SYMMETRY IN BATTLE SYSTEMS

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One way to split how battle systems are implemented in RPGs is whether the enemies follow the same rules as the player. If they do, they are symmetric types of gameplay. The other: asymmetric.

In some strange trend, board games are "more unique" if everyone plays asymmetrically, whereas the majority of RPGs are built around that asymmetry almost by default (and if that sounds farfetched, look at the default battles systems in RPG Makers).

A classic example of asymmetry showing its face is in Chrono Trigger when you fight Magus. He has massively inflated stats, especially HP. But when he joins your team, those stats reduce immensely so that he can fight the way your team fights. It becomes apparent that even though you both have the same names for stats, you and your enemy aren't playing by the same rules.

Counter that with a game like Final Fantasy Tactics. This is of its own "Tactics" genre, sure, but it's an easy example to use. The battles are more symmetrical, like chess or go. Even though you can fight enemies that have massive stat boosts, it feels evident that all of the moves that your enemy makes are constrained to the same laws that govern your team even if they've leveled up WAY more than any individual member you have.

When you play or design a game, do you have a prefence? Which is better and in what situations, and how far can opponents be altered before it feels like they have different rules than the player? Does one style feel more "fair" or more "fun" than the other?
I prefer symmetric, but asymmetric has some significant advantages that you should factor. It allows you a lot more flexibility with your formulas, stats, and abilities that player characters have. All you need to do is take a snapshot of the overall power level you expect a player's party to be at, and then derive enemy stats from that. The player's power level can be pretty arbitrary, freeing up a lot of the energy you would otherwise spend finely tuning a system where both sides follow the same rules while providing a compelling, fair challenge. Hero Alex does 2000 damage right now, and I want this enemy to take about five hits before expiring, so I'll give him 10,000 HP. Hero Alex has 500 HP and I want this enemy to kill him in 5 hits, so I'll have this enemy deal 100 damage. You can constantly be moving the bar to make the battles "feel" right, even if they don't make sense numerically. It's also effective for drama. In games like Valkyrie Profile, they can really communicate that your heroes are seriously powerful dudes because they can do tens of thousands of damage with a single attack, even though they only have a few thousand HP themselves.
Ratty524
The 524 is for 524 Stone Crabs
13391
With the Chrono Trigger example, let's consider the alternative. If Magus was perfectly in sync with his player-char stats, he would've probably made an underwhelming boss, which would be especially incongruent with the narrative, as he's built up to be a major villain responsible for starting a whole war between monsters and humans. Now say you left his boss statistics intact upon joining a party, he'd probably be one of the most broken characters you could pick up at the time.

That being said, asymmetry has a place in game design, especially in terms of balancing. Sometimes, being a little bit unbalanced can actually make an experience feel challenging and engaging. Not saying symmetry doesn't have a place, it definitely does, but I think leaning too much toward one end can create problems.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5239
Well, in games where there's player-enemy symmetry, it spans the entire game. You don't just do it for one boss in the middle of the game just because that boss happens to join your team later. You do it for every single enemy.

If you do have a character who is both an enemy and a party member, and you want them to feel like they "match," there's no need for full symmetry. It's enough to just have the same skills, and approximately the same max HP. Then you can adjust their defense to get the player's damage low enough to make that amount of max HP be sensible.

For example, in Magus's case, he has 6666 HP as a boss. If we dropped him down to 333 HP, he'd approximately match his HP after he joined the party - but if we then also gave him enough defense to take 1/20 as much damage, there'd be no actual difference in how hard he was. (In Magus's case this would actually not be a good idea, because the fact that he joins the team later is supposed to be a secret. The player would not understand why he was taking so little damage and would think they were doing something wrong. It would be very misleading and disorienting, and the benefit would be extremely minimal since there's a 10 hour gap between the boss fight and when he joins the party.)

Symmetry is very common in games where you can capture random enemies and add them to your team. In fact, it's probably extremely necessary in such games to keep them from feeling stupid. You want the enemy to have the same skills, stats, etc. after joining as it did 30 seconds earlier.

It makes damage/healing formulas an absolute nightmare to create though. I don't recommend it in, like, any other situation whatsoever.
Symmetric battles are quite achievable if you don't let the damage spike above the HP too much.

Also, I like asymmetry because it lets you make bosses look far more powerful than they actually are, which is a big success to the players.
author=LockeZ
Symmetry is very common in games where you can capture random enemies and add them to your team. In fact, it's probably extremely necessary in such games to keep them from feeling stupid. You want the enemy to have the same skills, stats, etc. after joining as it did 30 seconds earlier.

It makes damage/healing formulas an absolute nightmare to create though. I don't recommend it in, like, any other situation whatsoever.


I think that's probably one of the best ideas that symmetry brings to the table. Some games require the enemy to cross the threshold to the player's side often, or even seemlessly.

No one really cared that Magus' stats changed when he joined because, even so, he became a functional member. But I don't think many people let it happen without the jarring recognition that the person they fought wasn't the same as the person they got.

And if asymmetry allows the player to feel more powerful, I'd like to suggest that symmetry allows the player to feel more intelligent, or at least crafty. It takes away some of the brute force grinding requirments and replaces them with a little more puzzle-esque possibility. I think it's one of the reasons why Pokemon has so much possibility, like the guy who beats the elite four with a LV.01 Magikarp.

This other idea is a little more loose, but worth thinking about: Asymmetry also allows you to relate to your enemy better. You can put yourself in the enemy's shoes and ask what they might be planning in a way that makes more sense. The act of doing so could strengthen the bond between the player and the opposing characters for the narrative's benefit.
Of course RPGs have symmetry in battle systems... if effort has gone into balancing the enemy encounters with the player's progress up to that point. Hell, you could even introduce an algorithm which calculates the party's strength and adjusts the party's opponents' strength to match.

They may not be apparently symmetrical, but there is symmetry. That's the whole goal of a well-balanced game. Superficial concepts like HP quantity don't matter, as long as the challenge of reducing that quantity to 0 is balanced out for the player.
author=Zachary_Braun
Of course RPGs have symmetry in battle systems... if effort has gone into balancing the enemy encounters with the player's progress up to that point. Hell, you could even introduce an algorithm which calculates the party's strength and adjusts the party's opponents' strength to match.

They may not be apparently symmetrical, but there is symmetry. That's the whole goal of a well-balanced game. Superficial concepts like HP quantity don't matter, as long as the challenge of reducing that quantity to 0 is balanced out for the player.

I think that confuses the terms "balance" and "symmetry." If both sides wiegh the same they are balanced even if they aren't symmetrical.

Whether a system should have balance or "a-balance" is not even a good question; of course the system should be balanced properly. Final Fantasy XIII is a well-balanced game, but if you controled the enemies you would no longer be switching paradigms or focusing on the entire system of staggering and juggling opponents. This is because the battle system is asymmetrical. You may both be an even match, but how you are playing is not a mirror image.

(Or maybe FFXIII is a bad example, since I can't recall it well, but that shouldn't interfere with the heart of the concept being outlined.)
Symmetry is very useful if you have confusion or any other effect where you can get hit by your own strength (like Star Ocean 3's anti attack auras). It's not too uncommon that confusion is absolutely deadly for heroes, but for enemies it's just like sleep, but they have a random chance to wake each other up.

You can however solve those cases other ways. For example, nothing says that a confusion attack has to use the default attack command.

That said, I prefer to give heroes and cannon fodder enemies symmetry. It actually seems easier to do so than not to do so. It halves the number of formulas to keep track of.
author=Merlandese
Whether a system should have balance or "a-balance" is not even a good question; of course the system should be balanced properly. Final Fantasy XIII is a well-balanced game, but if you controled the enemies you would no longer be switching paradigms or focusing on the entire system of staggering and juggling opponents. This is because the battle system is asymmetrical. You may both be an even match, but how you are playing is not a mirror image.


Ohh, I see where you are coming from now. Different rules for opponent and player. Sorry to intrude.
Rhyme
Tear Harvester Rhyme
7427
HI
I don't consider inflated HP or stats asymmetry. (wow!)
Speaking especially as an RPG Maker user, our enemy AI likely won't be good enough for it to play with equal stats and provide an experience that would make the actual enemy satisfying to fight with; which is why bosses tend to have inflated HP, moves that are drastically superior, and sometimes even immunity of said conventional game mechanics.

Personally, I have preference of mechanics of the game affecting enemies equally (or almost equally) as the player - I really hate FFTA2's Law system and conversely really like FFTA's because of this (FFTA2 had Laws that apply only to your party, benefits and penalties alike, enemies are completely unaffected. FFTA had Laws applied globally, though some bosses do have partial immunity to Law penalties).
Reason being is, introducing mechanics, combos, and potential actions via performing them as an enemy provides the player with the thought
author=Player
"Oh wow, they can do that! I wonder if I can do it too?"

and that may provide a nice baseline on how a player can learn how to form their actions.
Like, if you had 2 enemies - an Oil barfing Slime and a Flame Wisp. Letting the player observe and experience the receiving end of being doused in Oil and then subsequently Ignited by the enemy, they should see that combination, and think of their own.
One of the most rewarding bits of playing a game is mastering a game element, and turning it towards the enemy! I think that's important!

author=Merlandese
I think it's one of the reasons why Pokemon has so much possibility, like the guy who beats the elite four with a LV.01 Magikarp.

Pokemon's large amount of possibility is due to how each Pokemon's stats and skills are designed. Unlike Fire I, Fire II or Fire III, (almost)every move in Pokemon has a very specific and meaningful purpose. Very few of the moves in Pokemon are obsoleted by other moves, and while superior variations exist, they are not without notable demerits either. Couple unique and interactive skill effects with Pokemon's elemental interaction and additional effects from the Pokemon personalities, stats, and held item, each small facet of customization provides many possibility. This can be done asymmetrically, but I imagine it'd be harder to balance/create interesting as interacting with mechanics that are specific to either the player/enemy would essentially lock out that possibility with the opposing side.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13616
Pokemon is bunch of interesting ideas in one of the ugliest and most obtuse shells ever created. It's impressive how much it has grown mechanically without ever improving in terms of user-friendliness or intuitive design.

I haven't responded to the OT yet because I don't really care/have a preference. =/ Just design a fun game.
Symmetry Systems aren't used as often because quite frankly they are much harder to keep balanced than asymmetrical systems. You need some kind of gimmick to skew the balance so that battlers with even stats can properly kill each other. Otherwise you'll run into the Tic-Tac-Toe problem where battles could be mathematically solved.

Games like Pokemon and FFT still needed to add bosses with impossible stats to provide endgame players a challenge.
author=Chilly-Pheese-Steak
Games like Pokemon and FFT still needed to add bosses with impossible stats to provide endgame players a challenge.


FFT does, but I don't think Pokemon does. Realistically your enemy is another Trainer, and every setup the other Trainer has is a setup you can have. FFT bosses are a little less symmetric than Pokemon bosses because even though their movesets and stat formulas are crafted within the same guidelines as your own, you'll never be able to do what they do.

author=Chilly-Pheese-Steak
Symmetry Systems aren't used as often because quite frankly they are much harder to keep balanced than asymmetrical systems.


author=LockeZ
It makes damage/healing formulas an absolute nightmare to create though. I don't recommend it in, like, any other situation whatsoever.


I find this challenge much more rewarding as both a dev and a player.
Ratty524
The 524 is for 524 Stone Crabs
13391
author=Merlandese
author=Chilly-Pheese-Steak
Games like Pokemon and FFT still needed to add bosses with impossible stats to provide endgame players a challenge.
FFT does, but I don't think Pokemon does. Realistically your enemy is another Trainer, and every setup the other Trainer has is a setup you can have. FFT bosses are a little less symmetric than Pokemon bosses because even though their movesets and stat formulas are crafted within the same guidelines as your own, you'll never be able to do what they do.

Err with Pokemon, there have existed trainers with Pokemon at levels that are impossible for the species (like a Rocket trainer with a level 16 Raticate on Mt. Moon; Rattata can only evolve into Raticate at level 20), so it isn't above asymmetry. Granted, that's about the only kind of imbalance it does, especially since the entire game is grind-to-win.
author=Merlandese
FFT does, but I don't think Pokemon does. Realistically your enemy is another Trainer, and every setup the other Trainer has is a setup you can have. FFT bosses are a little less symmetric than Pokemon bosses because even though their movesets and stat formulas are crafted within the same guidelines as your own, you'll never be able to do what they do.

Pokemon does too it's just more subtle, besides Ratty's example with Trainers having under leveled Pokemon, there exist these things called IV's which are more or less genes that the Pokemon are born with. All the end game bosses have pokes with the absolute best IV's and while the player can get those too the amount of time and effort required isn't something most players are willing to deal with.
1. I tend to hate environmental effects because 99% of the time, "bad for everyone" means "bad for you only" because the enemies in the area will either completely ignore the downsides (e.g. FFT's poisonous swamp being full of enemies immune to poison) or the effect is set up such that the enemies won't get hit (water rises in Tactics Ogre during heavy rain, but the enemy always has the high ground). Giving the player a terrain advantage or useful objects needed to fight back enemies would be nice.

2. You prevent solvability with randomness, either by making hits or effects chance-based (like Battle for Wesnoth) or by hiding information from the player (like Stratego).

3. Pokémon is wierd when it comes to symmetry - every lineup enemy trainers have can be replicated, but especially in the early game, notable trainers such as Gym Leaders can have Pokémon you cannot obtain at this point. Furthermore, there's some oddball cases like Barrier Dragonite and Earthquake Lanturn. Lastly, regarding impossible stats, some of the sidegames have been experimenting with traditional bosses (Bittercold, Dark Rust) - there's also a few GSC romhacks that have enemy Pokémon above Level 100.
author=LockeZ
Well, in games where there's player-enemy symmetry, it spans the entire game. You don't just do it for one boss in the middle of the game just because that boss happens to join your team later. You do it for every single enemy.

I was about to disagree, because carefully employed one-off symmetry can be great for employing a contrast with regular, asymmetrical battles to draw parallels between characters... but I can't think of any actual examples of that symmetry being used in an otherwise asymmetrical game. The illusion of symmetry is often employed, but actual implementation is a real pain to balance when a party has been beating up enemies with heavily inflated stats for the entire game. There usually at least has to be a hit point boost.

I can see how it could work, say, by giving the enemy in question a very high level in the battle and have them join the player when they've caught up. But you're right. It's still very rare, if not unheard of, outside of an already symmetrical system.

Well... unless the idea is to handily defeat the character in question. I believe that may have been done once or twice.

I think another interesting thing is the way guest NPCs are usually handled when they join your party. Characters like General Leo and Sephiroth, who are powerful in comparison to the party but still basically adhering to the player's rules - well, except for Sephiroth's invincibility.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5239
This thread makes me want to make another Direvil Darkfort game with Craze. Now that was an interesting approach to player/enemy symmetry.
author=LockeZ
This thread makes me want to make another Direvil Darkfort game with Craze. Now that was an interesting approach to player/enemy symmetry.


I don't wish to trouble you, but I don't suppose you'd mind elaborating? I'm interested.
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