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I lost my arms in a tragic chibi accident
I am notoriously bad at it, but I asked RMN Discord about Balancing and they had a lot to say about it and a range of opinions from " 'balance' is overrated" to "in the end it is challenge that is fun."

So what are you thoughts, notes and advice on the topic of balancing combat in RPGs, is there a good way of going about it, is it a difficult thing to do?
You're magical to me.
Balance is indeed pretty hard. LockeZ is really good at it, so hopefully he'll chime in, but I'll try to give pointers the best I can XD

The basics of what it comes down to, is giving your players options about how they engage the enemy, and how they can react to the enemy's attacks.

For the first part, you'll need to give your characters varied skills. Think of what role each character plays in battle. It can be traditional warrior, mage, healer roles, or you can mix and match based on how you want the character to play.

Also, give the enemies some skills, too. If they enemy isn't a boss, it doesn't need a ton of skills, but try to think about how the players can respond when an enemy uses a skill. This can be as simple as "Hey, that slime poisoned me. Good thing Linda has a skill that removes poison" or you can get much more complicated with it.

Aside from that, balance is all in the testing. Test your battles several times, get your testers to give you feedback on them, and keep at it until it feels engaging but fair. (Or unfair if you're going for a more brutal game XD) Skills that you give your players may not be as useful as you hope, or enemy skills can be over or under-powered, so you'll need to keep tweaking these things until they work right. It takes a bit of doing, but after a while you'll have better balance :DDDDDD
I lost my arms in a tragic chibi accident
Ah okay... that makes sense! :D

I like the part about giving the enemies skills that can be countered or dealt with in a certain way, that sounds like a really good way to make battles engaging.
Yup, lots of testing always seems like a good idea haha ^_^;

Edit: Also yeah, we shall summon a LockeZ using... idk
Remember balancing isn't all about "making spell stronger or weaker" there's other things to take into account too. For example, if you have a really strong spell, what I like to do is also give their cast time significantly longer than the weaker countepart. This gives players more options because they can choose between a fast cast spell or a long cast spell depending on what the situation calls for it.

Ideally, you'd never want to have spells that turn 100% useless at one point but it may become inevitable, perfect balance is really hard to achieve.
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
It depends on the kind of game you're going for. The deeper and more complex you want to make it, the tougher it can be to balance, but also the more compelling as well. It goes without saying that it's not too interesting when "mash attack to win" is a viable strategy, but push too far beyond that and players may become frustrated. This also depends on your target audience and whether you want the game to be casually enjoyed or whatever.

Personally, I think a game is balanced when the mechanics used in battle are significant; y'know, where the player's decisions actually matter. You can do this by varying enemy abilities and the player's counters for them. Any action the player can take should have some tangible effect, so they never feel like their turn was wasted. By the same token, the enemy's actions should influence the player's choices by their significance.

What you'll want to avoid is having things become predictable. RPGs tend to level off after a while, where you see the same encounter for the umpteenth time, the player already knows exactly what to do, and the battle becomes an arbitrary chore. Apart from just having more enemy types, you could give those enemies multiple different skills, so the player's response to that enemy depends on its chosen course of action instead of the same-old every time.

Factor in elements, status problems, non-traditional mechanics, etc. and this gets complicated really quick. As long as you can convey to the player what's happening and how battles play out, there's no limit to what you could do.
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.
Fuck yeah it's important.

Most of it is understanding basic algebra, playtesting your game a lot, and actually being able to think of the way different boosts will combine together to power the player up more than you were planning.

When I say playtesting your game a lot, I really do mean a lot. I usually play each boss battle about 10-20 times as I'm making it, and then go back and play them all many more times as I change things. There's not a single part of Born Under the Rain I played fewer than 30 times, and there's not a single part of Vindication I played fewer than 100 times.

In a large, complex game (the kind where you have to actually think about balance instead of being able to easily eyeball it), thinking of ways that things work together is almost always the hardest part of balance, because it requires an intimate knowledge of your own game. It can also require a pretty high level of creativity and skill as a player, not just as a designer. I can't think of the number of times I've found some insanely powerful combination of skills in a game, and it was blatantly obvious to me that it just never occured to the designer that players could do this.

For example, Touhou Labyrinth 2 is a game with over 40 characters and a dozen subclasses, so I can't fault the creator for not being able to think of everything - but about 80% of the way through the game you get a new subclass that works in combination with specific other skills to give you infinite turns. There's a character who can boost her own speed and reduce the enemy's speed, there's a character who can copy buffs from one character to the entire party so everyone gets the speed boost, and then there's this subclass that lets you delay the enemy's next turn slightly. Enemy speed debuffs wear off any time the enemy gets their turn, but... with four characters in this subclass, no enemy will ever get a turn. Once you figure it out, no enemy will ever take an action again for the rest of the game. It's stupid.

So that's the main kind of thing you're really trying to prevent when you balance your game. If one build does 20% more damage than another in a single-player, offline game with no leaderboards, it's not a big deal. It's not really even a problem. If one build is shitty, then that sucks because none of your players will ever use it, and that means that this part of the game you made is getting skipped by everyone - but it's usally really easy to tell when something is too shitty, so that rarely ends up being a problem. But what's absolutely a problem is when the game balance is so out of whack that it prevents players who understand it from playing the fun parts of the game. If one way of playing the game is so overpowered that every other method feels like a joke in comparison, and the player's goal is to win the game, then that's the only way most players are going to play, so they'll miss out on most of your game. And if that method also makes the game a cakewalk, then players generally won't switch back and try to intentionally play less competently to "challenge" themselves, they'll usually just get bored and quit.

I'm in the process of balancing a new job for UOSSMUD right now, which is a game with 35 jobs that uses FF Tactics's job/subjob system, so in a week or two I'll try to post the process I went through to balance it. It might be insightful to someone. I don't think talking about it in abstract terms is nearly as useful as giving examples of the process.
They told me I was mad when I said I was going to create a spidertable. Who’s laughing now!!!
I don't know a lot about combat mechanics, but I know that you have to futz with it enough that there isn't just one "I win" strategy. This usually means you need to get a lot of different people to playtest, since most people have a single strategy style and don't think to plan for different strategies.
You're magical to me.
I'm in the process of balancing a new job for UOSSMUD right now, which is a game with 35 jobs that uses FF Tactics's job/subjob system, so in a week or two I'll try to post the process I went through to balance it. It might be insightful to someone. I don't think talking about it in abstract terms is nearly as useful as giving examples of the process.

I would be extremely interested in seeing your process in this :DDDDD
It's a pain and you can partly avoid it with a clever gimmick. You can balance each battle or work more with resource management. In that case you can go easier on skills and focus on placing of encounters and items.
My advice is that the more skills and characters you got the more testing awaits you.
A fair thing to remember for balance, which is really hard for creators, is that -you- know how your game should be played, but your players won't necessarily know how to do it, especially if you aren't hand holding them through it. So when testing balance, it is important to also test it for sub-optimal things. This is important, because while you may say 'Well, you're just not doing it right, so its fine', your players may not know they're doing it wrong. This turns a battle you found super-easy into frustration incarnate because they did something wrong.

So when testing for balance, make sure you also test for sub-optimal things. Come at the boss fight after not picking up a few items that are easily missable. Pretend you don't like a certain optional character that would be really good for this fight and don't use them, etc etc. You want to make sure there are enough signs that players did something wrong when they hit the brick wall -or- they can muscle through with more effort instead of getting frustrated.
First step is to decide what you want from the battles in your game.

Are they intended to be an engaging gameplay break from dungeon exploring? Are they meant to enhance the narrative where the player feels they are barely overcoming a powerful foe, yet actually have little chance of a game over? Are challenging battles the core of the game, with players expected to go through multiple game overs while developing a strategy for each encounter?

Once you have a direction, then you can go into the specifics.
What Ramshackin said. If you're going for a Persona style of battles where saving mana is critical, the balance is going to be completely different than, for example, Final Fantasy XIII, which doesn't have it and relies on the difficulty of the encounter instead. The best option for balancing will always be playing whatever you're doing a lot with all the different possibilities possible.
Balance isn't really all that hard. You have many variables which create a complexity, yes, but if you turn almost all variables into fixed constants by just deciding for any values, then balance depends only on the remaining variables.

For example just make up any kind of damage formula, make up any kind of character development system. And then just create balance by implementing monsters.

I really don't get why so many RPG Maker games are always so horrible balanced, honestly. I can't be that much better than other humans, right? So I'll rather assume that there wasn't enough effort put into.
Probably because making sure its balanced requires testing, and then, more importantly, caring enough to fix it. Its not limited to RPGMaker games, I've played so many games where the developers didn't test balance enough and you either break it really quickly with a first order optimal (big fancy words) strategy, or if you're not playing it 'right' its wall-banging hard.
Being a little easy is better than being way too hard. You want the player to ultimately be able to complete your game and see the story you have to tell. You also want them to feel that they've progressed as they battle through the game. Think about what makes you feel good when you're playing through a game.

Hitting over 100/1000 damage on an enemy, successfully getting a status effect to hit, pulling off a special move that looks cool and does a big amount of damage, getting special item drops.

What annoys you when you play through games?

Missing attacks and skills (please never make skills miss unless they're offset by something like huge damage or instant death - and even then, make the whiff fair. None of this 20% chance to hit bullshit (unless it's something like "Does damage but has 20% chance to straight up shank a bitch"), healing that doesn't offset the damage you take, high-cost MP skills that do as much or less damage than normal attacks (unless you're using the wrong element match-up), skills that take forever to animate/go off.
high-cost MP skills that do as much or less damage than normal attacks

It seriously bothers me when games do this. It doesn't even have anything to do with difficulty- easy games are guilty of this too, but in my view that's no excuse. x(
Its not even that hard really, once you think about it. Admittedly I might be a bit guilty of it in my current build, but you have a baseline (Regular attacks), and anything different the player wants to choose must have a cost/benefit relationship.

Regular attacks (usually) cost nothing, so they should be the baseline, and always useful, but not strategically interesting. If you have a skill that does less damage, it should have some benefit. If it does more damage, it should have a cost.

This is pretty easy with MP systems, in that you can make more damage = more MP (Though that is incredibly boring). It is also why I've been trying to avoid MP systems outside certain character types, so I can force myself to be more creative with balance. Having high damage attacks require buffs to use (thus the cost of the turn), or being super-slow (shoving you to the end of the turn), cooldowns for the abilities, or giving the character debuffs for using a powerful attack.

The important thing in balance is making sure your choices are balanced, but don't feel mathematical. If there is always a numerically superior option, players will do that. Its why you never use Fire in a FF game after you get Fira or Firaga, even if the cost is lower there is very little usefulness in the lower damage output.

Also remember balance wise: A turn is a cost, because it raises risk to characters and thus potentially costs supplies. A way to reduce 'cost' to players is to give them obvious 'safe' turns during boss fights. "BIG ATTACK....boss needs to take a breath" lets players know they can use that turn to recover and prep without consequence.
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