'JUST THESE FOUR, AND LEAVE THE REST ALONE'. A DISCUSSION ON PLAYERS AND PARTIES.

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Everyone knows this person, or maybe even you are this person; in an RPG you get say, a total of twelve party members who join your team, but throughout the entire game, you only pick four. Ever.

I'd like to talk about that. How do you feel about party distribution from a player, AND developer standpoint? Are you the guy who sticks with the same four people and rarely touch the rest, or are you the gal who evenly distributes attention between all, or most of the party? How do you feel about this in regards to EXP/progression, and such? How do you feel this should be handled in games?

My opinion; I usually always try to level my party members evenly, mostly because I don't like leaving characters in the dust, and also because you never know when you might need that character or their skillset. I appreciate games like Final Fantasy VI with a large ensemble cast, and it makes it clear quite early in the game that utilizing all of your party members, or even just keeping them relevant will be an important skill to learn. Generally, I like it when games have a EXP division that allows even party members who aren't participating to gain levels.

What do you think?
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Ooh, this is one of my favorite things to talk about. I always pick the same party and I will never, ever, ever change it up unless I am:
1) Forced to
2) The person I have to switch in is someone I like a lot
3) The time I have to change my party is not significant
4) I do not have to grind the new person up to the appropriate level

For me, what matters more than anything is that I like the characters and find them interesting as people. I don't care how good or bad they are in gameplay terms or how good of a team they make. I want to play as the characters I like. If the game forces me to use characters I don't like, well, I have 80 games in my Steam library that won't actively try to force me to have less fun, so bye.

I didn't used to be so picky, but the sad fact is that good games are so plentiful and so cheap that if a game annoys me, I can drop it without any regret and jump to another one and have fun again.

As a developer, the way I get around players like me is that I design every combination of party members to be equally feasible, but to require a different strategy. For bosses, I design their abilities and AI to present a different challenge based on which party the player has brought in. This has the added benefit of providing a completely different play experience if you play the game again with different characters.

EDIT: My aversion to using characters that annoy me is so strong that if I cannot form a full party without them, I will simply go without a full party. For instance, I never spent a single point of CP with Snow in FFXIII in the whole of the game. Incidentally, this is part of why I never got far into FFVI, because of some terrible dungeon that forced me to have a party of moogles.
author=Sal
Incidentally, this is part of why I never got far into FFVI, because of some terrible dungeon that forced me to have a party of moogles.


Wasn't that just a 3 minute segment?
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
20932
I tend to be in the "use everybody ever" camp, and am also a huge fan fairness. That's probably why I made the one game with more than one party member have a system in place where characters both initialize, and re-enter, the party with the same amount of experience points as the protagonist (being the character most likely to have the most experience).
One game I'm working on has a large cast and I've been thinking of ways to suggest to the player changing their party out without forcing them to. The main ideas have come from buffs to rested / out of party characters. For example each character has a health stat different from HP. Hitting zero HP in a fight reduces health by one and some skills (usually centered around restoring HP or spenders) can use them up too. Outside of dungeons and related action stages characters have a minimum health score that they can't go below but completing dungeons gives a health buff to all characters that weren't in the dungeon up to a certain max. The player can keep trucking along with their A Team but swapping out to their B Team will not only mean the B Team has more health to work with the A Team will too once the B Team is done with their stuff!

I'm also trying to avoid the large cast pitfalls. There's a party-wide EXP value in place of individual characters having their own EXP, but each character has their own EXP curve so it isn't necessarily a party-wide level. Equipment is handled more through equipping passive (maybe active?) skills gained through levels, but I'll probably have some actual equipment down the road and not have any restrictions on what characters can equip.

I did have some ideas of having multi-party dungeons or battles but if it isn't a consistent thing throughout the game it'll be like the FF6 Kefka's Tower where a player can just play with their A Team then the game surprises them and require 12 dudes instead of 4. I'll have to play it by ear, party-wide EXP might fix the issue but it can mean having to learn how to make even more parties when you've decided just to use one party all the time anyways.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14510
We all know how I feel about large parties.

I'm not gonna prattle on about how I love large parties because, well, the evidence speaks for itself. Instead I'll babble about ways to spice up games that have giant casts. This came up several times in previous topics, so let me regurgitate my basic ideas that you're welcome to utilize. I'll cover ways that I tend to make it work first, then go into my future dream ideas. Goes best with this track:



Flip the bird at levels. You can't worry about exp progression if you get all of your progression from equipment or story-/quest-based rewards, right? My biggest hurdles with projects have been games with large casts and levels (Kiddos most notably). I love equipment, as a well-crafted set of equipment to collect can allow the player to get lots of rewards from exploration/battles while also providing a means of fine-tuning your party. And, with the inclusion of a quick "unequip all" button, you can freely customize your group as you see fit. And, after all, you can have cute scenes like this:



Allow for swapping mid-battle. It's so much fun! If I got one thing out of FFX, it's that swapping as a free action makes for way more choices in battle and lets you, as a developer, get away with extremely specific skillsets. This was the entire idea behind the Demon Tower/Diablocide games. Whether you promote swapping (by having limited Energy or low HP pools) or just let the player decide, it totally redefines how battles are set up and how enemies behave.

For the love of Ultros, make them different. I think this (among other reasons) was why Saga Mara Talon was a horrendous flop. Everybody got to do the same things if you wanted, on top of a generally dull game. Blehehlbleh. By not pulling a FF3/6/7/8/10/12 and saying "lol here's a large cast, just make them do everything", you can make characters' personalities shine through their skillsets. Hana'an, Felix, Never-age and Stefan were all melee fighters but they all fought completely differently, y'know?

...I'll save the dream ideas for a future post, it's getting late.
Magi
Resident Terrapin
1028
My personal preference is to limit the total game party members to four. When you're writing a story-driven game, it becomes increasingly difficult to account for more character's reasons to be there as you add more to the roster. In FF6, more than a few members had little reason to be there other than the low-hanging fruit of beating up the guy in clown costume. I wanna feel that my characters are developing beyond their stats, so there are problems when suddenly I have twelve party members I need to write for.

A better solution is to have members swap in and out automatically. This works better in some games than others and some players are the slightest bit averse to being told "PLAY WITH THIS PERSON NOW." Still, if the swap serves the story and supplants the lost character with equal gameplay, I don't believe it causes much harm.

Let's ignore the story-driven stuff for now, because not everybody's going to make a game like that. Maybe you want something open-ended or you have a grand and simple scheme to rally 108 dudes together for and aren't concerned about their evolving personal narrative. Sharing EXP with reserve members is the the morally right choice as a designer, because nobody should feel forced to use characters on a bloated roster they don't enjoy.

Moving beyond that, I like the idea of splitting up the story from time to time and focus on different parties of characters. This not only gives more equal screen time, but adds an additional bit of depth to a larger cast. It's not feasible to always have the option to swap out a roster of 10+ people in the midst of battle, especially if they are breathing, living characters that are doing their own thing in your story. That's where this ideology shines.

Beyond that, there isn't really a 100% always right way to manage your active party. Just don't make them redundant lumps of soulless meat like it's already been stated and you've already solved half of the problem.


author=Feldschlacht IV
author=Sal
Incidentally, this is part of why I never got far into FFVI, because of some terrible dungeon that forced me to have a party of moogles.
Wasn't that just a 3 minute segment?
edit: lol
Magi
Moving beyond that, I like the idea of splitting up the story from time to time and focus on different parties of characters. This not only gives more equal screen time, but adds an additional bit of depth to a larger cast. It's not feasible to always have the option to swap out a roster of 10+ people in the midst of battle, especially if they are breathing, living characters that are doing their own thing in your story. That's where this ideology shines.


My shameful Suikoden opnion is that Suikoden 3 is better than 1 and 2 because the multiple perspectives helps make with the 108 character cast feel a bit more involved with the story. Otherwise beyond the main dozen or so they'll just get thrown to the curb and forgotten about. Seeing the same characters from different perspectives was neat too.
author=Craze

I just read that in the most adorably over the top cheerful yelling-at-the-top-of-your-lungs way that I've ever heard. XD

author=Craze
For the love of Ultros, make them different.

COUGHCronoCrossCOUGH

Seriously, that game had what, 40 characters, most of whom didn't have the slightest impact on anything other than like 1 scene after they joined the party?

Ugh. It's one of the many reasons I lost interest in that game. And this was coming after Crono trigger had a great cast full of fun little characters with pretty great development if you did their end-game side quests.
I don't mind games with a large cast, though I honestly stick to a set party myself. For instance, in Tales of Symphonia I almost never used half the cast unless I absolutely had to, and generally only used 2 characters myself (the rest being AI controlled of course). Or FFVI where I just use the same 4 characters throughout the entire game, or Valkyrie Profile where if I'm not leveling someone up, I use the same cast throughout most of the game.

As long as the cast is varied enough, I don't mind it. But the big problem is that even when they're varied enough, sometimes they're just...not worth using. For instance, I never EVER use Mog or Gau or Setzer in FFVI (though I used to use Setzer all the time), and I never use Cait Sith or Vincent in FFVII, or Raine or Regal in Tales of Symphonia. Just...never see a need to bring them along and use them, even if they do have unique stuff and are quite different from other characters. Probably due to their unique stuff just...not being as good or cool as the other characters I'm already using. I mean sure, being able to use Slots and maybe getting a good thing out of it is nice and all, but it's not all that useful...

With that said though, my game falls into the "large cast" category where people will probably wind up using the same 4 characters in it. I made it so that you ARE forced to use other characters at specific points, but every character is "supposed" to play differently from one another, so it doesn't feel all the same all the time (granted, I may need to work on that a bit more but it's coming along!). Never outside of forced scenarios do I ever force the player to bring anyone they don't want to, but usually encourage the player to bring characters they may not use otherwise.

Hey Craze, should give my game a try to see if you like it~ Would be neato eh? :v
Games have got to choose. Why would I continually cycle through party members on behalf of the game? Especially if it's an RPG and cycling parties would mean that I would always be underleveled. (or the opposite, if sticking to the same party would mean I would be overleveled, in which case it makes no sense for the game to let me get away with it) It is the nail in the coffin.

The correct way is for the game to choose the party at all times.

On the other hand, giving a "fuel bar" or fatigue to each party member is a very good way of forcing the player to cycle party members. Simply being able to swap party mid-battle as a way of trading characters who are about to die for those with full HP is another solution, as it's the same principle more or less.
author=zeelo
Games have got to choose.


Why?

author=zeelo
Why would I continually cycle through party members on behalf of the game?


I do this often in games where I enjoy all of the characters, and I like to mix up my party to keep things exciting and fresh from different views of gameplay and plot contribution.

author=zeelo
Especially if it's an RPG and cycling parties would mean that I would always be underleveled. (or the opposite, if sticking to the same party would mean I would be overleveled


Not if the game distributes EXP evenly, which is very easy to do.

author=zeelo
The correct way is for the game to choose the party at all times.


Why is that the objectively 'correct' way?
I do this often in games where I enjoy all of the characters, and I like to mix up my party to keep things exciting and fresh from different views of gameplay and plot contribution.

Presumably the player did not make the game. As a player, I don't know whether I was meant to change my characters on purpose and if there are any reasons as to why I should other than "just because". If I go out of my way to change characters simply because of a superstitious assumption that the game wanted me to, that be would me holding the game's hand. But the player should never be expected to hold the game's hand in order to make it better, especially not if the player is imposed with a challenge and difficulty that he or she is intended to overcome using any of the means you've offered to them. You can't say "beat this boss" only to go on to say "wait, but don't equip that weapon, it's too powerful and will make the game a joke. You should have known that. That weapon was 'optional.'"

If I see a weapon and it has a higher attack stat than my current weapon, I will be right to equip it. Likewise but if the player is offered a multitude of characters to choose from but perceives no benefit to switching out of his existing party, then you've devolved it into a weird mind game of "should I switch characters simply because the game is offering me a choice to switch characters". Certainly the player will notice if there are 20 cast members in a game but decides to forgo all but 4 of them, and may realize that something is awry. But this is a meta sort of observation and irrelevant to the task of simply sitting back and playing the game.

Not if the game distributes EXP evenly, which is very easy to do.
True, but this isn't itself an incentive to switch party members.
unity
You're magical to me.
12577
author=zeello
I do this often in games where I enjoy all of the characters, and I like to mix up my party to keep things exciting and fresh from different views of gameplay and plot contribution.
Presumably the player did not make the game. As a player, I don't know whether I was meant to change my characters on purpose and if there are any reasons as to why I should other than "just because". If I go out of my way to change characters simply because of a superstitious assumption that the game wanted me to, that be would me holding the game's hand. But the player should never be expected to hold the game's hand in order to make it better, especially not if the player is imposed with a challenge and difficulty that he or she is intended to overcome using any of the means you've offered to them. You can't say "beat this boss" only to go on to say "wait, but don't equip that weapon, it's too powerful and will make the game a joke. You should have known that. That weapon was 'optional.'"

If I see a weapon and it has a higher attack stat than my current weapon, I will be right to equip it. Likewise but if the player is offered a multitude of characters to choose from but perceives no benefit to switching out of his existing party, then you've devolved it into a weird mind game of "should I switch characters simply because the game is offering me a choice to switch characters". Certainly the player will notice if there are 20 cast members in a game but decides to forgo all but 4 of them, and may realize that something is awry. But this is a meta sort of observation and irrelevant to the task of simply sitting back and playing the game.


Not every player plays like this. I for one love trying out all the different characters and their play-styles, swapping them around, and keeping things fresh. The only times I'll stick to a certain party is if I actively dislike the other characters, and that's pretty rare.

I kind of also like the FF4 "story keeps swapping them" method and find it works well for some games. A fast-paced game with a revolving cast of characters has its own appeal, as long as the new characters have an important role to play.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
11638
The important thing about role-swapping is that theoretically there must be either a cosmetic or gameplay-related reason for switching characters.

A valid reason for switchable characters may be a storyline which changes depending on who's in your party. Not many games have the game design skills to pull this off effectively, but I think a game that focusses on this as one of its core gameplay components would open itself up to new opportunities for experiences. If someone can give an example of a game that does this I would be grateful, because I like this kind of idea.

Otherwise, on a purely theoretical standpoint, there merely needs to be a reason why your party is sometimes stronger with some characters, and sometimes stronger with others. There are two options: to keep your characters at the same level throughout, or to make party switching so accessible and implicitly necessary that the player is encouraged to fool around with party member combinations and make mistakes.

For example, if a character gets more "tired" the more you use him/her, reducing in power in a clearly visible way, then this will discourage the player from using this hero for an inordinate amount of time, allowing themselves room to try out different types of ideas.

In the case of a game like Pokemon, the strengths/weaknesses of each actor (Pokemon) are so inherent (fire beats grass, grass beats water, water beats fire) that it is implicit that you should toss around your combinations. So in that sense, I would say Pokemon is my favourite example of party switching. Not that I've played many JRPGs, but I think it's a good model to have so many characters that you collect that have obvious strengths/weaknesses.

Also, perhaps to make new characters that you collect in some way stronger, or more effective against the current monsters of the area would encourage the player to use these new heroes and to implement them as "assets" in an otherwise intro-weak team.

In Pokemon, experience was distributed evenly throughout your whole team so you could level up weaker heroes. This way, people are encouraged to level up heroes they think "look cool". I think another aspect of this is that certain Pokemon were more attractive to use because of player preference, so the fact that the player just inherently liked the character meant that he/she would be used more often.
Red_Nova
The all around prick
9200
I agree with everyone that said FF4 did it best. Making characters come and go throughout the plot keeps the gameplay fresh, especially if those characters have unique abilities that no other party member has. I'm not sure which I like more though: how the GBA version handled it or the DS version. For the uninitiated: the GBA version gave you the ability to swap all your party members (that were still alive*) at the end of the game to create your own party, whereas the original did not. The DS version took away that feature, but instead allowed you to collect Augments that gave your party abilities from the other party members. Cecil could learn Yang's Kick ability, for example.

The Legend of Dragoon had two interesting incentive to rotate your party. The first one was new additions. Each character had a set number of attack additions, which add extra damage via timed button inputs, that they can employ in battle. As you use additions, you level them up to make them stronger until you "master" them. After you master all but one addition, you unlock their final, most powerful addition. The second incentive was boosting Dragoon Levels. As your Dragoon Level increases, you gain a higher pool of SP you can use to stay in Dragoon form longer, as well as unlock new spells and a higher MP pool, since MP does not increase by leveling up traditionally.

For both incentives, each character needs to build SP. SP is built by performing attack additions. This means that, if you kept those characters on reserve throughout the game, they will be weak even if they are at high levels (which they won't be because reserve members don't get as much EXP as active members).

Just... don't make the mistake LoD did by locking the main character in a game that emphasizes this style of play. Even if he has more additions than everyone else to work on, he will still be done with them before everyone else and will be stuck defending in battle while everyone else trains up. It's not fun.


*Mini rant about FF4. Contains spoilers. Yes, I am putting FF4 spoilers in a spoiler tag.

Seriously, whoever made the decision to not kill those characters after their, "death" scenes is an idiot. It just completely killed any weight and impact those scenes had. To my recollection, they didn't really serve too much purpose to the plot after they came back, so why even bother? It was so pointless.

*groooooan*

Yeah. Don't do that. If you're going to kill off characters, have the guts to actually kill them off. Don't chicken out just because they might be fan favorites.
author=zeelo
stuff


What are you even smoking, man. Sometimes I like switching it up just because, not because of any developer mind games or assuming the game wants me to.

"I like Blackwall! But I like Iron Bull too! Fuck it, Blackwall, you're in my party this time, but Iron Bull has dibs next."

Yes, it's possible to like more than the max allowable party slot characters to the point where you rotate them based on skillset, personalty, and contribution to the task at hand.
I usually stick to the same guys, unless I have a good reason to level up more of them. Like, I might level up a few extras if I really like some of the characters that I may not have room for all the time (Pokémon comes to mind, where I have too many Pokémon that I like but can't all put in my party).
Unfortunately it's often best to stick to the same guys because you're most familiar with their skills and they are the highest levelled characters you have - assuming the game doesn't have a shared EXP system.

What I hate though is if a game forces you to change your party, even if you don't want to. If I can pick between a bunch of characters, I want them to be all viable... within limits of course. Like, I can understand a party of 4 assassins may not be the best way to go (though it would be awesome if your game would still let that be a viable way of playing without being forced to switch out characters), but if I have at least a fairly balanced team setup (tank, healer, damage, support) of my 4 favourite characters, I expect to be able to clear the game using that just fine.
Is it inherently bad to focus on a certain portion of the cast?
There shouldn't be 20 available characters anyhow.

Personally, I think up a good party for the kind of strategies I would like to utilize and stick to them. Often I have one or two variable, switching depending on what enemies or bosses I am facing. There are characters I hate, but still used (vice versa too).

For example, in Radiant historia I never used Marco after I got new team members, as better damage dealer were a more useful asset rather than the defensive buffs and single heals.
For the last bosses I took him back in as I was underleveled and needed a second healer (I did not have the best area heal learned yet, and used single ones). The fight took long but it was fun.

In Persona 3 FES I went for a mage-orientated team, whereas in P3P on maniac I went for attack damage based people to abuse the change of the down status (crit + down bonus attacks GO) and charge through the game.
(that is not to say I did not make minor adjustment according to elemental weaknesses and other factors every now and then)

In this game you had a fatigue status for using characters too much, but that had little impact. There was also the feeling great effect for single characters. BUT it was not as much a feature for keeping your party in check, but for limiting the grinding sessions. (.. and making it possible to keep going with a weak team since you recover mana at the same time)

I would argue rather than forcing or luring people into using a variaty of your characters, make the characters useful enough to build different strategies with.
Even if you then have the player stick to their 4 favorites, they can still decide and wager the options - and different players will come to different parties.
Oftentimes I see game replace a character with another very similar character. Which defeats the purpose of party building and only makes the character feel replaceable.
I agree that in FFIV you could utilize your party well enough - but given the choice, I would definitely have preferred some characters over others. And at the times my favorites were absent, I had a slightly harder time.
It worked for what it was, but it did not make things any more enjoyable for me personally.

The fact you also keep your party means you start caring more for the characters. You see them being useful. You see them being strong.
We mentioned Pokémon before, but while it forces you to build parties, it also brings you to cherish the pokémon you trained all the time!
I know my favorites. My favorites are the one I leveled to 100 the hard rough way, the ones I spent all my time with - and my favorite parties are not easily replaceable. They are what I grew to like and use.

It's not easy in dungeon crawler like the Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey to change your party. Why? Because you are supposed to think ahead, build a tactic with them, and use the strong and weakpoints to beat that game! You can replace one or two if you see it not working out, but that's all you ever do. It helps to foster a weird relation to your fighting team.

I feel like, if you have significantly more party members in a playthrough than you can use in an active party at once, there should be something interesting they can do aside from just participate in battles.

I think the Suikoden games had a good approach to this- lots of characters serve roles entirely separate from combat, and they liven up your base and participate in scenes even if you have very little actual use for them. The tactical battle sequences offer some gameplay reward for collecting extra fighting-oriented characters even if you don't actually use them much in active combat, but I usually felt like the gameplay reward to getting a lot of the character was secondary to the aesthetic or story-related reward.

Star Ocean 2 was kind of similar. Gameplay-wise, there's not a lot of incentive to use your full team of characters. But the party dynamics are interesting enough to make the game worth replaying with different characters recruited on different playthroughs, even though some characters may just be objectively less useful in gameplay.

Tricks to keep party diversity tactically useful can be fun, but sometimes the games which make me care most about the makeup of my party are the ones where I end up thinking of the characters more in terms of cast members rather than team members.

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