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Article - 'Repeated Conventions in RPGs' by Guest

An item about Plots/Characters posted on May 17, 2005


Xero discusses recurring characters in RPGs and how to use them.


Let's face it. Almost every RPG series has either a repeating character, repeating bosses, repeating item/spell names, etc. Good examples are the Ultima Weapons in the Final Fantasy series, a version of Revolver Ocelot in each Metal Gear Solid, and a hero named Ryu in each Breath of Fire game. It's just GOING to happen! If you're planning on making a series of RPGs, or just want to be able to have some sort of continuity for items and spells, you may want to follow these guidelines...

Always Suffix Upgraded Spells - Fire, Fira, Firaga. The 3 levels of fire magic in Final Fantasy. Or, in other FF games, Fire, Fire2, Fire3. Whatever the suffix, they are constantly able to be seen as continuous throughout the series as "Oh, Fira does more damage, and Firaga kills 'em all". If you want to avoid the "here's a name, add a suffix" convention, try this...a level 1 cure spell would be called "Holy Word", level 2 could be "Holy Prayer", and level 3 could be called "Holy Scripture". This way, we keep the word "Holy" in the spell but the 2nd word in the spell name is different each time. This is a better convention for new RPG makers.

Recurring Characters - Cid from Final Fantasy, Revolver Ocelot from MGS, and even Dr. Robotnik in the Sonic games...they're all recurring characters! This can also count for bosses. Characters that recur through a series should be different than their last incarnation, yet still retain a material value that connects them to their FF7, Cid is an airship nut like in most other Final Fantasy games. A real big departure was when he taught at Balamb Garden in FF8. It's always nice to have a refreshing change for these characters once in a while, especially in long-running game series.

"Oooo, what does this Potion do?" - Obviously, you're going to want to keep item names from the last game if you make a sequel. First off, remember the obvious convention that should be used, even if you aren't making a sequel. Better items of a type need another word in their name. Potion, Mega Potion, X-Potion. Easy enough. This is probably the EASIEST convention to remember.

The LEGENDARY Weapon! - Oh yes, the ULTIMATE weapon that only the most bad-ass character in the group can use. Masamune from the Final Fantasy series is one of the best examples. It's kick-ass, so a kick-ass party member has to use it. But every character needs equally cool legendary weapons. Which brings us to our next convention...

Similar Character Styles - Make characters that you could connect the dots to a previous character's fighting style without having to match personality. This was extremely easy for the Final Fantasy series to pull off. Cloud is to Squall as Barret is to Irvine. Very easy.

PART 2! Putting these to use.

OK, so let's say you have a series idea. In the first game, Bob McCain and Trish MacLoud want to save Happyland from the evil Dr. Not-so-cuddly. But what is Bob McCain going to use? Would he drink Potions or Apple Juices when he wants more HP? Would he have an Ether or Green Tea when he wants more MP? And when he dies, does Trish use a Phoenix Down or a Happy Wake-Up Plum? Deviating from standard item conventions in other RPGs is what makes other RPGs, if only slightly, more unique. Remember to save those Happy Wake-Up Plums, Trish, 'cuz UH NO!

Random Encounters - Yep. It was inevitable. You were just walking down the road, enjoying the breeze, just you, the sun, and... *GONG!* A PAIR OF REALLY FREAKING UGLY MONSTERS! OK, don't panic. When choosing how you want the player to encounter these bad beasties, it's best to try and determine if you want a sense of surprise or a sense of caution when your player goes through the game. Random encounters are better for the overworld and dungeons, while non-random encounters are much better for games without an overworld., and you DON'T want to use random counters in an action RPG. That just doesn't make sense anyway.

OK, so now we're in our battle and Bob McCain wants to cast a spell. He wants to give that little old Big Nasty Bully a taste of HAPPY FLUFF POWER! So he casts Fluffy Spurt. And if Bob casts Fluffy Spurt a lot, he'll learn Fluffy 'Splode. And then Fluffy Storm. Bob will become the king of the Fluffy beating!

But, what's this? Fluff doesn't hurt Big Nasty Bullies...this brings up another point.

Elements and You - Every game needs some static elements, like Fire, Lightning, Water, Ice, Gravity, etc. You know Demi will always cause Gravity damage, and Shiva will always cause ice damage. They just DO! No strings attached. By keeping a static set of elements and occasionally introducing new ones in the series, your players will know what does what and when.

OK, so now you know Big Nasty Bullies don't mind Fluff, but then Trish casts "Tickly Tickle". Big Nasty Bullies DO NOT like to be tickled! The Big Nasty Bullies goes "wah wah wah" all the way home, and it's YAY-YAY! time. You get your EXP.

The Bad-ass - Of course, not every game is YAY-YAY! Bob & Trish Happyland Funtime Adventures, is it? There's always the especially dark RPGs like Shin Megami Tensai: Nocturne. But even if the game is somewhat light-hearted, having a bad-ass character doesn't hurt. Bad-asses may include, but are not limited to: Barret, Vincent, Sephiroth, Irvine, Squall, Auron, Aragorn, Roy Mustang, etc. etc. If you really want a game to have that "oh, there's always something like that out there" feel (why would you?), you need the bad-ass.

In conclusion, all of these conventions have turned a sad-sap game like YAY-YAY! Bob & Trish Happyland Funtime Adventures into a good game like Final Fantasy Ha-...oops. I've just started a fanboy flame war. *runs away*