Looking for ideas to make combat more fun

Zevia

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I'm currently working on my first major RPGMVXAce project. I started it sometime last year, then picked it back up again about a month ago and have spent several hours each day working on it.

I've got about 40-45 minutes of gameplay, but now I'm looking back and trying to figure out ways to improve upon the beginning of the game as well as the overall entertainment value. I'm using a handful of custom scripts, but as it's a first project, I didn't want to go too complicated (I'll probably try Victor's Animated Battle engine on the next project, but for now I'm using Jet's Sideview Battle System).

One of my early goals was to try and give the player more interesting choices than, "You can get through most battles by just using attack over and over." I ended up reworking the TP system so that you no longer start with a random amount at the beginning of each battle, and you don't gain any TP by being attacked. The standard attack generates 5 TP, then most special abilities also generate TP.

Using Victor's Command Change script, I've given every character a special command that generally then makes use of this TP being built up. For example, your first protagonist is a cleric that has an OK attack - it's not particularly strong. However, he has good defense stats, and is the primary healer for the game. He has basic healing spells - cure one person, cure the party, remove poison, revive. However, he also has a skillset called holy - at the moment, holy contains cleanse, which is a more powerful debuff-removal tool that gets rid of most status effects; searing light, which does moderate holy damage with a "holy fire" DoT effect that lingers for a few turns; and holy barrage, which does less damage than searing light, but hits all foes and has a chance to blind them.

I've found that the most common use for this character is to generally attack for a turn or two to generate some TP, then use a damaging holy ability for random battles, and to spend most boss battles healing and looking for spots to use holy abilities when damage is low or the boss is busy buffing again. TP is also preserved from battle to battle, so sometimes he just attacks and heals and saves up a lot of TP for a boss battle to just unload as much as possible. However, this generally causes random battles to take a little longer.

Now, there are also a couple characters that accompany the cleric at the start that are only with you for a short time - basically the first dungeon. They are both guards, with less HP and stats than the protagonist. However, one has a taunt ability to force all attacks on himself, while the other gets "motivate," which is basically a buff to the party's attack power that costs 5 TP. They also have a shield ability that raises one actor's defense for a few turns, and an impale ability that costs 5 TP, does attack damage and lowers enemy evade to 0%, as well as having a small chance to stun. The first dungeon has a bat enemy with an 80% evade rate, so the most obvious use for impale is to stop the bats' dodging so much, but it can be used against others as a way to spend TP and have a chance to stun enemies for a turn or two.

Typically, the guards will either attack or impale for the handful of random battles you'll use them for, then use motivate, shield, and taunt for the boss battle they're around for.

Does this sound like a generally fun combat system, given the limit of not going overboard on scripts for a first project? The next protagonist is a more damage-oriented fighter with a transform ability that functions sort of like dragoon form in Legend of Dragoon - you fill the TP bar with special abilities and attack, then you can transform at 25 or more TP. Every turn you use a "fury" ability, your TP bar goes down by 15, and if it falls under 15, you revert back.

I'd like the next protagonist to be magic-oriented so I can start including more spellplay and the use of elements and perhaps more interesting status effects.

The enemies are a little lacking in my game, I feel. The first dungeon has oozes, who can attack and have an ability that lowers your agility, but lowered agility feels extremely non-threatening and doesn't seem to have much of an outcome on the battle. The bats, of course, can get extremely annoying (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to the trope, "The dayum Bats") if the player is unable to figure out the impale tactic to lower their dodge, but they otherwise just attack. There are rats, which I've considered giving some sort of disease effect to, but they also just attack.

The first boss is a large spider that "webs" (stuns) one actor for basically the battle. It stuns them for 3 turns, then stuns a new player every 3 turns, so at any given time, one of the three players will probably be immobile. Otherwise it has a basic attack, as well as a poison attack that lowers actor max HP by 10%, defense by 10%, and drains 7% health each turn.

While I enjoy the entertainment of progressively becoming more powerful, I also want people to feel like they have access to a fun variety of abilities right at the start of the game. I feel like I'm making good progress on ensuring people don't just mindlessly spam attack (although they generally can except for boss battles, because I don't really want to threaten game overs in random combat), but somehow the combat just doesn't seem very fun. I'm not really sure if the best solution would be to sit and rethink the combat system altogether (where to even start with that!), or to just think up some livelier abilities for both actors and enemies (I'd like to give the enemies more abilities that require a special response to deal with so as to ask a little more engagement from the player).

To some extent, I'd like to give characters some fun abilities at the beginning of the game, then give them more fun abilities as the game progresses (maybe each dungeon gives them at least one fun new thing to play with). But again, a goal of the design is to make sure the game isn't "only fun once you reach a certain level."

EDIT: I'm also giving some consideration to the random battle system. As it is, I'm using Neonblack's Scale Encounters, which displays a gauge on the screen for each dungeon. Each time you get into a battle, the gauge depletes, and after enough battles have gone by and the gauge is empty, there are no more random battles. This ensures players who get lost or want to explore every nook and cranny aren't frustrated by getting into too many random battles. I think the first dungeon averages about 3-4 random battles and the second one currently averages about 4-5.

I'm wondering if it might be more fun to do away with random battles altogether, but I like having the environment to try out new skills before the next boss battle in a relatively non-threatening way.
 
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Milennin

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I aimed for the same thing in my game, and from the few people who've played it, it seemed to be liked pretty well.

I guess an important thing to keep in mind if you want to make combat fun is to present the player with choices that go beyond use attack or use skill. For example, I have a character that's somewhat of a healer, but she also possesses some of the strongest magic attacks. Just this creates a choice: how much does the player want to have the healer to play an offensive role to speed up battles vs how safe does the player want to play it so he's always prepared for the next encounter. Yet, the player is reliant on the character, because there are no heal items (with the first dungeon being an exception).

Then there's team synergy. And by that I don't mean the classic heal/tank/DPS triangle. Every character has access to unique support skills that can benefit the team or himself. You just found a weapon that lets you attack twice? Let that other character cast Attack+ on him for twice the fire-power for several turns. Your healer is out of MP at the wrong moment? Let that other character cast MP+ on her so she does have enough MP to do her job.

Make your spells do more than 1 thing. This creates a smaller skill list, and makes your skills more interesting to the player. Example: Your healer can cast a nice HP Regen on a character. While this Regen buff is applied on a character she temporarily unlocks another skill: Does she remove the Regen buff from that character to grant a heal to the entire party? What if you make the party heal stronger the fewer turns the Regen buff has been active on a character?

Your character needs extra defence? Let him cast his spell that not only buffs his defence for some turns, but also stuns any enemies that attack him.

As for enemies... the more tools you give your player to work with, the more interesting you can make your enemies. Give your characters interesting and unique skills to do all sorts of things, and you can make crazy enemy encounters to force the player into using his skills in the right moments.
 

Berylstone

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I'm currently working on my first major RPGMVXAce project. I started it sometime last year, then picked it back up again about a month ago and have spent several hours each day working on it.

I've got about 40-45 minutes of gameplay, but now I'm looking back and trying to figure out ways to improve upon the beginning of the game as well as the overall entertainment value. I'm using a handful of custom scripts, but as it's a first project, I didn't want to go too complicated (I'll probably try Victor's Animated Battle engine on the next project, but for now I'm using Jet's Sideview Battle System).

One of my early goals was to try and give the player more interesting choices than, "You can get through most battles by just using attack over and over." I ended up reworking the TP system so that you no longer start with a random amount at the beginning of each battle, and you don't gain any TP by being attacked. The standard attack generates 5 TP, then most special abilities also generate TP.

Using Victor's Command Change script, I've given every character a special command that generally then makes use of this TP being built up. For example, your first protagonist is a cleric that has an OK attack - it's not particularly strong. However, he has good defense stats, and is the primary healer for the game. He has basic healing spells - cure one person, cure the party, remove poison, revive. However, he also has a skillset called holy - at the moment, holy contains cleanse, which is a more powerful debuff-removal tool that gets rid of most status effects; searing light, which does moderate holy damage with a "holy fire" DoT effect that lingers for a few turns; and holy barrage, which does less damage than searing light, but hits all foes and has a chance to blind them.

I've found that the most common use for this character is to generally attack for a turn or two to generate some TP, then use a damaging holy ability for random battles, and to spend most boss battles healing and looking for spots to use holy abilities when damage is low or the boss is busy buffing again. TP is also preserved from battle to battle, so sometimes he just attacks and heals and saves up a lot of TP for a boss battle to just unload as much as possible. However, this generally causes random battles to take a little longer.

Now, there are also a couple characters that accompany the cleric at the start that are only with you for a short time - basically the first dungeon. They are both guards, with less HP and stats than the protagonist. However, one has a taunt ability to force all attacks on himself, while the other gets "motivate," which is basically a buff to the party's attack power that costs 5 TP. They also have a shield ability that raises one actor's defense for a few turns, and an impale ability that costs 5 TP, does attack damage and lowers enemy evade to 0%, as well as having a small chance to stun. The first dungeon has a bat enemy with an 80% evade rate, so the most obvious use for impale is to stop the bats' dodging so much, but it can be used against others as a way to spend TP and have a chance to stun enemies for a turn or two.

Typically, the guards will either attack or impale for the handful of random battles you'll use them for, then use motivate, shield, and taunt for the boss battle they're around for.

Does this sound like a generally fun combat system, given the limit of not going overboard on scripts for a first project? The next protagonist is a more damage-oriented fighter with a transform ability that functions sort of like dragoon form in Legend of Dragoon - you fill the TP bar with special abilities and attack, then you can transform at 25 or more TP. Every turn you use a "fury" ability, your TP bar goes down by 15, and if it falls under 15, you revert back.

I'd like the next protagonist to be magic-oriented so I can start including more spellplay and the use of elements and perhaps more interesting status effects.

The enemies are a little lacking in my game, I feel. The first dungeon has oozes, who can attack and have an ability that lowers your agility, but lowered agility feels extremely non-threatening and doesn't seem to have much of an outcome on the battle. The bats, of course, can get extremely annoying (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to the trope, "The dayum Bats") if the player is unable to figure out the impale tactic to lower their dodge, but they otherwise just attack. There are rats, which I've considered giving some sort of disease effect to, but they also just attack.

The first boss is a large spider that "webs" (stuns) one actor for basically the battle. It stuns them for 3 turns, then stuns a new player every 3 turns, so at any given time, one of the three players will probably be immobile. Otherwise it has a basic attack, as well as a poison attack that lowers actor max HP by 10%, defense by 10%, and drains 7% health each turn.

While I enjoy the entertainment of progressively becoming more powerful, I also want people to feel like they have access to a fun variety of abilities right at the start of the game. I feel like I'm making good progress on ensuring people don't just mindlessly spam attack (although they generally can except for boss battles, because I don't really want to threaten game overs in random combat), but somehow the combat just doesn't seem very fun. I'm not really sure if the best solution would be to sit and rethink the combat system altogether (where to even start with that!), or to just think up some livelier abilities for both actors and enemies (I'd like to give the enemies more abilities that require a special response to deal with so as to ask a little more engagement from the player).

To some extent, I'd like to give characters some fun abilities at the beginning of the game, then give them more fun abilities as the game progresses (maybe each dungeon gives them at least one fun new thing to play with). But again, a goal of the design is to make sure the game isn't "only fun once you reach a certain level."

EDIT: I'm also giving some consideration to the random battle system. As it is, I'm using Neonblack's Scale Encounters, which displays a gauge on the screen for each dungeon. Each time you get into a battle, the gauge depletes, and after enough battles have gone by and the gauge is empty, there are no more random battles. This ensures players who get lost or want to explore every nook and cranny aren't frustrated by getting into too many random battles. I think the first dungeon averages about 3-4 random battles and the second one currently averages about 4-5.

I'm wondering if it might be more fun to do away with random battles altogether, but I like having the environment to try out new skills before the next boss battle in a relatively non-threatening way.
I feel that random battles are fine if the battles are fun.  The only time random battles become a nuisance is if the combat is dull and not engaging.  So the problem really isn't the random encounter mechanic, it's the combat itself.

Your ideas sound fine, and I've always liked the taunt mechanic in games where players protect others by drawing the enemies attention.  It's not particularly original, but it works and is a solid gameplay feature that I feel adds fun and strategy to the combat.  The boss that has an immobilizing attack that effectively shuts a random party member out of the fight every 3 turns sounds interesting also, and I like it.

I agree with you it's important to make your game fun at the start.  If players have to level up for hours to get anything interesting you risk losing their attention.  So I think you are approaching your game with the right attitude, and considering gameplay first and foremost. 
 

Zevia

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... because there are no heal items (with the first dungeon being an exception) ...  Your healer is out of MP at the wrong moment? Let that other character cast MP+ on her so she does have enough MP to do her job.
This actually sounds like an interesting idea. I've got potions and "ethers" as it were in the game, but they're seeing extremely little use in my game so far. Even the antidote item doesn't see much use because the purify spell the cleric gets generates TP, allowing you to use your holy skills more. Even the revive item only sees much use if the cleric is the one who's been killed. The second protagonist also has a self-regen ability - in human form, it heals 10% HP and generates 5 TP for 3 turns. If you use it while transformed, however, it heals 20% HP but generates no TP. It doesn't seem to be the case most of the time that there's a necessity for healing items, but maybe that's a balance issue on my end.

Are there a lot of "successful" (that is, the community found them fun) games that largely did away with combat items? I'll admit that the turns where the cleric is out of MP feel a little boring if they're spent just using the equivalent of an ether. Maybe an ability that funnels HP into MP? Would that just be asinine?
 
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Milennin

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Are there a lot of "successful" (that is, the community found them fun) games that largely did away with combat items? I'll admit that the turns where the cleric is out of MP feel a little boring if they're spent just using the equivalent of an ether. Maybe an ability that funnels HP into MP? Would that just be asinine?
Just because your healer is out of MP it doesn't mean she's going to be useless. In my game she's always got this spell that costs no MP to cast, and grants MP Regen to 1 ally, removes a condition and restores a bit of her own MP. She can also use basic attack, which also restores a bit of her own MP. She also learns a skill that'll restore her own MP by a fair amount. Sort of like an Ether, but it still has an MP cost bound to it. Which ties in to the choice-making. Do I use this powerful, expensive spell right now, but then go on an MP drought for a turn or 2, or do I save up enough MP to cast this spell and make sure I still have enough MP left to cast my MP restoration spell on the next turn to keep going?

HP into MP is another story, because from a role-play perspective she would do something like cut herself with a knife and use her blood to power herself up. It would work, but only if it'd fit the character.
 
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Berylstone

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You could also make special abilities that only become available when the caster is at 0 MP. 

I've always thought that added a nice twist and actually rewards the player for actively using their magic.
 
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HumanNinjaToo

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An idea that may spice up combat a bit is allowing character skills to compliment each other. For instance, your warrior uses a skill that leaves the enemy in a state then your healer has a holy spell that does extra damage if that state is applied to the enemy. Little things like that make a big difference when enough thought is put into them to make the combos interesting. And if you have a lot of PCs, it can help to get them all switched around more when they all have different skills that compliment each other.
 

Zevia

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I like the idea of synergy that a couple of you mentioned. I added in a skill to the second protagonist, the one who can transform. When you first get her, she's got two fury abilities, frenzy and now lunar wound. Frenzy is a double attack, lunar wound is a 130% damage attack that increases holy damage taken by 100% for the rest of the turn. This means the cleric has to use a holy spell that same turn, which isn't generally a problem since the transformed character has a high agility. However, it leaves that combo open to being played with if an enemy shows up with an ability that lowers the transformed character's agility, thus making her unable to apply lunar wound before the holy spell is cast. Once she gains a level, she also gets maul, which is a 130% damage ability that stuns enemies, but I think I'd like to give her more synergy abilities to toy around with.

I also changed my enemies around a bit. I gave the oozes some physical damage reduction, such that they can still be killed with normal attacks, but it takes longer, whereas one holy spell will kill them. I also gave the rats a diseased bite.

In the forest, there's a hornet mob that I just got done toying with using so many if/then statements that I had to start over about 4 times because I kept losing track of my nesting. Basically, when you encounter it, there's only one. It's got a 70% evade rate, and at the end of each turn, there's a 50% chance that it will summon another hornet. As long as there is one hornet left, they continue to have a chance to "grow the swarm" up to a maximum of 5 for one troop and 3 for another that has a snake in it. The two characters you have at that particular dungeon both have AoE TP abilities that could wipe out all hornets on screen if both use them, but if you get caught trying to fight hornets and you're out of TP, odds are good they'll swarm up before you can land enough blows to wipe them out. Still, it's kind of satisfying killing 3-5 of them at once.

The snakes have a basic constrict attack, which has a 50% chance to stun an actor for two turns, and then otherwise have a 20% chance to poison when they attack.

I also included a plant that I went into Paint with and chopped up into several bits. When you see it in combat, it appears to be one enemy, but it's actually four - the main body and three vines. Each vine dies pretty easily, and just spams normal attacks, while the main body spams an absorb spell. If the main body dies, all the vines immediately die, too. You can either whittle the vines down, AoE them, or just work the main body down.

There's a temporary character who joins you for the second dungeon that I also added a "zeal" ability to - I wanted to have it decrease your defense to 0, then add that value to your attack, but I was having some trouble figuring out how to get that to work right. I figured it would be as simple as just doing a couple variables that were set to attack and defense, then subtract defense from itself and add defense to attack. But as it's a state, I wasn't sure how to then revert the values back once the state wore off (not sure how to add defense back to defense and subtract defense from attack). Instead, I just decided to simplify it and make the ability drop your defense to 0, but increase attack to 150%.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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I like the idea of synergy that a couple of you mentioned. I added in a skill to the second protagonist, the one who can transform. When you first get her, she's got two fury abilities, frenzy and now lunar wound. Frenzy is a double attack, lunar wound is a 130% damage attack that increases holy damage taken by 100% for the rest of the turn. This means the cleric has to use a holy spell that same turn, which isn't generally a problem since the transformed character has a high agility. However, it leaves that combo open to being played with if an enemy shows up with an ability that lowers the transformed character's agility, thus making her unable to apply lunar wound before the holy spell is cast.
If I were you, I'd suggest making the lunar wound skill apply a state that the holy-type caster can play off of that lasts longer than just the turn it's used, even if it's just 2 turns. It would be very annoying to know about a possible skill combination that you can never use BC either 1)the enemies keep de-buffing the PC who has the skill that initiates or 2)the PC who has the 2nd part to the combination is buffed to have higher agility or has equipment that gives higher agility. IMO it shouldn't be a chore to take advantage of the combat features, they should be fairly simple to initiate and complete.
 

Zevia

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If I were you, I'd suggest making the lunar wound skill apply a state that the holy-type caster can play off of that lasts longer than just the turn it's used, even if it's just 2 turns. It would be very annoying to know about a possible skill combination that you can never use BC either 1)the enemies keep de-buffing the PC who has the skill that initiates or 2)the PC who has the 2nd part to the combination is buffed to have higher agility or has equipment that gives higher agility. IMO it shouldn't be a chore to take advantage of the combat features, they should be fairly simple to initiate and complete.
I suppose that would work if I lowered the damage modifier from it a bit. Getting double damage off the holy spells for 2 turns would be a little much, I think. Unless you think it would be a fair reward for people who consider that they could get two uses out of it if they use both the holy ability and lunar wound in the same turn, knowing that the higher agility lunar wound would go first?
 

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