RMXP Charon - Zhetan Chronicles [Act I] | NEW DEMO OUT NOW

Ciclope

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In regards to the balancing problem I've felt throughout the game, I won't be able to specify the exact enemies or moments in which I noticed it, but I think I can illustrate it well enough:
I played the game trying to keep everything well balanced - a good example is the fact that everyone finished the Demo at Level 16; I've also distributed the Seeds and new equipment equally among Sai and Mara. The thing is, even though I understand the concept of weak points, it felt like the system sometimes took it too seriously - imagine a player seeing Sai's attack damage varying from 120 to 15 only because the enemy has resistance, despite all the Leveling up and upgrades... What I'm trying to say is that the game would benefit from a system where resistance, or lack thereof, wouldn't have that big of an influence on the damage calculation. It's nice to have difficult situations once in a while, but resistance won't continue being fun if the player encounters a Pikachu-vs-Onyx situation every two or three battles.

For quite a few battles, Mara became a support character for me, because the high variability on her attacks wouldn't be worth the risk. The problem also can be seen from a different angle: at the beginning of the game, there's an understandable difference between Sai's and Mara's attributes, which influences their damage dealing numbers. But, the more you progress in the game, the bigger the gap between them gets - it feels like Mara's being left behind as the game goes on.

What I would do to change that:
> Reduce the influence of enemies' resistance in the damage calculation;
> Give Mara a bit more offensive power - maybe a poisoning blade, or anything that would compensate her low attack power;
> From a psychological point of view, I'd advise to never make the player question the characters' effectiveness. In other words, you can put enemies with ten times the HP in the next Dungeon, but don't create enemies with a defense so high that will make the characters deal less damage than they were dealing two hours ago;
> Once again, I'd rather have 5 Poison Knives with 90% chance of poisoning the target, than 99 Poison Knives with 60% chance or so. The same goes to all consumable items: less quantity, but a lot more effectiveness;
> And finally, one little trick of mine: I must say I am, too, guilty of creating a resistance system more punishing than it should be (My main project has this rock-paper-scissors thing between human, elf, and beast-type creatures - it's basically Reason loses to Faith that loses to Instinct that loses to Reason, BUT, in order to keep things going on a nice pace, a few tweaks have been made:
<> No ATB Bars. Imagine the player's frustration having to wait for a bar to fill in order to act. Now imagine the same situation, except half the party doesn't have any advantage against the enemy troop. Imagine the player waiting for the bars to fill, knowing they won't be of any use but to wait, defend or maybe use an item for lack of a better choice. For that reason, I gave the player the chance to choose the entire party's moves, and only then, characters' speed will determine who acts first - I know it's still a system worth some criticism, but it helps keeping the flow;
<> AND NOW, one thing that I'm really proud of: reducing the frame number of every single animation related to the Battle System. Seriously, every single one, even the "Preparing to use Skill" ones, even the "Chest opening" one before using a Potion or whatever. With less frames, everything flows faster, and here, even a system that makes the player spend lots of turns to defeat their enemies thanks to the resistance system, won't feel tiring.
==//==

In regards to the color pallet and visual details. Keep in mind that when it comes to art, it's all about personal taste, so feel free to ignore my thoughts completely.
Well, let's begin by the characters' portraits. Even though I kinda like the uniqueness of your style, some choices in tracing and coloring have made them feel like they are made of plastic. Take Sai's armor for example: the colors aren't creating the feel of metal, much less the harmony and weight a piece of armor should have;
All the characters' lighting also lack harmony, the shadows and bright spots are all over the place, thus creating flat, artificial textures: hair doesn't look like hair; fabric doesn't look like fabric, and so on...

When I mentioned the color pallet, I was referring to the contrast between certain maps (like the ruins, the mines, and some others) and the faces / battlers. While the maps have this realistic, medieval, less colorful tone (which I love), the faces and battlers are way more cartoon-looking, full of bright colors. And that difference in style makes me wonder which one are you actually going for, 'cause I'd say at some point you'll have to decide between them and take everything else in that direction.

==//==

Really sorry for taking so long to reply. I'm still working on the last piece of text reviewing the characters themselves =)
 
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FervorCraft

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Thank you for elaborating on some stuff!
I am excited for your review of the characters. ;D

That being said, your suggestions for the battle system was cause for some discussion, because the current state with the ATB bars always had some annoying shortcomings...
So, I have decided to change it to a CTB system to properly capture the strategic aspect:


(Texts are in german, but I hope you can still tell what's happening)

That way, you can see the next couple turns and plan your current action accordingly one at a time.
Defensive actions raise the chance to get a turn sooner, while offensive action can make you slower for the next turn (mostly heavy attacks though).

This version of the battle system will be included in future releases. °^°

Greetings,
FervorCraft
 

Ciclope

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NOW, let's finally dive deep into my thing: characters. Obviously, I'll be spoiling a lot of things about the characters and certain events in the game, so, fellow reader: you have been warned.

I'll begin by saying the characters managed to create a really good first impression - not only Sai and Mara, but all side characters that have had any involvement with the plot were well fleshed out. Sai reminds me of Steiner from FFIX, a knight who starts to struggle in keeping his loyalty to an organization when it starts to conflict with his own moral inclinations, which makes for an interesting main character to follow. Mara, too, left a mark on her first appearance as a really good fighter - and perhaps that's the reason I've had problems in seeing her as a not-so-strong character during battles - my expectations were too high; I really thought she would be the strongest character in the party, due to the fact she seems to be more of a world-knowing individual, while Sai seems to be limited as a knight who would never play against the rules, even in a life-or-death combat, for example.

There have been quite a few interesting dinamics I noticed as far as characters reaction/interaction goes - there's a lot of ground to cover, so I'll try to keep everything organized:

> Starting with the characters in relation with the world: I love to see that most of the obstacles the characters have to overcome are actually created by humans - not even enemy humans, but higher rank generals, authorities, etc. Overcoming bureaucratic sections, getting authorizations for this or that, are the sort of tasks I love to do in games in order to progress - maybe because of the satisfaction of knowing that we, as main characters, will always advance and save the day - if only it were like that in the real world, without the waiting, without the complications, paperwork wouldn't be so tiring to do - maybe that's the power fantasy for the adult demographic (I think I may end up making a game on this notion, tee hee!)

Anyway, getting back on topic: I like the idea of showing the player all the sides of the conflict; not only the internal backstabbing happening within the bad guys' headquarters in the Underworld, but also the council meetings, with representatives of religion, technology, and so on, struggling to coexist. It's nice to have the opportunity to see what the main characters can't - some might argue that it ruins the feeling of discovering things simultaneously with the main characters, but I think there's always room for the two types of information: the ones you do discover at the same time as the heroes, and the ones you happen to know in advance; for they both serve a purpose within the story.

The Chronicler deserves a special section. This particular character has created sort of a dismissing attitude of my part - in other words, I had a really hard time paying attention to his words, because everytime I spoke to him, I was surrounded by the idea that "he is more than meets the eye;" that he would play a greater role at the end, so, to me, he would never tell me anything worth considering. His presence really intrigues me, and it's one of the many mysterious pieces we have in the game's world, where each one helps enhancing the player's immersion.

==//==

Now, the real deal: Characters' connections, motivations, interactions.

I've really felt at home in certain places, after completing some Quests, after helping clear out the main-plot-related situations; it was nice to have this feeling, especially after going through the dungeons. And I truly believe this didn't happen by accident: creating a village full of friendly NPCs and a nice BGM isn't enough to actually make the player feel at home - there's a lot more work required: cutscenes, deep introspective moments, and most of all: contrast.

Contrast is the key, and I've seen it a lot during the game. We have on-duty moments, clearing areas, doing missions, and so forth; but then, there are the moments during the night, conversations at the INN without armor, personal moments between the characters, and THAT's what makes the player really connect with -not only- the heroes, but also the places they are visiting - it's almost like certain places allow them to open and have human conversations while other don't, and it resonates with me, because as any human being, I too feel more prone to talk about my feelings depending on the place I'm at, and of course, the people I'm with. It seems like a simple aspect of game design, but it's not: when I stop to think about other games -Indie or not, I realize how many times I've seen characters forcefully engaging in conversations only for lack of a better moment for exposition, or to check another of many tropes required for a game to sell - I'm glad it wasn't the case here.

Still on contrast: I like the way you managed to show Sai's motivation and its fragility - the guy's been having these dreams/flashbacks, and it creates sort of an unsettling feel when you start to consider that he, at his age, shouldn't be so eager to find what he's looking for. Younger characters tend to engage in these kinds of quests, but when you see a more mature character going the same path, it becomes more interesting, because it feels like the answers can literally destroy him inside instead of providing him a learning experience.

But THE BEST thing in the whole story to me was Mara's presence being considered the reason for Sai's visions, and it came as such a surprise, right at the end of the Demo. Since the game focuses so much on world building and quests, I wasn't expecting anything really deep on an emotional or psychological level, but after the Marshall started to question Sai's motivation, thus questioning everything that we, as players, have seen throughout the journey, everything changed. This is literally what I consider to be the most efficient tool any Indie Dev can have: the ability of making the player lower their guard, and then hit them hard with a twist.

I think it should be a lesson to every RPG Maker Dev: your game has the most satisfying exploration system I've ever seen in an RPG Maker Game, along with a lot of interesting mechanics, puzzles, etc, and even so, I'd found myself bored for quite a few moments. Bored, tired, sometimes just impatient - nothing to do with the game, but with the very human condition, y'know? Sometimes we tend to switch off, realizing it's just a game: "Save the world; defeat the great Evil, yeah yeah, whatever," and it's hard to create something to prevent these feelings from getting into the players' head, since it's not something we can predict. But to me, it all comes down to having your beliefs challenged, and when the game hints that everything I've been seeing may not be the actual truth; when the game tells me there are some hidden layers bellow the characters' motivations, I can't help but getting extremely excited - it feels like an actual reason to keep going, because it becomes more than a game, it starts to relate directly to me. Even if I don't relate to the heroes or their reasons, I can relate to characters who are being manipulated; or characters that follow their paths without knowing if they are doing the right thing - which are basically doubts we face throughout our entire lives.

==//==

I could keep talking about the minor details, but I'll shorten things up and mention the one aspect I truly think you could improve on for the future releases: characters' motivations for sticking to the group.

Sai, being kind of the center of the plot, has been well developed in this regard, so my comments will be directed to Mara and *the Technoid guy who I always forget the name, fuuu. I like Mara as a character; I think her views help creating a nice dinamic, but since her entire journey beside Sai involves her having to put up with bureaucracies, hiding her horns/identity, and all the embarassment and struggles that their interactions can cause... can you imagine being Mara, having to completely change your behavior so that others won't be upset? To me, it's kinda asking too much, and in order to reinforce her presence in the main party, I would give her a bit more voice when talking to Sai - the guy's basically dragged her into this "civilized world" but I would like to see a little more of the opposite with Mara teaching Sai about her way of doing things. I'm not saying the game lacks it completely - it just doesn't leave a mark when it happens.

Not only that, another rule I always try to follow: initial motivation is never enough. To me, it doesn't matter if the characters are trying to save the world; they could be doing the same thing with entirely different groups, so, as the player, I want to see their connections changing along the journey, y'know? Getting deeper, and it doesn't have to be the "you saved my life, so I'll follow you" style - I think there's a lot of different ways of making characters get closer to each other - and by "closer" I don't necessarily mean in a positive way, there's always the possibility of making one character dependable, trapped in certain situations or missions for one reason or another.

And finally, the Technoid guy... to me, the weakest character so far. I can kinda see his place in the story - I may be wrong, but I feel his knowledge will be of great value at some point later in the game, like for a plot-decisive moment; but unfortunately, it wasn't enough - his motivations for staying with the group didn't make that much sense to me. He appeared in the middle of a Boss Battle, and for some reason, he created sort of a connection with Mara, which I felt it was forced, only to give him an attachment to the group... So, getting back on the "initial motivation rule," I'd say that in order to keep the guy as an actual member of the main party, I would have given him more screen time, even before meeting Sai and Mara. Give him a solo mission separately, maybe explaining a little bit more of his past, since it wasn't very clear through his conversations with Mara. And finally, since he's a late entry to the party, I'd say his motivations should be extra reinforced - he sould be given a few more reasons for risking his life with the others, and specially, a good reason that would make him more than a helping hand during battles.

And I'm gonna be honest: we all have characters of less impact in our games - suddenly, Quina from FFIX comes to mind, and it's okay to have characters with not-so-deep motivations walking the same path as the main heroes. BUT, the Technoid guy is the third character in the group, which is completely different from being the optional seventh or eighth one, y'know? So, loooong story short: give him more thought, because gameplay-wise, he's really interesting, but for story purposes, it just didn't work for me.

==//==

About the Battle updates: I can't believe how much you've improved it in such a short time. Only by watching the videos, it already feels like a much more satisfying experience. It makes me really happy to see your adaptability in play - it gives me even more reasons to keep an eye on your future releases. Congrats on the great work o/
 

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