I would like to take a moment to talk about gimmicks. I tend to like to make it so that all bosses in HC that I design are unique and have a gimmick to them, even if some aren’t as easy to identify as others, and I recently beat a game where just about every boss has a gimmick and it left me with quite a few thoughts I wanted to rant about for a bit.
A key part of gimmicks I believe is that they should typically require that the player uses resources they have in unique ways to force the player to be constantly adjusting how they play (assuming they don’t have the numbers to just plow through the entire game with no issue), but the player should always have a way to overcome them and shouldn’t be put into a situation where they feel that they can’t win. A gimmick done right should make a boss feel unique and help spice up the game-play experience in new and interesting ways, while always leaving the player able to feel like they can win and without requiring the developer to rewrite the entire rule book every dungeon. To that end, gimmicks should always be carefully considered to make sure that they fit in and don’t disturb this balance in general.
One gimmick for example that has always stood out to me as a risky venture is the idea of bosses who eat people. I’ve seen it come up in various games and I’ve even incorporated it into HC, but whenever you give a boss the ability to ‘eat’ people in the players party you can start to run into some big issues. If it’s used as a means to temporarily remove the character from the party and return them back to the player afterwards (probably from the other characters cutting open it’s stomach afterwards or something off-screen) you can run into big issues where you could potentially be crippling the player based on which character it is, and the more freedom you give to the player to continue what characters they have and what abilities they bring the less sure that you can be that there are any ‘safe’ picks. An alternative to this is to have the boss basically dish out instant deaths but that can be a bit weird to then utilize a revive item/skill on the afflicted party member whenever you think about it. I’ve also seen a few games give out instant game-overs if you allow the boss to eat any party member, and while this can work in some games where you give the player the tools to be able to manipulate the flow of battle to prevent this, I’m still not a huge fan because it ultimately serves to be a hard stop to the gameplay experience. See, if you’re losing to a boss due to numbers the game-over is either gradual and gives you a chance to recover or it’s immediate and you know not to fight the boss, the feedback the game gives you on how well you’re doing is very apparent and accurate to the situation, but whenever you give a boss an ‘instant game-over’ ability it can be a bit jarring because how the immediate feedback the player gets through the damage they give/receive is relatively immaterial to how well they’re actually doing in the battle. This idea isn’t limited just to the idea of having a party member being eaten, instant game-overs that are just that, game-overs (rather than a fight that the story continues with even if you lose), aren’t something that I’m really a huge fan of in general as they’ve always felt more like ‘gotchas!’ instead of obstacles to overcome or work around. Sure, maybe you can control the battle better, sure maybe you need to raise your numbers more, oh maybe there’s an item that you’ve got that turns off that boss feature entirely, but no matter how you cut it I always feel like there are better tools as the developer’s disposal these same strategies room to work with that doesn’t take a player who’s in the middle of an engaging battle that they’re working hard on managing and just instantly hits a reset button on, which is why when I made a boss that eats people I only had it eat other enemies (the reasoning behind this is that with your whole team fighting the boss it just didn’t really get an opportunity to grab anyone from your side). One optional boss in particular from the game I beat stood out to me in particular, and it falls under a similar umbrella where if you didn’t kill it fast enough it would unleash an ultimately attack that party wipes you and you have to reload. The problem was that on top of this, it had by far the best stats of any boss in the game, and no strategy was really too effective against it (I even bought several stat boosting items that upped my stun chance simply to try to stun-lock it without any significant results). It just really left a sour taste in my mouth because ultimately my options were to invest hours into the game to get numbers better than it, or buy 10-20 items to constantly recharge my MP to spam the strongest attacks over and over and over again, neither of which really feels fulfilling just to get that 100% completion.
That said, this viewpoint on gimmicks is probably strongly influenced by my own desire to think, plan, and analyze situations in general. Perhaps I’m putting too much thought into my bosses and should let most of them just end up being basically giant stat blocks that players kill with their even bigger number sticks. I don’t know, feel free to share your thoughts on gimmicks done right or done wrong if you have any!