The Theory of Gaming

April 28, 2008

How come the monsters in RPGs are never afraid of you?

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , , , — spotpuff @ 2:29

I played Final Fantasy for the first time in 1992. I was 10 years old and NES was all the rage. The learning curve was steep; the beginning of the game was challenging and not a whole lot of fun. But a friend of mine insisted the game got more fun as you went along, so I persevered and indeed he was telling the truth: the game did get more fun if you played past the difficult early stages.  Final Fantasy was the first RPG I had ever played but it would almost certainly not be my last.

Fast forward 16 years and the Final Fantasy series is still going strong. Square’s still putting out arguably the best RPGs in the world, and Final Fantasy is on at least its twelfth iteration, not counting spin offs and releases in other genres like Final Fantasy Tactics. I recently got a PSP and have played through Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 and am replaying Final Fantasy 1 in its 20th Anniversary Edition.

FF1 is still great and you can certainly see the progression made since the early days of RPGs. Crisis Core is beautiful, no doubt about it, and Square Enix have continued to improve their CG animations from their disastrous movie venture because the FMVs in the game are absolutely jaw dropping. They are bar none the best CG animations I have ever seen in a game or on a movie screen. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played a Final Fantasy since number 6 for the SNES, before the days where every game had FMV sequences, and thus have no recent Final Fantasy visuals to compare these to, but even when compared to the FMVs in recent hits such as World of Warcraft these are some stunning visuals and hold up very well.

Nevertheless, there are still some nagging things which seem to creep into every Final Fantasy game even though there are ways around them.

One of these annoyances is encounters with low-level monsters in low-level zones. For perfectly legitimate reasons, many games will have you traverse back to an earlier location in the game. You might need to talk to someone, get an item, fight some monsters. Whatever. You have to go, so you go. Now in games like Final Fantasy, which are “booby trap encounter” games (that’s a very technical term, I assure you), you tend to walk around and randomly encounter monsters as you do so. Sometimes, you’ll walk around for what seems like hours without encountering any monsters, and sometimes you’ll finish one fight, take a step and then run into another group of monsters while shouting “Random encounters my ass!” at the game screen. The annoying thing is, even when you are 50 levels ahead of the monsters, you still run into them. And even though you can pretty much kill all of them in one hit, you can still only really attack one monster at a time and they still might get to hit you first. So combat ends up taking a lot longer than it should given the monsters should really be afraid of you at this stage.

Crisis Core has a similar problem. There are side missions in Crisis Core that you can do in addition to the regular storyline of the game. Now for whatever reason, Square decided that you should be able to do these missions and level your character up far beyond where you should be to progress in the regular story. The regular story wasn’t all that interesting to me because I never played the original Final Fantasy VII for Playstation of which this game is a prequel. On the other hand, every time you do a side mission, you get a piece of loot. It could be materia, it could be an accessory, it could be an item. 90% of the time it’s crap, but for whatever reason, I found myself compelled to complete missions and continue getting loot that I had absolutely zero use for. Probably for the same reason I put myself through two years of the same crap in World of Warcraft.

Anyways, what ended up happening in Crisis Core is I was about 15-20 levels ahead of where I was supposed to be in the game’s storyline, so when I went back to playing it instead of doing side missions I was one-shotting monsters and 3 or 4 shotting bosses. A boss my cousin took 15 minutes to beat I killed in literally 10 seconds. And it wasn’t hard either, I just button mashed my way to victory.

Crisis Core is a booby trap encounter type game as well, but from a 3rd person view rather than an overhead view. Because the monsters are invisible and the combat screen is essentially the same as the regular world-wandering screen, you need some sort of transition time for monsters and the combat HUD to fade into view. For Crisis Core the transition is a line of text along with a voice announcement that says “Entering Combat”. And when the fight’s done, you sheath your sword and you see another line of text, along with another voice announcement, “Conflict Resolved”. Now besides Square’s questionable definition of conflict resolution, I became hugely annoyed with these transitions. Why? Because actual combat was taking less time than entering and exiting combat. These transitions don’t take long, about 4 seconds per encounter, but when you’re running around killing everything in 2 seconds or less, should you really be spending double that time looking at text on the screen that you’ve already seen 500 times?

The most aggravating thing about this is that Square solved this problem at least as early as Final Fantasy 6, and possibly earlier. In FF6 you got a trinket called the “Moogle Charm” that made it so you didn’t encounter any enemies in dungeons or in the world map. If you were in a dungeon, you still had to fight boss monsters, but you didn’t have to deal with the fodder in between. I can see why Square didn’t include this in Final Fantasy 1. For one thing, there’s no “accessory” slot for you to equip this to, unlike FF6 or Crisis Core. They could of course make it some piece of armor, like a helmet, or a weapon of some sort that had the same effect, but for whatever reason they didn’t.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game was an exact replica of the original game, but it isn’t. They did make some minor improvements which add to your enjoyment of the game greatly, such as party members auto-targetting a new monster to attack if the one you told them to attack at the start of the turn was killed along the way, or you not trying to talk to the air if you hit the talk button accidentally while wandering around town, or the use of mana to cast spells instead of the “x casts per magic tier” as in the original. Believe me, if you played FF1, you will understand and know that these are good things to have added to the game.

Given Square added other things to the re-release of the game, the lack of a “no monster encounters” (NME) item seems like a bit of an oversight. You need to go through monster battles to gain experience and level up; if not, you won’t be able to beat boss monsters and progress through the game, so having a NME trinket is not a huge advantage for the player to fast-track through the game and in fact makes progression impossible when you reach a gatekeeper monster such as a boss. It is however a huge time saver to bypass those annoying encounters that seem to pop up far more often than you would like when you are traversing through previously visited areas of the game.

I honestly have no clue why Square didn’t put such an NME trinket in either the FF1 remake or Crisis Core, but they didn’t. If you’re easily annoyed like I am, every time you run into a group of monsters you really shouldn’t be running into you get annoyed, and a 5 second battle feels like a minute and your 2nd encounter feels like your 100th. I hope that other RPG/adventure game producers consider this point and allow players to skip encounters that are wholly unnecessary to the progress of the game. If you want, you can give it to the player near the end of the game, where most of the backtrack-type quests are given anyways, but please put an item like this into all your games. Those goblins were scary at level 1, but not at level 50.

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2 Comments »

  1. I’m with you, Square arguably puts out some of the most fantastic – if not *the* most fantastic CG work together that really suit the flow and mood of their games. FF7 Advent Children should have been what Spirits Within was – the fans that went to see it would have resonated with that film and story much more than with a random sci-fi film.

    I think Square is seriously underestimating their target gamer. Or I should say, the target gamer is overestimating the details that Square puts in its titles. Details like maxxing out characters to L99 and unlocking every possible “secret” to be unlocked and things like that, are what ppl who migrated from the NES/SNES days would expect from Square, but really, since even FF7 times, there’s been a serious decline in the details in most of Square’s games. The excellent sidequests of Chrono Trigger and FF6 have been replaced by seriously lame “mini games” that are, for the most part, so complex that one wonders why meaningful character driven sidequests were eliminated or pushed aside, for these accessible mini games. You know how it was with CT, how you could build your party up to ridiculous levels and really how you could access sidequests that were actually relevant and could provide closure to characters. Same with FF6. Nowadays you don’t see that as much anymore. The fact that they have to build the sidequests in as “missions” in Crisis Core doesn’t really impress me as muhc because in a way you’re not really encouraged to do any of the missions. As far as I know most are all item hunts and rarely do any of them really go towards character development. It’s a shame, but where I feel Square has weakened a lot is in their game dynamics. They’ve shifted their focus from an immersive character driven story to an incredibly-immersive graphics powered “action” RPG. Almost all of the most recent Square “RPG” related games have had a distinct “real time” action feel to it.

    Dirge of Cerberus was a 3rd person shooter, Crisis Core is full out action-rpg, FFX-2 became an RPG with action platforming and even FF12 even has the “live” action battle system reminiscent of FF11’s MMOG system. There’s a push towards more flash, more button pushing for gamers to do and really, less detail in the meticulous crafting of the story that they have become known for way back when.

    The whole leaving out an anti-enemy encounter materia doesn’t entirely surprise me. I mean there’s unfortunately not much to do in an action-rpg when there is nothing to kill, so they probably figured that would kill the replay value on the game *too* much. For FF1, I figure it was easiest to just port code over and make adjustments, rather than re-coding for new factors. Could have also been that they were anal about keeping the FF1 experience the “same” across all the game iterations.

    Square’s still a fantastic game company that produces quality, revolutionary (at least vs. its own releases and genre releases) games, but in terms of where their focus has been thrown on, its painfully obvious that immersive stopped meaning character development and began meaning photo-realistic environment.

    Comment by Noc — May 1, 2008 @ 1:32

  2. […] monsters in RPGs are never afraid of you?Those goblins were scary at level 1, but not at level 50.https://theoryofgaming.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/how-come-the-monsters-in-rpgs-are-never-afraid-of-you…GoblinGoblins are a different, more grotesque variety of gnomes. They are known to be playful, but […]

    Pingback by goblins — June 3, 2008 @ 7:45


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