I'm very iffy on any kind of alternate encounter system other than touch encounters (which I only use for special encounters)...I don't know, maybe I'm just needlessly old school. I always have and always will prefer 100% random encounters in RPGs.
Have you played Bravely Default, yet? Because that was probably the best handle on random encounters I have ever seen! If you (or anyone else who's reading this) haven't played it yet, it goes like this: Encounters are random, but you can double the rate or turn off encounters entirely from the menu! This opens up an amazing array of possibilities: for how I played it, I would double the encounter rate, run around in circles in the first room of a dungeon, grind up a few levels, go to town and buy items/heal up, and then turn off encounters entirely and do the dungeon since ugh no monsters getting in my way when hunting for treasures is the literal worst. You could leave encounters at a regular rate and go about the game as normal, too, or increase/decrease difficulty by switching the encounter rate to 200% or 50%, respectively! You could also do a total low-ball run and go through the game only ever fighting bosses.
Basically, don't feel restricted to traditional random battles or touch encounters or whatever! There is a multitude of ways of re-imagining how you handle encounters, and I think you would definitely benefit from exploring that. I can't imagine the Bravely Default method would be too difficult to implement, either -- I bet you could even event it, if you felt up to it! It'd probably be even easier if you had a dedicated scripter around, or if you caught the interest of someone up to the task.
As for feedback for your actual demo: I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS and I hope you will hear them. nwn
Firstly some gameplay things: dude, you goooootta start the player out with either a beginners item pack or some moolah to spend on gear/items. I was tearing my hair out in the first cave because those jerkass Blearies kept blinding my dudes, and I had no way to counteract it since YO I WAS BROKE. It was just frustrating! (Alternately, updating Reiner's healing summon so he can cure basic status effects might be useful? Like either giving him a second skill or just expanding on Sunbathe might be good!) Also, this might be a personal thing, but I was HELLA MIFFED that I couldn't nap in my own bed and had to drop a whole fifty bucks on a hotel room in my own home town. I mean, sure, I get that Reiner might not be into the whole sharing beds with dudes a little over half his age, but there was totally a guest room he could have used, and barring that, there's always the bathtub. ;(
The progression of the game was a little frustrating as well, since 1) having to backtrack through the first dungeon kind of sucked (no treasure! All the puzzles were solved!), and 2) it felt like I was only going to places because I had to go to the places, not because the story was driving me there. Now, this can be kind of unavoidable and hard to spice up when the plot is "PARTY, YOU HAVE A MISSION IN THIS PLACE; GO TO THE PLACE~", but I would actually challenge you to perhaps ditch that plot entirely! Why not have Reiner take Zephyr on a training exam (same reasons as going to Dawnmarch: he's gotta test this flabby little nobody out!), only to have another Augurer show up and frantically beg for back up in Dawnmarch? This then creates a sense of urgency to get back to Cid, since WOAH HOLY CRAP THIS WEIRD HORSE CAME OUTTA NOWHERE and this is totally a problem and the boss needs to hear about it. This also gives Cid impetus to think about going on the offensive, since if Cockney horses are just popping up in villages and sassing everyone, shit has clearly gotten real and those Esper fuckers need to slow their damn roll. As is, it just kinda sounds like people don't like the Espers Just Because and that Cid is kind of an asshole for wanting to wreck their shit. If Espers are actually encroaching on human territory out of nowhere and it feels unexpected and ick, there's reason for the audience to get on side with the main dudes instead of thinking "harumph maybe Cid is just FANTASY RACIST~~~".
I mean, obvs you don't have to do exactly that, but do you see what I'm getting at? Making the player feel like there's something at stake is a great way to make them want
to progress forward! I felt like things were just kinda happening because they were happening, and that I was leading Zephyr around because he had errands to run, and that's not exactly a great way to keep the player engaged for an entire game. I mean, maybe this kind of plot moving about gets turfed as soon as the actual plot kicks in, but I think you could even stand to ditch it right off the bat.
As for the actual characters: idk if it's just because it's early on, but so far the four characters we've met seem really one-dimensional and trope-y. Which, hey, being an archetype isn't necessarily a bad thing (I mean, I am the hugest sucker for the stoic knight character trope!), but when it becomes all the character is, it can get a little dull. Yes, Zephyr is super nice and chirpy and loves his chocobo: what else is there? Yes, Reiner is anti-social and serious: what else is there? Yes, Haughtley fucking hates kids (and 25 year olds apparently) and he wants you to get off his lawn: what else is there? These are all things you can start to explore really early on, just through how the characters interact with one another (and even NPCs/random events!).
I'd recommend checking out A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky
, if only just for the opening scene. I'm not especially far into it, but so far the main 3 characters are all extremely distinct and well developed, just from how they interact. It's definitely worth checking out if you need a good sample on how to do this! I think you already have a pretty good grasp on how to write distinct voices, since yes the characters all sounded like themselves and dialogue wasn't just "I am here to deliver your plot coupons", but I still think you can dig a little deeper and really find voices for each of them.
The tone also felt a little confused: is this supposed to be a comedic game? Because a lot of the dialogue sounded really goofy (in a good way!), but didn't seem to fit with where the plot was going. Now, don't think this as me telling you to serious it up -- I'm thinking the opposite, actually! If your natural flavour of writing is kind of silly and comedic, I would actually encourage you to run with that. A lighthearted, self-aware FF fangame would actually be super fun to play, I think. nwn
As for the visuals, you have the aesthetic completely down. I felt like I was looking at real life actual maps straight from FF6, so that was tickling my nostalgia bone really nicely! However, not only were they nostalgic, they were also well planned and nicely laid out -- so you are definitely solid on your mapping. The sprite/portrait edits are also super fantastic! I was digging that some of the random NPCs were brightly coloured and fancy looking, since I then had no idea who was gonna hop on to my party and who was just a well-dressed random dude, so props to you and your team for that. nwn
Overall I think this game has a lot of potential! You clearly love what you're creating, which is fundamental in making a good game. Keep it up, and I hope development goes well! <3