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Thread: Final Fantasy II and Modern Character Progression Systems - Editorial

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    Final Fantasy II and Modern Character Progression Systems - Editorial

    New staff writer Trent Seely discusses the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series and the problem with contemporary character and skill progression systems. Is he bringing light to a failing of modern RPGs or is he upset over nothing?

    http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2012/072312ts.html

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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    My only problem with FF2 was the actual lack of 'levels' being used. I know that defeats the purpose of the system, but it's nice to be able to look at a stat and see "Oh, my HP is at the level 3 range (which could be 400 to 800 HP). I think I'll grind it so it's at the level 4 range", or things like that. While the traditional numbers WERE there, in terms of Strength being at 43 and things like that, it was very hard to tell if you were overleveled or underleveled for the battles in FF2. Just having a 'level' number probably would have made people like the game more.
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    A Serious Man Drav's Avatar
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    Article would be improved by replacing all instances of "RPGs" with "Final Fantasy games".

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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThroneofDravaris View Post
    Article would be improved by replacing all instances of "RPGs" with "Final Fantasy games".
    You're saying we don't have instances of failure in any other RPG series? You are either mad or crazy. Meaning you are either General Baal or you're Lezard Valeth. WHICH IS IT!?
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    The editorialist must not have finished FFX, since customization really opens up once the player finishes each character's sphere grid path. Basically, I think the writer is upset over nothing.
    Last edited by LOLOttertard; 07-23-2012 at 10:36 AM.

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    GM,DM,PC,NPC,1P,2P & TG TG Barighm's Avatar
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    It's not really customization if you can't do it until the end of the game.

    And I didn't really have a problem with FF2's lack of levels, although it kind of does have levels. I'm pretty sure it would list the current levels of spells and weapon skills and the like. My problem with FF2 was exploits, the fourth character slot, and the difficulty of leveling so many abilities. A lot of them leveled so incredibly slowly. I wanted to use more spells, but I remember putting a lot of time and effort to get one to high levels and it still did pitiful damage. It was a chore and the story wasn't interesting enough to make up for it. Maybe if progression was faster or new spells acquired later on were more powerful from the start, it would have been more fun.

    In other words, there was nothing wrong with the IDEA, but the execution was flawed. Saga Frontier had a very similar system and it works fine.

    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
    Last edited by TG Barighm; 07-23-2012 at 02:41 PM.

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    Dread News Editor RPGamer Staff Fowl Sorcerous's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simba B View Post
    The editorialist must not have finished FFX, since customization really opens up once the player finishes each character's sphere grid path. Basically, I think the writer is upset over nothing.
    It's not really customization when you max out one track and then start slapping stuff from a second class at the end of the game. Customization comes from choices where all options are of comparable value. When you buy a car and they let you decide which interior you'd like and then what colour it is, no one is going to let you get away with saying you customized it.

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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TG Barighm View Post
    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
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    GM,DM,PC,NPC,1P,2P & TG TG Barighm's Avatar
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    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
    Maybe so, but you have to realize Skyrim's progression system is actually more linear than previous Elder Scrolls games (can't make your own spells; limited enchanting options; very obvious directions for what to do next; the cost of some perks is so high it's actually not possible to hybridize effectively until high levels; perk tree system arguably encourages players to stick to specific trees). While Skyrim is still one of the most nonlinear RPGs out there, compared to previous ES games, it is the most linear one yet; thus, it can be argued the addition of a more linear progression system made it MORE popular. I'm not saying that is exactly what happened, nor do I believe that (I think Skyrim's success was the result of a big fanbase being pleased by the first long awaited sequel to actually deliver in an age where so many new entries in major franchises are a disappointment). I'm just saying the comparisons are there and it can be argued that way.

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    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    My problem behind the idea of "How you play will determine your character's growth" in FF2 is that it simply doesn't work out too well. The main issue behind all this is that the only impediment to making your characters good in all aspects is time. Granted, I don't remember much about FF2 other than disliking it, so I don't have much room to talk on that subject. Frankly, I think FFX does a better job with the sphere grid, because the time taken to max the entire sphere grid for each character would take far too long than a "normal" playthrough would allow. FF12 on the other hand dropped the ball miserably, as even though the License Board acts as a way to customize each character, you can easily max out the entire thing, or most of the relevant parts, effectively making every character clones of one another with only very minute stat differentials, and no real varied limit breaks that each character had to make them unique in X. 13-2 also screwed up big time, because they never tell the player that leveling a certain class on the larger nodes will yield more stats of that class type than the smaller nodes will. Its especially egregious when you consider you never had to worry about this type of BS in FF13, and largely appears to be the same system at work. 13 to me was perfect, I didn't have to worry about my characters becoming clones of one another. They each had 3 classes they could use effectively, making all of them different while having the option to focus on a role for a given time, but knowing that you'll never screw yourself in the end.

    Quote Originally Posted by TG Barighm View Post

    Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an end to linear leveling any time soon. I think people have either lost patience with nonlinear progression (more like they're tired of being insulted for creating a bad build) or are just too busy to bother. Even hardcore gamers have split on this issue. Everyone wants their choices to matter NOW and nobody wants to spend endless hours building themselves up to respectability (only to be trumped by some guy armed with spreadsheets and way too much time on his hands). It's much easier to create a bunch of totally linear classes and give people a choice of what class to play and then balance the effectiveness of those classes based on what they're expected to do (well, I gather it's easier to do it that way). If they could keep things balanced, nonlinear progression systems would be more fun, but apparently it's hard as heck to do that.
    I completely agree with what you're saying here, TG. My main problem with with choice based stat and skill customization is that often the player is punished in some way for being asked to respec. It just kills experimentation to me. Why would anyone want to have fun experimenting with abilities if, for example, you need to regain additional levels (Etrian Odyessy) or god for bid not to even have the option to reset entirely, which as you say, is extremely insulting. Then there is the problem with the game not telling you exactly what the mechanics are behind a certain skill or ability. Take Nether Tentacles from Diablo 3, for example, an ability which was "secretly" incredibly powerful because its slow moving properties allowed multiple hits on larger enemies due to how the floating ball worked in dealing damage. How is the player supposed to know it has this additional effect unless they observe it for themselves? Any time you only have 1 short sentence describing what a skill will do, generally the player will be forced to try it out or even look to one of those guys with spreadsheets to determine if the skill has any value rather than being able to do so themselves.

    Viability is also a huge problem. In Devil Survivor, you just weren't creating a very strong MC unless he was devoted to either Strength or Magic with some points being spent in HP. Agility really wasn't needed at all, and if you tried to make a jack of all trades, you simply ended up with a much weaker character by comparison. Looking at Diablo 3 again, the Witch Doctor has so many useless abilities/runes that "comparable value" can hardly even be applied to them. If you're going to make nonlinear progression, there has to be enough decent alternatives to choose from.
    Last edited by ChickenGod; 07-23-2012 at 02:47 PM.
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    Tactic's Ogre I choose u! scorpio_7's Avatar
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    I find nonlinear character building to be an interesting concept... challenging... and can be very frustrating if you do not know EXACTLY what kind of character you are building.

    If a player does not fully understand the schematics around building their characters... how do you build strength, how do you build HP, how do you build your capacity for magic?... then they may find themselves with a very weak or imbalanced character. Players with a sound understanding on how to build their character, will have the higher advantage.

    I remember ff2 and my frustration when one character would be a really bad weak spot, because for some reason they had a lot of trouble gaining HP, it wasn't until I read online that you should hit your own characters to help speed up the hp-building, that I was able to fix that problem.

    A leveling system keeps players in check and balanced so that all players/characters stand at relative equality in build/power.

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    One thing I give credit to the Final Fantasy series for is the willingness to try new things. Granted, they don't always work, but at least they try.

    Final Fantasy XIII focused more on the tactics in a battle than the party advancement. Where as games such as Etrian Odyssey focus more on party make-up. Then we have games such as SMT:Nocturne where party makeup and progression change significantly as you recruit and fuze new demons.

    I'd rather a game pick a few areas they like to focus on and do them well, and not try to do every aspect of the game to the Nth degree.

    I know it's been mentioned, but one very valid question is how permanent should advancement be? Can you respec? Can you paint yourself into a corner with a bad build? I like that Diablo III makes the build all about selected skills and equipment, and not about how you spent points on each level up.

    There are also other questions to consider. At what level of skill with the build system should you target the game's difficulty? If you fail at building a good character, should the game become impossible? If you take advantage of a few tricks, can you make the game a breeze? What if a boss requires a skill that you just don't have?

    The character advancement system impacts the entire rest of the game. It doesn't stand alone. I do like games that allow for different builds and different play styles, as they lend themselves to better replay, but they also have to work with the rest of the game.

    Also, can we get rid of the notions of buying skills that do nothing but make buying more skills cheaper? Ugh.

  13. #13
    At the risk of sounding like Cranky Kong, there's just too much hand-holding in today's gameplay for this kind of free character customization. At some point (probably during the 16-bit era), a JRPG's story-driven gameplay flow took priority over the "adventuring" concept, and it's made waves throughout other genres. Instead, character progression and combat are tweaked just enough to keep things at a certain challenge level while moving the player along.

    I like the idea of building a character from scratch and having full control over development as I progress. Unfortunately, it's quite difficult to blend it well with the campaign. Even one of my favorites, Final Fantasy Tactics, is a bit clunky in this regard.
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    Member Jitawa's Avatar
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    I enjoy the more free-form leveling style of games like SaGa Frontier (or Romancing SaGa... or any of the Gameboy SaGas). There's a random element, but it also tends to make every party you make a little unique in some ways. It's a good thing. For me, the "I got a bit stronger swinging this heavy sword" (but not better at anything else) makes more sense than "I killed my 8th moblin, now I'm level 3 and can cast new spells."

    Also, there's a hilarity factor in making a character super-strong and realizing he's too slow to actually hit anything. In contrast, Dark Souls lets you pick your stats and very slowly increment them by single points (your level mostly reflects cost of the points). The viability of your character has more to do with skill than optimum stats.

  15. #15
    The "whatever you do, you will get better at exactly that" leveling system is a brilliant idea. The idea itself is far superior than all other character progression system. Its main advantage is that the game is able to automatically adjust to the player's playing style. The player isn't forced into certain system and doesn't have to play the character exactly have the developer wants him to. Instead he gets a choice and this is awesome.

    Theoretical application: You think the magic system in that RPG sucks and you don't really want to bother with it? No problem, you just never use magic and thus your physical skills will increase a lot, balancing out the disadvantage you get from neglecting a game system.
    This is of course a very general example, but it also works if you go deeper into the details.

    While game design-wise this progression system is perfect, its execution isn't very easy. The system needs to be perfectly balanced but on the same time needs to be so complicated and random that it's impossible for a player to figure it out (which would allow him to just exploit it or even worse, cause him to play in a way to optimize his stats - once a player starts caring about how the system works, it will ruin the improved experience the system offers).

    FF2 is an example where the system isn't executed very well, because it is too easy to figure out that the HP you gain is always "HP lost / 2". So you basically never equip any armor and always try to get damaged as much as possible without dieing.

    SaGaFrontier is a good example of a much better implementation of the system. Here you really won't be able to figure it out easily or at all.

    Back to FF2 - Honestly including "HP" in this system isn't such a good idea anyway. The only reason to gain HP/Def would be if you play the character like a tank. Y'know with taunt and protect skills. Or maybe differentiate between "Def" and "I prefer evading the attacks", by making it depend on how good you can evade (assuming it needs player input to dodge). Making HP/Def gain based on how much you get damaged might be realistic (in real life if you endure much pain, you get used to it much better, your skin will also get harder), but doesn't really work out gameplay-wise.

    Also one more thing I like about this system: It doesn't really limit you like the traditional leveling system. If you want, you can grind out your weak points.

    In the traditional leveling system you either need too much Exp for the next level or just reached max level already anyway. It seems much more limited. Honestly the traditional leveling system doesn't even make much sense, unless the game is designed around grinding and leveling up has a clearly noticable effect. In that sense it's much better executed in WRPGs / Pen&Paper where progression is strongly noticable (as you have access to "too hard" areas from the start and realize how much stronger you got when you come back to them later and just squash those mobs).

    Yep that's pretty much it. :-)

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    Member Cidolfas's Avatar
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    I would say exactly the opposite: it's games where you can't figure out the basics of the system which turn me off this style of leveling. For example, in some games, magic is mostly ineffective; in others, it overpowers physical attributes. What's worse, in many games you don't know this is the case until late in the game (early spells might be pointless but late ones can wreak havoc). Because the games hide their details from you, you are not making an informed decision in your builds. That's why I prefer having leveling be more or less linear, and making the strategy rely on equipment, skill set, party makeup, etc.
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    Member Kiralyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkRPGMaster View Post
    I don't know, Skyrim did a good job of nonlinear progression in its leveling system. Sure you'll see some of the issues with the perks system, but that's down to preferences.
    Heh. Head on over to the Skyrim forums, and see all the arguments about how unbalanced the game is, how broken the leveling is, etc. ("The game is too easy, even on Master! I just have to level ______, and I can kill everything at level 10!" Meanwhile, people who leveled their skills and spent their perks differently find the game challenging at Adept difficulty. Yeah, there's obviously a player-skill component, given that it's an action-combat game; but how you level up your skills has a huge effect on game balance. The difficulty system really doesn't take into account your build at all.)


    Quote Originally Posted by XR2 View Post
    I know it's been mentioned, but one very valid question is how permanent should advancement be? Can you respec? Can you paint yourself into a corner with a bad build? I like that Diablo III makes the build all about selected skills and equipment, and not about how you spent points on each level up.
    Hmm. I know that some people like that you can respec at any time, but that was one of the things I found disappointing about D3.... I'm an alt-a-holic. In games with all sorts of varied builds (especially ones where there's less story and more hack/slash/loot), I like to try making new characters, trying different approaches, etc. I'm not one of the people who believes in the "meh, there was no customization anyway - everyone just followed The One True Build from the guides" position. So having infinite total respec (and skills unlocked by level in the same order every time) killed a lot of the replay value of that game - there's no reason to ever make a second character of a class, except for the "level two barbarians/monks/etc to level 60" achievement.


    ------

    Yes, non-linear, "gain skill in what you use", freeform leveling systems are more interesting. I know it's one of the things I enjoy about the Elder Scrolls games. But it really is a great deal harder to balance. Not surprising that most games go for the more regimented approach.

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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiralyn View Post
    Heh. Head on over to the Skyrim forums, and see all the arguments about how unbalanced the game is, how broken the leveling is, etc. ("The game is too easy, even on Master! I just have to level ______, and I can kill everything at level 10!" Meanwhile, people who leveled their skills and spent their perks differently find the game challenging at Adept difficulty. Yeah, there's obviously a player-skill component, given that it's an action-combat game; but how you level up your skills has a huge effect on game balance. The difficulty system really doesn't take into account your build at all.)
    I think that's what I like about it. I'm playing mostly as a stealth class, with my sneak, lockpicking, light armor, one-handed, blocking, and archery skills being among the highest. I also know smithing to make alot of the lighter sets of armor easier. I must say, I like how challenging this makes the game in terms of surviving. I actually fight creatures often where I'm having to spam health potions to avoid dying, despite the majority of my level up points being put into health and Stamina equally. I also have some points in Magicka just for casting some of those lovely invisibility skills.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cidolfas View Post
    I would say exactly the opposite: it's games where you can't figure out the basics of the system which turn me off this style of leveling. For example, in some games, magic is mostly ineffective; in others, it overpowers physical attributes. What's worse, in many games you don't know this is the case until late in the game (early spells might be pointless but late ones can wreak havoc). Because the games hide their details from you, you are not making an informed decision in your builds. That's why I prefer having leveling be more or less linear, and making the strategy rely on equipment, skill set, party makeup, etc.
    You need to learn to let go of trying to analyze the game system.
    Back when I still was in a community where we could philosoph about game design all day, we noticed that everybody who liked SaGaFrontier didn't try to understand the leveling system. Those who didn't like the game tried to understand the leveling system and criticized just like you that it's impossible to understand.
    The conclusion is: Don't try to understand it!

    And again: As I said it depends strongly on how well executed the system is. It HAS to be perfectly balanced meaning that no matter how the player plays, he will always we similar as strong (as long as he keeps his playing style).

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    Tactic's Ogre I choose u! scorpio_7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jitawa View Post
    I enjoy the more free-form leveling style of games like SaGa Frontier (or Romancing SaGa... or any of the Gameboy SaGas). There's a random element, but it also tends to make every party you make a little unique in some ways. It's a good thing. For me, the "I got a bit stronger swinging this heavy sword" (but not better at anything else) makes more sense than "I killed my 8th moblin, now I'm level 3 and can cast new spells."

    Also, there's a hilarity factor in making a character super-strong and realizing he's too slow to actually hit anything. In contrast, Dark Souls lets you pick your stats and very slowly increment them by single points (your level mostly reflects cost of the points). The viability of your character has more to do with skill than optimum stats.
    I'm sure it is hilarious when you reach the final boss with that character who can't hit anything, and then you realize those 40+ hours that you have played were completely wasted. Random growth = time wasted in my opinion.

    A more organized form of character growth/customization is much more effective. It doesn't have to be "levels" per say.... but something that can be controlled/directed.

    Jitawa you make an interesting point about character growth/viability should be more based on skill instead of optimum stats.... I think this mentality comes from the streamlining of rpg's into more action oriented games. Look at the difference between character building in the diablo series... at one point you could add attribute points as you level your character.... whereas in diablo 3 that was removed to create a more streamlined experience.

    This creates an aguement between those who play for customization/control in their rpg, and those who play mainly for the action/gameplay. The question becomes what type of gamer someone is, and what type of game they want to play.

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