I've been thinking about the RPG Maker Game more, and I've decided to do some things that will make JRPG purists hate the game. First, I'm shifting to an episodic system. Every other change follows from that decision.
With a shift to episodic game play, inventory management was going to become an issue. How do you handle this, given the only choice I want to matter is the major choice in Episode 1? So, here's the answer: I'm nuking the money, iterative equipment upgrades and consumables management entirely. In doing this, I'll get to make what little equipment there will be more thematic for each character. For Arthur, this means his blessed sword is not just traded out in the next town and his specialized armor imbued with magic gems is a real thing that defines and grows with him. For the real world characters, this means that the choice between what they carry matters, and it means we can give them each unique accessories from the start that play into their role and give them flavor, along with providing unique accessories to help define characters, cover weaknesses or enhance strengths (Do you want to give +15% HP to the tank, or try and beef up the wimpy person?)
When it comes to consumables, a lot of character's abilities represent using consumables (grenades, arrows, etc.) Instead, I'm going to assume the party carries supplies of healing items, restoratives, ammunition, power cells, mana potions, etc. Using items uses up your turn and loses you tempo. Besides, in most games, inventory management is only an issue early in the game. By mid and late game, you have all the items you need, or they become too weak to be relevant. Let's just skip that needless number crunching and menu juggling and assume the player has the items they need in their bags at all times.
Since we're killing iterative equipment and consumables, money is a non-issue for us. You're either an elite group of fantasy heroes or a well-funded security force; the economy is not your problem. You now don't need it for the core things you normally need it for, and since you have healing items on demand, out of combat healing is trivial. That leads me to the next thing we're removing.
Full heal on demand after combat and not needing to restock on items or purchase gear upgrades defeats the point of Random Encounters. Random Encounters do two things: drain your supplies and give you money to stock better, newer supplies. In our money-less, item-less, equipment-lite world, they serve no purpose.
So, I spent a lot of time thinking about this: Why keep random encounters? They're tedious and a pain to make. They are not fun for me to test and design, and they slow the pacing of the game down and lead to random TPKs. This frustrates the player and interrupts the story. In a game more focused on dungeon crawling, that's fine! That's the point of a game like Persona or some of the Final Fantasies. But this is a narrative driven game. I don't want you to stop progressing the story to run in a square by the healing shrine to get a few levels to beat the next beefgate. So, let's nuke random encounters and populate our maps with more dynamic, scripted encounters that feel important, build our characters and introduce mechanics. Things like Mass Effect and Dragon Age get by fine without [or practically without] Random Encounters. Each fight can now be strategic and interesting. Five imps randomly ambushing and killing you detracts from the tone and pacing. Worse, it turns off the sort of players who might be interested in the game [people heavy into narrative], while attracting people who might NOT like the game.
With limited encounters comes limited opportunities to build characters, especially since the only thing left that random encounters give us is XP. Now, here's where I'm going to lose almost anyone who is still here. Do I need XP? This is an episodic game where I may not be able to make saves work between episodes; what would we gain by REMOVING XP/levels?
If we do this, we can just provide characters new skills each episode [or they can learn things during the plot.] We can match everyone's levels to the Episode number to ensure characters are always on an even footing. This eases design issues. If a new character joins, I don't have to test the game a dozen times to find a good level to have them join at; if they leave, I don't have to "catch them up" when they re-join. This benefits players. You don't have to grind characters you hate if you realize that a skill they have is useful for this encounter or if they get forced on you. You don't have to level Useless Bob 20 times if he joins you in Chapter 7 because you thought your roster was complete, but it was not. I can make the starting stat numbers larger and have a broader range without worrying about level/stat inflation, since we'll carefully control how stats get boosted.
Eliminating random encounters, money, consumables and XP is the right design decision for this game. Would it be right for other games? Probably not [see below for an example of one that NEEDS to keep all of those things]!
So, with this new design direction, here is my To Do List
1. Make Alicia's Skills.
2. Save a new version of the Project to start implementing this new design philosophy.
3. In this new project, delete ALL items, and recreate each character's equipment to be more thematic.
4. Create unique accessories for each character to improve their roles and start designing upgrade accessories. This gives players items to upgrade/customize characters, without the large iterative upgrade problem of the Wood Sword, Rusty Sword, Forged Sword, Steel Sword, Gold Sword, Master Steel Sword issues.
5. Remove extraneous treasure chests from currently existing dungeons; our heroes are on a mission! They don't need to open random boxes! Well, except for ones with accessories!
6. Remove XP, money and items from all monsters. Remove any XP gains from non-combat sources. I'm sure there are some somewhere, and that would just be embarrassing.
7. Re-work Episode 1 to include more scripted encounters and move some of the dialog from map points to encounters.
8. Rework the tutorial like dialogue in Episode 1 to reflect the New World Reality and Skill Sets.
9. Tweak all monster stats.
10. Finalize character stats and item sets.
11. Redo all damage formulas to reflect the new item, monster and stat sets.
This isn't to say dungeon crawling, inventory managing and random encounters aren't fun. I enjoy games like this now and then. I just don't think THIS game is the one for it. Here's a cool dungeon crawling idea where I'd keep all the usual JRPG trappings.
You're on a crashed spaceship, only one spacesuit has survived. You have four human crew and three robots, so you can send out a human crew member with the three robots to gather scrap and try and fix the spaceship.
So, you can only "Rest and Repair" in the dungeon by setting up automated turrets to protect a screen, which turns off encounters and lets you save/use tents on that screen. The ship only has X turrets, so you have to leap frog them around.
The four humans are a tank with big guns, a high damage/slow psychic/mage, a fast person with item bonuses [a mechanic focused on buffing bots] and a jack-of-all stats who uses a variety of weapons. So as you progress, you may need to upgrade the bots differently or level the humans in safer areas if you want to swap your team captain, and as your heroes level you can purchase them "training" which gives them a buff that exists FOREVER. Here, random encounters and the like are doing a lot for the game: providing you XP to upgrade your humans, scrap to upgrade your bots and challenges to make you decide how to deploy turrets and healing supplies. All of the things I nixed from the current RPG Maker game, I'd keep for this.