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Combat design! (release next week)

Hey all, another design post slash progress update. Progress: I've been distracted with other stuff, but playtesting is wrapping up and all that's left is to fix a few issues that came up during beta, and then we'll have a packaged release sometime next week. It's nice to actually go back and fix stuff after the game's complete rather than our usual release pattern of "put it out immediately, cross fingers."

As for combat, this is the post I actually had in mind when I started doing the design updates. I'm not a design expert but I can at least illustrate our process. When we started design the combat system in SaGa, we had to answer a couple questions first: what exactly was fun or not fun about the original games? Ideally we'd like to steal as many systems as we can and leave out the garbage.

So to start, here's the most aggravating unfun world 1 encounter across the Gameboy SaGas:

It shows up once every second encounter on the overworld. It doesn't die in one round. It hardly poses a threat. It drops garbage-tier meat. It doesn't have any specific strengths or weakness, it just has to be hit for two rounds until it dies. It's a brainless timewaster.

Here's a more interesting world 1 encounter:

While all the enemies there are generally fodder and about as threatening as they look, the fact that there are multiple of them steps up the decision-making for the human. If you're like me and want to kill everything as quickly as possible, you'll pretty soon figure out that mutants should be casting their magic at the largest group present, the slow-but-strong 5th party member should be attacking one enemy while the weaker party members gang up on another, etc. What's fun about SaGa is using your different party capabilities to take on a group of enemies as fast as possible.

In SaGa4, we're trying to take that as far as possible. Here's a sample world 2 encounter:

Before this encounter, the player learns that a statue hits hard and a banshee can potentially SCREAM someone to death. Both are relatively slow. Just jamming A on melee attacks might kill off the banshee, but if the player can find a way to divide up their attacks, status conditions, fatal magic, etc, the fight should be winnable without having to take a single AXE to the face. This is why we've made the (somewhat controversial) decision of having attacks on dead enemies do nothing instead of automatically target the dead enemy. Players should know when they enter their attacks what should be hitting what. The fast human could shoot the banshee with a stun gun while the monster blasts the statue with FLAME, or maybe the mutant uses that newly-learned DEATH FANG.

Which brings me to the next point: different party members (and by extension races) should have different specialties to maximize the number of strategic options available. This was most pronounced in the first SaGa, where humans couldn't use magic and all three races had very different leveling. SaGa3 replicates this with different stat growths per race and stuff like double talent damage for monsters. Here's the basic breakdown in SaGa4:
  • Humans: Single-target damage, potentially super fast single target damage. They should be one-shotting the banshees and other weak casters and fodder
  • Mutants: Group specialists, whether by combat magic or status effects
  • Robots: Customizable companions! Throw on eight BATTLE swords and you have a powerhouse, or add six or seven body armors for a tank
  • Monsters: Versatility. They can round out the party in whatever you're missing at the time

Mixed parties are good. Although a mono-race party can work (4 monsters rules) and there is room for specialization within the races, they'll mostly be at a disadvantage. For reference, from the classic Final Fantasy Legend manual:

...whoever recommended four humans would want to reconsider in this game. The endgame is designed to "punish" certain bad decisions to force the player to adapt. For instance, how is the four human party going to deal with a 99-defense armored beetle or DEATHSKIN spamming disease? Or how are the four mutants going to deal with the SERAPH: immune to status effects and elemental damage? As the game progresses, the rules about who should be attacking whom get stricter, with the idea that monster encounters should almost always be dangerous to snooze through.

Other stuff we decided needed to go: system opacity. As much fun as it was trying to figure out whether it's worth spending 4000 gold on something called the "BUTT" martial arts or cursing at the gameboy because my LAMIA turned into a CLIPPER, not many of us have time for that any more. Some examples of places where we've tried to improve user experience:

So on the whole, no new systems, just taking what worked in SaGa and polishing it up to be par with modern design standards.

The other part of combat design is the raw numbers stuff: how much damage should a weapon deal, how much STR plays into that, what's the hit chance, etc. Mostly boring but you can see a full breakdown here: https://github.com/psywombats/mgne/wiki/Combat-Formulas It also includes some mechanics comparisons, so in case you like old game mechanics trivia, here's some old-fashioned weirdness from FFL:
  • Flee chance is a fixed 50%
  • Integer overflow at an intermediate step usually screws up your max damage: a HAMMER is just as a good as a SUN sword at max strength
  • The in-battle RNG is totally broken and produces the same rolls each time, which is why ASHURA's 3-HEADS always hits 3 times at first and kills you
  • SAW is famously bugged and will kill anything with greater defense than your strength, up to and including the literal Abrahamic god

In SaGa4, generally, we've buffed stat debuffs, increased the effectiveness of non-fatal status effects, nerfed AGI-based weapons a bit, increased the effect of DEF at high levels... oh and multihit moves still hit in a fixed order, but by design this time.


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I'm going to miss the cheesy texts ;_;. And the poor translations xD.
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