What feature is crucial in a modern JRPG?

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. They also remove the bias a game master might have towards your decision. A video game doesn’t have that problem, it can have a very complex set of rules.

So whether it 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!


Why are “LISA the Joyful” Battle Mechanics Fun?

I’m sitting here and I find myself wanting to go play LISA the Joyful. My roommate is home which doesn’t make for a good recording environment.

The title screen is similar to The Painful's title screen. It has buddy hanging from a noose with an eerie pink background.
LISA the Joyful’s title screen isn’t any more welcoming than its predecessor’s.

This want to play The Joyful is a huge improvement over how I felt about playing The Painful. When I was playing the latter I found myself very frustrated a few times, going as far as cutting an episode short after losing a party member who really jived with my play style. I couldn’t save scum as I had been called out on it in a previous episode. The game is meant to be painful.

Out with the Pain in with the Joy

So why am I looking forward to The Joyful? The game is a revenge story from the perspective of Buddy. Instead of fighting the world and being punished for it, we take our revenge on all those who would try and meddle in our actions.

Still though, the battle mechanics are almost identical between the two games. I guess that’s just it though, the mechanics are almost identical and not quite the same.

If you’re familiar with me then you know that I hate RNGesus and how you can miss in modern games. Having to rely on the gods of probability to land a hit is extremely frustrating as it takes the control away from you. RNGesus means you can’t become better at the game unless the game decides to give you a few extra points on your side.

That’s where The Joyful flourishes. No, the game hasn’t completely eradicated the RNG formulas but it is extremely well balanced. Many of the special abilities include a timed event that you can practice and become better at executing. If you succeed this test they can often apply additional status effects such as bleed.

The timed event for the "decisive stab" attack is a shrinking circle that must be landed when the outer circle meets the inner one.
“Decisive Stab” is an ability with a timed event. To apply the bleed status ailment, you must press the action button when the outer circle approaches the inner one.

On the abilities that are purely RNG, the odds of landing the attack are often 50/50 but the status effects are absolutely devastating. The poison status effect can often take out a difficult encounter while you do nothing but sit back and use “mend” to heal yourself.

Make Status Effects Great Again!

Furthermore, boss fights aren’t immune to status ailments. Some games have bosses’ that are vulnerable to status effects but the odds of it sticking are so low that they’re too impractical.

While The Painful had similar balance, some of the enemies had permadeath attacks that were used at random. Losing an important ally to a bad roll of the dice is just not acceptable and does nothing but add frustration.

Then again, maybe Dingaling, the game’s developer, had this in mind when creating the series. The whole point of making LISA the Painful so frustrating was to reward us by making the revenge story of its sequel all that much more satisfying.