Restrictions: Limited Move Sets

in Design

Everyone wants to make wide open games, the more a player can get, the better. But is it?

Sometimes, restrictions are good. To illustrate why, I’m going to use a single restrictive mechanic from a recent fantastic Switch RPG: The Limited Move Set.

What I mean by limited move sets, is that your characters can only learn a set number of moves, and if they want to learn a new move, they must forget an older one. That’s right, I’ve been playing Tokyo Mirage Sessions. What game did you think I was talking about?

So what makes this restriction a good design? Let’s take a dive in:

It Creates Choice

One of the problems with a wide open game where the player can “have” everything, is that the players never have to choose. A quote I heard a long time ago, and have taken to heart is “A game is a series of interesting decisions.”

Some decisions are hard… some not so much.

There is no decision in a lot of games, you just continue to acquire more. Limiting the character’s move sets means they have to make tough decisions, do they keep that debuff, or do they get another element attack spell to hit more weaknesses?

Those Choices Drive Specialization

One of the things I’ve noticed with only 6 active moves for each character is that it makes me specialize my characters more. And those specializations are my choice. If you can keep every move you ever learn, then you either end up with specialized characters that are defined by the game creator, or you end up with very versatile characters.

Who needs defense, healing, or utility when you can just pummel your foes?

A character that has good healing and good attack moves, you can choose which one to focus more on. That makes your character specialized the way YOU want it, rather than the way the game creator decided that character should be.

Specialization Drives a Focus on Team Composition

Having to choose how to specialize characters means that you can’t just think in terms of “these are the best characters” when making your party. Instead, you have to focus on how they interplay with each other. With a lot of generalists, any group of characters can succeed.

Probably should have remembered to put in a healer…

But now you have to think about how to cover each characters weakness. You need healing and damage, and possibly support skills depending on the game and difficulty. How will your team work together as a whole?

Extra: It Makes Items More Relevant

The other 3 points are one line of thought, but for an extra touch of design goodness I’ve noticed is that I use more items. In most games, I horde items to the end, never using them because “what if I need them?”. Or just selling them all to buy better equipment.

But having only 6 moves, I’ve found myself resorting to items to cover weaknesses. Only have 1 healer in and they aren’t going before the boss does again? Healing items. A cure poison skill is so specialized as to never be a good option for one of your 6, but carrying cure poison items is perfect.

Actually buying items in an RPG? What is this?

Items are often overlooked in battle system design. These restrictions bring them back into use.

So what do you think about Limited Move Sets? Any additional advantages you can think of? Do you use them in your game? What other restrictions do you think create more interesting decision space? Join us in the comments below!

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