Disclaimer – Cosmic Star Heroine is a work-in-progress. Anything discussed in these articles could end up being changed by the time the game is finished.
Gaining LVs is a crucial aspect of any RPG. There are RPGs where LV-Ups are completely predetermined (like Final Fantasy IV), RPGs where the player has a huge degree of freedom in how they build their characters (like your typical Shin Megami Tensei title) and there’s everything in between. Each system has its own strengths & weaknesses. Of course, with Cosmic Star Heroine we’re hoping to maximize those strengths and minimize those weaknesses.
We’ve used two major LV-Up systems in our games to date. The first system was used in Breath of Death VII & Cthulhu Saves the World and it was simplicity itself. Whenever a character gained a LV, they were presented with 2 LV-Up bonuses to choose. Those bonuses might be new techniques, new spells, new passive abilities, or stat bonuses. The bonuses offered vary from character to character and level to level so each character feels unique but the player still has a good amount of freedom in how they customize their characters. This system is high on anticipation (constantly eager to find out what new bonuses you’ll be offered), very accessible (no complicated systems to learn), but low on planning (you don’t know what bonuses are coming up until you reach them) and it’s easy to feel like you’ve messed up your build since there’s no way to go back and redo your choices.
The second LV-Up system we used was the class system used in Precipice of Darkness 3 (and in a modified form in Precipice of Darkness 4). With this system, each character had their own unique class that could not be changed and 1-2 slots where they could equip additional classes. The individual class progression was fixed but which classes you used was determined by the player. This system gave the player a nice amount of versatility (since you could change your secondary classes between battles) but sometimes could feel overwhelming with too many options.
With Cosmic Star Heroine, we’re thinking about using an enhanced combined version of both systems.
When a character LVs up, you’ll have to choose between 1-4 bonuses (different for each character and at each LV).
You’ll be able to see the bonuses offered for the next LV in advance but only the next LV (so if you’re currently LV19, you could view the LV20 bonuses).
You’ll also be able to look back at all of the bonuses that character has already chosen.
Completing optional quests may bestow additional bonus points that can be used to purchase older bonuses that weren’t chosen originally.
At one point in the story, you’ll gain access to a device that will allow characters to reset all of their LV-Up choices and redo them.
The first time a character uses that device, it’ll be free. After that, using the respec device will cost XP (which we can do this time since XP is not a finite resource like it was in our last game).
But that’s not all!
In Cosmic Star Heroine, after you reach a certain point in the story, you’ll gain access to your own spy base that you can fill with various people that you recruit throughout the game. Some of these characters will make your base better, adding new features, shops, etc., but what about everybody else? We decided early on that we wanted to keep the main playable cast to around 10 to keep things manageable and so that we could more easily make each playable character memorable & unique. So what should we do with the other characters who join your base, who aren’t in active duty and who don’t modify the base itself? Let me introduce the Spy Intelligence Support Team.
Before missions, you can attach a member of the Support Team to one of your active characters.
Support members act like secondary classes & bestow various bonuses & abilities to the attached character as long as they’re attached.
Support members may also participate in dialogue during missions (giving you information or commenting on the current situation).
Support members don’t LV-Up like regular characters. Instead they have the possibility of ranking up, with each new rank adding new bonuses and/or abilities.
In order to increase the rank of your support characters, you need to achieve their particular goals. These goals could be all sorts of things such as: deal over 1000 HP worth of damage in battle with a single move, recruit over 30 characters for your base, find the support character’s long-lost childhood toy, travel to a specific location, and many, many, more.
Between the enhanced choice system for main character development & the ability to further customize them with support members (and the fun achievement-style side-quest of trying to rank all of your support members up), we think Cosmic Star Heroine LV-Up systems will have a nice balance between character individuality & customization while still fostering anticipation, versatility, and accessibility.