Sunday, March 09, 2008

Off with his head!

I recently purchased Valkyrie Profile: Silmaria. Aside from the undertones of grind, it is an exquisite game.

One of the things I liked best about the first Valkyrie Profile game was the combat system. Some brainy Japanese guy said "hey, four characters in your party... four buttons on the controller..." (Presumably, this was not the same person that made Frey female and Odin have two eyes... but, hey, I'm no purist.)

In combat, you press a button and that character acts. If he has multiple attacks, each time you press it he makes his next attack.

"And... what's the big deal?"

The big deal is that hitting an enemy while he's in the air gives you free XP... and hitting him while he's on the ground gives you free action points. Each attack is not simply "hit him with sword", but is a sequence of specific moves that you specify. Moves like "dual cleave", "air drop", "spinning blade"... and you program your characters to do a specific one first, second, and third (depending on their number of attacks). Spells also have a progression, although it's hardcoded.

By being aware of your timing, you could cut enemies to pieces in midair, get lots of free XP.

In VP1, I was so good at this that I regularly got at least 50% extra XP per fight. You also needed to manage shield-breaking (if they block) and building up combos for super-attacks.

It's easy to screw up, too: if you knock a light enemy upwards, he'll sail above all but the most vertically-oriented attacks, and you'll end up stabbing a lot of air beneath him, doing nothing. Moving the enemy around much will also screw up spells, since they're stationary.

I'm not sure if it's clear to someone who hasn't played the game, but this system of combat is much deeper than most RPGs out on the market - it's about as complex as a tactical RPG. Except it's just four buttons.

VP2 has fundamentally the same system of actually whacking baddies, but they have a movement system I'm not terribly interested in. Aside from that, they added an additional bit:

Each of the enemies is made of parts. When you hit an enemy, you actually hit a specific part of the enemy. Sword, head, tail, whatever. This doesn't really change the damage much (unless the part is armored), but if you do enough damage to a part, it breaks off.

And you get to keep it.

Knock the weapon out of the hands of the lizardman, you get to keep it. Cut off the head of a wolf, you get wolf fangs. And so forth.

Adding hit-location damage to the scheme was pretty brilliant, although it seems to be balanced funny. It means that you can theoretically try to set up your warriors to not just knock them up or down, but also aim for various body parts! This is especially important for things with some armored elements and some vulnerable elements.

While this isn't done as well as I would like, it is a very interesting idea. You're replacing the "random drops" with a skill system: what you can milk an encounter for depends on how cleverly you've built your assault pattern.

In VP2 it's pretty random, at least for the moment. But I've been thinking and thinking... and I literally can't think of a better combat system. Sure, I'd implement it differently. But I can't think... of anything better! At all!

This kind of system - the attacks aren't simply there to get the enemy to 0 HP as quickly as possible. The attacks also serve to give you an in-fight bonus, an XP boost, more money, and determine drop! It's all done very simply in live combat, frontloaded by allowing you to pick weapons and attack sequences while wandering the dungeon.

It makes each enemy into a battlefield! It turns what is normally a single point of interest (HP) into a complex field of interests.

Do you see why I like it? Have you ever played it?

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