Saturday, June 29, 2013

Classic RPG Combat - Resources

This is the second post in a three part series.

In the first part we talked about classifying RPG combat systems. In this part we will discuss different resources used when in combat. In the third post we will tie this two subjects together and discuss what objectives are being accomplished by combining these mechanics.

Identifying RPG Combat Resources

In any game of strategy you have a finite number resources at your disposal, and it is how well you use these resources will determine whether or not you will emerge victorious. This analysis will speak very in very objective terms, treating characters as resources, no different from their spells and equipment.

  • Resource Points
  • Active and Passive
  • Learned vs Equipped

I will not be discussing items, this is because from a strictly combat context their use is no different than an ability with a finite number of uses, and their stats are only relevant to long term progression.

Resource Points

Mana is a very simple, very finite resource; tour party starts with full mana, and special abilities use up this resource until it runs out, and then you have to use special items or designated locations to restore your mana. The whole point is force you to conserve your resources, to challenge you to avoid using your most powerful abilities. This of course is only one way to limit your use of special abilities.

World of Warcraft's class system contains a perfect showcase of unique resource management mechanisms.

Priests and Mages have mana, a resource the counts down. The warrior gains rage by dealing or receiving damage, making rage a resource that builds up. Rogues have both energy and combo points, making them a hybrid of both previous systems; energy being used up similar to mana, and combo points are built up by abilities similar to rage. Death knights use three unique pairs runes, each of their abilities takes a different combination or runes. Thus runes are consumed similar to mana, but the resources are partitioned into multiple buckets instead of one, creating a wonderfully dynamic down down resource.

Games like Lufia 2 have a hybrid combination of Mana and TP. In Lufia your mana counts down like any typical turn based combat engine, but your TP builds up as you take damage. Your characters then have abilities that are fueled by on resource or the other. This is similar to Final Fantasy VII, where you can replace the TP with the limit break system.

A complete departure from these is the super simple AP system from Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes or Light. In it all characters have only 5 AP points, one of which recharges every turn, and every action requires consumption of a variable number of points. If attacking costs one point, then you can sustain attacking indefinitely. However if you use a powerful attack that drains all of your AP, then you will be helpless for the next turn or two while you regenerate your AP. This system is elegant in it's simplicity, yet highly strategic in the short term versus long term cost benefit that it forces you to consider with every action.

Active and Passive Abilities

Everything we have discussed up until now has been about active abilities. This is where the player explicitly chooses an action for their character to execute. This is pretty straight forward and obvious, so we'll move on.

Passive abilities are taken by characters in response to other actions. A counter attack is a perfect example of this, where a character will attack in retaliation for being attacked. A fun variation of this from Final Fantasy: Tactics is Hamedo, where the character being attacked will preemptively counter attack before they are even struck. Another common passive ability would be to apply a debuff to something that attacks your character, such as poisoning them for example. Passive abilities do not only apply to the direct target of an action, passive abilities can also be used tangentially. In Final Fantasy VI, Shadow's dog Interceptor can block attacks made against other party members.

Combination attacks can also be considered passive actions. In games like Disgaea and Fire Emblem Awakening, characters standing adjacent to each other in combat can assist in attacking, thus dealing additional damage without consuming turns or resources. However not all combination attacks are passive, in Chrono Trigger the characters combination attacks must be explicitly selected and consume both player turns.

Learned vs Equipped

Many abilities are inherent to a specific character, while others are able to be selected by choice. Systems that offer you choice take two primary forms, the first being the choice equip specific abilities or items a la cart, and the second being a class system where abilities are inherited in bulk. Of course some games offer a hybrid of these systems.

Mario RPG is an example of the simple and straight forward character specific system. As Mario levels up he will unlock new his own unique new spells, as Bowser levels up he will unlock is own unique new spells, and so on.

Final Fantasy VII has an a la cart skill system. Every character has an attack based on their own unique choice of weapons, but their abilities beyond that are based entirely on their choice of equipped Materia. Any character can equip any Materia, so anyone can become the main healer or damage dealer.

Final Fantasy III and V have class based skill systems. Each character takes on a class that comes equipped with a specific set of skills. Knights attack with weapons, Monks attack with fists, Black Mages attack with magic, White Mages heal, and so on.

Final Fantasy VI has a hybrid system. Each character has a completely unique set of abilities that only they (and Gogo the mimic) may use. However they also learn magic spells from Espers (summons) that they choose to equip, thus allowing you to customize which abilities your characters gain later in the game.

Final Fantasy Tactics has yet another hybrid system. Each character has a class with a distict set of skills, but then the character may also equip a small handful of skills learned from classes that they have leveled up previously. This allows characters to cross class and take the best skills of one class to help offset the weakness of another. For example you may take a Knight that has limited movement, and then equip the Ninja ability of +3 movement to help offset their disadvantage.

To be concluded in Part 3...

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