Being Critical: Learning from Your Favorite Games

in Design

As RPG Maker users, I imagine a lot of us have a lot of nostalgia.

We have a lot of games that we played as kids that we loved. A lot of games that inspired us to want to make our own 2D RPGs. The Final Fantasies, the Dragon Quests, the Pokemons, the Phantasy Stars, Chrono Trigger…

Our games are always a product of our influences... though try not to be THIS obvious.

Our games are always a product of our influences… though try not to be THIS obvious.

There are a lot of games to learn from. The problem is that when learning from something, you have to think different than when you are just enjoying it.

You have to be able to put your emotions aside, and look at it from the perspective of people who have no connection with the game. Because that is what they will have with your game. You will have to look past the things that you love to understand what could possibly prevent someone else from loving it. You love the game. But you have to learn why someone could hate it.

You may love the story and freedom in character customization in Final Fantasy Tactics, but if you didn’t, would you be able to deal with the lack of challenge and game balance?

You may even love something specifically because of the impact it had on you at the time. Dragon Quest IV (the Dragon Warrior IV NES version to be specific) is the game that made RPGs my favorite video game genre. It’s hard to be objective about a game when you have that kind of connection to it. But if you want to learn from the design you HAVE to be able to. Because if I just copied the style of Dragon Quest IV in RPG Maker, I’d end up with a game that doesn’t really fly with a modern audience.

... I should probably not copy THIS closely.

… I should probably not copy THIS closely.

The battles were mostly about hitting attack. Character customization was pretty much nonexistent. After the characters joined in Chapter 5 they stopped talking entirely and stopped really being characters.

There are a bunch of flaws that I shouldn’t copy. They didn’t bother me then, but if I played a new game, they would definitely bother me now.

And some games, have flaws that you would never notice as long as you played it the way the designer intended.

Take Final Fantasy VIII. As long as you just move along, level roughly how you should, add junctions abilities as they come available. The game works out fine.

But underneath, it has a leveling system where the enemies outpace the heroes in stats, which can only be made up by proper junctioning. So if you grind a lot just for levels, but don’t take good advantage of the draw/junction system, you will make the game much harder. On the other hand, if you avoid leveling as much as possible, the game oddly becomes easier! This is entirely counter-intuitive to how leveling should work.

Good thing we avoided all those fights on the way to the Dark Lord's castle, otherwise we might have learned something and this would have been harder.

Good thing we avoided all those fights on the way to the Dark Lord’s castle, otherwise we might have learned something and this would have been harder.

You may have never noticed that because you played it in the way it was designed to be played. But the system breaks down very easily, and that is a flaw.

You have to learn to not see the games you love as perfect. Because if you don’t, you aren’t learning all that you can from them. See what other people are saying about the game. Think about it without your emotional attachment to the game being involved.

Sometimes, it just comes down to flaws that certain types of players don’t care about, or perhaps is a boon rather than a flaw! If you were trying to appeal to gamers who enjoy learning and manipulating the math of a game, Final Fantasy VIII’s odd leveling and junction system actually may be a good idea. The key is to always be AWARE of the effects of the mechanics you are implementing, and its hard to do that when you are blinded by nostalgia.

But be sure that what you are creating doesn’t have flaws you can’t see, because you are copying too much of the games you have nostalgia for.

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