'Collectathon' JRPG Design?

Seacliff

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When I say collectathon, I'm referring to the sub-genre of 3D platformers that was really popular in the late 90s. Popular titles include Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Jak and Daxter.

These games aren't exactly open world, but have an open level design. Gamplay consists of exploring areas at the player's pace to find a primary collectable (Mario has Stars, Banjo has Puzzle pieces) with multiples scattered throughout each level. Traditionally, it's not required to find every collectable in an area, new areas are unlocked as the player finds a specific number of collectables by exploring current areas or even revisiting older areas to find a collectable they may have skipped.

As I said previously, this design of play is normally associated as a sub-genre of 3D Platformers. But is it possible to implement effectively into a top-down JRPG? What if instead of linear dungeons, they are designed using basic philosophises that implemented in 3D platformers? Such as instantly allowed to traverse the majority of the dungeon and potentially going straight to a boss if the player desired?

I was recently playing Mario 64 until I reached 100% completion, and ever since I had this idea stuck in my head.

I had a good amount of time to think about this, and obviously a lot of RPG mechanics needs to be compromised. In a 3D platformer, the same enemies will deal the same amount of damage no mater what stage of the game you are at. However, that type of design is normally not accepted in the more stat-focused RPGs.

I'm curious what input others might have on this, are the two mechanics inherently incompatible or can it at least work well enough to attempt prototyping this in a small game?
 

Kes

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This is borderline 'Game Mechanics Design'. Do you want to focus on the actual mechanics or is this a query about the general concept of such a game?
 

sabao

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I reckon your greatest hurdle is diversity in terrain. Finding these collectibles wasn't just a matter of finding where they were, but also figuring out how to get there. I suppose for a 2D top-down game, designing maze-like levels could emulate that experience, but not without going stale very quickly as backtracking in a maze is a lot more cumbersome than backtracking in a more open playing field.

3D platformers also added new mechanics over time to mix things up as the game progresses, a lot of which is environment-based. Best suggestion I have are introducing terrain puzzles and tools to solve them a la Wild ARMs.
 

Philosophus Vagus

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I guess it could be done in a way, sort of like a cross between final fantasy and pac-man maybe where the 'ghosts' on the map trigger difficult and fruitless encounters and you use the dots (coins, stars, precursor orbs or whatever) to upgrade your abilities to take on stronger 'ghosts' later down the way, or spend them to unlock all the secret passages and such that have their own rewards like equipment?

The main thing I think I would be concerned with would be keeping the collecting entertaining because most of the games you describe above have a lot going for them from different elevations that allow you to jump, scale, balance and climb, environmental effects like exploding barrels, winds, iced floors/slides and other nifty tricks to add fun and challenge to the otherwise mundane task of going from points a-b-c-etc. collecting magical key fragments or flying motorcycle fuel or whatever it's technical function in delivering the player character from gate to gate. Few of those mechanics translate very well to the top-down view that is rpgmaker's default viewport, though that I can see, and I worry that unless you overhaul the navigation to more of a mario/castlevania-type viewport at the least I'm not really sure how you would keep all the collecting from getting stale pretty fast.
 
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The Mighty Palm

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Now hold on I think this might actually work. You just have to change the formula a bit to take account for the whole "this isn't a platformer, it's an rpg" thing.
Let's make an example here. Say there is a game where the big macguffin crystal has broken and the shards scattered and it's about collecting crystal shards. The shards can be anywhere. Lying in the open or in hidden areas to keep that collectathon feel, but now lets adjust for rpg mechanics. How else can you get the shards? Quest rewards is a given. Perhaps some monster/miniboss/boss encounters drop a shard.
Maybe you can buy them from certain npcs. What if you get a shard every time you 100% explore a dungeon?
Suddenly you have what could be a formula for a non-linear rpg. Something that people still rack their brains over.

A collectathon is really just a platformer that gives you small tasks and rewards throughout the entire game.
So yeah, I think you can do the same thing in an rpg. You just need a different mindset.
You suggest compromising a lot of rpg elements, but if you're gonna do that then I ask: why not just make a platformer then?
 

Seacliff

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This is borderline 'Game Mechanics Design'. Do you want to focus on the actual mechanics or is this a query about the general concept of such a game?
I got my threads mixed up again. :p

A bit of both, but more of the former than the latter.
 

velan235

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I don't know if its actually fit , but I found paper mario is the middle of those. you explore mostly like a basic mario platformer , but with JRPG formula resolve around it.

mario&luigi superstar saga also fit , but the exploration feel more a jrpg-generic than paper mario, but some of the stage also need you to explore and gain reward from those exploration (using tools / formation). if you avoid the random battle, it actually a true platform RPG game (bosses are unavoidable though)
 

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@Seacliff In that case...

[mod]I am moving this to Game Mechanics Design.[/mod]
 

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Since battles are a large part of rpgs, use them with the collect-a-thon. Generic enemies are similar to, well... generic enemies in those games. But minibosses and bosses can all be unique and give you crystals.

To tie into elements of jrpgs, maybe the items you are collecting are upgrades. Dragon Quest 1 had the best equipment in the game as actual plot relevant quests. You could go a similar angle and ignore shop upgrades and have upgrades be found in quests, bosses, chests, etc.
 

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To add to the gather the crystal shards idea put forward, you could have certain weapons/abilities unlock after collecting X amount of the main collectible. That way you have a bit of control over the when/where/what of the player learning Mario's flying hat jump, Link's rock removing power glove or bombs. Everyone likes backtracking and blowing up walls with bombs right...? The unlockables factor can merge with @The Mighty Palm idea of 100% completion of dungeons for more crystal collecting. I think Mario 64 had that with unlocking hat boxes and back tracking to previous levels for more stars? The challenge I foresee is making mechanics that allow the player to do more than 'walk up to wall/object and hit interact'. Try to capture some Super Metroid in a top-down perspective? Use a missile item to fire off an event that collides with wandering event monsters or switch/wall events? *shrugs*
 

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((It's been a little over two months since the last reply, but I hope it's okay to post here, since this is a fascinating RPG Design topic that I'm so passionate about, and because most of the posters involved here are still extremely active))

Creating an RPG that also offers the exploration and collection as a 3D platformer like Banjo-Kazooie has long been my ultimate game-making dream - it's been something I've zealously wanted to make for fifteen years, ever since I started tinkering around with RPG Maker 1 on the PlayStation! I've since found that making something with such a large scope and such a high degree of freedom is an epic task, and I've concentrated on smaller projects instead, but this type of game really is the dream.

A few of you guys have suggested that the biggest design challenge here lies in coming up with interesting ways to obtain the collectibles in a genre that doesn't involve a lot of action per-se. I feel that the RPG genre already offers a ton of good ways to earn the Stars, Jiggies, Musical Notes, Sprockets, or whatever collectibles you decide to have the player seek:
  • Give them as rewards for solving puzzles (instead of straight-up blocking progression in a dungeon until the player completes the puzzle)
  • Give them as rewards for beating minigames (instead of blocking progression until beaten)
  • Have boss monsters drop them when defeated (instead of blocking progression until defeated)
  • Give them as rewards for activities that might otherwise be 'sidequests'
  • Have NPCs trade them if you bring them a certain item (especially cool if you have an item crafting system)
  • Allow the player to find them in the far reaches of dungeons (instead of making dungeons a strictly linear trek from start to end)
  • Have NPCs or even other party members give them to the player for good decisions in dialogue trees, or for fostering relationships if you have a relationship system
  • Simply give a few to the player as they progress through the narrative or complete other 'mandatory' objectives (as a feel-good)
I think the most epic design challenge in making a game like this would be to wrap an RPG Narrative around it. Games like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Mischief Makers have sparse narratives, and almost nothing "happens" in between the intro and conclusion. Sure, characters do a lot of talking in some platformers, but the narrative status of the characters, society, and locations in the game don't change at all. It's so much different in an RPG, where the plot keeps moving, characters are shaped over time, twists and turns are revealed, new narrative (as opposed to gameplay) objectives are revealed, and most dialogue is relevant to what is happening in the overall plot right now.

The two dynamics seem so disparate with each other. How are you supposed to have a compelling narrative going on around the player, when you don't even know what the player is doing at any given time, or what order they're doing things in? How are you supposed to develop a plot that makes sense from front to back, when everything in the middle is so up in the air? If you were to create a game with free-roaming gameplay within locations, gameplay objectives that can be stumbled upon (rather than force-fed) and completed in almost any order, and an overall objective of collecting 70 (or 92 or 500) interchangeable items... how would you wrap an RPG Narrative around it?

The way I personally plan to tackle this design issue is to use the "Hub Level" (Overworld in RPG terms) of the platformer to handle nearly all of the dynamic narrative that takes place over the course of the game, and trigger the narrative events there based on how many Collectibles the player has obtained. Small bits of location-specific narrative that don't affect the course of the larger plot can take place within individual levels, but all of the really big stuff happens in "the world outside the paintings", to use a Mario 64 analogy. This way I can strictly control the pace and order in which important plot events occur, while allowing the player the freedom to complete most gameplay objectives in whatever order they please.
 

Seacliff

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@Wavelength I was on the verge of dropping this idea before I saw this, now I have a lot more hope. Some of these ideas are ones I never even considered.

My initial idea was to have a type of world map with various location, and you click the area you want to go to. But a central Hub does have it's appeal if executed well enough, and doesn't necessarily have to mean it's the only 'safe space' in the entire game.

Perhaps I could also take a couple nods from Mario Sunshine, where the plot progresses when new areas open (specifically the forth). And potentially have individual narratives for each area like A Hat in Time, but not focus on the episodic nature of those two games.

I really need to open up a design document and consider all these possibilities. This will probably be my second major project once I finish the last eighth of my current one. Thanks for deciding to comment.
 

kirbwarrior

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@Wavelength A fellow maker is actually already doing something along these lines. Dungeons are to the side, with the bulk of the plot happening in the one town you can visit. It would be very easy to add a collectathon feel to it.

It's actually pretty easy to add some of the exploration feel of platformers to an rpg. The Mario RPG series does this by straight combining platforming elements with rpg elements. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest does this with jumping and an expanding list of items to use out of combat (like a rudimentary Zelda). Dragon Quest has Tiny Medals that are gathered from tons of reasons, namely from exploration.

Another things is rpgs are rife with rewards already. Treasures out of the way, metal slimes, side quests, etc. Collectathon drops just give more options. In one game I'm working on, I'm using collectibles. They come from helping people out and experiencing specific types of events, which can include "finding" them in nooks and crannies.

You can even incorporate it into the gameplay. As above, Tiny Medals help unlock equipment, Super Mario RPG has flowers strewn all over that increase max FP, and many rpgs have stat increasing items. I've played a few games that track how many chests you've opened.

One idea I like is how in some platformers collecting enough or all of a collectible affects the plot (namely the end). For instance, the sequel hook in Jak and Daxtar only shows up if you max your collectibles.
 

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OP mentioned Banjo-Kazooie as a inspiration for the idea. The series has a little known game for the gameboy advance that feels really rpgmaker-ish (some would say that is an insult rather than a compliment but obviously I am not one of them). It solved the problem of varied terrain by making the levels more compact and sharply dividing each area of the level. For example, there is a level that consists of a volcano, an ice cave and a factory. All of them are really small yet still feels like part of a larger level because you go between them to complete sidequests. Otherwise it worked just like any other BK game (collect stuff, learn skills to return to previous levels etc)!
 

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If you're going to have players go around and collect things the whole game, why not just incorporate the collectibles into game in a non-superficial manner? You could use these as a sort of XP mechanic and have the character level up when they get certain numbers of them. Pretty much every crafting system is based on collecting useless things and turning them into more useful things. Items in RPGs tend to have more in-game significance than your standard platformer.
 

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Evoland 2 can give you some inspiration. Part of the collectibles are upgrades for the characters in the party, and the others are cards used in a very simple card game played by NPCs around the game. Think Gwent in Witcher 3, but even simpler. You can finish the game and completely ignore the card game, or solve all kinds of extra puzzles and sidequests to get powerful cards that you will need to complete your collection.

In fact, I wrote about how alternative and extra goals are an interesting way to calibrate both difficulty and game duration to organically fit your player's preferences, without realizing how collectathons already do this very well. As for protoyping this into a small game, now that's a tougher question. JRPGs already imply a fair amount of content; open, pottentially non-linear level designs and backtracking will multiply the effort spent.
 

Wavelength

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I'm wondering if all of us are viewing this single idea through very different paradigms. I don't see the collectibles as an ancillary "feature" at all - I see them at the very heart of the game. Earning these collectibles (or at least one type of them) is the player's primary objective, and the structure of the game is based around the fact that the player is not forced to earn them in any particular order. This is not Skies of Arcadia's Lunefish or Super Mario RPG's Frog Coins. This is Banjo-Kazooie's Jiggies!

Consider the difference between Super Mario Bros. (NES), ignoring Warp Pipes, and Super Mario 64. Super Mario Bros. led you through the game, level by level - you tackled whatever obstacles it threw at you, whenever it told you to. You were told where to go and when. Super Mario 64 presented a large, fairly open world that you explored in whatever order you chose, tackling or bypassing each challenge whenever you saw fit. There were a few bosses in the game gating your progress, and not all areas of the world were available from the first hour of the game, but overall the player had a lot of freedom to direct their own path, and you were allowed to complete pretty much any objective whenever you ran into it.

With that analogy in mind, I think of nearly all JRPGs as Super Mario Bros. - even if you can walk an entire world map, you are led by the nose from location to location, with the (linear or semi-linear) plot informing you where you have to go next. You have to trip plot flags in a certain order to move the plot forward and make any form of progress toward your primary objective. Nothing significant will happen in new areas that you physically reach until the plot is ready for them to happen there. This, of course, is the easiest way to direct a rich, linear narrative - things happen when the storyteller wants them to happen, and pacing is easy to set.

I'm envisioning the Collect-a-thon JRPG more in the vein of Super Mario 64 - a large variety of physical space to explore at any given time, and the ability to complete most objectives as soon as you physically find them. And most importantly, a structure that supports the player's ability to complete the objectives in any order and completely skip a few that they have a really hard time with, since earning one Jiggy should be functionally equivalent to earning any other Jiggy. Few JRPGs offer this kind of gameplay freedom, and fewer still do so while managing to craft a compelling narrative that can unfold as you play through the game.

I think this is a pretty epic challenge to accomplish, but I also think it's the formula for creating one of the best RPGs of all time!
 

kirbwarrior

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Earning these collectibles (or at least one type of them) is the player's primary objective,
Super Mario 64 presented a large, fairly open world that you explored in whatever order you chose, tackling or bypassing each challenge whenever you saw fit.
In an rpg, that would mean plot-based events would have event flags based on stars gained. Let's dive into specifically SM64:
At 0 stars, you must go to a specific level that is set up to have tons to explore, plenty of allowance of mistakes, and teaches nearly all the controls through objectives.
Get 1 more star and you have another world to go to, and a hidden level.
3 stars and you have most of the first floor accessible.
8 stars: This is important. The first boss level shows up here and you are allowed to do it whenever. Beat this and the next set of worlds open up. None of the levels are star-locked except the next boss level. You have tons to do and however you want.
30 stars: Second boss, the third set of worlds opens up, and you have access to all three side quests (the hidden caps) by now.
50 stars: Last two worlds show up.
70 stars: Final boss is unlocked.
120: You've gotten everything!

The closest game I can think of that does something similar (off the top of my head) that feels like a jrpg would be Final Fantasy Tactics A2, but really any mission-based game works. The story can be tied to collectibles earned, letting new events show up (most likely at a home base) as you get enough. Like those games, if you tie level gains to your collectible (missions done), you get the same progression feel of a jrpg and the collection feel of doing missions. Now, lets turn SM64 into an rpg;
0 stars: Tutorial mission
1 Stars: Unlock home base, give player control over missions with only a handful open
3 Stars: Plot point one, new places show up
8 Stars: Huge plot point shows up, maybe scary boss fight, but you can still do other missions. Fighting the boss and plot gives you a boat, letting you get to nearby lands for more missions.
30 Stars: Same as before, but this time you get the airship. Most of the world opens up now. Like SM64, you can do enough missions easily to get to the final boss
50 Stars: Like before, but the antagonist does something huge; in many games this means coming and fighting you directly or sending best troops. However, beating this fight opens the doors to Evil Island. With the last new areas open, you can do every mission.
70 Stars: Something happens and you can now get to the final mission (maybe your airship is laced with canons that shoot heads)
120 Stars: You've beaten every mission and become famous and clearly the best in the world! This might unlock some special missions...

SM64's Stars are gained through doing specific "missions" so it's not even far off. Super Mario Sunshine incorporates more plot into the missions, so there's even closer implementation.

To get something more like Jak and Daxter, you'd probably have large areas that you have one long mission that let's you go around and do little things for collectibles. Since the collectibles is the main plot, each area is a short story with one or more mandatory collectibles. Beating those short stories opens new areas, but you need more than the mandatory collectibles to open the door to the final area.

You can even tie the story in further; Take a linear approach seen in most jrpgs, tell the player very early on that collectibles are needed to progress, then each new area leads to another, sometimes with a more open direction, and some amount of side quests become necessary to actually continue on.

Really, tying collectibles to levels and/or plot progression makes it simple. it's just a matter of what you want to "port" over from collectathons to your game to keep the same feel.
 

Wavelength

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The closest game I can think of that does something similar (off the top of my head) that feels like a jrpg would be Final Fantasy Tactics A2, but really any mission-based game works. The story can be tied to collectibles earned, letting new events show up (most likely at a home base) as you get enough. Like those games, if you tie level gains to your collectible (missions done), you get the same progression feel of a jrpg and the collection feel of doing missions. Now, lets turn SM64 into an rpg;
0 stars: Tutorial mission
1 Stars: Unlock home base, give player control over missions with only a handful open
3 Stars: Plot point one, new places show up
8 Stars: Huge plot point shows up, maybe scary boss fight, but you can still do other missions. Fighting the boss and plot gives you a boat, letting you get to nearby lands for more missions.
30 Stars: Same as before, but this time you get the airship. Most of the world opens up now. Like SM64, you can do enough missions easily to get to the final boss
50 Stars: Like before, but the antagonist does something huge; in many games this means coming and fighting you directly or sending best troops. However, beating this fight opens the doors to Evil Island. With the last new areas open, you can do every mission.
70 Stars: Something happens and you can now get to the final mission (maybe your airship is laced with canons that shoot heads)
120 Stars: You've beaten every mission and become famous and clearly the best in the world! This might unlock some special missions...

YES! Save for the fact that an extensive "overworld" will allow me the room to make larger strings of narrative unfold in a more tightly-paced, coherent manner (without the need for new events after every few "stars" gained), what you're describing is exactly the kind of structure that I'm designing in my dream game! I really like the way you laid it out with some of the major points that players hit in SM64: Any 30 stars will allow the huge plot point and ensuing unlock of new lands to happen, instead of the game leading you around by the nose from star to star.
 

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When I say collectathon, I'm referring to the sub-genre of 3D platformers that was really popular in the late 90s. Popular titles include Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Jak and Daxter.

I liked some of these types of games, because they did the "Collect-a-thon" right. Mario 64 did it badly. Everything was to collect more stars. Stars added nothing to the game except "unlocking restrictions". The only difference to beating Mario 64 with less than 120 stars and with 120 stars was... You got the "true ending", which wasn't that great... and you got the ability to "triple jump" as well as get 100 Extra Lives. Which, if you got 120 stars in the game... there was no reason for either of these rewards. Why? Because you mastered the game and every single level, in order to obtain all 120 stars. There was nothing left to do in the game, you'd officially seen everything. Banjo Kazooie, on the other hand, did this right, as everything you had to collect served a purpose. Collect Jiggies to open new worlds. Collect Mumbo Tokens to unlock new forms. Collect Honeycomb pieces to unlock more health. Collect Jinjos because they made the final boss of the game easier to beat. Etcetera. The player was invested in grabbing absolutely everything because it all provided a tangible reward in the immediate sense or in the long term. Even finding the Cheat-o books were incredibly helpful. If you want to make a game that works similarly to a "Collect-a-thon", be sure it works more like Banjo and less like Mario.

As I said previously, this design of play is normally associated as a sub-genre of 3D Platformers. But is it possible to implement effectively into a top-down JRPG? What if instead of linear dungeons, they are designed using basic philosophises that implemented in 3D platformers? Such as instantly allowed to traverse the majority of the dungeon and potentially going straight to a boss if the player desired?

I'm not sure if it's "possible", but it's something I'm currently engaged in, with my own project. The game is split into four "worlds", which are hubs with quests, items, collectibles. But, some of what you're mentioning here are things I'm doing. I have a collectible called a "Silver Key", which can be used to either open up special doors or special chests. Most Special Doors you open take you immediately to the boss of a dungeon. In case the player doesn't want to muck about exploring. It isn't necessary to collect a single Silver Key if you don't want to, but if you do, there are plenty of places to use all 80 keys. I even created a "Collection" Quest for a player to engage in... if they really wanted every single key. I've also got "Guild Certificates", which can be traded in to vendors for lower prices, more stock, or other bonuses to a particular shop. Again, a player need not pick up a single one of these to complete the game, but they are there if the player wants the rewards for using them. The final collectable are just... Diamonds. A character in the game will trade you powerful Relics (which act like Fallout 1 and 2 Traits) in exchange for so many Diamonds. It also isn't necessary to collect these at all, or even use them. In fact, you can sell them for substantial amounts of money if you like, instead. But, all my Collections have a "Quest" associated with them, so you can find them all (they give info on how many per world are left, but not where). However, the important part I'm emphasizing is that they are valuable enough to warrant collecting, beyond just having you collect them for "100% Completion".

Zelda: Breath of the Wild does something similar as well. You collect little creatures (I haven't played it, so I dunno what they're called, but I've seen reviews) and they're everywhere. They unlock more weapon slots or whatever, so you can carry more. That's pretty big incentive for everyone to collect at least some of these things. There's no reason to collect them all, unless you really want all the slots... Or you really want the 100% completion. In fact, older Zelda games did this with Golden Skulltulas as well. Collectibles that are unnecessary, but are quite useful to obtain.

I was recently playing Mario 64 until I reached 100% completion, and ever since I had this idea stuck in my head.

I had a good amount of time to think about this, and obviously a lot of RPG mechanics needs to be compromised. In a 3D platformer, the same enemies will deal the same amount of damage no mater what stage of the game you are at. However, that type of design is normally not accepted in the more stat-focused RPGs.

I'm curious what input others might have on this, are the two mechanics inherently incompatible or can it at least work well enough to attempt prototyping this in a small game?

I don't think the mechanics are incompatible. They just need to be done correctly. Collectibles in an RPG need to grant "indirect power" so that they don't imbalance the "stat game" most RPGs thrive on. Using the Mario 64 example... What if you got +5 to a particular stat with each Star collected? You'd quickly be swimming in too many stats. What if the stars granted you new powers and abilities? You'd, again, be swimming in too many stats. A good way to do this in the Mario Franchise has been done with Paper Mario. You can get "badges" and can only equip so many. But, they're each useful in a particular way. Most are even hidden. It's a Collect-a-thon to get them all. Same with the Star Shards. These things all grant you power "indirectly". They tailor to playstyle.

Honestly, you don't need to compromise much at all. You just make sure that every collectible grants power indirectly, and comes with a possible downside. My "Silver Keys" and "Guild Certificates" have a downside. Namely, there are more locks than there are keys and there are more shops than there are certificates. This means, the player needs to decide how to spend this currency. Do they want instant rewards? Or, to hold onto them for a tough section of game? The Diamonds are similar. Do you want a whole lot of money right now for a gold boost, or do you want to trade every last one in to get the last item at the end of the game? There are enough Diamonds to get you every single reward. Any sold means you lose a reward at the end of the game. So, the player has to decide. If a player doesn't care about collecting "everything", then selling a bunch of Diamonds likely works out better for such players. If they care about collecting everything in the game, then they're going to want that final reward at the end and won't fill their wallet with sweet cash.

Your collectibles just kind of need internal balances to cater to all play styles.

I'm not sure that helps you at all, but I hope it does.
 

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