15 January 2011

The Zeboyd Games Approach to JRPG Design - by Robert Boyd

      Posted 01/13/11 08:20:00 pm  

There are many articles on the Internet about JRPG design and what's wrong with the genre, but very few of these articles are written by people who actually make this kind of game. Now, I didn't make Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but I have created two JRPG-style games for the XBox 360, Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII: The Beginning. Let me share some of the thought processes that I go through when designing our games.

My Philosophy on Game Design:

I'm what the media likes to call a "hardcore gamer." I love trying to master games and if they're especially difficult games, even better. Complex RPGs like Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, strategy games like the Civilization series, and score-attack games like Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX are some of my favorites.

I have a wife who likes to play games, but doesn't have much time to dedicate to them between her other responsibilities. Her favorite game is definitely Plants vs. Zombies.

I also have a 10-year old daughter who has just started getting into RPGs who loves Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VII, Titan Quest, and Blue Dragon when she isn't playing stuff on Poptropica.

When I first tried to design games, I would try to make games just for me. Inevitably these designs ended up having critical flaws – a result of my focusing just on what I deemed to be the most important while ignoring other less important but still crucial aspects.  Then, I came upon the solution! Try to make games that my entire family would enjoy. And thus, I came up with the central tenets of my RPG design making philosophy.

Depth (Myself)Accessibility (My Daughter)Density (My Wife)Customization (Everyone)

Depth & Accessibility:

The JRPG genre has become a very insular genre – it seems like each new game has even more crazy rules and systems to learn. As someone with a lot of experience in the genre, I often enjoy these highly complicated games, but there's no denying that it presents a high barrier of entry to the uninitiated. Right from the start, I decided that any gameplay system that we included in our RPGs would be easy to understand; we wouldn't create complexity for complexity's sake. Depth would be created by intelligent design, not by a million crazy systems.

Easy to understand rules help with accessibility, but we didn't want to stop there. Multiple difficulty levels (easy, normal, and hard) were easy to implement and help greatly towards making a game more approachable. The ability to save anywhere and a limited number of chances to redo failed combat both help with accessibility and reduce the tedium of looking for save spots or losing progress.

Density:

There's grown to be an expectation that JRPGs need to be massive 50

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