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Can a turn-based RPG be scary?

  • Red_Nova
  • 02/11/2014 03:09 PM
  • 3299 views
Hey there, how are you doing?

I just wanted to give you some idea of what's going on with development. Most of my focus is going into mapping Purgatory. First, a little overview:

Purgatory is a long dungeon with 5 strata. Each stratum will contain about 5 - 10 maps all built around a central theme. Currently, only the first stratum is made, and even that's just a skeleton of what I'm really after. I will release a demo of the Adult Arc once the first two strata are complete, and after I've sent this out for testing.

But if you read the title of this post, then my development schedule is not what you're here for. Here's what I'm trying to go for in terms of game tone:

Soul Sunder was designed to be something like a survival-horror game. It has emphasis on preparation, item management, and tries to impress on the player the need to run away from enemies, rather than fight all of them. Because that's not how a typical RPG is played, I knew this was going to alienate some people.

However, no matter what I have to do, there is one thing I really want to get right: scaring the player. Now I'm not talking about cheap scares like jump scares or creepy sound effects. I'm talking about working nervous tension into the game. I'm talking about having the game itself set its tone. But how is that possible? Well, if you've played the Childhood Arc, you might have an idea of what I'm going for. But let me lay some things out for those wanting to know more about the Adult Arc.

To answer many of your complaints, yes, the beginning of the Adult Arc will be much easier than the Childhood Arc. Arya is no longer a helpless little child who has to block every other turn. Arya, now Zero, is more than capable of holding her own in a fight. Now Zero is perfectly capable of defeating monsters using physical attacks. That, coupled with the other party member's new abilities, means that battles will play out quite differently than you were used to.

Your party may be able to hold their own in a fight with a few monsters, but if you want to survive, you will still need to rely on finding items on the ground. Many items will be slightly easier to find, and enemies in Purgatory will also drop some items for you to use. Resource management is still key, however you won't have to worry about dying in every single fight with even the most basic of enemies.

I also want to give player's rewards for going out of their way to do hard things. I'll say this now: If you managed to complete some of the harder and trickier challenges in the Childhood Arc, like beat one of the Devourers, or finding secret items, you will be rewarded for it in the Adult Arc. How? Well, you'll just have to see. Overall, the Adult Arc will be MUCH more manageable than the Childhood Arc.

However, I still want to ingrain that fear you had while exploring. I still want you to breathe that sigh of relief when you clear a map or make it to a save point. I still want you to run away like a scared little child when you look ahead and see monsters that you KNOW you aren't prepared for. So don't worry about the overall game being too easy. Because I promise you, it won't be. Just more... managable.

If you think I was a little vague on my explanation on how to make a turn-based RPG scary, well you're right. I didn't want to talk about certain aspects of Soul Sunder itself because it's not that scary if you know everything that makes it scary, now is it? I just want to assure you that I'm doing everything I can to make the game as tense, but fair, as possible.

So why don't you weigh in? I'd love to hear your opinions on scares in an RPG.

I meant what I said at the beginning, you know. When I asked how are you doing? Please comment and let's have a talk. I'd love to talk to you. That's why I'm writing in a more personal tone, referring to you as "you" not "you guys" because I wanted to make these blogs a little more personal.

Thanks so much for reading! As always, all feedback will be listened to and respected. See ya!

Posts

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I played Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. You think can scare me? I challenge you >:)
Red_Nova
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
9192
I played Silent Hill as well. I've also played Resident Evil REmake, The Witch's House, and Dark Souls.

You're on!
Of course!
Shadow Hearts (the first one) and Koudelka are the leading titles when it comes to turn-based Horror RPG.
Red_Nova
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
9192
Ooh, I haven't heard of those games. Stupid me decided to go for a Gamecube instead of a Playstation when I was a kid. Well, now I know what I'm going to get as soon as a little extra money comes my way! Thanks for making me aware of those!
Isn't Shadow Hearts technically the sequel to Koudelka?

It's difficult to do horror right in a turn based game, and you have to go for a much more psychological angle than direct fear induction that a lot of other games can get away with simply as a matter of style. It's almost necessary to have touch battles instead of random encounters, and having them charge at the player (most likely with some sort of creepy sound effects accompanying) is a good way to go.
Red_Nova
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
9192
Good tips. Thanks.

I'd say more, but I am completely hypnotized by your avatar.
RPGs have a bit of a tough time doing decent scares, but they can manage some pretty slow-burn cerebral horror. Think System Shock or Fallout: New Vegas: Dead Money for reference points (or Set Discrepancy, Skinwalker, Backstage, and Desert Nightmare if you want stuff from the rpgmaker scene.) In all of the preceding cases, the games rely on a central theme of isolation/alienation to create a constant atmosphere of anticipation and dread.

This atmospheric horror works generally better in a game because it doesn't clash with the player's (very correct) understanding that nothing in the game can truly hurt them or permanently set them back. In a survival horror game, a player character needs to be able to die over and over again without diminishing the feeling that they are threatened. Jump-scares (ala Dead Space) lose their charm completely by the third time, and gore works mostly as just a set piece. Cerebral horror lingers long after a game is done, and it'll give you the most mileage in any game longer than a few minutes.
RPGs is probably the least suited type of game to mix with horror, since first of all, you'll be fighting monsters all the time, which kinda takes the scary out of the monsters. Second, it's turn based. You have all the time in the world to take a good, hard look at the monster and learn their patterns. A monster that you know everything about is not scary.
Basically your only option is as kumada said, try to keep the atmosphere scary (which is hard enough in itself, and harder still because the monsters won't be very scary). Or you could just make everyone that played more than 1 horror game hate you and spam jump scares.
Either way, I wish you good luck.
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