A Deep Dive into Paper Mario's Design Philosophy

Last year, I played Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for the first time in about a decade. I found myself fascinated with the underlying design and wondering how it could be applied to a more traditional RPG.

Whenever I find a review or analysis of Paper Mario, there's always two points that people love to talk about in regard to its combat: the timed button presses and the use of tiny integers. I don't care about either of these things. I believe a well-designed abstract combat system doesn't need to hide behind twitch gameplay elements to hide a lack of meaningful interactions. Also, you could multiply all the numbers by 5, or even 100 and it would still play exactly the same.

The thing about the first two Paper Marios is that there's a lot more going on under the hood, and no one ever talks about it. I want to start by looking at what is in Mario's toolbox of moves from the get go. In most RPGs you start with the attack option - a small physical attack. In Paper Mario TTYD, you have two basic free to use attacks: a jump attack and a hammer attack. I said twitch elements didn't interest me, so let's imagine a version of Paper Mario without them, the effect you get for hitting the action button during the move is now just the normal effect of the move. So you're two attack options become a move that deals two damage across two hits or a move that deals two damage in a single hit.

The game is quick to establish a meaningful difference between multi-hit attacks and single-hit attacks in a system with subtractive defense. Honestly it does this better than most "real" RPGs. I've seen plenty of games have my attack come out as multiple hits but it always felt just aesthetic (Xenosaga and Radiant Historia for example). There's also games that have subtractive defense but muddle it up by factoring skill modifiers after the subtraction (latter Dragon Quests handle physical skills this way). I suspect the lack of variance in your damage numbers helps make it clear when an enemy is defensive. I'm not exactly against variance though, I think it has it's place but it's something I've considered not bothering with.

It doesn't stop there. With just these two starting free-to-use moves, the game not only teaches us to play differently with defensive enemies, it also teaches us the difference between aerial and ground based enemies. The jump attack hits from above and thus can hit any enemy on the field. The hammer is a ground attack, it can only hit ground enemies and it can't reach enemies behind the first ground enemy in the opponents' party line-up.

Next up is the difference between body attacks and weapon attacks. Your jump hits with your characters exposed body while the hammer is long disjoint (in fighting game terms). Spiked or flaming enemy will thus hurt characters who attack with their bodies. Additionally, aerial attacks can knock down armored enemies like turtles exposing a weak spot to bypass their defense.

You start with two moves each with a full set of intuitive properties. Most RPGs start with, Basic Attack: hits once for some damage, but Paper Mario has:
Jump Attack:
- 2 hits of 1 damage
- Hits from above
- Hits with exposed body
- Stuns and exposes weakpoint of turtle type foes

Hammer Attack:
- 1 hit of 2 damage
- Hits from the ground
- Hits with a long disjoint

With just your two beginning moves, the game introduces all of its main mechanics and gives you multiple ways to interact with enemies. Just two move - how do you do that? How can other RPGs do it? How can I? I really don't know. I like the slow progression of power in RPGs and like starting with very few skills. I usually end up with four starting skills when I try to get all my main mechanics across at the start. I'd love to slim it down to two and even forego the basic attack.

The party members you acquire in Thousand Year Door all have their own bespoke toolbox of moves building on the basic properties that Mario's starting moves introduced and mixes them up. Flurry's body slam hits from above, and topples turtles like other aerial moves but it deals 2 damage in 1 hit - combining properties of Mario's jump and hammer attack. The other party members have similar moves being analogues to or cocktails of Mario's moves, and I love it. It's elegant. Creating a large amount of depth out of a simple set rules is the platonic ideal of game design.

A counterpoint to this is that it all falls into the trap of lock-and-key design: interact with the thing in the only way you can interact with it. Is hitting aerial enemies with an aerial attack a meaningful interaction? Hit defensive foes with high power single hit attacks and low defense foes with multi-hit attacks can feel like foregone conclusions. This is something I worry about a lot with designing my own system. Paper Mario covers this by making it cost a turn to switch partners or having more enemies in need of shutting down then you can in one round and having to choose which to go for - typical solutions for hiding lock-and-key design and that works fine. I'm always open to hearing new solutions to this problem, it's a big concern I have.

What's really fascinating, after the game drills the rules into your head, it does something wonderful: it allows you to break them. With the badge system you can equip passives that bypass the negative side of attack properties. Spike Guard prevents you from being hurt by spikes. There's a delicious number of 'builds' for your Mario that lessen the effect of lock-and-key design by allowing creative expression on the part of the player without making the rules become trivial. You can only equip so many badges thus you can't break all the rules at the same time, you have to choose which ones to break.

What I really want to dig into and discuss is this: in what ways could we apply the design principles of Paper Mario to a more traditional RPG? I don't want to limit this to a verbatim interpretation either. I mean not just "aerial vs ground, exposed body vs long disjoint", but rather the more abstract essence of what Paper Mario is going for. Being able to stick a number of properties on to move sets that allow for a variety of interactions with enemies in ways that feel organic and easily understandable based on strong visuals(jumping on a spiked enemy and hurting yourself instead of the enemy is a clear visual).

Can things like this even work in a game with combat that looks like a SNES Final Fantasy with detailed non-animated enemies drawn at different proportions than the player characters? I'm doubtful the spiky enemy thing can work within that visual setup. I've also wondered if any of these things would just fall apart in a game with actual stat growth. Hitting defensive enemies with moves that bypass their defense threshold is less meaningful if your gaining more and more attack from just leveling (Paper Mario only let's you increase attack power through the badge system - and it's costly).

Does anyone think the first two Paper Marios' combat falls to heavily into the trap of lock-and-key design? Does anyone think the games are just shit and their design ideas should be avoided? Does anyone have deeper more insightful views on how these games are designed or can think of reasons why they shouldn't be applied to a more normal RPG despite liking them in the context of Paper Mario? I've been scratching my head over this for while now and would love to hear some varying input. I'd also like to welcome general discussions on how and why Paper Mario works or doesn't work.

What are you thinking about? (game development edition)

My problem with Xenoblade 2 is that all that complexity is mostly an illusion. There's a lot to the combat, but all the layers follow a strict series of steps: Auto-Attack to fuel arts > Use arts to fuel specials > Use specials to set elemental orbs > Use chain attack to burst orbs. There's a lot of layers, but only one layer is active at a time, it's more like a state machine the player robotically progresses through. I feel like the developers actually realized how banal it was and intentionally obfuscated the system with all these weird proper names for the system and overly verbose tell-don't-show tutorials to hide it. Learning the system is less of an organic process and more about figuring out what the hell the game is talking about with names like "Blade Specials" and "Fusion Combo".

It's a shame, because I'm a big of fan of Monolith Soft and Takahashi's work in general (I even played Soma Bringer with a fan translation), and I loved the first Xenoblade. I agree Tora is terrible. My sister actually stopped playing because of Tora (and she played all of the first one and X with Riki and Tatsu) I don't know how far you are, but I hate how the Blade tends to have the same story role as the driver. Rex and Pyra are both generic shonen heroes (Mythra's a little more interesting in fairness), Tora and Poppi are both comic relief. Then the fifth character is also comic relief, and so his blade has to be as well. Half your party is comic relief. The fourth driver is great though, I played as her for most the game as a dodge tank, I even soloed some superbosses with her.

The review you're talking about is Tim Roger's. I've been following his work for a while, both his work as a journalist and an indie designer (he has a company called action button, they made ziggurat and video ball). He's probably more passionate about Dragon Quest than I am. I hope you enjoy 11, it's a nice game to just chill with. I thought it was divine, but again, I'm biased and still in the honeymoon phase. I'll probably double dip on the switch version for the orchestrated soundtrack and extra content.

I'm glad to see someone else say that the blogpost was mostly weak arguments and I wasn't crazy. The comments were just going on about pokemon and not really engaging the substance. I like to give views like these the benefit of the doubt that there's truth to them, though the part about Japanese developers not thinking through the numbers felt very dishonest. You could make that point with the first Phantasy Star perhaps, but the math behind the original Dragon Warrior/Quest is very carefully thought out.

Oh, and if you have time for it, the DLC story campaign for Xenoblade 2, Torna the Golden Country, is actually pretty decent and feels a little more mature. The story of Lora and Jin is a lot more personal and heartfelt than Rex and Pyra's. I don't want to spoil too much, but I love how they handle the final battle - not gameplay, but thematically. They even cleaned up the combat a fair bit - it's still a far cry from deep and engaging, but it's a step in the right direction.

What are you thinking about? (game development edition)

Good games and good books are a big category, are there any specifics you're looking for? Like just RPGs or games in general? Also, are you looking for more obscure stuff? For example, I assume you don't need anyone here to tell you Chrono Trigger is a good game, but you might not have heard of Radiant Historia or The Last Story.

As for books, again are you looking for a specific genre? Once again, I assume you don't need to hear someone rattle off all the classics of western canon. If you're trying to improve your writing for RPGs then I imagine you might be looking for fantasy and sci-fi stuff.

If so, I'd recommend the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's my favorite fantasy series, so I'm a little biased. The first three books are a tad dated and were written for a younger audience in mind, though they have a general appeal. But the fourth book, Tehanu, is what I consider the best book of the genre. It was written close to twenty years after the original trilogy. Le Guin wanted express her feminist views more in her work and felt that she had a better handle on how to portray the world of Earthsea through that lens. Real time passes, the boy from the first book is a grizzled old wizard by the fourth. The book in general feels much more mature. The result is a an author's fascinating deconstruction of not only the world she created, but thoughtfully deconstructs fantasy literature in general. I could say a lot more but I don't want this post to be huge. There's also a fifth book, but no one cares about it.

EDIT: And if you're looking for a bad game to know what not to do, check out Xenoblade Chronicles 2. A lot of people talk of the difference between complexity vs depth, and Xenoblade 2 is the most tangible example of "all width, no depth", I've ever seen. Combine that with a plot that seems to be saying "respect your partner, don't put on her a pedestal", yet can't stop putting the women in ridiculous outfits and shoving Pyra's breast and ass into every camera angle, you end up with a hell of a confused game.

You don't have to redefine RPG combat with every game, hell I'm pretty much like that. My brain just doesn't get some of these games that do their own things and idk if that's become I'm some geriatric or the game. Familiarity can be a huge boon!

I sympathize with this. I like simplicity, there's an elegance to it. I am Dragon Quest fan after all, and it irks me when I see people saying the series' lack of drastic change is a negative. I'm not really trying to reinvent the wheel, ideally I do want a more meat and potatoes combat system. But without the production value of games made by big companies, I feel indie games have a greater obligation to really hit on meaningful fun mechanics, if that makes sense.

And then, when I google around for articles on balancing rpg numbers, I inevitably come across articles by people who point out all the problems with RPGs (this one in particular put me in a sour mood about making my game: This sort of thing stokes a fire in me where I want to prove them wrong and that makes me worry about needing to find a set of mechanics that break the mold. Granted my time would probably be better spent making something for people who actually like the genre, but I can't get stuff like this out of my head.

I've also become really fascinated by Paper Mario's design after replaying for the first time in over a decade last year. I'm curious how it's design philosophies could work within a more traditional rpg. I sort of want to make a topic about that and taking a deep dive into the design of the first two Paper Marios - and I don't mean the timed button presses. Are new people allowed to make topics or do I need a specific post count? Is that even a topic-worthy discussion?

What are you thinking about? (game development edition)

Thanks for the response, I agree with what you're saying. It fits in line with what I viewed as fuzzying things up with competing systems, I didn't just mean resource management, but things like party composition or anything else going on to make it harder to fulfill the obvious purpose of a skill. So in response to my worry that having lock-and-key skill design is fine enough if there's other systems to consider, you would say yes.

This is probably the direction I'm going to go with. I think I needed some reassurance that it's workable. I just keeping asking myself, even with party/character building and resource management and enemy interrupts, is the idea of "hit enemies in the air with aerial attacks" really a meaningful interaction in itself. But if I keep obsessing over it, I'll never get anything done.

Again, thanks for the response!

What are you thinking about? (game development edition)

Hi, I posted on here a couple times last fall then got busy with life, so I might as well be new.

Getting back into swing of designing my game, I find myself experiencing a creative block reconsidering my earlier ideas for battles and skillsets. I've become really concerned about a concept I've heard called lock and key design where you advance past an obstacle by interacting with it through the only way you can interact it. It makes the advancement feel like a formality dancing through a series of forgone conclusions. The antithesis of this design would be Breath of the Wild where advancement through the environment can happen through a variety of ways in which you can interact with the game's physics allowing for creative expression on the part of the player.

In terms of RPG battles, I feel elemental weakness systems exhibit this lazy lock-and-key design. I've always hated elemental matchmaking in RPGs and it's something I wanted to steer far away from in my own game. But, what's giving me this creative block is that I'm starting to feel a lot of the ways we interact with enemies in menu-based battles fall into this series of forgone conclusions, not just elemental weaknesses.

For instance, I was wanting to have a Paper Mario style thing where you have a separation of ground and aerial attacks. However, is "hit enemies in the air with aerial attacks" meaningfully different than "hit ice enemies with fire"? So, my question: is it worth having mechanics like aerial enemies that you hit with aerial attacks, evasive enemies that you hit with accurate attacks, multi-hit attacks are strong vs. zero defense enemies, strong single-hit attacks are strong vs. high defense enemies if the result is ultimately the same thing as elemental matchmaking? Are these things actually fun?

I feel a lot RPGs get around this by just having other systems to compete with the player's attention. Sure you need to hit that flying enemy with an aerial attack, but the character with an aerial attack is out of the active party and you need to take a turn to swap them in, and you need to make sure you have enough of your skill-using resource to deal double damage in one hit to the heavy armor knight, stuff like this. It works, but is it good enough? Is there a more fundamental way we can avoid the problem of forgone conclusions in the first place?

Other RPGs usually make the learning process itself the challenge. I would say the NES versions of Dragon Quest 3 and 4 are some of the most tightly balanced RPGs I know and 3 in particular is an personal favorite game for me, but after playing it enough I've noticed something I don't love. What's good about 3, is that I actually use crowd control and status effects in normal battles which is more than I could ever say for Final Fantasy's balance. The pilgrim class is given two strong cc moves early: sleep and blind (actually called surround or dazzle, but let's call it blind for easy-understanding). Both of these are useful against different enemies. What's great is that why blinding an enemy may be better than casting sleep is often based on the way the enemy behaves instead of arbitrary resistances (don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of that, it's just not exclusive to that like FF games). Like some enemies get two turns per round giving them another chance per round to wake up, so even though they have little to no resistance to sleep it's still better to blind them. However, this places all interesting gameplay on the trial and error phase of learning what's good on enemies. Once you've figured it out, it all goes back to the formality of cast surround on putrid pups, cast sleep on crabs, all forgone conclusions.

Even stuff like buffs and debuffs are worrying me. How do you make these useful without making them so useful that you begin to see having them as your expected normal damage and it begins to feel like a chore to cast them every battle?

I got fired up about this game last year but now I'm almost paralyzed with indecision. The main thing I'm looking for an answer to is this: is it actually fun and interesting to have things like aerial attack to hit flying enemies, accurate attacks to hit evasive enemies, and enemies that interact differently with high damage over multiple hits vs. high damage in one hit based on their defense? Are these things fun enough and can work by just having the player's attention competing with resource management or should I keep searching for a more fundamental way to change how I'm approaching combat design that could allow for creative expression on the part of the player?


On Halloween, the creator of the 2015 indie game, Undertale, released a free demo for what appears to be a spiritual successor. It's labeled as chapter 1 and presumably, Toby Fox has plans to develop a full game out of this. To me, what's been released feels like a complete experience in and of itself. The scope is very small, there's only three areas (plains, forest, castle), and a tease at the end for things to come, but there's also a final boss, a post-game secret boss, a complete character arc, a sense of ending, and it feels like we experience the culmination of the mechanics introduced. So I'd really like to talk about what's been released as its own standalone thing as I've really enjoyed it.

Undertale received a lot of fanfare, and I could see where it was coming from. It had a lot of charm and a unique feeling. That's all still here. I'd say Fox has been very successful in creating an identity for the Undertale branding. If someone can look at an aesthetic and say "that looks like Undertale!" then you've succeeded at that. My feelings on it were the same as my thoughts on Earthbound - the game that inspired it: as an experience, it's wonderful, as an actual game... not so much. The big thing was the mercy mechanic and how you didn't have to fight but could pacify enemies to end encounters instead. This got a lot of praise, but it didn't really change much under the hood. Typically, you would receive some encounter-specific commands under the ACT menu and would use these to pacify foes. Usually, only one of these was effective at convincing the foe not to fight. So if you had two ACT commands in a battle, you either picked the right one and pacified the foe on the next turn or you picked the wrong one and the battle took more turns to complete. This wasn't at all different than having two elemental spells and ending battles sooner if you chose the enemy's weakness. The game mechanics as a set of abstract functions and rules were no different than the most banal menu based combat systems, Undertale just changed the representation of the abstractions. In short, I never got as into the game as others did. Charming experience, mediocre game.

Deltrune, on the other hand, is a good game on top of having all the charm and atmosphere of its predecessor. The shift is like going from Dragon Warrior to Dragon Warrior II. There's party members now! There's also spells and a resource gauge that you build up through various actions. Each of the three characters have their own set of commands and serve a unique function. Your main character has the ACT command and offers context sensitive actions to pacify opponents just like the original game, and then there's a wizard character who has access to support magic that consumes tension points on use. There's a new mechanic in place so that enemies can become tired through certain actions. The wizard's first spell spares tired enemies. Now at first, this doesn't look any different then pacifying enemies normally, but it offers another method to peacefully remove foes from battle that can be quicker but also costs a resource that you have to manage. That's the first thing I noticed that makes Deltrarune different - you actually have interesting stuff and there's different solutions. In Undertale, you either killed the foe or spared them by doing the one specific action to pacify them, Deltarune gives you a few more options to achieve one goal. Sparing tired foes didn't happen to often during my playthrough, but it's a step up.

Now, let's talk about the third party member. At first you don't control her, instead you have to work around her. She's blood thirsty, ignores your commands, and always attacks enemies. Not good if you're doing a pacifist run, however, you can warn enemies about her! At the start of certain battles, you'll need to take a round to warn the opponents and then they'll be able to dodge her attacks while the other two work on pacifying them. I was impressed but after a few battles I began to feel tired of having to warn on the first turn of every battle and then - what do you know - she gets tired herself of hanging around us heroes and leaves. I'm back to two party members for a good stretch and then, once I'm starting to get tired of the way they work together, I get that third party member back with a new outlook as a full playable character that I can now issue commands to.

This is the thing that made see Deltarune as not just good compared to Undertale, but a good RPG in general. It consistently changes up the combat situations so that nothing overstays its welcome. Just when you start getting tired of something - the situation changes and you have to get a grip on new strategies to deal with whatever comes your way.

This applies to enemy encounters as well. There aren't many and they go by quickly. In Undertale, you might find the ACT command that pacifies the enemy and then keep doing that each turn until their name turns yellow and then take another turn to spare them. In Deltarune, if you use the correct ACT command, then that's enough. You only need to do the action once per enemy to get its name to turn yellow and all your party members can spare foes so basically you'll usually be able to pacify and spare an opponent in a single round. Enemy formations and choosing which enemy to target is nice as well. There are support enemies who are easily identified by heart-themed clothing and staffs. There attacks are easier to avoid then others so try pacifying more fearsome stuff first and save support enemies for last. Nothing too complex, but a nice touch and I like using an enemy's look to telegraph something like that to the player.

Then there are Chrono Trigger inspired duel techs and surprisingly, they work better than Chrono Trigger. Yes, CT is one of my all time favorites but its cracks have shown over the years. My biggest gripe with CT is how duel techs to the same amount of damage as just having the characters attack individually. The first boss, Yakra, teaches you the utility of this. It counterattacks everything so it's necessary to dish out the same amount of damage in the least amount of hits to avoid the counterattacks. But after the Yakra battle, this rarely ever comes up again. Deltrarune's duel techs aren't about damage but rather access to more effective context-sensitive ACT commands. These are typically versions of the commands that will target all enemies instead of just one. Very useful to warn all enemies at once that your berserker is about to dish out some damage.

A lot of little things come together to make Deltrarune feel like a full game to me in a way that Undertale never did. It offers multiple solutions to spare enemies, a varied toolbox of status effects and non-damaging commands that all feel useful and I never feel like I'm wasting turns, an element of resource management (and if you suck at the bullet hell segments like I do, managing TP for healing becomes super important), and nothing overstays its welcome, once you figure out a solution, you've already proven to the game that you've solved the problem and it gives you new stuff instead of making you solve the same puzzle a million more times. There's a decent number of ways to interact with enemies and work both with and around your own party members so that it never feels like I'm just mashing the same command over and over. It's a massive step up from Undertale and I'm excited to see where it goes. I thoroughly enjoyed Deltarune, not just as a spin off to Undertale, or as a demo of an eventual game, but as a good game in its own right. I would high recommend it.

Is anyone on here playing it or interested in doing so? Please, share your thoughts!

Screenshot Survival 20XX

Sorry, some sort of double post thing happened. Ignore this.

Screenshot Survival 20XX

I was mostly saying that part you quoted in relation to the idea of play conditioning. Your combo attack is a way of showing that to the player - if it's not just one fight but something recurring that the player learns to deal with by defending early on. Anything the player learns is okay early on, they'll continue to think is okay throughout the game and get frustrated when it stops being okay. Like, if they can get halfway through without ever having to defend and always just healed up afterward, they'll find it unfair when all of a sudden that stops working. Ideally challenges should continue to build on top of what the player has learned about mechanics. When they learn new stuff, it's an organic outcome of learning the old stuff. You're video of the battle looked good, but it's hard to judge what your whole game is like in regards to teaching players that defend is worth the opportunity cost. If you're already doing that, then I'd say you're golden.

It should also be noted that burst damage doesn't have to be one hit KO to condition the player into preemptively mitigating damage. For me, I'm not crazy about "do it or die!" type of things, I sort of like it when burst damage is more about making characters squishy so that sustained damage becomes threatening. That's where the whole they of making sure players can't out-heal comes into play. If mitigating damage is important than healing should be too costly to get out of that squishy state (but not down right impossible as you'd want the player to have flexibility). In a system with heal on defend, I could see myself not caring about mitigating the damage and just pass a bunch of turns afterward to have the defending negate any threat of sustained damage and heal back out of the danger zone (and I have played a game that was exactly that). That may not be what you want though. If you're into that instant KO if you don't act preemptively kind of burst damage and are able to telegraph it to the player, then that should be fine. I'm just saying there's other ways.

I like the sound of your potion tolerance idea, seems like a pretty nifty mechanic. The video of your combat in action looks good. Keep up the nice work!

Killing People, Falling In Love, And Saving The 17???

I'm kind of confused at the idea of adults not being able to have a character arc in fantasy/scifi stories, when non-genre stories depict adults with character arcs all the time, while also not involving said adults in high stakes, life-or-death situations (which are exactly the kind of situations that can bring on personal change).

(Also, it's really weird to be talking in a jRPG forum about "a medium that doesn't have narrative as its primary expression," since that's one of the big Things about RPGs in general.)

That's not what I said. I simply said a YA cast is a good compliment to fantasy, not that a more experienced cast can't be or shouldn't be (and I never mentioned scifi at all). I even said at the end of my post that my own game is not using a YA cast. I'm currently reading the Buried Giant, a fantasy book where the leads are a couple in their golden years, and Tehanu is my favorite of the Earthsea books. I'm well aware that an older protagonist can work very well. In fact I'd even say it's needed for more complex narratives (which is why I think an adult cast compliments scifi best).

But there's two things I feel are true of fantasy. One is that the world is sick and needs to undergo change with the character, and the other goes right along with that, fantasy reaffirms alternatives to what the world can be. I believe it's easy to connect that struggle to a younger protagonist, to create a parallel between your character's journey and the journey that the world undergoes in a sense. To see that the world is sick and view with a fresh pair of eyes to dream up alternatives to bring hope for a brighter future compliments the passion of youth and someone who may not already have strong political leanings. Again, that's not the same as saying you CAN'T have an older protagonist with a character arc in fantasy.

And no, the narrative is not the main dish of an RPG any more than it is any other video game genre. The game mechanics are. Narrative is tool used to make those mechanics less abstract and more intuitive. For this medium, narrative serves the needs of the gameplay. That's not to say unique mechanics don't organically come out of story ideas but even then you used those story ideas to achieve your main goal of coming up with unique mechanics, the story served the gameplay.

For a lot of people here working on games by themselves, I assume you want to figure out how to keep your scope small. For someone who really cares about gameplay and has devised an idea for a game based on the mechanics they want to explore, that's probably the main thing they really want to do. To ask that person to sit down and learn how writing works seems unreasonable. For someone like that, I would recommend working with easy to follow templates which the coming of age story and hero's journey are. It's nice when both are done well but I'd rather have a game with interesting mechanics and a simple story than the reverse. Admittedly, I'm someone who tends to skip cutscenes a lot.

Screenshot Survival 20XX

Yes! Especially on the third hit. I havn't balanced it yet, but I'll try to make that one lethal. :D I'm really trying to promote the defend command and made it attractive by giving it a lot of bonus effects like HP/MP healing, quicker filling of the "limit break" and quciker ATB.

I don't see HP/MP recovery on defend going to well. It's just going to encourage the player to kill all but one enemy in normal battles and then defend a bunch to get their resources back up. If your MP is that easily recovered - and through a boring method - you may as well not have it. It defeats the purpose of being a resource to care about. Personally, I'm not a fan of passive resource generation. I didn't even care for Bravely Default's mechanics. Xenosaga did the "build a resource that let's you get more turns" thing better. You built it up by actually taking action and landing hits on the opponents. This creates better pacing than just passing on turns.

In general, I'm skeptical that gussying up the defend command with extra effects will actually change the player's usage of it. I think you need to get deconstructive about the necessity of the command and it's purpose. The idea of taking a turn to raise defense is needed to mitigate burst damage. If you have to encourage the player to do it for any other reason, then I wonder why you need it at all.

I think the main reason it goes underused is due to poor play conditioning. A LOT of RPGs let the player win by brute force and make it so the enemies are never threatening enough that the opportunity cost is worth it to defend when you can - as another poster above said - just attack and heal up (and the player will heal up easily if they got all their MP back on normal battles by passing turns at the end of each one). The solution would be properly conditioning your player to see the necessity of taking that opportunity cost. Show the player that enemies deal burst damage that they can't out-heal before a party wipe, show them that the defend command is a useful tool for dealing with that, maybe even make it negate 75% damage instead of just half, make healing spells expensive so they can't out-heal all damage. For reasons I've never understood, most RPGs make heal spells the cheapest, I feel it should be almost the opposite. Maybe even put cooldowns on the heals depending on the difficulty you want. Not letting the player carry 99 potions, ethers, and phoenix downs would also do wonders for making me care about mitigating damage before it happens instead of just patching up afterwards.