.
Though whether or not such a thing would even make sense in any form would depend on how the setting ends up looking at the end of the day.
I believe these three things would act as sufficient for minigames – quality over quantity.
To avoid letting this get too long, I’ll save the question of traversal for next time. But what I will say is… wow, I referred to games made by GUST so much in this post.