How do you encourage the player to use all of your party members?

Redeye

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So if you're designing a game where you have, say, 8 party members, but you can only have 4 of them partake in battle at a time, how do you, as a developer, encourage the player to utilize all 8 characters equally throughout your game? Would you penalize players for using a specific character too much, or would you reward players for switching it up every now and then?

One proposed feature that I heard was to give benched party members a "Rested Bonus" if they are left out of a battle or two, so when you eventually bring them in to fight, they'll start off the battle with slightly higher stats than normal, thus encouraging the player to swap their exhausted characters for the rested, more prepared ones, and when the next battle comes around, those previously exhausted characters will become rested so you can swap them back in for the next, and the cycle continues.

What are some of your methods?
 

Philosophus Vagus

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My favorite method that ive played is simply allowing switching in battle and balancing the battles (especially bosses) around the idea that they are fighting 8 people. If the bosses wipe party 1, party 2 takes over assuming its members haven't previously been wiped out.

See the last half of golden sun: the lost age for an example of a game that did this. Of course, you could also do what they did previously and have the two parties be separate up to a certain point so the player has to use both independently before they join each other.
 

Mystic_Enigma

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I'd give each character exclusive quests/missions which are only possible for them to start/complete. You can also create enemies that will react differently when a certain character is in the party, For example: A group of enemies ambush you in a boss-like encounter, which proves tough normally. But if a certain someone is with you, they'll panic or flee, making your life much easier!

Outside of battles. certain obstacles or dialogues that need to be solved by someone with a certain talent or ability, and without the right character, you'll have to come back later, or find another way.
 

TheoAllen

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In Child of Light, you have 2 active battle members and 9 or 11 reserved members on the back (can't remember the exact number), so the two on the front will take damage quite much (or even knocked out) that "forced" you to switch with reserved member. And switching is also essential because having 2 active battle members means it's limited skill to use that you had to switch to use different skill.
 

OnslaughtSupply

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You could also have outside of battle skills as well. For instance have a their that can pick locks or a tank that can lift a heavy boulder that's blocking your path.
 

kairi_key

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I'm not sure if this will help or even go well with your game... but I suddenly have this experimental idea.

How about a passive reserved skill?
Each chars can have a special bonus that activated only when they are inactive/reserved. You can then design dungeons or boss fight around these reserved skills. Some places may benefit more from a certain unique reserved skill, or a boss fight where you'll be needing to switch members in and out to handle each phases the boss will take with each handy reserved skills.

For example, maybe have a boss that can use huge fire damage and have one char with a reserved skill that give fire mitigation or just resistance to the team would be huge help, or a certain boss may have almost impossible-to-break barrier and one of your DPS char has a reserved skill that give the whole team ability to ignore his barrier and do "true damage" or something, and when the barrier phase is gone you can switch that DPS char back in to do some serious damage.

It's just an idea tho, but I'd love to see it happens. A lot of reserved skills will need to play around with game mechanics that actually make a reserved skill really matter a lot throughout the game. In return, which char get which skill is also important.
 

Soryuju

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@kairi_key

That’s an interesting idea, but I think you’d need to strike a careful balance between how impactful each reserved skill is and how much general utility it provides. A passive which provides a bonus that’s useful in too many situations will just guarantee a character a regular slot on the bench, which is the opposite of what you want. So that might leave you with some murky questions like “what percentage of enemies should feature fire damage in my game to keep character X’s skill consistently relevant (but not essential)” and “how should enemies with barriers be distributed across the areas in my game?”

It is a cool system to have your inactive party members sort of “cheering on” your active characters, though. Depending on how often you want players to switch and how long your battles are, maybe you could set your reserved skills to only stay active for a certain number of rounds or until fulfilling certain conditions before fading. You could decide whether the limit should reset between battles or carry over depending on what works better for your system.

This would at least encourage regular character swapping in boss fights or other long battles, almost like a “tag in” system with rotating bonuses. Abilities could also be based on character roles if you wanted, offering the strategic choice of whether it’s more beneficial to keep a character in for their active skill set or to swap them out and depend on their reserved ability. The system could also give you another balancing tool, with more generalized/powerful abilities lasting fewer rounds than more specialized/weaker ones. Just to give some random examples, a tank who normally protects individual allies over multiple rounds could swap out and provide a single-round/hit barrier for the whole party. On the other hand, a healer could swap and provide a small HP Regen effect for a long duration, but at the cost of burst healing.

Overall, this system could deepen your combat strategy by allowing you to cycle between offensive and defensive “modes” for your team in response to different situations. It could make regular swapping not just optional, but actually the optimal way to play, and it could keep longer fights dynamic and engaging. For example, you see the boss start charging up an AoE attack, so instead of the standard “everyone Guard” response, you swap the aforementioned tank out to trigger a party-wide barrier. Then the boss has to recover, so you swap out your support to create a three-round MP-restoring field, which in turn sets up the squishy mage you just brought in to cast their powerful spells more freely than usual.

Given the potential for “swap-spamming” you’d probably also need to introduce cooldowns on how often reserved abilities could trigger (or on character swaps themselves), and/or set a hard limit on the number of reserved abilities which could be active before they start overwriting each other. Having a large number of party members would also complicate the system, so I probably wouldn’t push far past 4 active/4 reserved members. But these are all details you’d have to fine-tune for your own systems.
 
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HawkZombie

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I played one, Legends of Illarion, that forced you to use certain party members at certain times, but gave decent story reasons as to why. I found that to be one of the best ways of doing this.
 

Kes

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I, too, much prefer the story reasons for doing this.
 

Dankovsky

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I think the only ways to encourage the player to use all party members are...

1) Force fixed party members for specific missions, or make party members leave the party at certain points, lock party members
2) Allow to change party members in combat and make every member essential to victory (see: FFX)
3) Replayability - taking a different party on a second playthrough is only natural
4) Have all party members interact and talk with each other even if they're out of immediate visible combat party, so you basically use them all, at least out of combat

Any other ideas can increase the chance of player changing his party members, but most players will still just play with who they want.

But frankly I don't see much reason to force the player to use everyone.
The player should generally be able to pick whoever he likes best in his party, either for gameplay or personal reasons.

I do like the other ideas that were mentioned, though!
 

Eschaton

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Early in Final Fantasy X, each character had enemy types they excelled at destroying. Whenever the player encounters certain enemies, they're encouraged to swap out the character who counters that enemy type.

Near the end of the game, however, homogenization of the characters made the characters with the highest dps limit breaks the only ones worth using, leaving the others benched pretty much permanently.

Each character needs to serve a purpose and fulfill a special need. Redundant characters, or those with poor dps won't be used.
 
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TheoAllen

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To be honest, I don't like any approach that is "You have to use this/these member(s)" to clear quest. It's not "encourage", rather it's "forcing" you to use specific battle setup which in my opinion a bad attempt of making the player use the character. The requirement to start/finish quest can be there, but forcing it in the frontline and lock it is not my taste. Let me finish the quest the way I want with any character I want.
 

KoldBlood

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Well, first things first, I'm not sure about other players but in any RPG that I've played that has more party members available than is allowed in battle I typically just end up only using my three or four favorite characters and never touch the party swap option ever again. Furthermore, I usually get frustrated any time a game forces me to bench a favorite or straight up removes them from my party (sometimes permanently, looking at you Star Ocean 4).

Tales of Vesperia did a cool thing where if you got into a surprise encounter then the battle would take place with the reserve party members simulating an ambush type scenario. I thought that was a pretty cool (and seamless) way of giving the reserve members some play time without being to overbearing.

In my game I just have four party members total and four members in battle so there are no reserve members. While this limits player customization some it guarantees that the player is using every character. As an added bonus, I know at any given point what party members the player is using and they will be spending so much time with the four that they should start becoming intimately familiar with each character's abilities and what they bring to the party. This also allows me to tailor encounters around the party's abilities for more party specific battles. Obviously this won't work as well for games with larger party sizes but I do think it is worth considering for games with smaller party sizes.

As a final observation, I think the real target we should be aiming for here is to make the player want to play/try other characters by making them fun to play as well as having interesting party compositions for the player to experiment with. Better still if you can encourage the player to want to replay your game using different characters or a different party setup rather than force them to use the other characters. I'm specifically thinking back to my time with Final Fantasy 1 on the NES for this. I've played through that game many times (despite its flaws) trying all the different characters and party combinations. Sure some were more ideal than others but I still had a lot of fun because different party compositions played very differently from each other. This is something I don't really see all that often in modern RPG's anymore; changing out "John" for "Smith" doesn't change the fact that you're mashing auto-attack. That's more of a problem with battle design than party design though.
 

Soryuju

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Here’s something I’m curious about: do others feel like characters who aren’t used in battle should gain EXP at the same rate as characters who are used?

From a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense that characters who aren’t fighting should just passively get stronger in the background. Gameplay-wise, it also makes a player’s decision to use certain characters more impactful on the nature of their playthrough, and can strengthen the game’s replay value.

On the other hand, though (speaking from my personal opinion), if I favor certain characters normally, there’s basically no chance that I’ll ever switch off of them if my less-favored characters are also significantly weaker than them. I can regularly cycle through characters during a playthrough to prevent this scenario, but it typically feels like a chore to do so when I would rather just be using my favorites most of the time and switching up my team whenever I want something fresh. If my other characters are just as strong as my standard ones and are gaining new abilities in the background, it’s often appealing to experiment with them. I don’t know if other people feel the same way, though.

As another consideration, awarding EXP to just the battle participants can also complicate balancing the party’s level progression, since you have to account both for players who level only certain party members and those who try to keep their whole party viable. Often it results in a lot of grinding for the player trying to experience all of their characters’ playstyles. And if a certain story segment requires the use of a specific character in battle, a player can get screwed over if they haven’t invested in leveling that character as much as others in the party. Bearing that in mind, is a compromise preferable, maybe where non-participants in battle only gain a certain % of EXP?

I think it’s largely going to be a preference thing (I generally favor universal EXP gain), but I’m wondering how others feel about the difference in these systems.
 

Kes

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@Soryuju I decided to give reserve members a percentage of the EXP (the rationale being that one can learn from watching, though not as much) precisely to try and ease the problem of reserve members falling so far behind that using them becomes a clear non-choice. Usually I give 0.5%, though I have toyed with the idea of varying that. I, and my players, have found that although members do fall a bit behind, bringing them in from time to time enables them to remain as viable options.
 

Mihe

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If the players build a meta between the party members they choose to play with, I think that's perfectly fine to be honest. That establishes a connection that they have between the characters they use the most. It means your characters are likable, or at the very least usable. They aren't dull and boring or forgettable and useless.
 

Dankovsky

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Here’s something I’m curious about: do others feel like characters who aren’t used in battle should gain EXP at the same rate as characters who are used?

From a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense that characters who aren’t fighting should just passively get stronger in the background. Gameplay-wise, it also makes a player’s decision to use certain characters more impactful on the nature of their playthrough, and can strengthen the game’s replay value.

On the other hand, though (speaking from my personal opinion), if I favor certain characters normally, there’s basically no chance that I’ll ever switch off of them if my less-favored characters are also significantly weaker than them. I can regularly cycle through characters during a playthrough to prevent this scenario, but it typically feels like a chore to do so when I would rather just be using my favorites most of the time and switching up my team whenever I want something fresh. If my other characters are just as strong as my standard ones and are gaining new abilities in the background, it’s often appealing to experiment with them. I don’t know if other people feel the same way, though.

As another consideration, awarding EXP to just the battle participants can also complicate balancing the party’s level progression, since you have to account both for players who level only certain party members and those who try to keep their whole party viable. Often it results in a lot of grinding for the player trying to experience all of their characters’ playstyles. And if a certain story segment requires the use of a specific character in battle, a player can get screwed over if they haven’t invested in leveling that character as much as others in the party. Bearing that in mind, is a compromise preferable, maybe where non-participants in battle only gain a certain % of EXP?

I think it’s largely going to be a preference thing (I generally favor universal EXP gain), but I’m wondering how others feel about the difference in these systems.
Screw logic, balanced gameplay and not annoying your player is much more important.
You can give them 100% EXP, or if you want some realism, give them ~75% so they'll be one or two levels behind, but never at a critical "useless" level.
 

Aesica

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Aside from the main character (who still cannot perform all roles at once) each character will be fairly fixed in their roles. There will be things like physical tanks, magical tanks, healers, offensive attackers with limited elemental coverage and/or specialization in fighting certain foe types (machine, undead, etc). Some will have specific elemental buffs/debuffs, status ailments, status ailment removal, etc.

For example, against a heavily-physical aquatic foe with resistance to X, Y, and vulnerability to Z, you'll want the physical tank, not want the magic tank, and the person with Q, W, X and Y damage types would be better off traded for someone who deals extra damage to aquatic foes and/or someone with access to damage type Z.

In short, varying encounters combined with characters who each have their own strengths and weaknesses will be my approach. Characters can be swapped out mid-battle to accommodate this, of course.

- - -

PS: As for experience for characters not in battle? Yes please. Since I plan on having as many as 20 different characters, there's no way I'm going to force players to slog through leveling them all, 4 at a time. That's just mean.
 

atoms

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This would only work for games with certain stories, but if possible I would make it so your characters split up for whatever reason in the story and end up with multiple parties.

So if a plot element in the story at the moment means all characters are to go to x next location, instead make it so they split up and have a plot reasons to go to two separate locations. Or explore the same location, but different areas of it requiring a split up of at least two separate parties. With 8 characters two separate parties should do fine.

And, as well as that, if it's possible with the story, you could try creating a plot that starts with different characters that eventually meet up, so you keep switching between at least two different parties untill they do.

It depends how many characters can participate in battle, and how many party members you end up with, how much you'd want the party to split though.

A old RPG Maker VX game that was popular in the days of VX called Lost Heaven sort-of did that for the beginning half of a demo, and a lot of people thought it turned out well. I mean it received a lot of potivie feedback and the last demo done was about half of the game at a point where the party split up a second time. Sadly the game was never finished.
 

Frozen_Phoenix

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Balance all the characters so they have (almost) equal power then let the player decide what they want to use. If the player want to use the same four characters through the game, then let him, artificial restrictions to force the player to behave in a certain way feel bad.
 

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