Nov 152011

Once we’re done with our current projects and have some money saved up, I’d love to take a few years, maybe hire an extra person or two, and make something truly amazing – an RPG that could stand toe to toe with the classics of the past.

Now I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like in a JRPG, but I was curious to see what others thought on the matter and so I posted the following question on my twitter account: “JRPG fans – what would your ultimate JRPG be like?” I got dozens of responses – many from individuals who work in the video game industry – and the results were interesting.

Below, I present to you the 5 most common elements I saw, in roughly their order of popularity.

1. Control of a Well Written Plot – This was by far the most common element I saw in the responses. Fans want a strong, well thought out plot, but they also want to have some say over what happens.

2. Turn-based battle system – There was a lot of variety in exactly what kind of battle system they wanted (the Grandia, Shin Megami Tensei, and Final Fantasy series were all brought up many times) but one thing was clear – many fans miss the days when turn-based combat was the norm and not the exception.

3. Complex, intricate LV-Up system – Job systems and skill systems were especially popular.

4. Exploration – Players wanted huge worlds with the freedom to explore. No wonder Xenoblade and popular Western sandbox RPGs like Fallout and Skyrim review so well!

5. More adult plots – Fans that grow up on JRPGs in the 80s, 90s, and beyond are now adults and want to be treated as such.

So taking this feedback and my opinions into consideration, here’s a rough premise I came up with.

World is a mix of fantasy & science fiction. Main city in the world is a dystopia ala Midgar that wouldn’t look out of place in Shadowrun. Outside the city, there’s a dangerous wilderness that’s mostly unknown to the civilized world. Main player is a computer that gained sentience and corporeal form (can choose to be either male or female). Main plot has various branches – do you side with those who would use your powers? Go on a quest of self discovery? Seek the quiet life that no one will let you have? There will also be various optional major plot lines ala the Elder Scrolls series guild quests.

Party composition and party member relationships would have an effect on dialogue, plot, available dungeons, etc. None of this “Chie has pledged her undying love to you but her dialogue and actions are still exactly the same in all major plot scenes” nonsense.

Combat will be turn-based and probably loosely based on the Grandia series. LV-Up system would be kind of like the Materia from FF7 except each character has one exclusive Materia that can not be unequipped and individual Materia can be customized ala the Sphere Grid from FF10.

Lots of exploration possibilities. To keep difficulty in control without removing the player’s feeling of progression, each area will have a possible LV range however the LV choosen will be based on things like the player’s progression when they first go to that area. For example, an early area might have a LV range of 1-10 so if you go there right at the beginning, enemies will be permanently locked into LV1 and would stay that way for the entire game. However if you didn’t go there until the end of the game, the enemies would be locked at LV10 (even if you’re say LV50 – still want to make the early area feel like an early area). Conversely, a late game area might have a LV range of 50-60 so if you went there early, it’d get locked into LV50 which might still be way more than you could handle.

2D pixel art and an awesome soundtrack. ’cause that’s just how we do things here.

And now for a quick Q&A:

Will this actually be made? Beats me. Keep in mind that we’re not going to be starting any new projects for a while (gotta finish what we’ve already begun first!) and I scrap ideas almost as quickly as I come up with them so there’s no guarantee this idea will ever turn into anything.

Why do you keep mentioning other games? Don’t you want to be original? This isn’t even at a design document state. Mentioning other games is a quick and easy way to give everyone a general idea. Once a game is further along, that’s when you can start talking details and how to make it more unique.

Aren’t you afraid someone else will steal your ideas? Not particularly. They’re just ideas. Taking these ideas and turning them into an actual high quality game would take a talented team years of work .Plus these ideas are just a starting point – if you gave these ideas to two talented designers and teams, you’d end up with two drastically different games in the end.

 Posted by at 9:55 am

  15 Responses to “The Ultimate JRPG? – The results of an informal survey and some ideas”

  1. I think that The Last Remnant was pretty close to being the ultimate JRPG at least for me. It was by far the most fun i’ve had playing one and meets all five points pretty well.

  2. None of this “Chie has pledged her undying love to you but her dialogue and actions are still exactly the same in all major plot scenes” nonsense.

    hahahah Bioware reference?

  3. Skipping forward quite a lot, I’d like to put in my skewed two cents on the “complex, intricate LV-Up system”.

    I shy away from games where you have to pick and choose.

    It’s not that I want a game that just gives you everything like Mystic Quest, but I don’t want to miss out on something or, considering my past aspirations to make “uber-files”, have to weigh one thing against another.

    Thus, there’s two ways I can think of to appeal to my noncommittal sensibilities. One is New Game+ (FFX-2 saw abuse of this when I tried for its uber-file). The other would be to expand the job systems’ “you have to go and earn this thing” requirement to skills and spells and such.

    Instead of giving me everything or making me pick and choose from a list, make things interesting to get to. This could even be blended with the one-or-the-other, where in order to get what I gave up on, I’d have to traverse a dungeon or something. How many of use wanted to take both of the fossils from the Super Nerd in the original Pokémon games? How about, once I choose the Dome Fossil (because, really, why wouldn’t you?), the Super Nerd goes into reclusion deep in a cave, and I have to go in there to challenge him for the other fossil (or even one of the offspring of the fossil’s resultant)?

    Basically, I don’t like knowing that I can’t get something, so even just knowing the option is there puts me at ease, and I can go on questing, knowing that I can just pick it up later if I want to.

    (Heck, I still haven’t finished Pokémon Platinum nor Black, partially because of all the CHOICES to make. It’s a bit daunting, and I don’t wanna make ones I’ll regret, since those games only have one save slot.)

  4. Wonderful musings here. Once you step into the world of JRPGs, the sky is literally the limit on how far you’ll let the feature bloat take you. Defining parameters and running with it seems to be the key to success. Very cool concepts though all around.

    I may come back to this to reference the points of interest at some future date…

  5. This is quite a tantalizing topic. I do wish I’d seen the original survey you distributed, because I would have liked to contribute to that. I am heartened to see that so many people miss the old turn-based, exploration and dungeon grind-style RPGs though.

    My main thoughts and comments on this:

    1 — I’m somewhat less worried about a good story than most. This is not to say I want a bad story either, its just that I’ve been frustrated in recent years by what seems like the trend towards treating RPGs more like a form of visual storytelling and less like an interactive entertainment medium. Only my opinion, but there are too many AAA titles larded up with cutscenes and FMV eyecandy that simultaneously drive the game mechanics, class distinctions, and battle tactics further into the background. Arg.

    So yeah, while I agree that a well-written plot and good story are desirable, I regard them as way to set up the motivations and challenges in the game, not the end in of itself.

    2 — One thing I *really* miss, that is rarely seen these days, is RPGs that ask you to make clear, distinct, and irreversible decisions about your party composition early in the game. Think FF1 or any of the Wizardry games. You build your party and then soldier through the game working with the strengths/weaknesses of your party composition. This approach is so rarely seen these days it may as well be an antique. I think the Etrian Odyssey games (DS) are the only recent examples I can think of.

    It is a pity though, as these kinds of RPGs have inherit replay value just because of the different party comps.

    3 — Challenge. While the game doesn’t need to be brutal, I do like RPGs where your foes can take a beating and dish one out too. There should be a payoff for using good offensive and defensive tactics. It should be frequently necessary to carefully prepare your party for expeditions and exploit all of the advantages available to you to succeed.

    Yeah, I know this is all some pretty general commentary, but its late and I don’t want to get too long-winded :).

  6. A wonderful post. It’s so warming to see both developers and fans yearning for classic-style turn-based RPGs – fantastic games that go beyond simple nostalgia to be worthwhile.

    Most of what I would have said has already been covered. I’d just like to add one small aspect, already touched upon in the plot. Characters are one of the most important parts of any game, particularly an RPG. It’s not necessary to have a well-fleshed out individual with layers of depth to create an endearing character. It can certainly help if done properly, but we don’t love iconic characters such as Mario, Link, Samus, etc. because they’re deep, involving characters; we love them because they’re simple, colorful, and distinct.

    I think Zeboyd games already has this down-pat. The party members are varied and distinct in terms of personality, appearance, and in-battle gameplay. The closest parallel I can draw is Chrono Trigger, where alongside humans, you have a robot, a frog knight, a creepy sorceror, and a cavewoman – all of whom are likeable and charming (yes, even Magus!). They give the game a great deal of personality, and while CT’s storyline is engaging and unique, I think it would be sorely lacking in charm if Robo was merely a cybernetically-advanced human, Frog was a human knight seeking to avenge his fallen friend, and so forth. You guys are on the right track giving us skeletons, vampires, alien cats, dragons, talking swords, and so forth. They give the game a similar irresistible personality, and I felt very attached to Dem, Cthulu, and their respective crews – more attached than most other RPGs that spend much, much more focus and effort on their plotliness.

    Thanks for listening! I hope to be playing games from you guys for many years to come. 🙂

  7. Do me a huge favor if you don’t mind. Please do not use Wild Arms 5 and White Knight Chronicles 1 as resource materials for how to make a game. Both main characters are just utterly unbelievable and in my book they tend to ruin the game big time, in Wild Arms 5, and sometimes, in White Knight Chronicles.

    Wild Arm’s 5 is just too full of optimism to be anywhere near believable. The main character in that game constantly had me grinding my teeth out of wishing he would just shut up.

    White Knight Chronicles just creates situations out of thin air, meaning there is no point to what is happening in the story to actually happen. There are many examples, but for spoilers sake, I will just say the relationship with the main character and the princess in that game is utterly ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense. Also, this game has a nasty habit of splitting things up in a strange manner, where you constantly wonder how is this event happening in that city while somebody who is in that event is here with me at the moment? The game has a sever disconnect with time and place, and will place many characters in places far, far away from each other in an extremely short space of time. I really dig the Knight Scenario in this game, but the disjointed story keeps taking me out of the game and into critics ville.

  8. I like the idea of a large world, but when I think of JRPGs, especially those from the 80s & 90s I don’t think of anything sandbox related. If anything, the game just needs a large, explorable over world. You mentioned Grandia, which does immediately get my interest piqued though. If anything, I just wish another JRPG would come along that had the charm of something like Lunar Silver Star Story

  9. Hmm, the things I miss the most and that I found the absolute most fun in rpg’s in general…..

    First I will do your numbered list.

    1. Plot is nice and all, but you don’t need complete freedom. You can put a invisible bar in the game that moves left or right depending on choices, and give one of two or more endings depending where you place on the bar. Or you can go the Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne route and make an over all ending and make slight variations depending on what you have done. If you want another awesome take on plot devices and story telling, play Dragon Quest 7, or maybe its Dragon Warrior 7 in the US, may of been the last one released with that name iirc.

    2. I am a huge fan of turn based battle systems. I would make one suggestion though, don’t make it as fast as your last two games. While I love the speed of your last two games, its really hard to appreciate a lot of your monsters in your games with how fast they die. It may seem like a poor way to pad game length, but for me personally its a way to make me feel more at home in the game world. I think Dragon Quest 8’s battle system is a good idea of that. The monsters in that game lasted long enough to really hurt your party, so you always had to play smartly in longer dungeons.

    3. Leveling up systems….I love jobs. Final Fantasy 5 is a good example, so is Dragon Quest 7. I also rather enjoyed your leveling up system in your last two games, and I think them playing a part in your future game is a good idea. I would think along the lines of doing away with the stat boosts, and offer the possibility of character specific moves every 5 or 10 levels, and by offering 2 every 5 or 10 lv’s, a person can mold their characters how they want them. Kinda like having to pick what to do with the Dragon Quest 8 system where you have to choose where to spend points, focus on one selection, or spread your points to customize your character in a more interesting manor. Just one favor, do not adopt a level up system where mobs give you different xp amounts until you hit a certain lv then go down to giving you 1 single xp point until you go to a new area. Also, don’t be scared of grind situations. One way to make grinding more enjoyable is to put a fairly low drop rate on gear off monsters, meaning allow monsters to drop items. All the old jrpg’s featured grinding at various points, and yet we all remember them fondly.

    4. Ok, exploration. This is very important to me. I don’t care about a big, wide open world as much as I care about optional content. I love going to area’s with monsters that just own me, and coming back later when the monsters are barely beatable and slowly working my way through the zone, and then getting owned by the boss at the end. Yes, I enjoy that, because even though I can’t take the boss, at least I got the items in the dungeon and took on an incredibly challenging place. This is one reason I like the grind leveling experience. It is much harder to out level later content by a large amount if lv’s are slow to come by to begin with. Prime examples of my favorite optional content would have to be Final Fantasy 7, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and Phantasy Star 4. I really enjoyed the weapon fights in FF7. I really enjoyed the optional deep dungeon of Nocturne, and I guess another really good example of that is Lufia 2’s dungeon that had like 100 floors and reset you to lv one everytime you went in, but you were able to find and keep special gear that would leave the dungeon with you and go back in when you start it over. In Phantasy Star 4, I really enjoyed their hunter premise. You were part of a guild, and as you made it so far into the story, new hunter missions popped up from kill quests to exploring new, optional dungeons that didn’t become available until you gained a certain vehicle. Exploration to me is about the optional content more than the amount of empty space my character’s feet will touch during the journey through the game.

    5. I like your plots, but yeah, in order to hold people for longer than a few hours, more adult themes really help. You already know a lot of good games that have plots you can see in action. I highly recommend all the Shin Megami Tensei games minus the Persona series. Persona 3 and 4 are good games, but they continue the same trend that is killing jrpg’s nowadays, using mostly all teenage main characters, so it is tiring now. I am sure somebody listed this game too, but along with the Shin Megami games I mentioned, I also whole heartedly think you should look at Lost Odyssey for the Xbox 360. My only grip with that game is its level up system, other than that, the game is a 10.

    When it comes to sheer fun, I really enjoyed the Lufia series, especially part 2. Nocturne was awesome for a challenge and really adult themes, and another thing you can look at, monsters you recruit to your party who hold no part in the story, but give you a huge potential party that gives the player extreme customization options with who they share their precious party spots with. For an old school style game, I wouldn’t mind seeing one group spot reserved for a party member like that, but not 2 or 3 because the reason 3 spots worked in Nocturne, is its story was minimal, and even your main character didn’t take center stage in story scenes other than by making his presence felt with only his presence. This made the game flow around your party more than the story.

    One bonus plot device I would highly recommend is something that made Final Fantasy 5 so much more of an experience for me. His name was Gilgamesh. When I played Final Fantasy 12, and found him in that game as a hunt, with his awesome theme song done with an orchestra, suffice it to say, it elevated Final Fantasy 12 for me from an interesting game to an awesome game. A single, well defined comedy relief character will do that to a game, so I can’t help but recommend one like that. You develop the character, give them a back story. For Gilgamesh, he was a sword collector who was after mythical swords. He always thinks he has Excalibur, but he always ends up with a weapon called Excalipur, which hit for 1 point of damage in FF 5 if I remember right.

    To expand on his music, I found both the FF 5 and the FF 12 songs on youtube. Listen to them and imagine taking on an 8 armed man with a weapon in each arm.

    FF 5

    FF 12

  10. My two cents, cuz I love your games.

    1. I agree that this should be number one, but whenever you add a “control” element, the ability to tell the story as a narrator gets reduced by that much. Even if there’s only one choice to be made in the game, you have to write two completely different endings, that somehow both stand on their own, tie together the plot of the entire game (hopefully in different ways) and make them unique enough to have it *worth* making that choice. The “choice” in DQ5 was neat, but ultimately unimportant.

    It seems almost always easier to write a plot that is -cohesive-, but undeviating from beginning to end. Games with large amounts of choice come out in two ways – the choices matter very little (like most Bethesda games) or split the plot into two (often not more) very similar chains, but different endings (like most Bioware games, like NWN2). I would take the hint from Japanese games on this point – individual scenarios can have choices, but they *shouldn’t* affect the overall plot. Giving the player the role of the protagonist completely can make a game immersive, but again, look at Bethesda games, particularly Fallout 3 – very weak storytelling.

    A JRPG will always focus on characterization more than their western counterpart. Even simple dungeon RPGs (Etrian Odyssey etc) have supporting characters that have their own style of dialogue and purpose in the plot. I always remember games more fondly when their characters are likable and memorable.

    2. Of course! ^^ I love the active type battle system, especially the SFC/SNES games, CT especially, but if more people want true turn-based then that should be what you use. Grandia (especially 2 and 3) were pretty great at their kind of atb system, but look at the Sora/Zero no Kiseki (legend of heroes: trail in the sky) series for a turn-based alternative.

    3. Yay, job systems! The Tactics Ogre remake for PSP and FFT are two examples of fantastic job systems, coincidentally, both designed by the same guy, if you want ideas. FF5 and some of the DQ games do it well as well. What I believe is the most important is to stick to a classic job type system — stay as far away as possible from checkerboard systems like FF10 or 12 and the like. However, using a completely free job system can hurt your story. If every character can do everything, it makes characterization in plot based on class, as was done so fucking fantabulously in FF4, impossible.

    4. It works in 3d, but not so sure about 2d. There should definitely be secrets — secret islands and caves, secret doors only openable later in the game, little hidden easter eggs that endeared us so hard to games like Earthbound. If you want an open world exploration element, then Xenogears’ (or FF7, or whatever) route is probably the way to go. The world map was exceptionally large enough to “explore”, and you could stumble upon secret areas just by flying/sailing around.

    Speaking of which: A world map is not a suggestion, it’s a necessity. Airships also.

    5. Yes!

    Other comments, well, I would stick to a traditional class/skill system over materia. Seiken Densetsu 3 made it possible for tons of customization within each character while still keeping them unique and memorable and contributing their own “roles” to the party. A more standard equipment-class-skill system would give the game a more concise feel. Simple is best — the more time and effort you have to put into your own system to complete it and balance it the way you want is less time you can be working on the plot and more content.

    I hope you can get this game off the ground, as anything you guys make has a ton of promise. I’ll be watching, I’m always here for suggestions, and if you need a Japanese translator I’m availiable :3

    Looking forward to it!

  11. My favorite JRPG battle system has always been the Addition system in Legend of Dragoon. It required precise timing in order to do the maximum amount of damage, so rather than just pressing “attack” and waiting for the animation to finish, you were actually *earning* that damage. If you were to take that system, make it a bit faster, and remove the grinding that is mostly required to get the better Additions, it could work out very well. Of course, this is just my opinion.

  12. Keep in mind, we would only undertake a bigger project if we had the money to cover expenses saved up from past games saved up before we started. So then, even if the big project wasn’t a big success, it wouldn’t be a disaster.

    Although we’re not rich or anything like that, we’re in no financial danger at the moment. We have a decent amount of money saved up for emergencies and we’re still making money off of Cthulhu Saves the World (particularly the PC versions, although we do make some money off our XBLIG games still).

  13. Great idea to work on a JRPG but please don’t overreach. As an outsider I don’t see Zeboyd games as a company that can comfortably walk away if a 2 year project with extra people taken on fails. It also seems as quite a big leap. Of course it’s important to be growing and to be ambitious but this seems like a bit big leap of faith from the outside.

    Also, yes you now have fans worried about your company’s health ;).

  14. Aah, missing Twitterstuffs.
    I can agree with a lot of this. I just want to say, about customization: You run the risk of screwing the player if they make “bad” choices. Jeff Vogel talks about this:
    I love mechanical crunch and system mastery, but I have to agree with what he says, in terms of game quality. It’s a fine balance between customization and too much. And too much front-loading it. Letting you respect helps, etc. Also, making the system transparent is important, so that you *know* what attributes/traits/skills/etc do and what increasing them does.
    BoD7 and CStW are pretty good about this – Though it does have a little bit of a problem that some paths are less good than others, though you’ll never be stopped due to this, you might just have to grind some more. Is this really a problem, or just a consequence of having meaningful customization? I somewhat lean towards the latter.
    Buuut this is all stuff I’m sure you’ve thought about, I just wanted to throw in my two cents.

    Also: Favorite combat systems. Roughly in order.
    Growlanser Generations(Growlanser 3 and 4). Real time SRPG combat. If you’ve never played the game, it was Working Design’s last game (that Sony dicked them over on! Yeah! Fuck Sony.) and was amazing. Also, the game’s magic system was probably the coolest magic system I’ve ever seen.
    FFX-2: The finest implementation of Active Time Battle ever made. Most of the rest of the game was rubbish, but real-time class changing and the ATB implementation made me play through the entire game and do all the optional fights, it was that good.
    SMT3: Nocturne/SMT:Strange Journey/Persona. While the systems are all somewhat different, that status effects matter and the idea of weaknesses mattering is amazing.
    Oh, then, of course, BoD7 and CStW. Fast paced, a neat combo system, status effects mattering… All good!

  15. I don’t think it works like that, it’s not about the mish mash of the best, it’s about taking what works. Chrono Trigger is probably my favorite game, was it the combat system? No, but the fact it all happens on the screen was pretty neat. Was it the exploration? Not really, there was some open world elements but it was largely a linear affair with some freedom at the end. Levelling up was certainly not complex, infact the only real decision you made to customize your character was what accessory effect you wanted.

    What made Chrono Trigger great, and by extension games like Lufia II and Earthbound, was the experience. The combat system, the levelling up and all that was not what made those games fun, they were the trappings to make it more than just a story, they didn’t really add much they just helped you move through the game. Chrono Trigger was an incredible game because of how everything worked together to deliver this great story. Earthbound had colorful humor, a great atmosphere and was fun to progress through. Lufia II had probably the best and most touching stories in anything I’ve read/watched/played, mostly helped by the fact that you’ve spent so many hours with the characters and known them.

    Truth be told the above games had very adult plots. Though I will throw Suikoden II on the list as well, that had a great and dramatic story that if you haven’t played I recommend, there is a reason Luca Blight is often considered on of the most despicable villain (up there with Kefka in my opinion)

    Your games are excellent and the humor is great and usually short. I play them more for the gameplay and fights than anything (and thusly on the hardest difficulty) but what I’m trying to say is it’s not about the game elements. It’s not about the trappings of the genre, it’s always been about the story and the experience of playing that and it’s the ‘systems’ job to try not to get in the way of that, that’s what I feel separates the titles that are peoples favorites, that they will replay over and over and over again and the games that we simply think are good and great.

    There is a ‘Let’s Play’ going on in the Something Awful forum for Chrono Trigger by a man named Quovak. It’s a level 1 run (for fun) but he’s focusing pretty indepth on what makes Chrono Trigger great and I’ll include a link for further reading.

    I want to stress that choice in plot is not incredibly important, you could do very little to change the plot in classics like I have mentioned, (throwing Super Mario RPG on the list. That game was also amazing and I easily replay it again and again. It’s simple, it’s fun, it’s funny, the story is and interesting twist on Mario land) give the player little to no choice, the fact that their character was not them was okay and that it was a singular path story ended up fine. That being said, there are some amazing opportunities to allow some choice for players that improve the story. Unfortunately, I have no great examples of this, I avoided a lot of JRPG’s out of the ‘classic era’ besides the Final Fantasy series and some other random ones.

    Intricate level up systems can be neat, but doing them properly is a massive challenge. If you make a hard game it becomes a ‘choose right or lose’ scenario, if it’s too easy it becomes somewhat irrelevant. Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 5 and 2 (the new DS one specifically) had some good ideas. The idea was to allow flexibility, a lack of permanence in choice and therefore lacked punishment for players who wanted to fiddle with whatifs (party of all monks!). If you were a knight the whole game and wanted to go Sage, all you had to do was level up the job a bit.

    Exploration is something that just makes me shrug, it’s a western RPG thing, but I think the inclusion of Xenoblade was good. A big world filled with optional stuff is great, side quests, bonus dungeons and optional bosses can be a lot of fun.

    I am incredibly excited for this though, if anyone can make a return to amazing retro games it’s you guys and frankly a Zeboyd production that features a great plot, intricate level up systems, a wide open world to explore and a mature plot could be a tremendous title. I just want to stress my own views on what made those classics, well, classics. In the end I feel that, much like most said, a really good story is what separated them from the rest, as well as, I guess, length. The longer a game is the more time it has to sink its hooks into you.

    Sorry for the massive word vomit, I realize I am quite passionate about this subject!


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