Zelda-like items/tools that allow environmental exploration

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Yusha, Sep 2, 2017.

  1. Yusha

    Yusha Veteran Veteran

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    Zelda has bombs, the fire rod, the lantern etc. They are received in dungeons and allow the player to explore areas unaccesable to them before. What types of games benefit from this mechanic? Is it possible to use this feature in a JRPG without too much backtracking, but also reward the player for exploration? Is using a cool new item to access otherwise closed off areas a way of developing exploration without adding artificial game-time?

    What do you think?

    I'm deciding if I should add items like the fire rod or the hook shot to my JRPG. There are 10 elemental temples and I've been thinking of rewarding a new item in the beginning/middle that would help with some puzzles and also be able to remove certain roadblocks in the game world that access secret/extra areas. (Similar to Zelda or Tales of Symphonia's Magic Ring)

    I'm definitely adding bombs to blow up certain cracks in caves since this doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. On the other hand 10 different elemental-inspired tools sounds like a project albeit a very interesting one.

    Ideas so far:

    Temple of Water
    Flippers - Allow you to dive in deep water and access underwater caverns

    Temple of Darkness
    Shadow Lantern - Allows you to access the parallel 'shadow' parts of the world map

    Unaccounted for:
    Temple of Fire
    Temple of Ice
    Temple of Nature
    Temple of Light
    Temple of Lightning
    Temple of Poison
    Temple of Wind
    Temple of Earth
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
  2. Harosata

    Harosata Dramatic Lightning's BFF Veteran

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    A YS VIII demo released on PS4 this week, and like its previous entries, you can only equip one "Adventurer Gear" at a time. In this case, the Adventurer Gear for the demo are Grip Gloves, which allow you to climb ivy-ridden walls.

    Anyway, think outside the box. Why have a fire rod for a fire temple if you come across a corpse that held a watering can? Anyway, some ideals for elements:

    Fire- Flint -Able to light torches and trees.
    Water Orb- can douse fire.

    Ice- Flint - Able to melt ice.
    Grip Boots- Able to walk normally on slippery ice.
    Winter Coat- Immune to blizzardy areas.

    Nature- Axe - Can chop down trees.
    Watering Can- Causes a plant to grow instantly
    Aromatic Herbs- Can lure certain creatures out of their hiding holes.

    Light- Lantern - Can light dark places.
    Truth Lantern - Can reveal hidden passages and messages.
    Light Cloak - Invisible to certain things on map.

    Lightning- Spark Plug -Able to activate inactive terminals
    Anti-Rod -Immune to stormy or electrical areas
    Battery Charge -Able to carry a "spark" that can be placed elsewhere.

    Poison- Gasmasks - immune to poisonous areas
    Acid - Rots certain obstacles.

    Wind- Wind Cape -Can blow certain obstacles away
    Jump Boots - Can jump very far on certain tiles

    Earth- Mega Gloves - Able to move certain rocks.
    Mega Hammer - Able to destroy certain rocks and trees.
    Heavy Boots - Able to activate certain switches and sink faster.
  3. Tricimir

    Tricimir Veteran Veteran

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    One of the holes modern zelda games tend to fall into is making how you get your items too predictable. This can feel very "gamey."

    Along with being creative about the nature of your items, try being creative about how you get them too. They don't always need to come from a big chest in a dungeon or an obvious sidequest.
    Even in the original LoZ, you could either buy bombs or find them from defeating enemies, the power bracelet was just under a random statue, several items needed to be bought (and prices varied at different store), both boomerangs dropped from seemingly normal enemies, and to top it all off, several dungeons had more than 1 item in them to surprise you.

    Link to the Past did it even better. bombs, boomerangs, shields, icerod, magic cape, the staff, magic powder, all 3 medallions, bottles: none of them were collected through standard means.
    And often times even the items you found in a dungeon wouldn't be required to finish that dungeon. It could be several areas later before you ran into a puzzle that actually required it's use.

    By spreading items out like that, you make the game more exciting. Players feel like they want to explore every little thing because they never know when they might find something that changes the way the game plays.

    To answer your original question, the biggest different between a jrpg and an action game like zelda is the combat system. In zelda, even if the player is stronger, they still have to avoid the enemies and kill them. it's still possible to get hurt. it's engaging. in a JRPG, especially one with random battles the battles become kinda pointless just a few levels past your first visit. So returning to explore with a new tool can still be rewarding, but it's important make sure the reward is worth the time and effort because the trip itself won't be as engaging.

    Finally, one of the very best ways to make an obstacle that you get past with an item is to make it so natural to the environment that the player doesn't even realize there's something to get past until suddenly they have the tool to do so.
    Clexor and Frogboy like this.
  4. Doktor_Q

    Doktor_Q I'm not a real doktor, but I am a real Q Veteran

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    An example of a JRPG that used exploration tools would be Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, where reach weapon gave you some new on-map ability. Claws let you climb walls and later grapple over pits, an axe let you cut down logs in your way, bombs let you blast open cracked rocks, etc.

    One important note is that each of those tools was also a weapon, and could be used in combat- while it's not strictly necessary for every tool, it's always more interesting than purely exploration effects. I played a game a while back where one temple gives you a special bow to flip switches you can't reach, but it also works in battle to push enemies back.

    An example of this done poorly was Pokemon's HMs. With a few exceptions like Surf, HM moves weren't very good in battle, but were mandatory to explore certain areas in the game. The problem becomes significant since they used up limited move slots on your Pokemon, and up until the last few games, were usually permanent.

    On the topic of their exploration uses, try to avoid making them into "door keys:" if you could replace them with a key that opens specific locked doors and not notice much difference, they're probably not very interesting. One or two of those can work, five or six gets boring.

    One last note, on specific items: don't feel obligated to make them match the "type" of the dungeon. Your grappling hook is a tool, it doesn't need to come from a grappling hook dungeon to make sense. Figure out what kind of obstacles you want in the dungeon, then consider what kind of tools would help. After that, consider if that tool needs to be provided in that dungeon, or if
  5. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    A Link Between Worlds went a different direction. Nearly every obligatory tool needed to play through the story is bought from the main store (not putting details because spoilers). You can rent and buy whatever you want, and dungeons made it clear which items you need to progress in them. However, more items were always better, and nearly every dungeon has clever things you can do with item not planned for them (A watery dungeon requires the hookshot to get around, but the ice rod...).

    Mystic Quest was pretty brilliant in how it did it's tool system. A step further, you can easily change your tools/weapons during combat with just a button press, so the feeling of changing weapons like in Zelda ports over well. The axe and claws were very well done, because instead of being "door keys", it was perfectly natural to climb walls and tear down overgrowth. And the claws and bombs actually upgrade into a "new" tool later in the game, which fits the "get stronger over time" level up system of jrpgs.

    One thing to remember is Zelda works this way because the game is all about exploration and puzzles. Not only do you use your tools but you have to find new ways to use those tools you've been using through the whole game. As for combat, certain tools changed your enemies around or vice versa; Keese die to the boomerang, which is normally just a stun item, and mummies flare up into Stalfos with the Fire Rod. The game asks you to try things out and constantly get creative.
    I always thought those HMs would be better if they didn't need to be moves. My favorite idea was that it still requires the correct pokemon to be in your party (water types for Surf) but it doesn't take up a slot, or they have a fifth slot that only HMs can go into (which would excuse powers being weak since they are only upsides). However, 7th gen did something really cool and different with them.
    While the sword is just a door key, what's really cool is there are no door keys in dungeons (there are in other areas). Instead you use the sword and bomb, meaning only the sword was technically replaceable with door keys.
  6. Anthony Xue

    Anthony Xue Ancient Architect Veteran

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    Personally, I'm a big friend of non-combat stuff in RPGs, so a thumbs up in general for the idea (apart from considering 10 elemental temples somewhat ambitious, although it depends on the rest of the game).

    The other postings have covered questions of flavor pretty much, so let me concentrate on gameplay:

    - Backtracking is not necessarily a problem if those new items open shortcuts to the places where they are meant to be used

    - One problem that often occurs with "roadblock removal" items is that the player is stuck if he somehow misses the item. This can be mitigated if a) several instances of the item in question can be found in the gameworld; b) a certain roadblock can be remove/circumvented by several items. Simplest case in point: A locked door, which can be opened by the correct key, a dwarven magic key (opens any door, one-use only), an "Open Door" spell if you found the mage who teaches it, or an "Axe of Smashing" that turns wooden doors into kindling wood (but fails at metal or stone doors).

    - The problem I see with creating items for 10 different temples is that you will have a lot of items basically fulfilling the same purpose, just with different flavor. From the player's point of view, a lot of them will seem superfluous, and I can easily see the items for, say, Nature, Earth and Poison be quite easy to confuse, unless they are explicitly named or get consumed right within the temple they are meant for (limited charges, manifests only in right environment etc.)

    - ...now that I think about it, part of the problem might be the direct connection item <=> temple, which already makes all the items in that context feel somewhat similar (and the connection artificial). Don't know if you planned it to be that way already, but you could use the temples to introduce certain items, teach the player about them, and then let them be used throughout the rest of the world as well - i.e., introducing the Ring of Waterbreathing in the Water Temple, which then can be used at cavernous rivers everywhere else.

    - Finally, you can save the player (and by extension, yourself) a lot of trouble by making much of this optional, meaning that either the areas that can be accessed with these items non-essential or that there is an alternative route that doesn't use these items at all, usually blocked by a tough monster. In general, the more complex the combat system in your game is, the less mindspace the player has for dozens of item interactions he has to be aware of.

    Apart from that...

    Staff of Fire: When used, burns away wooden doors, thorny undergrowth and thin walls of ice
    Staff of Water: When used, creates a bubble of waterbreathing around the party
    Staff of Earth: When used, opens tunnels in rock walls or creates rock bridges at designated locations
    Staff of Air: When used, teleports between cloud islands or creates cloud bridges at designated locations
    Staff of Ice: When used, freezes shallow water, thus creating a bridge
    Staff of Nature: When used, makes large trees extend their branches to form a bridge; and/or makes withered plants bloom so their fruits can be harvested
    Staff of Lightning: When used, can activate certain ancient magic crystals that need to be supplied with energy... effect depends on crystal
    Staff of Light: When used, gives light in really dark places, probably the only way to protect against shadow beings
    Staff of Darkness: When used, creates an aura of shadows around the party which allows them to bypass all kind of guardians, especially at night
    Staff of Poison: When used, lets all kind of natural barriers wither and die

    All of those might also have their uses in battle as weapons against creatures of the opposite element. Maybe.
  7. Clexor

    Clexor Level 2 Bugbear Scripter Member

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    I think this is an excellent mechanic to involve in an rpg game.

    One of the pitfalls I often found myself running into as a player in a lot of rpg games I played without this mechanic (example: final fantasy at least up to 9(excluding side games like mystic quest mentioned above)) was spending time to make sure I checked every single wall or path for something hidden, or doing the opposite by assuming I got everything because I knew I technically had the ability to reach anything outside of a an item/npc that wouldn't be there until I came back later in the game on other business.

    Games like many of the Tales of series would do an in between (using the sorcerers ring in many games like you mentioned for Symphonia). This ran into the same issue however because it was often the only non over world map based tool, which lead to many attempts to shoot and break objects that looked breakable to me but weren't, or having the function of the tool changeable for internal dungeon use only.

    Don't get me wrong though. The games I mentioned above were fantastic. Tales games were some of my favourites. That said, one series that really broke that dynamic for me was Wild Arms. They did exactly what Tricimir talked about.

    The early Wild Arms games, if you are not familiar, would grant each party member certain tools throughout the game which would aid you in both progressing and exploring. It was completely possible to just walk through the game like normal. The tools would usually be handed to you and be shortly followed by a quick "tutorial" on what situations they would be used in to progress, but a with a good memory, sense of exploration, or ingenuity the player could often go back to landmarks visited before and use the tools to accomplish things that would have at the time seemed unimportant. A good example would be a building that was all ruined in an early part of the game actually having loose walls that could be kicked down using the buff characters steel toe boots gotten after the fact, or a script on a wall over a hole that looked like an unreadable mural early on but could be read using a remote hover flying pet much later. This is such a great way of hiding things and rewarding the player for thinking/looking without making it a requirement to progress. these kinds of secrets usually hid chains of items/side quests that lead to end game level bosses or extreme treasure, which made them totally worth the effort and time.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017

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