Some games claim to be retro, not just in visual style but also in game features. The latter can be detrimental in the creation of a memorable experience, well, memorable as in the experience is remembered in good light.
I really want to love Dragon Fantasy The Black Tomb of Ice but some of its design decisions just made it such a grind. It’s clear that a love went into making the game, but there were too many things that were a chore (e.g. navigating menus).
I haven’t finished playing through Shadows of Adam but I find that they’ve found a balance. The game uses pixel art but it looks amazing. It also doesn’t make use of random encounters, the UI is simple and intuitive.
Out with the Random Battles
So what are some crucial features that need to be updated from the days of old? Well, for one, random encounters need to be out. Nothing robs the player of control more than a random encounter. You can balance the game by playing with the odds but this is not perfect. Running into three back-to-back random encounters can ruin a gaming session to the point where you just want to save and quit (if the game allows you to save on the spot that is).
That being said, there are still ways to ruin a on-map encounter system. If your enemies spawn randomly close to you and then run faster than you can outrun them, then there’s no difference.
Simply removing the random encounter isn’t enough.
Legrand Legacy was guilty of a similar implementation. While the version of the game that I played was just a demo (so I will cut them a lot of slack) the monsters on the map would float over the ground. The problem with their implementation was that these monsters did not cast a shadow so it was difficult to make out their position. This would cause me to miss my run towards them resulting in the monster ambushing me from behind moments later.
Shadows of Adam also makes use of placing units on the map to engage. While the system gives complete control to the player it can make the game feel like you’re being railroaded.
While this implementation might not necessarily be a bad thing, it does rob the player of having the ability to dodge encounters when resources are limited. Furthermore, if the player needs to go back to town to stock up on potions, the monsters are all reset which can make backtracking feel like a chore.
Food for Thought
If there’s one thing that you can grok from this post is that randomness, in this day and age, is an artifact of a time when computers weren’t as powerful and needed simple solutions.
Randomness is also a remnant from pen and paper games such as Dungeons & Dragons where dice made your make believe session into a real game. The dice add a risk of failure to all of your decisions that removes the bias of a game master. A video game doesn’t have that problem, it can a very complex set of rules.
So whether is be the system that controls the number of battle encounters, the number of damage you deal, or if your attack hits or misses — randomness should be taken out of the equation. Let’s try to be clever!