Visual novel&RPG Hybrids discussion

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Amarok, Sep 12, 2017.

  1. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    Im curious to know the opinion of the community regarding the mechanics of this niche genre, almost exclusive to japan sadly.

    Personally i really loved games like Eiyuu senki (World conquest) In case you have never played one of these, it usually plays out like a regular JRPG (sometimes with strategic and or tactical elements) but the exploration elements are removed to focus on the narrative and the combat system.

    Fire emblem and other tactical rpg series are also similar to this but the complexity is usually within the battle system and not in the visual novel aspect.

    Another more or less well know series that attempted this was the Record of Agarest war games, but the execution was deeply flawed imo.

    I will use Eiyuu senki as an example of what i mean, basically the whole game takes place in a world map (like in tactical rpgs) and from there you choose where to go, once you select a chapter/location, etc you get a visual novel segment followed by a battle or series of battles. After the battle you use your rewards to replenish the health of your forces, buy new equipment, etc...

    The above was pretty standard rpg fare, now the real appeal of this genre lies within the narrative, unlike a traditional rpg where choices can alter the story but you never deviate from the same framework, since that would mean making multiple games worth of graphics, animations, etc. A visual novel hybrid allows you to have real different routes depending on your actions where things can get really different from the "main route"

    The only problem i can see people having with this is:

    -1 You dont like visual novels, at all.

    -2 Combat gets boring/repetitive

    -3 The story sucks

    -4 any combination of the above.

    Still i would love to do a game like this someday (not crazy enough to do it now ;D) So what are your thoughts? im very new to game dev so if i missed something, please let me know.
     
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  2. Alastor01

    Alastor01 Veteran

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    Hmm, one thing that comes to mind is Valkyria Chronicles :) It is a hybrid of tactical RPG and a visual novel like you describe. Personally, I found it quite engaging - battles were directly connected to the story. Everything had a flow and made sense. Basically it was: VN before --> Battle --> VN after --> Shop / recruit troops --> VN before --> etc... However, the game is pretty much linear.
    Another great example are Persona games. They have RPG, exploration and visual novel elements. I was enjoying Persona 3 and 4 a lot. There were a lot of sub-plots as well, with their own visual novel elements.
    Such games are great! The only problem I can think off is that it would be hard to make a lot of different scenarios.
     
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  3. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    @Alastor01 yeah i forgot Valkyria! thats an even more experimental series mixing real time action with a tactical rpg. Yeah the intermission interface is pretty much the backbone of the genre, where most if not all of the non combat gameplay happens.
    Now the persona games are unique in the sense that they manage to do everything and do it well haha.
    Like you said the greatest obstacle would be writing the visual novel part in order to make the narrative fulfilling enough.

    Though another approach would be to add enough strategic/tactical elements to the battle system so the gameplay becomes a part of the narrative, i think that was called emergent gameplay? thats the only flaw i see in the persona games compared to full tactical rpgs like valkyria or fire emblem. Xcom was also amazing in that aspect. Now that i think about it, Visual novel/X-com hybrid would be pretty close to what i had in mind when making this thread.
     
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  4. Verdelite

    Verdelite Wannabe Developer

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    I know I'm plugging this game whenever I get the chance, but this reminds me of Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. You don't really have obvious VN-esque choices there but there are multiple paths still. One is by selecting which place to go to which decides which faction you are fighting for in the beginning of the game. Then there is also the gameplay mechanic of the feather, where you can sacrifise your teammates. Depending on how many people you sacrifise, the faction that you fight for as well as your ending will be different. It's my favourite example of a great integration of gameplay and plot :D The only problem is that there are no longer dialogues with the other characters, once their chapter is over since you can sacrifise them.

    So, I guess what I'm saying is, go for it! However, you did mention that you are new to game dev, so I'd be careful with how ambitious you are with your first projects. I am currently working on a RPG with choices as well and while up until now there's only been different dialogues and slightly altered gameplay elements, it's still a lot more work.
    The problem with too many choices and the resulting workload is a common problem with VN-developers and I imagine it's even worse if you combine it with a RPG, where you additionally have to balance and might want to have different characteres join up with you.
     
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  5. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    @Verdelite i never got the chance to play the Valkyrie profile games but what you said sounds interesting, so i will give it a go :D Also yeah i have no plans to make something like this yet, but in the future definitely!
    Im also thinking, yet another approach to this would be to make the world map a kind of sandbox overworld, just like in the mount and blade games. Maybe that would be even better since an overworld is a pretty classic feature in jrpgs. And it would allow to implement exploration mechanics aswell.
     
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  6. Chaos Avian

    Chaos Avian Abyssal Wing

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    I'm quite the fan of this hybrid genre, I do really enjoy Fire Emblem(Fe9 and Echoes being my favourite) and the Persona games.

    Not really so much a tactics game on the RPG front but I'd say Ar Tonelico is a good hybrid between RPG and VN. Heck outside the main narrative, the "cosmosphere" sections just go full blown VN. Ar Tonelico 2 a bit more so where your choice to follow one of two Reyvateils heavily impact the story. Plus various choices influence the endings you can get. The VN parts add/ boost the RPG aspect but not the same for the reverse.

    The reason I think you don't really see it much is because its a massive juggernaught of work. Combining quite possibly the two longest types of game genres into one. It's less so when mixed with a fighting game (serious sometimes I forget that BlazBlue is a fighting game sometimes...)
     
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  7. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    @Chaos Avian how could i forget about ar tonelico! yeah definitely i agree with you on them being a massive amount of work. I also think another reason is the fact that most visual novels (and all related sub genres xD) in japan have +18 content thus making the chances of exporting them close to 0 unless its a really big hit.
     
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  8. Basileus

    Basileus Veteran

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    I've actually been considering a game in this hybrid style for my next project!

    One of the tough parts was figuring out the balance of each element. And to determine that I had to figure out the actual purpose of each element so I could determine its value and do the cost-benefit analysis. I'm leaning in favor of RPG, because the feelings players get from actual gameplay and the possibilities of gameplay that can inform the narrative on its own just outweighs what you get from VN-style conversations and narration. I think that the overall framework of a narrative that VNs provide is the most important aspect, so breaking away from huge railroading narration segments in favor of an explorable game world gives players a lot more freedom to actually interact with the world of your story/game. This would still require some extensive cutscenes to create the proper atmosphere needed for the story to have the necessary mood but overall I think it's a net gain this way.

    For those cutscenes, I think the use of a VN style conversation system would be best. In classic RPGs the conversations are handled with text boxes (often at the bottom of the screen) while the player watches the sprites move about on the map to act out the scene. In modern games this has become 3D models moving about during voice-over lines. This isn't a bad style and can hook players by letting them view scenes acted out fully like a third-person observer to the character they are controlling. But I think that the VN style of character portraits over setting backdrops creates a more intimate atmosphere. The game world can be really distracting, so closing it off for important things can help sell the emotional weight of a scene. Having a huge 3D environment so the player can walk into the final boss' enormous throne room can be an awesome and intimidating moment. Watching the protagonists yell at the boss from across said throne room gets kind of silly. But having that impactful entrance and then bringing up the VN interface places the attention square on our hero and villain so they and the player are then in an up close and personal space that's much better suited for the scathing verbal banter to highlight their personal grudges.

    The only real issue from there is the narrative. And here I have some advice: Don't worry too much about tons of choice/freedom/endings/etc.

    To date, one of the Gold Standard VNs is Fate/Stay Night. While it is very long there isn't actually a lot of variation. There are only 3 routes in the game: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel. And they need to be played sequentially - to unlock UBW you need to beat Fate, and to unlock HF you need to clear UBW. This is because each of the 3 routes builds a collective narrative and each one builds on top of the ones previously so they wouldn't make as much sense or have as much impact without playing the previous routes. The central theme of the VN is a question: "What does is mean to be a hero? What kind of person does it take to actually succeed?". Each route presents a different answer to that question and arrives at that answer by exploring different sides of the characters. The actual events of each route differ greatly to facilitate this, but once you are on the route it is entirely linear with the only deviation being the Bad Ends (although they often reveal very interesting details about characters and a couple of them are so well developed that fans consider them proper endings).

    A VN/RPG hyrid probably benefits most from the mixed mediums by telling an overarching story that has multiple possible outcomes. A game like Mass Effect has lots of dialogue options scattered about to give a sense of "customization" but generally has a linear narrative and is only ever telling a single story. A sandbox game will rarely have a cohesive story because the emphasis is on the feeling of "the player can do anything" so most scenes and interactions have to be somewhat generic since they are not able to incorporate information about the protagonist. By creating a central pillar to base the entire narrative around you should be able to create several cohesive variations of the same story that can let the player feel some level of choice while still having the depth of character and symbolism you can get from having a protagonist where you already know what they are like and will have done when setting up any given scene.
     
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  9. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    @Basileus whoa thanks a lot for the advice! you gave me quite a few things to think of. I also need to read the Fate novels, i really like the animes but i suppose the novels are completely different.
    I agree with the visual novel style of dialogue not only from the reasons you mentioned but also from a time/resource efficiency perspective its so much easier to draw different expressions for character busts than making full sprites for each action/reaction for each character, i each direction, etc. That coupled with illustrations for specific moments (exactly like in a visual novel) would sell the experience i think.

    Another series of games i think i shouldnt have omitted in my initial post are the games made by Nippon Ichi (disgaea, phantom brave, soul nomad, etc...) Since they are pretty much the perfect blend between tactical rpg and VN even more than fire emblem and other niche japanese franchises.
     
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  10. mauvebutterfly

    mauvebutterfly Veteran

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    I love this hybrid genre, but there is something I want to caution developers about. If you have long dialogue sequences, you should either break them up a bit or allow the player to save their game at any time during the VN sequences.

    I loved Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, which does the JRPG/VN thing fairly well for the most part, but one gripe I had with the game was that they would frequently have back-to-back boss battles without the player ever having a chance to do anything other than advance the VN along between battles. One particularly egregious scene had you locked in a dungeon without save points that you had to escape from. The dungeon had several long VN segments that were required to get to the boss. After defeating the boss and reaching the exit you immediately run back to town (long VN segment) to fight another boss, followed by another VN segment and a third boss. Then there's a bit more VN before you finally regain control and return to the world map where you can save.

    That whole sequence took me about 2 hours the first time through, and the game crashed during the final boss battle of the gauntlet. It's a testament to how much I had been enjoying the game up to that point that I replayed it at all, but even skipping all encounters and auto-skipping the VN segments that I had already read, it still took me about 45 minutes on my second playthrough, with the knowledge that I'd have to go back to that dungeon later to grab any missed items.

    Incidentally, the third boss was also a difficulty spike, so someone who had done less grinding than me might have gotten to that point, lost to the boss, and had to go grind an earlier dungeon before going through it all again.

    I suppose this is more of an issue with save points in general, but I still wanted to recommend that developers not treat VN segments as unskipable cutscenes. HDNR;B1 had a lot of other segments that did this much better, where you would be sent back to the world map during a natural pause in the conversation and would then be able to save or grind somewhere else before resuming the conversation if that's something you wanted to do.

    TLDR: If your game has limited save options (only at save points and on the world map, for instance) don't have multi-hour segments of your game where saving is completely unavailable.
     
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  11. Amarok

    Amarok Veteran

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    @mauvebutterfly yeah save points can be difficult to balance, on one hand i remember games like fallout 1 and 2 having no difficulty at all since you could save even in the middle of combat, so you could keep reloading until every of your attacks were critical and every of the enemy failed. But having the classic jrpg system can also lead to situations like the one you described.
    Personally i like a mixed approach, just let the player save and exit anywhere, except maybe during battles. And then save and load only at designated points. But this would still need to allow for "checkpoints" during really large story segments. Diablo and Mount and blade did this and worked really well.
     
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