Wow. It’s been just a few days shy of 2 months since I last wrote one of these posts. Since last time, much has happened. One major event being that I shelved The Turtle Who Had Wings. I may be starting on this sooner, as a result.
One very, very important part to any RPG is the overworld. How do you get around from battle to battle? How do you go through towns and get stuff done to prepare for these battles?
My vast experience with RPGs has led me to seeing many methods of handling this. Some are pretty well-done. Others? Not so much. Of course, like with the previous sections, I won’t go over every single method I’ve ever seen, just the stuff that applies and that I think would work.
Generally, I see three major sub-sections to traversal. Those are the world map, the central hub (or various towns, depending on the game) and dungeons. Let’s go over these one at a time.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I’ve been trying to think of an RPG where traversing the world outside of towns and dungeons was actually fun. What did I think of? Pokémon, nothing else. And that’s only because the gameplay in and out of dungeons feels almost exactly the same.
Meanwhile, I look at most RPGs I actually enjoyed and see what they did for the world map and, unsurprisingly, the world map was not directly traversed at all. You simply picked a location from a list and went there. Heck, some RPGs I enjoyed also do this with the hub areas, but I’ll talk about that in its own section. In short, the world map should not be directly traversible.
There are a few good ways of handling towns and hub areas, but let’s not mince words: Unless the game is beautiful and detailed with all the areas you can explore, like Trails in the Sky, and sometimes even then, the player does not want to run around a town trying to get to and from all the things they need to do.
I’m actually a fan of how Atelier, Mugen Souls, La Pucelle and Neptunia handle this. All four are different methods, but all of them understand quite well that the central hub should be a streamlined experience if it’s not going to be detailed. Allow me to summarize them:
The way Atelier handles its hub areas is the closest to normal versions of it that I will be bringing up. You are allowed to walk around and explore the town, but there`s not necessarily very much to find. Instead, most players will use a shortcut. Shortly after the beginning of the game, you gain the ability to immediately teleport to any major area or shop in town at the push of a button. Just press the shortcut button, it brings up a menu, and you pick your destination from the list. You go there almost instantly, with just a single loading screen (as opposed to the several it may take to get from, say, your workshop to the blacksmith’s.
This is a great time-saver to appease those who prefer to walk around and those who prefer the menu-based method.
Mugen Souls‘ Method
Mugen Souls also has an interesting way of handling its hub. In both entries in the series, your hub is the protagonist’s ship. Everything you need is on this ship, from shops to additional challenges. There are no loading screens to get around the hub and everything is out in the open with no chance of getting lost.
It makes for a very compact hub that lets you access everything you need in a snap while also not constraining you to just menus.
La Pucelle‘s Method
The way La Pucelle handles its hub is actually quite interesting, and one I actually found quite amusing. In contrast to the main gameplay’s top-down perspective, the hub town is a side-scrolling area. This same perspective is used in Battle Princess of Arcadias to great effect, except that game has too many needless loading screens.
This has all of the clarity and convenience of Mugen Souls‘ method, but is even more streamlined. This works great for 2D games while I’d relegate Mugen Souls‘ method to 3D.
The method used in Neptunia is the most streamlined, but also the least interactive. This is something that has remained somewhat consistent since the very first game in the series: The hub world is basically a menu. just pick store and the store opens. Just pick an NPC, the NPC tells you things.
If I were to be perfectly honest, I think the La Pucelle method has the most potential in 2D, while I’d be willing to play around with the Mugen Souls or Atelier methods for 3D. I’d prefer 2D for my RPGs unless I’m working with highly-skilled modelers who can do cel-shading. As such, the La Pucelle method works best here.
The handling of dungeons has never been something that RPGs have chosen to improve upon for some reason. In fact, most games I see actively downplay dungeons as anything other than a vehicle for cutscenes and combat, with the occasional treasure chest or something depending on the game, and maybe a few arbitrary puzzles.
I would love to say that I have some great method figured out to break the mold, but I actually agree with this stance, to an extent. I would actually go so far as to not put anything except item gathering and treasure chests on optional paths, along with optional fights and the like.
I would say that there’s more to talk about, but there’s not much more one can discuss regarding this without getting into specifics. As such, this is the final post in this little post series. If I discuss this idea and further, it will be with more specifics in an attempt to actually create it.