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This is a topic near and dear to me, given my current main project already has around thirty characters, with a rather non-linear development, but I am always interested in hearing if people have run into other games or issues with this in mind.

In general, RPGs are known for their story and characters. Obviously this is not unique to them, as we can admit even games like Modern Warfare have had some compelling stories and characters, at least initially. However it is easy to note that how much time and development a character gets is inverse to how many characters there are. Even in games with fairly small casts, it is easy to have certain characters fall by the wayside except for a few moments that are 'their' story. The Final Fantasy games fall victim to this, as 'optional' characters and even required ones can sometimes have one or two parts of a game, and then do nothing else story wise. Rather frustrating if you really liked Vincent, but he got like two parts in the whole story that you had to hunt down.

The worst offender I have noticed is the Suikoden series, given that their main selling point is that they have a massive cast of characters. Too bad that out of the 108 characters, maybe a dozen get any story outside of their recruitment, and sometimes that 'story' is two sentences of 'Oh, you met my requirements, now I join you.' Other than the games gimmick being lost, you could easily trim out 80% of the cast, and not lose an iota of story or development. When an entire characters story can be summed up with "This elf runs really fast, beat him in a race and he'll join you" it feels very superfluous.

I have run into one set of games where this is done amazingly well, and is what I am mostly basing how I develop characters in my game on: Territorial Conquest Simulators. For those (most of you) who have never played a game in this genre, they tend to mix tactics/strategy/RPG natures together with games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms. They tend to tell stories in a visual novel style, but have strategic battles with characters. As a note, my favorite examples are also Eroges, so any google searches for them might be NSFW. My favorite examples of this genre are Sengoku Rance, Big Bang Age, and lately Eiyuu Senki.

These games tend to have a turn based system, and something in the game constantly urging you forward, to conquer more territory and not stop. Usually that is a hard time limit (Big Bang Age limits you to 99 turns before the end game occurs, whether you have everything or not). They also tend to have large casts of characters, some of which you have to play through multiple times to see them all. And yet the characters are well developed. Usually this is helped by them being enemies you end up recruiting, but it also helped by the system itself. In example, in Big Bang Age, they have the star system, where activating a character event gives them a star. These stars have widely varying requirements for activation, from just talking to the character, to stationing them in certain provinces. When an event is activated, you see a scene developing the character, and they get a bonus, either a stat or new ability. This requires you to actually seek out the characters story, sometimes sacrificing valuable game time to do so. You won't be able to get every character event in a single game, but the game encourages you to get as many as you can, as a character you get every event for in future games starts with higher stats. This integrates the story development of characters into the gameplay, and encourages you to seek them out for characters you like so they are better in your next play through.

Have any of you all run into other ways to develop characters in games with a broad cast?
For a conventional RPG (like Final Fantasy) I've found the biggest hurdle in effective characterization is the fact that the characters often aren't in your party. If they're not there, they can't comment on things or provide any essence of their personality. There are workarounds for backstories (FF6 I felt did an exceptionally good job of this by bringing you to places or events that speak of characters' pasts without needing them to be present), but real characterization often comes not with backstory but with understanding the character. And that only comes through dialogue.

To give you the simplest example I know, in FF6 one knows, just by virtue of Locke's actions, that he feels he failed to protect someone he loved sometime in the past. You require zero information about his backstory to understand this. And it's much more powerful to see it in action rather than read about it. That's the power of him being in the party and active in dialogue on a regular basis.

Not that sometimes you can't explain a character with just their backstory. Setzer from FF6 is a great example of this. The Setzer you meet is cliche, but it's just a mask. And all you need is a couple of cut-scenes to understand. However, this type of characterization is only going to work a few times at best, especially since in the end, while you may understand the man Setzer has become, you never really understood the man Setzer used to be (or in other words, the man Setzer really is).

So at the end of the day, how do you cram all of that dialogue into the story? One immediate problem is that characters are often not present. And if they are, you have to choose who comments in each situation. Can you imagine a game with 100 characters and different people commenting in each and every cut-scene? It would feel like a big mess.

Bahamut Lagoon tried to solve this by letting you optionally speak to each character individually between battles. But then do you really want to talk to that many people all the time? No, especially when many often don't have much to say.

So I think for the most part you have to give up on solid characterization for any large cast and get, at best, backstory. Focus on the main story of the game, the main character, maybe a few other protagonists, and then just throw in the towel and do the best job you can without bogging down the game with too much dialogue.

I felt that Valkyria Chronicles II did a reasonable job with this by making a significant part of your time is spent on semi-optional side quests that aim to flesh out the vast cast of characters. In other words, it balances its large cast of characters by making the majority of the game dealing with the characters. The academy setting of the game assists this, as there's a lot of random stuff going on people are involved with. The game also forces most of the characters into the group, meaning that it could include a group of side characters into a single side storyline to try to flesh out all of them a bit more. Having no exploration also means that the game was explored through dialogue with characters, which helped make the immense amount of dialogue character development takes more manageable.

Even so, Valkyria Chronicles II still had a lot of weak or tropey characters. As I said, if you have enough characters at a certain point you just don't have time to develop them all.

The exception would be what Rine brought up.

This requires you to actually seek out the characters story, sometimes sacrificing valuable game time to do so. You won't be able to get every character event in a single game...
In other words, since for most players listening to endless backstory on 100 different characters is an absolute bore, the only workaround I can think of is to not allow it to happen and instead basically repeat the same gameplay elements but this time with different dialogue to flesh out all of the different characters.

Of course regardless of what option one takes, there's still the issue of fleshing out the personality and backstory of 100 characters. And that's simply not a reasonable expectation on anyone or any team. Eventually the characters will either become samey, tropey, or increasingly more ridiculous ("You had both your parents die? Well I had both my parents die, then be brought back to life, only to be killed again!" "Hey, me too!).

One final thing to keep in mind is the difficulty in creating dialogue trees with large casts of characters. If your party is not pre-set, then you need to allow for different characters to be present. And that can often be a problem if you want any of them to speak. As a result, a lot of RPGs with flexible casts just leave all of the protagonists generally silent outside of anyone that's required to be at a given plot event. Given the limited flexibility in any of the RPG Maker Engines, I highly recommend people don't attempt to construct complicated dialogue trees throughout their games. I like seeing games completed in people's life times.

EDIT: Just because I'm thinking my post probably sounded more negative than it was, I wanted to say that I don't think it's bad that games sometimes have characters that are less fleshed out. I'm just saying that if have a huge cast and want to go beyond a simple backstory for characters you're really limited by time, and the only way I can think of handling that time constraint is to spread it out over multiple play throughs, as Rine already mentioned (or games, as Liberty mentions below).
Actually, I'd say Suikoden did quite well when you look at the scope of it all. The use of the detectives to dig out a bit more of the characters' histories really help out and the fact that there's a lot of cross-over of characters between the games is a huge help too.

For example, let's take Morgan. You meet him in a temple, he has scars on his face but doesn't say much more than 'yo I'm joining you' (p. much). That doesn't seem like much characterisation, but get that detective on his case and you learn that he was a gladiator in the country of Falena who was injured and then escaped. Still a bit light on the story, but then you play Suikoden V and there's talk about how one slave was so good they put out his eyes and he eventually escaped the coliseum - the same one you visit and take part in as part of the Sacred Games, and the same gladiators who knew him. It adds a lot more knowing who he is and where he came from. You instantly go "Holy shit, that was Morgan from the first game! Of course, he was here only a few months ago and escaped and then made his way to Toran and joined the army there!"

There's also the end scenes where they tell you what happened to the characters in question, giving them a bit more of a fleshing out as to what went on in their lives.

Another example is Georg. He is mentioned very slightly in Suikoden I (not by name, just as a guy who was working for the Emperor then left). You meet him in Suikoden II, some random guy on a mountain who decides to join your cause. When your detective looks into him you find out that he's served in a few wars in the past and has been linked with the death of the Queen of Falena. Suikoden V comes around and holy shit he's a main character (who kept his love of cheesecake. Man even has it on him as an item in both games. Georg loves his cheesecake) and is tied up in the plot and has a lot of mysteries still, but is also expanded on a lot.

Granted, with over 500 characters over the course of the 5 (+2 gaidens, +1 tactics) games, there's bound to be some that are a bit shallow on the ground, but over the course of the series you learn a bit about most of them - enough to make them each pretty ground-out characters. It helps that they use design to flesh them out a bit, too - Karayans have a style of dressing that is completely different to Harmonians, so you can tell at a glance where a bunch of people come from. The styles of clothing also tell you quite a bit about the characters, too, often showing their characterisation through their design and the way they attack, or who they hang out with, the various bath scenes and before-battle scenes, the interactions within battle (combination attacks or covering for certain people with low health)... each paints a fairly vivid image of who the characters are.

You don't have to have something spelt out in dialogue and prose in order to get a good idea of who a character is and where their loyalties and motives lie.

Also, the sheer amount of dialogue trees in the games are ridiculous. Every time you bring a person into your party or remove them, they have something to say. They leave you letters in a suggestions box. They have scenes in the bath houses with each other. Each weapon changes the name over the course of the game from sharpening (case point: Bolgan from Suikoden II. He starts out illiterate, spends some of his time in the library (which NPCs comment on) and his weapon goes from gluv to Gluv to Glove over the course of the game. He learned to spell! X3 )

The games are full of touches like these and I think I'd rather have them over a tree of dialogue that shouts out the secrets that they hide. It feels more organic to learn through observation than to have them tell you their life stories.

(Also wanted to point out that that 'fast running elf' has more story than that. Not only did he run fast enough to save someone from being burned to a crisp from a mirror that destroyed a whole village in a flash (and as such is shown as being quite brave to do so), he is also shown as cowardly too, choosing to run away from a battle that the elves were fighting. He doesn't like to fight, though he will if he has to, and as such you first meet him in prison. He later serves as a long distance messenger, bringing word of an enemy group landing nearby.

In the second game he saves a main character by getting her out of the way of an arrow in time. He is also said to be training to be the fastest man alive, and does laps around the castle every day. He eats a ton of food (very likely due to the amount of energy he expends in his training). He also doesn't act much like an elf at all, according to the detective, and has a special rune that allows for faster movement on the map (and 100% escape from battles). He was locked up in prison the first time you met him in the first game.

He also had close ties to another elf in the first game, Kirkis, evidenced by not only having a unite attack with him, but also being given his bow sometime after the first game but before the second (he has Kirkis' bow in Suikoden II).

Sure, his characterisation is tied up in his speed, but he still does quite a bit more than just be 'that fast elf'. )
seedThis is absurdly long so im putting a summary up top and then I just kinda talk about examples of some ideas:

I don't think you need to provide character development to have interesting characters. When there's a large cast, it's difficult to find screentime to devote to fleshing people out or providing information about them.

I think most people who play games with large amounts of characters don't expect to learn every detail about them. Thinking about what details paint the most interesting picture does a lot to help the characters come across well, even if you're not actually spending much time on development or narrative arcs.

Even if you don't provide too many answers to things like "who is this person? why are they here", you can invite the audience to come up with their own, you can provide answers indirectly (through things like visual cues or the detective stuff liberty mentioned -- I really can't overstate how much good visual design can tell you about someone), or you can provide answers in brief "event" type scenes that can be considered a form of gameplay reward. (you're playing game well? here take this and enjoy)

Keep in mind that your plot should (ideally) be something every character can have some kind of investment in. "Save the world" is the kind of thing most folks will care about, sure, but it's terribly dull on its own.

There's some basic information I think are good to know of every character, as well. "What is their most obvious trait? Why are they involved? Is there anything about this person that might surprise you to know?" Remember that contrast tends to create interest.

Going back to the original question:

Have any of you all run into other ways to develop characters in games with a broad cast?

bet you've never heard of THIS before

I know your question is probably more about developing characters with a broad cast, implying some kind of change from when you first obtain them to later, but please bear with me while I talk about "development" in the sense of "coming up with" or the more "concept" side and how that can relate to game mechanics

alternatively, there you go. bet you've never heard of THIS ONE either

Approach 1: Give People Crumbs And Let Them Bake Cake On Their Own

I think you can make "interesting" or "compelling" characters without actually devoting screen time to "development" or changing them much, and using really basic ideas.

Entertainment and comedy/drama can come from things turning out exactly how you expect them to sometimes, even though you might usually think of those things coming only from the unexpected. An expected person in an unexpected situation can produce results as interesting as an unexpected person in an expected situation.

Touhou/Homestuck/Things With Lots of Fan Stuff

General base around unusual concepts but the writing uses basic tropes; appeal can be found in letting the audience fill in the blanks (but they have to be motivated to do so)

Ex: Traditional Fantasy Reporter, Aya Shameimaru
One of the crow tengu who live up on Youkai Mountain, Aya runs the newspaper known as the Bunbunmaru. Because she gets carried away and exaggerates things when writing articles, people don't really like to be featured in her paper.

You have combination of Tengu with an enthusiastic journalist. "Tengu" by itself might not seem novel (although folklore is a p good concept base depending on context) and "enthusiastic reporter" is one of those really common character types, but "Tengu who is an enthusiastic reporter" stands out more than either idea by itself.

Ex: John Egbert

John's interests are movies (especially Con Air), web comics, and video games. He enjoys paranormal lore and magic tricks, the latter of which he also performs. He owns a computer and likes to make programs, no matter how bad they may be. He is left handed (when not spriteflipped), allergic to peanuts, and has a long-standing hatred of the brand Betty Crocker. He can also play the piano quite well.

This is just a list of semi-random things. I say semi-random since, overall, it kinda creates the impression of "this guy is a nerd". None of these things on their own is particularly interesting, but somehow the combination of them appeals to some people.

The reason I lump Touhou and Homestuck together here is that both have many characters who are just collections of generic ideas, or a "generic" idea modified with something that really stands out. Both also have tons of fan characters, and you can really learn a lot about differentiating someone from a truckload of other characters by looking at what traits someone gives their fan character to be distinct while still (sometimes) meshing with the overall Lore.

Comic books and their loads and loads of superheros are another good place to look -- what makes one dude in spandex different from another dude in spandex? What makes you care more/less about a particular superhero?

The animes with a bajillion characters will also give you a bunch of "basic" archetypes without much thought given to "how can we Deepen this concept and really explore it". You don't like a particular trope? what does it matter when there are 19283283 other tropes you can instantly like or dislike

I might sound kinda disparaging here, but I think it's a valid approach. I wish I could find the post, but I remember seeing someone bring up an interesting point with Touhou once. if my memory is less shit than usual, what they mentioned was that part of the broad appeal Touhou had was because so many of its characters weren't developed very much. There was enough information to give people a broad idea, and interested fans had the freedom to fill in those details with whatever they wanted.

That kind of potential for audience interaction creates interest, provided people are willing to put in the thought. If they come up with character details that are personally meaningful, it will matter to that person more than anything the author actually writes.

Approach 2: Start with the Tropes, Add a Twist

Fire Emblem, in General

Most of the Fire Emblem games are not great when it comes to character development, especially the ones from before support conversations were a thing. (For those unfamilliar, supports are a scene of two characters interacting, and the higher their support rank, the more gameplay benefits those two units have.)

You have characters who have their One Character Trait and they're almost completely static. Sometimes you learn about a tragic backstory. Some characters have a bit of development, but in the grand scheme it's a lot like the approach I just described, where characters have a rigid theme they rarely stray from.

Ex: Ilyana, from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
pretty much every support conversation involving her is about how much food she eats

Why do I sound so "meh" about this even though I just praised the strategy of "fuck it, just use static characters themed around an Idea or two"?

Support conversations are something like a reward, and they have a progression to them in the form of rank. When the rank increases but you learn no new information and are just given the same things over and over...

It gets stale.

Honestly, I love the support system and the idea sounds similar to what you mention for Big Bang Age (what...what a title for an H-game......) and the star system, though there's usually not much to furthering supports beyond "have these two fight in the same battle/stand by each other".

That being said, I actually really loved how they handled supports (for the most part) in:

Fire Emblem Awakening

Same idea, but I think the execution is generally better. Of course there are characters who get the shit end of the support stick and don't really have much beyond their One Personality Trait (hi Anna, who is greedy and a reference to previous games and did you know she likes money?) but overall I think Awakening does a better job.

The writers generally start with surface trope, and then you learn details that add interest to the trope

Ex: Libra, whose schtick is being
a war monk who is very pretty and kind.

"Libra often prays to the gods thus resulting in having scabbier knees than anyone in the group"

this is an interesting detail. Knowing it doesn't change your fundamental ideas about who this person is (pretty, kind, religious), but it's the kind of detail that makes his religious side seem more believable. These kinds of small notes can really sell a characterization.

But you also learn details that "complicate" who Libra is -- that he's kind but has a "dark" side of sorts (which is just a different trope, the 'nice and pleasant but secretly unhappy/'dark' in some way one) so the basic picture does change the more you see of him.

In his supports, you learn about his hobbies, multiple angles of his fairly straightforward backstory, and several tasteless jokes about gender but

In the progression of his supports, each one has a central "theme" to it that adds to the overall picture of who Libra is. It's a lot of writing, but they somewhat simplify the process by giving each individual support it's own mini-arc or tiny narrative. (Which other fire emblem games with the support system do, mind you, I just don't think they do it very well that often).

the irritating "You're a mAN?!!?!?!" jokes aside, Libra is one of my favorites and it's largely because I like the progression of his supports. I think they're a good example of what I mean by the whole "start simple, add a simple twist" thing. It can be low-cost (in terms of amount of content you need to add) while helping people feel slightly less static.

The larger the cast, the more important it is to categorize

people love to categorize things. It makes super large and hard to comprehend things into simpler ideas.Check out this star that supposedly reduces all flavors (in general) to just 5 things. also check out the free cooking advice.

Now consider ice cream. Even if you limit most ice cream to being primarily "sweet" or "sour", there's a lot of different flavors and a lot of variations on the amount/kind of "sweet" something can be.

going by this ad linking ice cream flavors to personality traits, you could get 10 basic ideas for characters to flesh out or add some kind of development to, say similar to what fire emblem games do or you could just say "fuck it" to the idea of change and development and present your analytic rainbow sherbet character with as much confidence and enthusiasm as possible. The unusual combination might catch interest, and so long as I didn't get 10 separate scenes of "hey, remember rainbow sherbet? she's analytic, did you know this. now that we've established she's still the same, let's get back to the plot" I'd be at least mildly interested.

With video games, specifically, if your game has some kind of class system, you can generate interest by playing with the expectations people might have for a particular class or gameplay type of unit.

Examples im making up but are definitely already archetypes:

Warrior who is Powerful but timid (the cowardly lion is the best!!! fuck bravery! cornered animals fight like hell!!!!!!)

Bloodthirsty healer/medic type (vampire healers who drink their patients' blood...please...)

Muscle Mage (please give me more buff magic users)

It's not unique, but it can be a tiny bit of added interest and a way to set people apart in a crowd.

Also, I would argue that pokemon evolutions can be considered a form of character development, where each step in the evolution develops the basic idea.

Eevee starts off a normal type critter but takes on different themes based on its evolution. Glaceon communicates more "sharp" and "ice" to its blue, pointy design as compared to Sylveon's cute but vaguely unsettling flesh ribbons (a good example of the fairy type theme) or Flareon's warm round body (which calls to mind flames).

This seed ("When it dangles from a tree branch, it looks just like an acorn. It enjoys scaring other Pokémon.") grows up to become a trickster spirit ("A Pokémon that was feared as a forest guardian. It can read the foe's mind and take preemptive action."). In the first form, you see a hint about the end. You go from "acorn pokemon" to "wicked pokemon".

"Shiftry's evolutionary line can be seen as a counterpart to Ludicolo's family. Both of them are part Grass-type, they first evolve at level 14, a respective evolutionary stone is used to reach the final stage, both of them are version-exclusive between Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and are based on legendary japanese creatures or yokai: Shitry's family are based on the tengu and Ludicolo's is based on the kappa."

Same concepts, different directions.

Slakoth goes from lazy sloth to energetic ape and then ah! back to big lazy sloth.

The X/Y starters are all based around "RPG classes" and the evolution sees each form seem more like their rpg class (figther/knight/punchy one for chespin, fennekin becomes a witch, froakie becomes a ninja/rogue type kinda deal)

visual designs and tiny, scant details can convey "a narrative" even if it's just a small one.

Generators are Great

Here's one.

"The healthy, peaceful murderer."
"The tough, friendly martial artist who fears the future."
"The awkward, fear-ridden, bullying student who had a near-death experience that changed them significantly."
"The dexterous, unheroic, selfless politician."

There's your next jrpg party.

Random mash-ups can produce results that invite further questions. "how is someone a peaceful murderer?" "unheroic and selfless? what does that look like" "why are these people together"

When I was talking about the idea of "people have to be motivated to fill in the blanks", these kinds of seemingly contradictory ideas are a good way to do that. If two things don't seem to mesh, depending on execution it can come across as "the writer just didn't think this through" or the apparent mismatch can get people to wonder "what's really going on here?"

I put the summary up top so no closing or anything. got a lotta feelings and thoughts about this.

e: this is just kind of an article about character development isn't it??? ah well
There is something important that needs to be said - it is said that increasing the roster also makes developing harder, but an important aspect is that having other characters helps the one you want to develop stand out, especially in dialogues/events where you see them do things the others do not. With the same amount of lines, I could probably develop four characters better than one individual, simply by means of dialogue and such.

@PentagonBuddy: Touhou's idea of having open-ended characters is actually a double-edged sword - while it does leave a lot of room for creative interpretations and fan material, the canon becomes less interesting if it doesn't have anything of note for the character. Also, Touhou is an example of a large cast gone wrong because the author seems to be unable to keep up with the size of the roster (the recent game had a plot about an invasion on the moon, which is guarded by two characters deemed too overpowered for the canon. Obviously, these two aren't even mentioned in that game).

One thing worth considering is to emphasize interactions between characters. When the character development involves multiple characters (romances, rivalries, comedic disagreements, etc.), it's a lot less total work to give them all time in the limelight because they're sharing it. Backstory is all well and good, but defining a character too much by what happened to them before the player meets them can restrict the possibilities for how they grow during the actual events of the game surrounded by their comrades. For the kind of game Rine is describing, admittedly emphasizing interactions would require the cast be split up into cliques or parties that can have strong interactions within the group and fewer interactions with other groups. Or perhaps the could be a core group (the "main protagonists") and other characters could be important mainly through their interactions with that group, although that's probably starting to fail the desire to give all characters significant story.
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.
If you have an extremely large number of recruitable characters, I think it's better to not even treat them as characters. You'd be better off handling them the way catchable pokemon are handled in Pokemon, or calling them "classes" instead of "characters." This prevents the player from ever developing the expectation that they'll be fleshed out as characters in the story, and so there will be no disappointment.

You can still have character development in your game, of course. You obviously still have at least one main character in such games, and in many of them you have several that can still interact with each-other.

FF5 is a classic example of a game where there are five main characters with well-developed story roles and character development, and the player unlocks 21 classes as the game goes on. Imagine if instead the presentation of FF5 had been restructured so that there were 21 characters who joined the team, and the player had four crystals that were held by whichever four characters were currently on the team, and any skills learned and levels gained were absorbed into these crystals and usable by any other character who held the crystal. The gameplay would actually be completely identical; the end result would be that the job system, though presented differently, actually ended up working exactly the same. The only difference would be in the story. And it wouldn't be an improvement. FF5 could barely make me care about five characters.

The same kind of change can be made in reverse. Take a look at a game with too many characters like, say, Chrono Cross. It has the main character Serge who is a silent protagonist, and two other party members (Kid, Harle) who play meaningful roles in the story. Then it has two or three characters who almost have a real role, a handful of minor characters who play a role in one dungeon and are never mentioned again, and dozens of Suikodenesque characters who are completely pointless. Now imagine if the game were restructured so that Serge had some kind of power that let him temporarily create copies of himself from alternate dimensions to fight alongside him. Instead of 44 other characters joining the team, he could find 44 links to other dimensions, and each one let him create an alternate Serge with different powers. And occasionally, when it actually mattered to the story, Kid or Harle would join as a guest character. Or just follow you around without joining fights, maybe? There's no real reason why they'd need to fight. Too many RPGs seem obsessed with making every protagonist join the party as a battler.

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 4 and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor both use the Pokemon system in games with multiple main characters in the story. The player has four or five real human characters, and each recruitable monster has to be controlled by one in battle. The characters themselves don't need to fight at all if they have some kind of power like this.
The RPG I'm working on has a large cast of characters which was inspired by how Suikoden does it even though the character count if you combine both the protagonist and antagonist side is way less than what Suikoden has(30 playable characters and 21 antagonists and this is not counting minor NPCs and optional boss encounters.)

What I'm doing with mine is choose a few major characters who will get actual development in the story and the rest can be developed through optional sidequests. It also helps the game is split in "Three routes" you have to do before you can progress to the next portion of the game where all the characters team up.

I am also thinking in gameplay terms of how this would work even though this isn't really related to discussion because I want each of the playable characters to play differently and have a different role and it helps that I want my game to be heavily focused on team combinations(even more-so than others).

It's just my thoughts on this all and I like this discussion.
@PentagonBuddy: Touhou's idea of having open-ended characters is actually a double-edged sword - while it does leave a lot of room for creative interpretations and fan material, the canon becomes less interesting if it doesn't have anything of note for the character. Also, Touhou is an example of a large cast gone wrong because the author seems to be unable to keep up with the size of the roster (the recent game had a plot about an invasion on the moon, which is guarded by two characters deemed too overpowered for the canon. Obviously, these two aren't even mentioned in that game).

Yes, that's true. Touhou and Homestuck run into similar issues with keeping track of all the shit they've introduced due to the overall size of each series.

I don't think either series' approach to writing characters is better, but I don't think having less canon or a lack of "anything to note" has to mean "less interesting", especially in plots that aren't really focused on the stories of individual people. I say it's a valid alternative to focusing on dynamic characters with well-developed backstories and character arcs, which is the kind of thing most people think of when trying to write a "good" character. The larger the cast, the harder it is to give each individual more screentime. Then again, the basic "notes" of a character arc can be brief enough that you can try to include a semi-detailed backstory and show a character changing, but try to write economically. This is difficult.

If the details are meaningful or novel in some way, there can be interest whether you have two details or ten details.

Now imagine if the game were restructured so that Serge had some kind of power that let him temporarily create copies of himself from alternate dimensions to fight alongside him. Instead of 44 other characters joining the team, he could find 44 links to other dimensions, and each one let him create an alternate Serge with different powers.

see i was going to say "but!! but I love my glamorous rockstar and my exorcist luchador, why would I want more serge? he was dull" until I realized I would love this idea but keep all of the characters the same concepts. So you would have the universe where serge was a pink dog, the universe where he was a mermaid, the universe he was the skeleton of a clown.... I would be interested in this.

Other games I thought about: the generic units in Final Fantasy Tactics. There's a bunch. They have no attachment to the story beyond "soldiers who fight with Ramza". You have some who start the story with you as members of the same academy, but everyone else is hired.

They only time you hear from them is when they're reporting the results of a job you've sent them on, and the dialogue for that is interesting but....very canned. I understand why they didn't (it takes time to add anything), but it might have been fun to see "quirks" in speaking style or how they reported something based on zodiac sign (since each unit has a zodiac sign and astrology ties personality traits to sign).

However, when viewing each unit in the party roster, you can press select and get a little quote. Here's a big list, and quite a few are nonsense or just gameplay help. Some of them have a lot of charm to them:

  • Mainfroi: "Why did the apple court the fig? Because it could not find a date!"
  • Addison: "Astrology? Heavens, no. Who believes in that folderol?"
  • Damaris: "Is my Faith over 60? Come, you may whisper the answer in my ear."

I cared about the generics more than I did most of the story characters, honestly. I find bits of characters/gameplay stick with me longer when I give them meaning vs. when I have the meaning provided to me

but again, I have to be motivated to provide that meaning in the first place. There are plenty of examples of things where the characters were "well-rounded" or "developed" and I still didn't care about them, or the characters were paper cutouts and that made me very uninterested in what was going on with them.
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.
see i was going to say "but!! but I love my glamorous rockstar and my exorcist luchador, why would I want more serge? he was dull" until I realized I would love this idea but keep all of the characters the same concepts. So you would have the universe where serge was a pink dog, the universe where he was a mermaid, the universe he was the skeleton of a clown.... I would be interested in this.
A concept is not enough. Most of CC's characters are nearly worthless. That stupid luchador has two lines of dialogue in the entire game. The characters who aren't worthless, though, could still show up - and probably get even more fleshed out than they are in the original game, despite not joining the team.

And yes, Serge is also worthless. Yes, he's dull as shit. But he wouldn't be if all the time spent on mushroom mutants and modern-day cavemen were instead spent developing his character. My suggestion wasn't to make the story even more bare-bones, it was to focus it more on the characters who are important. If Serge remained a silent protagonist, then no, you probably wouldn't want 50% of the game to have him as the only character present, that would be kinda horrible.

Generic recruitable units like those in FFT are in a completely different category to me though. I think of them as purely gameplay constructs. They literally do not exist in the story and I don't consider them to be characters in any sense of the term. If they have any narrative at all, it's one the player wrote, not one the game's author wrote, so they can just be safely ignored for the sake of this discussion, I think. Though a separate discussion about them might be interesting?
Interesting, since (as you can probably tell) in my mind there's no difference between the bare bones concepts you see in games like Touhou or CC and the mass units you see in FFT or several other SRPGs. They all fall under "characters" moreso than "gameplay construct" to me. I'm also really into thinking about how to work with emergent gameplay/narratives, so I'm a lot more interested in what players bring to the table even though the writer has zero control over that

It's unrelated to "how to manage large character casts" but dang, I've used Touhou and Homestuck as examples of series with huge casts, and now CC has come up, and they all have dimensions going on??? what's up with that
There's a borderline case in Inazuma Eleven - most of the players in the game don't have any story relevance and use a generic set of lines during matches, but they all have a unique name, sprite, bio, stat spread and (default) skill set. As of now, there's over 2000 such characters, being pretty much proof that there's no such thing as too many characters.
One element which I think sets the Suikoden games above, say, Chrono Cross, is not making all the recruitable party members available for combat. It's one thing to give party members conversation events with each other at various point when they're out on the field if you have, say, five characters (Hell, in the Grandia games, one of the major points of appeal for a lot of players is just watching the characters sit and eat dinner together.) But if your active party is composed of six members out of a pool of 60, and you want to write distinct conversations depending on your party makeup, you're liable to get fed up after a few million or so.

Giving the characters different roles gives an excuse to create interactions with specific party members in reliable contexts. Like, if one character is your party's armorer, then whoever you put in your active party, that character will always be there to discuss your armoring needs. You might even give separate options when you talk to them for "shop" and "talk," so that conversation with these types of support characters is always available for the player to seek out.

You can't realistically give every member of a large cast something specific to say to every other member, so mostly you'll want to have party members talking to the main character. But if you let the player know that certain characters have relationships with each other, they're likely to bring those characters in contact on purpose to see what sort of interactions they get.
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