I talked a little bit about Final Fantasy 1 in my last post and I wanted to extend that discussion a bit here. In particular Sthenno replied that he thought that FF1 would not be a better game with the changes I had outlined for the Fighter and the Thief to bring them much closer together in power. It is entirely true that the game is beatable with any random party with sufficient grinding since no matter how bad your party is you can grind up to very high level and beat the game, even if that party is just 1 Thief I suspect. Certainly if your party is 4 Thieves you will find the game very long and much of it very boring but you certainly will win. My contention though is that even though the game is clearly beatable with any group, and in fact is not that hard with any reasonable group, the game would be better if there were more ways to build a powerful group. Clearly you can be foolish and make lots of terrible decisions and the game needs to have those bad choices as an option to make it interesting at all. However, I have an issue with decisions that are
2. Not easily testable or obvious from a numbers/game advantage point of view
3. Not matching the intuitive roleplaying (RP) sense that players have
being very impactful towards overall party power. For example, taking a party that has no healing magic is going to have some significant disadvantages but because that is easy to test at any point in the game, obvious and matches the RP intuition players have I don't have a problem with it. The same is not true of thieves since there is an assumption that thieves, being a character class, are probably good for something and that assumption fails. It is not easy to test this out because you need to play through most or all of the game to understand how good the class is going to be and it isn't obvious to the player because most of the mechanics that make thieves bad aren't listed anywhere.
What it boils down to is I consider a game poorly constructed if someone with no previous knowledge can sit down, look at descriptions of things and make decisions based on common knowledge and those decisions will often be extremely stupid. Note that it is okay if those decisions are stupid if the player can test them and change them relatively easily - in WOW if you want to test out a character spec or particular talent you can do so and then change your mind if it turns out to not be as good as you thought initially. In FF1 some decisions are like that in that you can buy a spell, discover it is terrible, and then buy another. You can try putting your White Mage in the front line and after watching them die you try a Fighter instead and notice that it works much better that way. Choosing class composition for your party is not something you can change or easily test so it needs to be much more balanced and robust so that making really stupid decisions is obvious without extensive testing. A veteran who has completed the game 50 times isn't much inconvenienced by game balance like the Fighter/Thief but a new player really would be. I like having lots of interesting choices as long as testing or changing those choices don't require sinking another 50 hours into the game.
I want to have a little contest. Specifically I want to see what other people would do to balance FF1. The main points:
1. Don't bother with bugs. Assume the bugs in the game are fixed (there are many) and work from there.
2. Try to be succinct. The smaller your list of changes (while still accomplishing the same end!) the better.
3. Try to increase choice without increasing power. For example, the Fog spell is terrible and I never cast it. Making Fog give enough of an absorb bonus that you regularly but not always use it in combat is a good change - it is still decreasing damage taken but won't hugely boost party power if done right. On the other hand, adding new healing spells to L2 White Magic would hugely increase party power pretty much no matter how good they were because that spell level has no healing right now.
4. Try to make the classes comparable to one another keeping in mind the current progression of equipment.
5. Think about class power in all game phases. BlackBelts are useless in early game and overpowered in extreme late game. You can use that as a balancing mechanism if you want but keep it in mind. I personally don't much like 'sucks early, OP late' or the reverse as a balancing mechanism but some people don't mind it.
6. Use exact game mechanics if you know them, if not just be as specific as you can.
7. Remember that balance does not mean everything is the same - it is just fine for some choices to be good in some circumstances but not others. Having lots of casters is good for huge packs of undead, having lots of melee is good for magic resistant monsters. What I want to avoid is choices that are always bad in all situations.
8. Send your document to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just include the changes in the text of the email.
9. http://www.gamefaqs.com/nes/522595-final-fantasy/faqs/57009 and http://www.ffnemesis.com/ff1/magic/ have useful information and formulas.
I will post the entries and my thoughts on them on tuesday next week. Have fun!