Open World RPG - Optimal Combat Style?

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Hello makers :)

I'm new posting here, so I don't know if I'm posting in this right place. However, I'm a bit stuck. I'm planning on making a fully open-world RPG in MV, where every area is accessible from the start. This is where both my difficulties and the game's difficulties both begin to fluctuate.

The further from the starting point you travel, the harder the enemies are to defeat. Despite this being the case, if the player ventures straight towards these tougher areas, I want them to still be able to kill the enemies, if they are 'skilled' enough. But just by thinking about it, the standard turn-based combat is too stat reliant for any type of player to defeat tougher enemies in combat.

So what I question is; what combat style would be optimal/ interesting for this type of game?
I've considered ABS, but it's a little overwhelming. On top of this, the world would need to be designed around ABS combat.
Any other combat systems that I'm missing? Any skills/ states to improve turn-based combat?

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated :)))
 

TheoAllen

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In a game Kingdom of Amalur, where the game is kinda open world, there is a stat check. Which of course the further away you travel through the world, the harder it will be. It forces you to grind. So the game is indeed grindy. However, in the area, it usually has a lot of quests, rewards, and items you can gather. So while you're at it, you leveled up. The game is focused on the battle aspect, while the narration as far as I can tell, pretty boring (they used the same motion to almost every NPC).

In Bethesda games (namely, Skyrim and Fallout), all area are accessible. However, the enemies will scale up through your level. So more difficult enemies began to appear as you progress your level. They are not following your stats, you will just meet harder one, within an exception that few legendary enemies will always follow your stat to keep it feels hard.

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Honestly, I like how Beth did the scaling. Tougher enemies began to appear as you leveled up. While everyone might hate the fact that enemies also "scales" with your level, it's, in my opinion, more fair than making an enemy follow your stat. Making one new enemy with the new mechanic is exciting to discover.

You can still use turn-based combat, and also implement stat check with an excuse though. For example, of course, you don't go to the desert because folks had been telling you to stay away from that since there live some dangerous monsters. An inexperienced adventure (represented as lvl 20 or below) may not survive. Only veterans can survive.

If you want every place visitable. You can just remove or minimize grinding. For example, level does not matter much. But it can be more about preparation. If the player want to pass a place, they need a correct equipment, and maybe also correct party composition, and enough items (though, item gathering could be quite grindy too)
 

Eschaton

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Turn-based combat is fine for an open world RPG. In fact, I'd suggest not using any ABS with RPG maker, but that's because I've never seen an ABS for RPG maker that I personally like.

What you'd have to do is design skills and strategies that are applicable at level 1 and are applicable at level 99. This way, the player can deal with any meat gate enemies they might run into if they're skilled enough but not necessarily at the right level. Of course, they'd still have to be designed such that there is still a sense of progression. It could be a precarious balance between freedom of applicability and a strict sense of progression.

At the same time, you will need scaling enemies and scaling treasures. @TheoAllen brought up Bethesda games in how they scale enemies and treasures, but I will also offer the game I think did scaling the best: The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. The link leads to a discussion about how enemies and weapons scale based not on the player's level (because that game has no levels) but based on how many kills the player has and how many bosses the player has defeated.

With an open world, you should err on the side of freedom. If you ask me, the player ought to be able to challenge the final dungeon and boss the second they have control of the character. They should be able to run away from any enemy, even bosses. The "flee" ability needs to have a 100% success rate. The ultimate weapons? The player needs to be able to go get them if he or she knows where they are. Have a job system? Look at how Final Fantasy Tactics allowed the player to grind out their build from the very beginning.
 

Wavelength

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An ABS would indeed be the best kind of system for this kind of thing.

An ATB system (where action continues to occur while you browse menus) could also achieve a high level of skill expression, as long as you make the ATB bars fill up quickly and encourage the player to use skills rather than basic attacks.

Finally, one other way to add skill expression to turn-based-battles, besides the obvious way of interesting and situational abilities, is to have "reflex checks" like Timed Hits where you can block incoming damage if you hit a button at the right time.

Moghunter's Chrono Engine (and other plugins by Mog) offers some nice tools for making some of these systems in RPG Maker MV.

Just be careful when trying to make an Open-World RPG like this that allows the player to go anywhere - it means you're going to have a hard time fitting in much narrative, because you'll never really know at any given point what the player has/hasn't already done and what they have/haven't been told about already. Makes it tough to do narrative. So you sort of face the choice between making an RPG that's very light on narrative and plot, or embarking on an almost impossibly time-consuming development journey trying to account for lots of different situations and combinations.
 

Aesica

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Saga Frontier accomplishes the open world gameplay rather well, despite being turn-based. The enemies (or rather, types of enemies) you encounter changes as you grow in power. Certain areas (such as the infamous research lab) pit you against slightly stronger groups that are +1 or even +2 tiers stronger than what you'd normally face at your given power level, so that area was always a challenge no matter where you were in the game. (but it was easier later due to better gear) This would be appropriate for the difficulty increase based on distance from the starting point you're talking about.

Edit: That said, be careful with the open world approach. I know everyone wants to make an open world RPG, but most of the ones I've seen have failed rather miserably. If you still want to make this kind of game, make sure that:
  • The player feels like they have somewhere to go and a reason to go there. You know, some sort of goals that are made clear to them. The last 2 open world RM games I played were pretty much like, "okay you did the tiny bit of intro, now here's the world, have fun!" all without giving me, the player, any reason to care about exploring the world that was open to me.
  • As pointed out by @Wavelength, it becomes really difficult to properly tell a story in this kind of game. Saga Frontier tried to accomplish this in a bunch of different ways, based on who's story arc you were attempting: Some wouldn't open the world to you until later, others had various "trigger points" in areas the player was likely to go where the next piece of story would play out. Other still just had minimal story overall.
 
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kirbwarrior

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While everyone might hate the fact that enemies also "scales" with your level, it's, in my opinion, more fair than making an enemy follow your stat
I accept this as true, but it doesn't mean either is good. Bethesda games nearly seem set up that leveling is a downside (not as much as some games *cough*FF8*cough*, but still). Luckily, they do allow you to not level up or control how you level up.
it becomes really difficult to properly tell a story in this kind of game.
The approach I've come up with and sounds good in theory is "Open World, Linear Story". Instead of having location-based triggers, have certain types of actions cause the story to move forward; doing three missions or three quests or getting to any city could trigger the first part of an overarching story. In fact, that's often what seems to happen in roleplaying in my groups; No matter where you go, the story follows.
As said above, I think BotW does a fantastic job of telling an overarching story in any order. The game tells you where each story point is, then lets you decide when and how you learn about it. The story doesn't need to be learned in order, since the point is learning it, not following it. The order you do things in is the story. It starts and ends the same way, but how you get there is what makes it open and your story. I think an rpg could do things the same.
As for difficulty and scaling, anything that makes leveling meaningless or actively a downside seems incredible counter-intuitive. What I've liked is when games has specifically level areas and fights. What allows you to go to places above your level is;
Player skill matters more than stats
Gear mattering more than just numbers
Replaying when you know what's in the game and have a plan
But I'd like to focus on a fourth option; Missions/Quests. Areas themselves don't necessarily have to be tough anywhere. Instead, you could take what mission-based games do but don't restrict access to the world. Exploration is about that; seeing the world. That itself doesn't have to be hard or even have encounters. Instead, the story could be based around a homebase that hands out missions, or you could lean to Bethesda and you find and get thrown into quests (like how in Fallout 1 you suddenly find yourself in a quest when just asking for information). Now, that can be kind of odd, but I also like what Final Fantasy Tactics A2 does, where you can easily go around the world but missions are how you battle. Take away the need to unlock areas first and the game could be quite open.
The really nice thing about FFTA2, FFX-2, BotW, Skyrim (and many Beth games) and others I can't think of right now is there is a blatant story to follow, but it's very open about it. In Skyrim and TA2, the main story is in effect the largest quest. The major story might end but the game doesn't. In X-2 and BotW, the story definitely has a beginning and end, but you can go about things however you want.

On the note of standard rpgs being "too stat reliant"; That's not necessarily a bad thing. One cool thing you can do in standard turn-based games is that you can set up enemies so that if you go to an area too high level for you, you only fight one enemy at a time (each encounter is effectively a boss or miniboss) but at the "right" level you start getting groups. Probably the most important stat to focus on here is Defense (and MDef if you use it). If defense straight decreases and can negate damage, level discrepancies can make things impossible, but if it instead lessens damage by a percent or something related (or defense doesn't or rarely exists), then you can always be capable of fighting something, regardless of level difference. For instance, in Pokemon, numbers are all multiplicative;
Damage = Level * (Move Power / 100) * (a.atk / b.def) * tiny random variance
Because of this, it's still possible to fight enemies upwards of 50% higher level than you, but you have to know what you are doing (element systems helps a lot). As said above, Timed Hit systems and other ways to insert player skill over stats into battle can bridge the gap considerably. Also, the types of skills or states you can get can change things quite a bit; Haste doesn't make easy battles that much easier, but can bring tough enemies to your level (The Ant Queen in FFTA2 is probably the hardest boss in the game based on when you fight it, but it's... possible to cast Haste on your whole party to get on her level). Narrow but powerful enemies can allow tactics; Strong enemies in one area might use single target attacks, so finding ways to mitigate that (Taunt, Guard, Cover, etc) can let you fight something that at first blush seems impossible.

The other option that might seem odd at first could be to take what non-rpg open world games do and get rid of levels. BotW has sort of progression in hearts, but Stamina is almost more important to the game as a whole and damage and defense comes from gear. You could build your open world to be capable of winning without gear and without traditional leveling, while still steering difficulty how you want and rewarding with gear and other bonuses to character power.

If you really want player skill to determine things, you could put all the focus on making battles into pseudo puzzles that have to be figured out (often what comes from high difficulty) to beat. Gear and other optional things can help, but you could just give the player a party and each member certain skills and subtly tell the player "You want to beat that enemy? Figure it out, you have the tools." kind of thing.
 

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