I’ve been tinkering with some of my work on FateStone again recently and it got me thinking that maybe since I do have this platform, I could share some of my notes and thoughts about working on the game with all of you.
There’s a lot of ways one can go about coming up with an RPG Maker game. Some folks just dive in and start creating, building as they go, some start with a story they’ve wanted to tell, and others begin with the characters. These are all valid ways of exploring the creative tools that something like RPG Maker MV offers up. Me though? I’m a planner. Always have been. I would keep lists and figures of milestones and objectives written down or in my head. I may not have ever gone as far as full blown theorycrafting in my WoW Raiding days but I did keep a list of drops I needed to work toward to get hit capped (Hit capping for the newer WoW players was a god awful mechanic where you needed to prioritize a now defunct ‘Hit’ stat just so you wouldn’t spend raid fights missing with every attack.)
So when it came to sit down and try to make an actual game, I didn’t open RPG Maker – I opened Google Sheets. My Google Drive is full of documents and spreadsheets all around creating a basic layout for what the game I want to make will entail. From how the crafting system will work, to a spreadsheet breakdown of items, crafting components for those items, effects for the items, and naturally the item id. I’ve done the same work for class skills, which is an impressive list of hundreds of skills for FateStone’s currently planned twenty classes. I mean, I just like to have everything down on paper for easy reference once I begin, regardless if a lot of stuff I’ve been working on is for later ‘phases’ of the development.
Currently, Phase 1 is just planned to only be the single starter city and the quests that take place there in. That includes a 3-floor dungeon built around the City Sewers and an ancient forgotten temple full of ghosts and skeletons hidden beneath the city, three city districts and the castle where the king lives. Because of course there’s a castle where the king lives. There’s a total of 5 recruit-able characters, namely because I wanted there to be some exploration of the ‘morality’ system and have different paths through the prologue based on your decisions. The Positive or “Astral” Path features the ability to recruit the Princess (Bard class) and a Knight and the Negative or “Chaos” path will feature the Rogue and the Mage NPCs. The others will be eventually recruit-able, but I wanted Phase I to have a full party by the end of the Prologue.
So just there alone that’s seven areas with subzones of buildings, etc. Five NPCs featuring an array of five different classes, not to mention your starting class that brings the total to six. Two branching paths with different quests. A half dozen or so different monsters of varying difficulty. Then items and shops to put them in.
…THAT is why I tend to go for the planning approach to things. Just this small prologue has so many different things to keep track of in terms of IDs, variables, values, and so on and so forth. I like being able to just flip open a spreadsheet and go “Ah, yes. That chest should have Item #52 in it.”
Okay. Now that I’ve come up for air, it’s time to talk a bit about what I’ve been doing down in the gaming depths. The past two days have been filled with little else other than one. Singular. Activity. That being Dragon Age: Inquisition. Now, of course, I’m known for my somewhat heretical enjoyment of the “Not cool to like” Bioware titles – Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 – so my opinion is going to be a bit suspect on these things, but I have to say that Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably one of the more addicting games I’ve played in a long time.
The story is pretty simple at first. There’s a giant hole in the sky where the veil between the magical Fade world and our world have been torn asunder and now demons are pouring out like it’s a Necronomicon Spring Break in Transylvania. You also fell out of the hole, being the sole survivor of the explosion that caused it and with a weird glowing thing on your hand that can actually close the smaller holes dubbed Rifts. So now it’s up to you and your buddies to close the hole! At least at first that’s what is going on. I have a sneaky suspicion after 15 or so hours of game play that something else is waiting in the wings. Considering I know there’s a place called Skyhold and I haven’t seen it yet, but we’re already marching to close the big hole… yea.
The characters are diverse but there’s none that I immediately latched onto as favorites like I did in Dragon Age 2. I’ll admit that the characters were the big selling point for the second installment for me. From Merrill’s innocent quirkiness and dark reveals to Isabella’s love of life and even Anders and Fenris and their opposing view of the mages. Here we are treated to a veritable menagerie of characters and sadly to say only a handful of likeables thus far. Cassandra comes off as a cross between Miranda from Mass Effect and an ill tempered drill sergeant. Solas (pronounced Soul-less) feels pretty much soul-less due to having that elven “I’ve lived more than 100 hundred lifetimes and am all knowing and all seeing and thus don’t need to care much” thing going on. Varric is… Varric, I can’t really describe the fast-talking, double dealing, best example of a bard in gaming I’ve ever seen any other way.
About the only character I actually dig thus far on a personal note is Sera and that is because she is completely bat-$#!* insane. Her introduction can be boiled down to she has just killed a lot of people and stolen all their pants for absolutely no reason except maybe to sell them. Too bad my first playthrough is a lawful good mage. My Chaotic Neutral rogue playthrough however is gonna love her.
There insane amounts of little things to explore, collect, and unlock but each of these little things will help you in some way. Seriously! Either by granting experience to your character, giving you more power which you use to send people on missions, or giving you Influence which is kind of like XP for the entire Inquisition and lets you unlock overall power boosts like being able to open harder locks or getting extra XP from codex entries or kills. I spent the first day doing absolutely nothing with the main story quest and just wandering around the hinterlands doing little odd jobs and finding doodads and resources.
Yes, resources. Because crafting in this game requires an insane amount of resources. But it’s not all annoying. See unlike MMOs where you need a certain kind of metal and a certain kind of wood to make an item, DA:I boils it down to just need 10 metal and 2 wood. Any 10 of one type of metal and any 2 of any kind of wood will do. Now which metal and wood you use will affect things like bonus stats or color and pattern of the item, but the fact that creating things requires categories of items instead of specifics is much easier. Especially when you will need specific crafting materials to fill requisitions from your army, essentially researching things to help your forces and thus help yourself like better weapons or gear. For instance, I don’t know how much of this was me clearing up territory and claiming it protected by the Inquisition and how much of it was me filling up requisitions but as I kept playing I noticed that a pair of Inquisition soldiers would just appear in random spots with chests of a few useful items for you.
On that note, another great thing about this game is that it actually feels like you make progress. You know how in Skyrim you would do something insane like almost blow up Winterhold but then afterwards no one pays even a single thought let alone any lasting effects? Or in well ANY MMO you can clear out an entire fortress of baddies and kill their leader only to have them all just waiting for you in a few minutes? NOT HERE. If I bring a band of bandits under my command, every bandit in that company of rogues is now an ally and will no longer attack me. If I clear out the mage and templar strongholds, suddenly the mages and templars go from open war breaking out everywhere to nearly gone save for maybe a random pack wandering the wilderness. Yea, those strongholds and camps you clean out? STAY CLEANED OUT. You control that territory now. It’s yours. Oh geeze does that feel good. Because that means you can clear out the major conflicts in areas and then have nothing to contend with exploring except beasts, demons, and the occasional highwayman or Carta team (dwarf thugs) to deal with.
So thus far this game has been so much more addicting than Skyrim ever was. It’s that right blend of basic to use but expansive to master mechanics, a truly consistent world, and engaging characters that I might not instantly cling to like in previous installments but are interesting enough for me to want to see where their character paths take them while we try to save the world. Except Solas. He’s kinda just boring. Screw you, Solas.
So as I said before in my previous posts, I had decided to take some time off of the hustle and bustle of the non-stop worlds of MMOs and what not and get in touch with my roots of single player games. Single player games are actually my preferred form of story, outranking movies, books, and comics. There’s something just satisfying about playing a story to its completion and feeling like you actually changed things in the world. That’s something MMOs have always sorely lacked for me. Even if SWTOR, where choices can affect a great deal, you are ultimately on a straight path that has a clear and set beginning and end with a few dashes of flavor. The events of the Imperial Agents chapter two always occur, though not necessarily for always the same reasons. In the end, whether you are a cut throat bounty hunter, or a member of the fricking Dark Council, you still get called on to work the front lines of Makeb.
So when I feel in the mood for games where the story actually can change and alter the world around me as I play through them, I enjoy these breaks to come back to my roots and dig in with some games I may have put on the shelf, haven’t gotten to yet, or want to revisit from yesteryear. Hence, Chrono Trigger.
There’s not much I can say about Chrono Trigger that hasn’t already been said a thousand times across these worlds wide web. The game is still fantastic. It’s solid, tells a good story, and is fun. However, there is a lot of things I didn’t notice when I first played it. Which admittedly was like… middle school age I think. So around 12? Anyway, first and foremost that this game is actually incredibly simple. I mean compared to Squaresoft’s other offerings at the time. The older Final Fantasy games can seriously kick my butt still at times to this day, especially in the extra boss or final boss sense. Chrono Trigger? There’s always a trick, always some weakness, that once you know it, reduces a fight to mere child’s play and this includes the final boss. The final form of Lavos can be quite simply boiled down to: don’t attack the thing you THINK is the boss, kill the little thing to the right of it. Bam. Done. Many bosses have a weakness in the form of some kind of magic that nullifies their defenses. Really, the hardest boss fight in the whole thing was probably Magus because it’s a) early on b) the trick isn’t obvious and c) he has a wide range of heavily damaging and/or party wide attacks. The whole thing in retrospect feels like a beginners RPG. One to introduce people to the genre before graduating up to things like Final Fantasy.
The other thing I should note on my replay is that the game is really short. I completed the whole story the long way, completed all the optional side missions, collected every little doodad, unlocked every tech, and did quite a bit of grinding and the whole thing still took only about 23 hours to do. Now admittedly, if I was being honest about completion I’d have to include the X hours it would take to do a New Game+ and get all 15 other endings. But for a strict single playthrough that was surprisingly short for an RPG. Right? Or is it just me? Still, if you want an amazing old school RPG that isn’t gonna devour all your time, here ya go. The same however cannot be said for its sibling.
Well, I finished up Chrono Trigger, and I said, “What shall I play next?” and my game shelf answered “How about the sequel?” which was odd because my shelf usually recommends that I play Mega Man every time I ask it. Chrono Cross is one of those games that I played once, enjoyed it tremendously, and never picked it up again. The reasons being twofold. The first is that the plot is insanely confusing and requires a great deal of thinking to wrap your head around the combinations and consequences of time and dimensional travel presented, and second that the only way to get the “good ending” is complete bullcensored. Having to toss the correct color combo of magic (magic and attacks have colors in this game. Don’t ask me why.) and then smack with a special magic. That’s all well and good but the boss ALSO is tossing out color magic and it messes up the whole thing. TEDIOUS. So why did I start replaying it? (Still haven’t finished) Well, unlike when I was 16 (a literal half a lifetime ago now), I didn’t have access to things like FAQs on the internet. So that helps immensely with the ending. And I’m older and wiser now. Kind of. Stop giggling. So the convoluted plot so be a bit easier to follow. I hope.
As I said, I haven’t finished this one yet but I am enjoying it. The combat system is not nearly as frustrating despite five different components and resources to keep track of (Hit chance, Tech points, Tech color, Field Color, and Stamina), it becomes a fairly intuitive dance after a while. Hit to generate tech points, spend tech points to use techs, and keep in mind your colors to maximize damage. The story is also pretty cool and seems designed with the intent of multiple playthroughs. For instance, early on you can take 3 different paths to get to the next objective. Each path requires different things, and recruits a different party member. I don’t know if you can still get the other party members later in the game, or you need to grab them in a new game+ set up to recruit them all. Not too worried since this game hosts a multitude of companions (It’s in the double digits at least). But that’s kind of a cool mechanic you don’t see very often. Three paths that lock you out of the other two when you pick one? Bold and interesting choice. I didn’t even realize it was there until I accidentally locked myself out of one of the other paths.
However, if Chrono Trigger is a beginner RPG then Cross feels like a fricking Advanced Placement class. There is so much here in terms of plot, collectibles, recruitable characters, and mechanics that I can’t imagine jumping into this one right after Trigger without playing some other RPGs in between. Luckily there were YEARS between the two games when they first came out. I still look forwarding to playing this one some more and seeing how the rest of it holds up.
FINAL FANTASY VII
Okay. Alright. Confession time, readers. I… never finished FF7 before. Yes, you may laugh, jeer, throw things, etc. But I never did. I got to the point where Aerith dies and then I was done. Not because I was heart broken by the loss. Oh heck no. I NEVER liked Aerith. She always came off to me as a cheerleader mixed with a purity sue that continuously got shoved in my face because “LOOK! IT’S A TRAGIC ROMANCE!” No. It’s that by that point in the game, I had utterly stopped giving a damn about the greater plot that confused me worse than Chrono Cross, and I decided to just walk away. To give you a time frame, I bought FF7 when it was just given its greatest hits release.
Now, I can’t click anything Final Fantasy related on the internet without hearing about how no game in the entirety of the Final Fantasy series could hope to hold a candle to the MAJESTY that is Final Fantasy VII. Alright, internet. Here’s your chance to prove me wrong. I got the game again. This time on Steam. I’m playing it. I won’t stop until it’s done. And if this thing doesn’t blow me out of the water, we are having words. And I’m not going to declare this whole thing moot before then, but I have played a while so far and I am less than impressed. I mean, I get the nostalgia factor. I get the technical WOW! factor with the cutscenes and music. But that’s not what people rave to me about, they say “Vry, the characters! Vry, the story!” and I’ve only just gotten to Junon but thus far the story is pretty simple: Help the terrorists win. Yea, there’s a lot more going on with Sephiroth and the Ancients, and the Planet, but that stuff has only been set up for what I assume is coming later. Right now, I’m helping the terrorists win. I’m blowing up buildings, cutting power to innocent civilians, and doing so in the name of the Planet. Also I’m cross dressing to save my friend from a fat slum lord pimp. (Is there any actual reason for the Don Corneo stuff beyond padding and some frighteningly inappropriate rape-y dialogue?)
However, if anything has been enlightening so far it’s that the characters are so very much NOT the characters the fandom and the movie portray. Cloud is not a brooding whiny emo, he’s a snarky jerk who delights in ticking Barrett off. Sephiroth is not the cold noble warrior, he’s psychotic and obsessed and not in the entertaining Kefka/Joker way. Aerith is not the kind gentle soul, she’s a cheerleader crossed with a purity sue. Wait. Didn’t I? Lemme scroll up. Huh. Looks like I remember the annoying flower girl correctly. I also didn’t remember Tifa being as ‘teenager with a crush’-y around Cloud. Barrett and Yuffie are one note characters that can’t be incorrectly portayed. And Red XIII (who is not named Nanaki in my game. His name is “NotNanaki”) hasn’t had a ton of dialogue so far so I have no clue. Far as I know, he’s Clifford in a weird crossover.
The gameplay is standard Final Fantasy fare. You can’t make me Oooo Aaaah at pretty summons. I accidentally killed a whole village of Summoners in Final Fantasy IV. This is old hat. Although the developers seemed a but full of themselves with this new fangled CGI animation stuff. Airbuster, one of the earliest bosses you face, has animations that are so slow that you can take three turns in the time it takes it to do one. Annoying.
And please, don’t jump on me because I’m being snarky. I’m gonna play the whole game. I’m going to think about the whole game. And I get that I’m barely into Disc One of a three disc game so I can’t expect the story to be leaping off the page yet. They are doing a great job at establishing a mystery with the whole Sephiroth and Jenova thing. The Ancients are wonderfully under-explained despite apparently everyone knowing what they are already. Though the biggest problem I have so far with the game is that I have NO clue what AVALANCHE stands for and I have no clue how they know without the text boxes when someone is referring to SOLDIER (All caps) or soldier (no caps) – one being a military organization and the other being well… a soldier. Can the characters read the text boxes in game? Is that how they know?