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Dramatic Battle System [Aug. 13th, 2007|05:30 pm]
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I'm going to start this entry with a story; a tale of two heroes fighting against impossible odds in an epic struggle for the fate of mankind.

* Nuya attacks Vyyonu for 4532 damage
* Distu attacks Vyyonu for 2453 damage
* Vyyonu attacks Nuya for 6312 damage
* Nuya falls unconscious
* Distu uses Phoenix Down on Nuya
* Vyyonu attacks Distu for 4234 damage
* Nuya attacks Vyyonu for 5298 damage
* Distu casts Cure III
* Distu recovers 5000hp
* Vyyonu attacks Nuya for 3622 damage
* Nuya attacks Vyyonu for 8314 damage
* Distu attacks Vyyonu for 1032 damage
* Vyyonu is defeated
* Vyyonu explodes
* The Explosion is wicked-awesome. I mean it went, like, boooom, and was really huge and stuff
* The World is saved
* Everyone is happy

Not exactly 'Lord of the Rings' is it? But that's essentially how the final boss battle of most turn-based RPGs play out. Even most action RPGs struggle to have a proper dramatic last battle (although KHII holds the crown at the moment in my opinion). Occasionally you have a final boss that is a little harder than average and it feels a bit more like a proper struggle when you final beat them, but that basically depends on whether you've levelled up just the right amount when you get there or not.

So, is there a better way? I think so. Maybe it's the idea I describe here and maybe it's not, but I'm pretty certain that there is a better way. Anyway, here's my idea...

Rather than standing in two lines as with traditional turn-based systems, participants can move around within the battle area, however we're still working on a turn based system and grid based movement doesn't really lend itself to drama so instead the movement is managed by with waypoints. Thus, when you want the character to move, you choose the way point you want them to move to and they move there.

Waypoints will generally mark points of strategic value, such as high ground or cover (or the lever you can pull to drop the big blade that's hanging from the ceiling), but there will also be a few of them just scattered around so that you can, for example, just move away from the monster, or move to a place where getting over to the other side of the room won't mean running straight through the enemy. All characters and enemies are also waypoints (it may seem like this is unnecessary, since you can only move to waypoints anyway, however you can be moved away from them by dodging or from knock-back attacks, etc.).

On each character's turn there are essentially three different things that they can do:
- Perform an action without moving
- Move without performing an action
- Move and perform an action

If a character both moves and performs an action on the same turn then they may suffer a minor penalty to the action depending on the action. They will also be unable to react while moving, however I haven't explained reactive actions yet, so I probably should do that now. Basically, I'm just stealing defence abilities from Vagrant Story; they're actions you can assign to buttons and when the relevant trigger occurs, if you press the button at the right time you can perform that action.

Some examples of these might by:

Respond to: Enemy moving away from you
Action: Follow them (they don't gain the benefits of ranged attacks, and if you want to attack them on your action you don't have to move as well)

Respond to: Enemy passes into the range of your currently equipped weapon while moving between two way points (neither of which is you, or the waypoint you're currently standing at).
Action: Free attack

Respond to: Projectile attack
Requires: Shield
Action: Deflect the attack

Respond to: Physical damage
Action: +1 STR for every 500 damage taken

Respond to: Being attacked
Requires: Shield
Action: Block (reduces damage)

Dodge Roll:
Respond to: Being attacked
Action: Dodge (no damage)

And so on (just look up the reactive abilities in Final Fantasy Tactics or Vagrant Story for more)

Okay, so it may seem like dodge is just plain superior to block, however that's only because I haven't mentioned stamina yet. Stamina is pretty much what you'd expect: using energetic actions uses up stamina, if you can't afford the stamina then you can't perform the action, when you're low on stamina you're reactions and general stats are reduced. There would probably be an action that allows you to rest for a turn to recover some stamina as well.

This should also have the nice effect of forcing you to win reasonably quickly, or become crippled and probably die, which means we don't have the problem of the player's performing the same 'dramatic' actions over and over again so that they become boring.

Okay, and the last major point: defending.
Characters can use their action to defend any waypoint (including other characters). There are various reactive actions that only occur when you're defending a way point. Some require you to be standing at that way point as well, but not all of them. For example:

Respond to: Attack on a way point you are defending while you are at that way point
Action: Attack targets you instead (you then have a chance to perform reactions against it - although not dodge, obviously)

Covering Fire:
Respond to: Ally is attacked while moving towards a way point you are defending or ally you are defending is attacked while moving.
Requires: Ranged weapon
Action: Warning shot (enemy takes minor damage and the attack is prevented)

(P.S. Reaction commands that trigger when defending are assigned separately to the normal ones, so they don't use up button allocations)

So long as we're improving the drama here, let's cover another one of my pet peeve's in roleplaying games that ties in nicely here. When a character goes down it should be a fucking big deal. So, how do we do this?
First of all, when the character goes down, the other characters should react. Not in a combat-mechanics sort of way, but in a 'they're real fucking people and their friend just got stabbed by a cave troll' sort of way. So, for example, shouting "nooo!" or their name and that sort of thing. Actual emotional stuff, like real people. If you want to extend it into combat mechanics as well, then maybe some kind of berserk status would work, or possibly even shock, depending on the personality of the character and their relationship with the character who just got taken down.
Second of all, in order for it to make sense dramatically that this is a big fucking deal, character KO should be a big fucking deal mechanically as well, at least in-battle. So, for example, items should have absolutely zero range - if you want someone revived you're going to have to get your healer over to them (which again provides a great chance for dramatic dialog if done right). This also makes Covering Fire and other defending abilities way more important. Any revival spells should probably also have a long cast time or something for similar reasons.

Oh, and I think it goes without saying that there needs to be some God of War style finishing moves. And while we're on monster death, I'm not having any of that, cleric-finishes-the-big-boss-off-by-hitting-it-for-14-damage crap, so monsters should have a minimum amount of damage that you need to hit for to actually deal the final blow (although it should still be pretty low so that it doesn't become impossible to finish it off because of low stamina).

[User Picture]From: tehexile
2007-08-13 10:22 pm (UTC)
i always like battles where the environment is interactive. this tends to happen more in strategy rpgs. bahamut lagoon is a good example, not only is there the usual different attack ranges and areas of effect, there are also different elemental fields, barriers to destroy, clouds of poison you cast heal spells on to get across, generator/egg things that release monsters if you accidentally hit them and chests in the middle of the battlefield that are occasionally chest mimics. shining force 3 battles are also fun, it has environmental modifiers such as movement speed being lower in deep woodland, your stats are modified by which party members are standing next to which (they form in-battle friendships and prefer standing next to their friends), you can find chests and secret area entrances by standing in certain parts of the map. ffta has the pushing people off great heights trick that i always liked as well.

for block and dodge... i'd say give block a higher probability than dodge. if you block, theres a high probability that youll take a reduced amount of damage. if you dodge, theres a high probability you'll take a large amount of damage and a small probability you'll take none. that seems more realistic to me because unless you'r agile, wearing decent armour and bracing for the blow is going to be easier than trying to get out of the way in time.

for the point about party deaths affecting the other players, i refer you to Star Ocean, particularly SO2. the party build up relationships with each other that are measured by how you get them to interact in the cut scenes (this affects which ending you get as well). if a party member is in battle and their favourite other party member goes down, they yell their name and go into a berserk rage. i tend to like games where characters build up relationships that can a) be modified and b) have some actual effect on the game, it adds a bit of depth to the RP when, lets face it, most computer RPGs don't have any.
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