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What makes old-school 2D RPGs like FFVI stand out as great?


The Legendary Zoltan
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I ask because I've been thinking about stuff I can do with RPG maker lately. So I'd like to hear what SPECIFICALLY is it about your favorite 2D RPGs that gets you so into it. Is it JUST the story or are there some other things that you strictly evaluate when you play such a game?

For me, it all comes down to how much I had to think about stuff. I don't really care for just attacking my way through a dungeon. I'd prefer it to be filled with harsh puzzles and then have a boss fight that takes over an hour. As long as the story is not terrible, and it has puzzles and long battles that are hard, then I can get into it. Some of the Xenogears boss battles were really my cup of tea, as was the endless slew of puzzles in Alundra.

How about you?

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For me, it was the characters. Terra's struggles to understand her heritage, Celes' sorrow and suicide attempt (still one of my favorite moments in gaming), the family relationship between Edgar and Sabin, Cyan's loss and the scene with the Phantom Train...I could go on and on and on, but it really boils down to the wonderfully developed and believable characters.

The music is a very close second.

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Kefka. The Joker of Final Fantasy. You need a clear villain who the player dislikes, and yet is interested in enough to keep playing to see more of him.

Also, there can be "real" villains behind the first ones (E.G. Golbez and Zeromus from FFIV) but I would suggest against using this tactic. It's been done a lot and it kinda takes some of the steam out of the game when you realize the guy you're after isn't really the enemy. That is, of course, unless it's done in a really smart and compelling way.

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The storyline is huge, obviously.

Besides that, the first thing I'll say is make sure you have a great protagonist. In the beginning that just means someone who is a)mysterious (meaning there is plenty to learn about them) and B) they need to be both strong and headstrong. Presenting and maintaining a good main character/hero is paramount.

Puzzles are good. Alundra was fun for that reason.

Another important aspect to me is the weapons system. Everyone is either turned off or turned on by this, so be creative but don't get too creative. (happens a lot i.e. Squall was a great character, his weapon fucking sucked my balls.) Make sure the weapons throughout the game are diverse and interesting. It holds more interest than you might think it does. Finally, make sure the final weapon has a dynamic (not overdone) look and is incredibly powerful.

More to come if this thread persists.

Edit: Agreeing with the others that the soundtrack plays a huge role. In introducing characters. In letting you know who you're about to learn about a specific character. Bringing to your attention that the antagonist is near or just that a plot twist is soon to happen. In everything really. It is definitely part of what was soo great about FF 3 and FF VII. Very dynamic soundtracks.

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Kefka. The Joker of Final Fantasy. You need a clear villain who the player dislikes, and yet is interested in enough to keep playing to see more of him.

Also, there can be "real" villains behind the first ones (E.G. Golbez and Zeromus from FFIV) but I would suggest against using this tactic. It's been done a lot and it kinda takes some of the steam out of the game when you realize the guy you're after isn't really the enemy. That is, of course, unless it's done in a really smart and compelling way.

Biggest fault of every game to ever do this. I've never, ever seen it done right, and Square seems to just love pulling this stunt on as many Final Fantasy games as they possible can.

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The story sure kicked major ass, but for me I loved the feeling of finally learning that one spell from that one epser you've been training to hard to get! I felt so proud! That and like every single character had some kick ass ability of some sort on their own...and then there was Gogo! Oh MAN!

...and that ABSOLUTELY EPIC final battle. Holy shit my pants now there's a video game memory.

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The opinions you're all giving me are great. Thanks a lot.

I already have a setting, lots of characters and ideas for plot and individual events. I tried my best to make them all unique and interesting. The hardest part for me seems to be actually writing out the whole thing in order as one coherent story.

I gotta agree with a lot of what I've read. Some things will be easy to do, like giving each character their own unique abilities. Some things will be hard, like making sure my characters appeal to a large audience throughout the game.

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When I used RPGMaker, I usually didn't have a story in place and just kinda moved along with no real plans. That's probably why none of my games ever went anywhere.

Well... Except for my first game, starring me :<

It was 1 hour and a half long but had over 30 boss fights. Actually, you could make it through the game fighting only the forced encounters. I made sure of this, lol.

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This is kind of out there, but one thing that always sets games like FFVI apart from their RPGMaker brethren is that the towns don't have massive amounts of open space with the one same grass tile repeating over and over again.

There is something about the Feng Shui of FFVI's towns that does it for me. Homegrown RPGs always suffer from bad design; towns are always boring affairs with wide open spaces; often looking like brown blocks on a sea of green. There's an artistry to FFVI that can't be matched.

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I already have a setting, lots of characters and ideas for plot and individual events. I tried my best to make them all unique and interesting. The hardest part for me seems to be actually writing out the whole thing in order as one coherent story.

Be careful here. Moreso than any other aspect of game design, more does not mean better in terms of characters. Three amazing characters is much better than twelve mediocre ones.

This is where FF VI also set itself apart, in making the second half pretty open-ended so that you can explore the origins of the characters (not all of them; Umaro and Gogo really get no exposition at all). If you're going to make alot of characters, make sure you have lots of game for the player to get to know them.

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A few thoughts...

For characters, a good idea is to try and develop each one to the point that they come across as their own person. To do this, you'd need to make decisions about how they speak, what they like or dislike, etc. Doing this will define the heroes and villains, and make them more individually identifiable. I'm not talking about writing a twenty page dissertation on each one, but making sure they have their own quirks and traits that come through in their dialogue or actions is a good thing. It would also be good to have reason's for why they talk or act as they do.

For the text itself, allow players to set a "speak speed" (how fast the text comes up). If you want a prime example of how not to do cinema text, play Valis: The Phantasm Solider on the Genesis.

Keep your character roster diverse, but trimmed. It's cool to give players the sense of a world filled with individuals, but you'll create a better world by having a well developed set of fewer characters. It's hard to grow closer or more attached to eighty different characters. Instead, focus on a core group that are important to the story (on both the good and bad sides), and let the players see the world through those characters' eyes.

Don't make the players go all the way back through caves and dungeons they've already had to go through earlier. It's tedious, it's dull, and it's a trait that needs to die off. Fresh new territory is much more enticing than having to walk through Demon Cave a second or third time because some dipshit ran off to hide in there.

MAKE AN ENDING THAT'S WORTH THE TIME OF THE PLAYER! I can't being to describe how utterly maddening it is to play through a game for 40+ hours, only to have the ending done and over with three minutes later (this includes credits rolling). Phantasy Star IV has a great ending for an RPG... Sword of Vermillion doesn't.

Try to let more of the story play out through events in the game, rather than through pages of dialogue and narrative. Sure, some dialogue and narration can be used very effectively, but when you wrap the player up in the events that would have otherwise just been a page's worth of text, it draws them in more.

Don't be afraid of using graphics in needed narration points. A few images that detail key aspects in the narration are more interesting than just big blocks of text. This works great for things like characters talking about some key event that happened to them in the past, or when a character is talking about a legend they remember... you know, stuff along those lines.

If you have a main villain, try to make their evil deeds stem from something other than "HAR HAR! I'M AN EVIL PRICK!". Give them a real reason as to why they're doing what they're doing... something that the player can evaluate for themselves. The more tangible the reason, the better.

...

Okay, I guess that was more than a few. Sorry.

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The story-telling and character development are the selling points in RPGs. If you do not have a great story, more likely people won't care for it. Then again, the most important item about a game is the gameplay. If the gameplay isn't fun, then you can forget about people caring about your game.

When you do an ending, make sure it reflects on the game and it's characters. Make sure that the ending have tied up loose ends and re-tell the story with a closing statement of sorts.

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A big thing for me is ease of access. If I can just pick the game up and play for 20 minutes then save and stop. I tend to enjoy it more, not that its boring. But its often all I have time for. Being able to save anywhere on a world map is nice.

Also. Having characters you can relate to really brings me more in to the game, It makes me want to know how they are going to turn out. I now MGS4 is not old, or an RPG, but you want to know what is going on with just about everyone in the game, so you keep playing.

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