Roundtable - September 13, 2003 - Part 3

Googleshng: Moving on to our final topic, it's more or less an established fact that RPGs today are, for the most part, mind-numbingly easy. Barring the need to character build like crazy, what are some ways we could get some challenge back in the genre?

David: 1 word: Hoshigami.

Brian nods sagely

Googleshng: Hoshigami is just flat out abusive.

David: And even still, the older RPGs weren't difficult as much as they were unbalanced as all hell.

Googleshng: Don't think anyone is looking for a game that makes you reset it after 5 hours without saving if you don't want to give up on a character.

Adoru: Hoshigami isn't hard, its just not well done.

Googleshng: Something I'd like to see that I believe I mentioned a few years back in a Q&A column is nasty optional bosses and dungeons that don't just reward you with items to make you even more overpowered than you must be to take 'em out.

Kugutsu: Challenge can be looked at from many different angles. On the one hand you could jack the numbers up, while there are alsome other ways you could add to it.

David: Actually hoshigami isn't hard at all, if you know the secret: Equipment. Only equipment matters. Not levels, not skills.

Googleshng: Final Fantasy 7 for instance was just plain crazy there.

Brian: One thing would me more of a timing system in and out of battle. I suppose games such as Chaos Legion already have a lot of that already, plus another good example is Valkyrie Profile.

Googleshng: Beating the North America-only Weapons rewards you with things you already must have if you could do it.

Adoru: Dragon Warrior 7 had some really hard boss that reminded me of the mid-90's RPGs.

David: Yeah some bosses in Dragon Warrior 7 could smack you around if you didn't use the right skills. And some of the bosses in Wild Arms 3 are like that too.

Kugutsu: Actually I found all the bosses in WA3 mind-numbingly easy.

James: I think the way is to, bare with me, make it more like reality. What I mean is, make it to where you have to survive, meaning eat, sleep, live. Make it to where you have to have armor (cloth isn't going to stop that sword) and so forth.

Kugutsu: I think that more balance and a user selectable difficulty level would help somewhat. Like Star Ocean 2, except available from the beginning.

Googleshng: I'd rather have a reward for beating an optional boss like, say, new costumes for your characters, or a faster airship. Fluff like that.

David: Goog: most of the optional bosses in Wild Arms 3 only give EX keys, which just open extras.

Googleshng: Yes, and I love the game for it.

Kugutsu: Including the secret ones.

Adoru: Yeah, and so in that respect, RPGs should force you more to find the right skills to kill a boss. Like bosses that are immune to certain spells, or weapons

David: But that is just abusive in some respects though? I mean, what if the player misses the item or the skill?

Googleshng: True.

Adoru: Then the player has to look for it.

Brian: The challenge in RPGs goes away when you have the chance to level your characters so far past the expected boss fighting level. It's no wonder games are easy when it just takes some time to change the difficulty level.

David: Most older 'hard' games aren't so much hard as abusive. See: Dragon warrior

Kugutsu: I think that the Seraphic Radience is Shadow Hearts is pretty much where extra bosses should be on dificulty.

Googleshng: I'd also like to see more games implement stuff like Chrono Cross did in terms of experience. While the game has a lot of other problems, the way it handled experience would have allowed them to keep the game consistantly challenging throughout. They didn't actually do it, but they could have.

David: Speaking of power leveling and extra bosses, disgaea is good for that. You can win [Ahem. Beat, not's a personal annoyance--Ed] the game with just a little leveling and getting to level 80. Yet, if you want to complete the game, you need over 1000+ levels and have to access three hidden areas.

Kugutsu: Power levelling is fun, but it shouldn't compromise the difficulty of an RPG.

Adoru: I think the SNES RPGs had the most well balanced difficulty. FF4, FF6, Chrono Trigger, those were games that had some hard moments, without being impossible to beat.

Brian: Except you still had that chance to level up to amazing strengths beforehand in those games, Adoru.

Googleshng: And David: Zack told me he won on level 50 actually. Right.

Kugutsu: In most new RPGs, stopping to fight monsters for an hour or two will make the rest of the game a breeze.

David: Goog: you have to remember, in Disgaea you can reset your level back to 1.

Googleshng: David: And you would want to why?

Brian: Zach rushed through the game. He didn't get the full experience, I bet.

David: Although, knowing zac, he could have done it.

Googleshng: The biggest issue with difficulty really is getting developers to stop and consider what level players will be at before a boss, and adjust accordingly.

David: Google: better stat growth.

Brian: Or adjust the boss in relation to the player's level.

David: Part of the problem is players, to an extent

Kugutsu: Adoru: FF6 and CT were actually a bit on the easy side. It was far too simple to level up in those games.

David: We want our cake, and to eat it too. We want to be able to do all the hidden secrets and to power level, whenever, and yet we want a challenge.

Googleshng: True, which again, is why we need challenge that isn't based on levelling.

David: Once again, to harp on Disgaea, it is like that. You can, in theory, get to level 9999 without doing a real level in the actual game. Or you can do what Zac did and rush through.

Googleshng: Again, I like the notion of optional bosses with gloating type items as rewards, level-less systems.

Kugutsu: I think that a system that would penalize your entire party for damage to one member would be interesting.

Googleshng: Care to elaborate on that one?

Kugutsu: Well, damage to one member could decrease an efficiency rating, which would then effect an average rating that would effect all members.

Googleshng: interesting concept

Kugutsu: I've also considered a variation of the above system that is a bit too complex to talk about here.

David: Proof of existence from FF8?

Brian: Actually, FFXI has a good system for boss battles. In the first dragon battle you have to fight, you and your party members must be between the levels of 20 and 25. If you are higher than 25, you can still participate in the fight, but you'll be deleveled down to 25 until the fight is over.

Googleshng: Again, level caps have a lot of merit.

Brian: And it works really well except for the fact that equipment has level requirements, and you can't wear your über-level 25+ Armor while fighting.

Googleshng: Here's another concept for you: Add in odd little optional challenges over the course of the game, requiring you to do things besides fight. Take Metal Gear Solid 2 for example. Just playing through the game is easy, but those who want some extra challenge have to steal all those dog tags. Translating into the RPG world, you could do something like, say, reward players for performing some ritual during boss battles that wastes several turns.

David: Well actually, FFTA has a good way for restricting the player a little, since you learn skills from items and unless you do tons of missions and clan battle, you will get very lousy items for the first part.

Adoru: Kingdom Hearts rewarded you with an extra ending for doing all item fetching extra stuff. I don't know if you can compare that to the difficulty though

Kugutsu: Dark Cloud 2 did a nice job of providing extra things to do that kept the dungeons from being monotonous. These quests weren't all that difficult though.

Kugutsu: Chrono Cross did that.

Googleshng: With the last boss, yes, but then, doing that prevented you from having to fight at all. I'm saying, have some system where if you kill every boss using a special spell that takes 5 turns to cast, you get a better ending. With the extra challenge coming from having to time it out right to kill with that spell or for the 5 turn wait itself being a problem, due to gameplay like, say, Shadow Hearts.

Brian: Seems kinda... silly to me.

Adoru: Didn't Tactics Orgre reward you with some characters for saying the right things to them?

Kugutsu: Why not just make all the bosses more powerful, and therefore the game becomes more challenging in general?

Googleshng: Because then people would have to do a lot of character building, and they don't want to.

Kugutsu: I really don't see anything wrong with the older RPGs that "abused" players. And such things could be made relative. Look at the Lunar series for example. I actually have more fun when a boss kills me a few times. When I blow through them, it doesn't feel like an accomplishment.

Googleshng: I wouldn't call it abusive myself, but the consumer base of today doesn't seem too keen on the notion.

David: Given that Everquest still is popular, maybe there is some sort of Sadomachocist streak in gamers?

David: If the dungeon itself is hard and then has a hard boss, I don't mind. I hate games that have easy dungeons and then throw 3 bosses at you or a hard boss

Googleshng: I still say MMORPGs appeal to a completely different audience.

Kugutsu: Well, many dungeons these days are about three screens long, so there's not much room for difficulty. It seems that many developers make some aspects of a game way too easy and then try to compensate, resulting in horribly unbalanced difficulty.

Googleshng: There's another problem that needs fixing.

David: Well you have to remember, games in general have gotten longer. The dungeons may be long, but the over all game world is much bigger.

Googleshng: Yes, but the dungeons are shorter, just more plentiful.

Adoru: I heard FFXI was hard, so I guess we'll all have something hard to play in a fiew months. And while I agree MMORPGs don't generally appeal to the console RPG player, this one has the Final Fantasy name.

Kugutsu: I think that you should be allowed to level all you want, but each boss should be based from a percentage of your stats. Their skills could also vary as well. If you have an army full of theives, it could be more resistent to stealing.

David: Like FF8?

Kugutsu: FF8 made it far, far too easy.

Brian: More like FFVIII was bugged.

Kugutsu: And also the system in 8 didn't account for the variations of the junction system.

David: I don't know if I'd want to see that. Too complex. it could get bogged down too easily. How about a sliding scale, like in the Fallout games?

Brian: ...what sliding scale?

David: want a hard game? Slide it to hard, want an easy game, switch it to wimp.

Brian: Ohh.

Adoru: Maybe level gaining should be fixed.

Kugutsu: It would be rather interesting I think. A party couldn't specialize in one particular area because bosses would murder them.

Adoru: It was in Chrono Cross. You only gained level each time you killed a boss.

David: That just seems abusive to me. In an MMORPG you can get away with that, but in a RPG, you have to account for differing play styles.

Kugutsu: Yeah, you can have differing play styles. But you couldn't have one untrapowerful character anymore at the expense of the others.

David: it just shows how different we are as players. I prefer my favorite characters, without using the others, whereas you want every leveled at the same time, which are different play styles. Your idea would force one onto the character.

Kugutsu: I just think that the "main character is god" idea is outmoded.

Googleshng: Well, we could go on about this all night really, but I doubt our readers want to read through 10 pages on this topic. Anyone have any closing thoughts on what we've discussed tonight?

Adoru: Perhaps when we're loud enough about games being too easy, developers will raise the difficulty. But that's assuming they are doing it on purpose. They could be though, what with RPGs going mainstream, hard games would be unappealing to the casual gamer who just wants to have fun, not be frustrated by this too-hard-to-beat boss.

Googleshng: Kug: Amen to that, but that's really a topic for a future roundtable.

David: 1: Buy Disgaea. 2: I play games for enjoyment, I don't enjoy being tortured, therefore I like being able to decide my difficulty. 3: Buy disgaea. 4: BLLLLLLLLLLUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! YEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!

Kugutsu: I suppose I was kinda going all over the place there.

Adoru: I agree with David, buy Disgaea.

Brian: Buy Disgaea before it's gone. I'm going to sleep now.

Kugutsu: 1. No game can really be classified anymore. 2. FFTA is better in Japanese. 3. RPGs are damn easy as of late.

Googleshng: Thank you all for coming. Join us again next week when we discuss three more topics, with a new panel of guests.

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