Thursday, March 24, 2011

FF1 challenge

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

1.  Irreversible
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  or just include the changes in the text of the email.

9. and have useful information and formulas.

I will post the entries and my thoughts on them on tuesday next week.  Have fun!


  1. I'd just like to point out that your #3, at the time, is actually in favour of the initial Final Fantasy design. Compare the fighter and thief classes in the pen and paper RPG at the time. FF1 came out 2 years before AD&D 2 came out, so you'd need to look at the classes from the original AD&D. I'm sure you know more about this than I do, but wasn't the general rule you brought a thief if your DM liked traps and otherwise they were abysmally useless?

  2. I actually have no idea about the original 1st edition thief and fighter ability specifics but fighters were undoubtedly better at killing people and surviving. However, in those early tabletop RPGs thieves were very useful. They weren't much good in a fight compared to a fighter but they were great to have in a party.

    FF1 got the 'useless in a fight' part down pat but they didn't include traps / sneaking / locks or other ways in which thieves could be useful. So the player intuition of 'thieves suck in a fight' works out, but the player intuition of 'thieves are good to have around' fails.

    I personally think that players would much more readily accept that something they chose was useful in a different way than they expected than that their choice was just completely stupid for no reason they could have anticipated. Nowhere does the manual say 'there are no locks, traps or sneaking in this game'.

    You are right that in tabletop games the usefulness of a thief was very much reliant on the DM. If every adventure was just a monster slog (like FF1) then thieves were bad but if there were other challenges, and roleplaying, and stealth then thieves could be great.

  3. I actually tracked down the initial manual for FF1 (not very hard at all; thanks Google!) It claims thieves are good when you want to avoid an enemy attack. (True I guess, but not really relevant since you're better off absorbing the hit with heavy armor.) It then lists 6 example parties so someone who is new to RPGs won't get screwed if they read the book. Thieves are actually in 2 of the 6 example parties, though always with a fighter and at least one black belt. (I think their plan is to have the thief turn into a ninja and haste the real characters.) It then goes on to say that they intentionally made it so some parties are much easier than others.

  4. In original dungeons and dragons a level 1 thief had a 15% chance to open locks and a 10% chance to remove traps. By level 6 these were 45%/40% while your chance to hide in shadows was 45%. Plus, making it to level 6 without dying with your d4 hit points was a sketchy proposition. Those who played roleplaying games at the time would probably expect thieves to be somewhat useless. Remember when we were building a roleplaying system we eventually did away with the concept of rogues because we just couldn't figure out where they fit in.

  5. @Sthenno

    It is very true that original D&D thieves had some issues. Remember though that the adventures were often designed for enormous parties - 8 players was considered the norm for doing the original Temple of Elemental Evil for IIRC, and in groups of that size having one person who has a chance to detect traps, open locks and be stealthy is a pretty good deal. I certainly agree that in a 3 man group a thief would be a terrible idea and playing a thief under those conditions seems kind of awful. You get to watch while the real characters do the heroic battles and then you get to do 'battle' with the doors and treasure chests. You even get to die if you don't roll well! I agree that those sorts of roles just don't work well which is why most modern RPGs have rogues that do a ton of damage but are squishy instead of rogues that are just garbage but can open locks. Having thieves just be bad in fights is something I really dislike which is why I think buffing them in FF1 would make it better.


    For sure some parties are better than others. For example, I am sure they intended a party with 4 thieves to be terrible compared to fighter, thief, Wmage, Bmage. The same could be said for the Wmage, Wmage, Bmage, Bmage party which is not very good, although much better than 4 thieves. Basically I don't think we can assume that they actually wanted thieves to just be trash, but rather than many party compositions are much better than others.

    There isn't any way to make all party comps equal even if we wanted to. Mostly I just want party composition to be a complex thing where some are good at some things and some are good at other things with the caveat that some are bad at nearly everything. As long as all the classes have a place in some comps and no classes are mandatory to be competitive I think things are good enough.

  6. Perhaps introducing a new mechanic to thieves such as a 1-2 turn stun, or temporary debuff that effects enemy hit chance, would improve their usefulness.

    In a game where there is no unlocking, or traps to disarm, having one character that could reduce damage to the party would be beneficial, and would give them a niche role that isn't necessary but is useful.

  7. There are lots of options that don't involve just making Thieves hit hard, you are quite right. Heck, I was thinking about a full third school of magic called Stealth magic. It could be a school focused on single target attacks and self buffs and potentially even things like "Your party cannot be attacked by random encounters for the next 15 steps" or "Open all locked chests within 5 squares of the party" and suchlike. In that way Thieves could have some pretty cool options that justify their existence without requiring them to be awesome at attacking with weapons. However, that is clearly a massive rewrite of the game and far beyond the relatively simple edits I have been generally looking at. Keeping within the framework of the game as it is I think the only way to make Thieves a decent, competitive choice is to make their damage much higher.

    There are many ways to make Fighters competitive instead of dominant like massively nerfing their HP, reducing the armor values of the Fighter only armors, reducing their damage or reducing their other benefits and defenses. I think having Fighters be super tough is fine, especially because changing that would alter the game hugely. The simplest way to make Fighters good but not overpowered is to simply make them very weak damage dealers, like a White Mage. They have fantastic defenses so they, just like a White Mage, would still be very useful but they would not be flat out better than everyone else.

  8. I actually think thieves would have a place as a mediocre but cheap damage dealer. Money is a pretty big constraint early in the game so having a dodgy guy who has a lower but much easier to reach ceiling seems reasonable. I think giving thieves a 3rd hit per level and adding in some thief specific gear to the vendors in the elf town is probably good enough. The thief weapon would have high crit and comparable damage to the warrior weapon. And I'd make the thief armor actually add to your evade along with having a reasonable absorb.

  9. That would work in elf town, but what about once you get past elf town? The warrior scoops up ludicrous armor and again the thief is left with incredibly substandard damage and toughness. Money is a real constraint weapons wise up until silver swords and then after that it is pretty irrelevant. It matters for spells in the late game but not particularly for armor/weapons since the best ones are the ones you loot.

    If all we did is give thieves early game armor and weapons they would still be utter garbage as soon as they levelled past those weapons and those weapons/armor would need to be *insane* to make them even remotely competitive.

    I agree that the problems could easily be solved by adding a whole series of thief armor and weapons throughout the game. If thief armor actually added to avoid instead of subtracting like other armor and also had decent absorb values and thief only weapons with insane critical values were added throughout it would work okay. I think though that by far the simpler solution is to leave all that as it is and just change thief hit% progression.

  10. I donno, now that I'm beyond elf town I feel like I'm a pretty reasonable character. Especially if you gave me an extra hit per level. Ninjas actually get to use every weapon in the game except xcalibur and the wizard rod. The problem is normally you get masamune and give it to the non-thief because the thief has abysmal hit progression. The 3rd best weapon in the game is already ninja specific and has the highest crit.

    Maybe let thieves also use the flame sword as a bridge to becoming a ninja.

  11. Alternatively keep the terrible hit progression but let thieves equip two weapons.

  12. I'd also give thieves one more base luck to guarantee they run away every time. That in and of itself might be enough to make them good enough to use.

  13. Being able to run away guaranteed would be a nice upgrade. There is little more demoralizing than trying to run and failing to do so.

    I did some math on thief with two weapons. They end up doing roughly double normal damage if you just add the damage/hit% of the second weapon onto the thief's stats but use the crit rate of the first weapon. The trouble is that the thief basically does slightly less than the basic fighter at low or mid levels and gets completely nutty once they get double Katanas.

    Overall though I found 3 methods to get thief damage to a respectable level.

    First: Use two weapons at once. Complicated and *massively* spikes up once the thief gets class change due to better weapons being equippable.

    Second: 10% base hit% and 6%hit/level. Fairly smooth damage progression and good overall damage.

    Third: Gain double normal number of attacks, like the BB does currently. Chunky damage progression due to going from 2 to 4 attacks.

    All three methods work pretty well and produce similar overall damage but I like the second one best. It makes the thief quite good at dealing damage at all levels. The BB already has the 'suck early, rock late' thing going on so I don't want to set up the thief for the same thing.

    I also dropped the Fighter down to 5%base 1%/level hit progression and that made their damage work quite well. They do about half the damage of the thief using any of the three above methods (about the same as the thief does now). They still have the best possible HP aside from level 40+ BB, and by far the best armor so I am sure I would still consider them useful but I wouldn't look at a party without a fighter and think 'wow, how terrible'.