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!

8 Replies to “Gimmicks”

  1. One game that I really enjoyed, up until the final chapter, was a game I enjoyed almost as much as HC (I can’t say ‘just as much’ because this is by far my favorite). At the end of the game, there’s a huge twist where you lost a fair few team mates and the final boss battle was infuriating – not because of the player’s level or stats, but because it’s one of the gimmicks you described. You need to kill a character with a HUGE XP level and insane stats. Regular attacks were about as effective as ‘X has thrown a pebble at Y. Y gets a small bruise’ and you needed to time your ultimate attacks perfectly to defeat this boss. If you wait around too long, you’ll end up dead after they unleash their attack. I tried and failed this so many times, I rage-quite the game and haven’t been back since. It’s seen as a classic, but I hate it with a passion!

    I’m glad that HC doesn’t have that issue. Even with crazy-high level bosses (Rattus Maximus, anyone?), it may take quite a bit of powering through, but there won’t be a sudden ‘Rattus Maximus uses destroy Hero’s Party’ scenario, and for that, I am grateful!

    Side-note: Maybe I’m getting a little TOO into character here, but I love Hero’s boasts when he defeats someone/gets his way, and I can’t wait for the day where he finally kicks Barst the Lion’s ass and makes a snarky comment about it!

  2. My opinion on this is:
    No gimmick will be pleasent for everyone ever.
    The tools can be as clever as they want, work without a hitch in every possible setup, but there is a problem at the end of the line and it has 2 legs.
    It’s up to the player whether he wants to use the tools or not, regardless of them being available to him or not.
    If it doesn’t fit the likes of the player, f.e. he likes only physical attacks but is required to swap in a character he doesn’t like to use magic, it will cause frustration. A develeoper has no control about such eccentric behaviour.
    But you know what? It’s fine.
    Frustration is needed in games for a more memorable experience. (not the Demon’s Soul type of frustration, but some).
    The satisfaction is bigger when it is overcome and will bind the player closer to the game.
    It’s all about balance, as long as the gimick attracts more people than you push away, its a win.

  3. I’ll throw in my 2 cents as well. Also warning: Words, words, words.

    One of the games i quite enjoyed playing was Touhou Labyrinth 1 & 2. So i’ll use a few examples from the games.
    It uses ATB system and the main battle gimmick of the game – you have 4 active members and 8 in reserve, which you can switch in and out at any time. Buffing and debuffing, as well as negative statuses are also very important (for you and enemies both).
    And one of the main reasons i liked the games, was the great variability of its bosses. They had a lot of different gimmicks and i enjoyed most of them with one clear exception, which i’ll mention later. Also a lot of bosses had conditional party wipe attacks, but they are typically have to use a “focus” turn which wastes their turn and sets their ATB at 0 afterwards. So you have some time to prepare and/or counter that.

    There’s a boss that has strong physical attacks and she basically has 2 phases. First phase, she simply smacks your party members around for some high damage, but once you damage her enough, she switches to her second phase where she uses only one attack – ridiculous amount of damage against single character, which noone could survive. But there’s a catch, she only targets your leftmost character with this attack, and also this attack has a bad accuracy.
    And there are two characters you have at the time you fight her, that can help you. Either you can switch in your dodge tank into leftmost spot, which basically guarantees a win or you can switch in to leftmost spot a character who can self-resurrect 3-4 times and that should buy you enough time to finish off the boss.

    Then there was a pair of bosses who had “ever increasing stats everytime they act” as their gimmick. One boss increased its speed and the other increased its attack stat. This basically puts you on timer, since one way or the other you won’t be able to outheal ever increasing damage. But you had some counters to that. Mainly debuff their spd+attack stats . They act not as often and that allows you to finish them off relatively easily.

    Then there was a boss who is famous for her ability to simply kill things, and true to that, she opens the fight with 200% accurate mass death. And then uses a lot of attacks which causes instant death though out the fight.

    Then there was a trio of bosses who are relatively dangerous on their own, but will unleash a very strong party hitting attack once their corresponding “partner” is defeated, but one of them was very weak to paralysis and you can sorta reliably par-lock her once she gets into her berserk phase. Or you could try finish them all off simultaneously.

    Also there is a boss which regenerates 25% of its max HP every turn. For which you basically have to buff to the max your hardest hitting characters and try to nuke it down in a couple of turns.

    But my least favorite fight was one of the main party tanks as a boss. She has relatively low HP, but monstrous defences (a trait she carries over as a playable character). You fight her 3 times.

    First fight she’s a hopeless boss fight and she simply leaves after she attacks you ten times. And while her attacks are too powerful to survive, they are all singe target and you have 12 members total, so you can’t realy lose, unless you bring less than 10 characters to the fight for some reason.
    You do get better rewards based on how much you managed to damage her tho (and a really power endgame armor if you somehow manage to actually defeat her).

    Her second fight is where you fight her for real for the first time and she’s one of the most unfun bosses i’ve ever fought.
    She’s still quite an early fight, as such your options are limited. Resists pretty much everything you have at that point in the game (including your defense piercing attacks, if you’ve recruited one of the two characters who learn that, but said attacks are elemental and the boss heavily resists both elements as well) or neutral to some elements, but due to her monstrous defences those attack aren’t that effective either. If you try to buff your characters heavilly she’ll smack you with a move that
    a) is really really powerful
    b) removes all buffs
    At 70% and 30% HP remaining she’ll focus and use a really strong party wide nuke.
    She slightly resists poison, but poison in the game acts as amount of damage based on stats of the poisoner. Still it’s one of the best options you have.
    All in all, it’s an unimaginable slog and pure torture in the game form.

    Hilariously her third fight is one of the fights that is supposed to be really really hard as well, but can be easily cheesed.
    First thing she does is buffs both her defensive stats through the roof, which also massive slows her down. She still uses aforementioned buffs removing and debuff punishing attacks and also gains a really strong party wide attack, which she uses at certain HP thresholds. But only after focusing.
    Also she gains a really hard hitting attack, but she only uses it if you try to debuff her.
    The thing is, due to plot reasons she is now is weak to Dark element. One of your characters who knows a defense ignoring spell is Dark aligned. Also she’s fast. And said dark defense ignoring attack roughly takes 10% of boss’ hp.
    So the fight goes as follows. The boss raises her defences and massively lowers her spd at the start of the battle. You debuff her spd even further, while buffing spd of you dark nuker. She can act 3 to 4 times before the boss acts again, but 70% hp remaining is her first “use nuke” threshold. So she focuses. Which wastes her turn and sets her ATB at 0. You continue with dark defence ignoring attack spam, and that puts her onto second “use nuke” threshold (30%). Which makes her waste her turn again. And then you finish her off.
    When i first discovered, you could actually do this reliably, i was like “OOOOOOHHHHH YEEEEAAAAAH”.

  4. I think one good Gimmick would be for a Demon boss that “corrupts” any of the girls into being Charmed Slaves. they turn as Temp Companions of the boss or They could just not Do their turn saying they love the Boss or they think hes so Dreamy.

  5. Would this game happen to be Evenicle? Just wondering as I’m currently playing that myself and it sounds like some of the bosses in Evenicle to me.

    1. Yeah, Evenicle was the game. Didn’t want to specify it since it’s still rather new and don’t want people who might only be in say Chapter 2 knowing a boss that they’ll come up and potentially be upset with spoilers. The exact game wasn’t important to the blog post as much as the bosses in it.

  6. Late for this discussion, but I think a workable approach for a “devouring” boss is to combine two of the approaches you mentioned:

    Have the boss threaten to eat a character temporarily (removing that character for the rest of the fight), BUT allow the player to manipulate the battle to stop it from succeeding. This eliminates the sudden jarring halt of a game over, while posing a credible threat that could upset the balance of the fight.

    Players are incentivized to use strategy to stop this from happening, but if they fail, it doesn’t end their game; they can still come back from it.

    1. That’s certainly something to consider, and I’ve seen some bosses that do kinda pull that off like one in FF5 where you were fighting a portal that would try to send your party members to another dimension, the trick was though it only worked if they were dragged all the way across the screen to it and they would only move towards it while they were dead. What made the boss even more interesting is that when your entire party was alive it was very powerful so keeping your entire party alive was nearly impossible, but keeping 3/4 members alive was pretty easy, so you could utilize this and sorta let him drag 1 party member closer while the other 3 beat on him, then revive that party member so that he’ll drag a different one instead.

      Though since we’re using RPG maker I have a few concerns about trying to make a boss like that. We’re very limited in terms of the tools that we can give players to truly control the battle… Next time a boss that should have the ‘ability’ to remove a party member from battle comes up I’ll see if I can put together a creative way to get it done.

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