(Hey all, sorry for no blog post last week, it was Canada Day and I straight up took the day completely off. This week’s blog post is from Conash, please enjoy! -NM)
Hey everyone! So listen, I know that I still need to detail what all went into the Yamamaya revamp, but I recently got thinking about one of these little game design things that’s crossed my mind and I really wanted to get into it. This time, I want to talk about how easy it is to make Attack and Magic be the same stat, and how some games avoid that.
Now, obviously Attack and Magic aren’t the exact same stat, but when it comes to RPGs it can be very easy to make them to functionally be a universal ‘offense’ stat. Let’s take Harem Collector for example, if let’s say you were fighting an enemy that was designed specifically to reduce your primary attacking stat, it’d look at what character it was focusing on and either inflict ‘Attack down’ or ‘Magic down’ on them based on who it was. Compare this enemy to an enemy that instead of analyzing who it’s targetting instead just inflicts both, and consider what’s different? Well for mages they’ll have their attack stat reduced, for Felix this might pose some notice because you might have just switched to physical attacks instead of magic attacks, but for the other mages your attack stat is already so low that if your magic is reduced to the point that your attack is the better option, you’d rather just use an item to heal, buff your magic, or guard instead of attacking. Now what about your physical fighters? Well Raina and Bronwyn might laugh at this enemy as they have ways to convert their defense or agility into damage respectfully, but only Therese and Doll would really be able to turn to their magic stat for damage in the first case but both of these characters have the option to turn to either tanking or support so even then they’re not facing a huge impact. Functionally speaking, reducing attack and magic is no different than just reducing whichever is more important to any given character except in a few cases (such as after a certain love quest), and because of this a character only ever has ‘one’ offensive stat, even the rare skill that uses both magic and attack splits it’s usage of them to emulate it as if it only used one of the two rather than both.
Contrast this to say defense and resist, these are two different stats that the player will expect both of them to be useful at different times as you’ll be fighting enemies that have physical attacks and enemies that have magic attacks, but your mages only have magic based skills and your fighters only have attack based skills with a few exceptions. If you had the option to trade out any amount of Kyrie’s attack stat for a boost in her magic stat I bet each of you would trade that out whether it was 1:1 or even 50:1 to whatever extent you could. Whenever you’re thinking of designing an RPG though, it can be difficult to see ways to avoid this problem since this is just the nature of having stats that exist only to be ‘offense’, you could make skills that use both but you still have to reign them in to be about as effective as if the player only used one or else you’d break the balance of the game, but I’ve come across a few games that I think do a good job at helping make ‘magic’ and ‘attack’ serve roles to keep them both important to everyone, to one extent or another.
The first example that I want to bring up is Pokemon. After generation 1, the ‘Attack’ and ‘Special Attack’ stats would seem to fall into the problem as I described it, but when you really start getting into the grit and depth of the pokemon combat system it really doesn’t. Now, for those of you who haven’t gotten into it, pokemon actually has a rather complex and nuanced foundation to it’s combat, even if I may have quite a few complaints about it, but the reason that Attack and Special Attack are functionally different is that when you start getting into challenge runs of pokemon you’ll find that targetting the weaker defense of a pokemon can go a very long way, even if the move is resisted and only doing 1/2 damage, when you get to extreme disparities between defense and special defense like say Onix the ability to target the weaker defense is a huge game-changer, on top of that with the huge variety of moves that every pokemon can theoretically learn (which is made manageable by the limit of moves they can actually know) there’s almost never a pokemon who can never make use of either their attack or special attack, though there are some cases where one of these stats is so low it’s basically non-existent. The freedom to mobilize both of these stats with a variety of moves combined with how at times a pokemon’s defense may be 4x or more than their special defense creates opportunities where, at least in certain challenge runs, being able to make use of your weaker ‘offensive’ stat opens up entirely new strategies and considerations, and a skill that reduced or raised the attack and special attack stat of a pokemon by two stages would be pretty busted, even when there already exist stats which can raise one of those two by two stages or can raise both of them by one already.
Another example of a game that helps keep both the ‘Attack’ and ‘Magic Attack’ stats from effectively becoming a single ‘Offense’ stat would be the ‘Tales of’ series, though I’m going to be talking about ‘Tales of Symphonia’ specifically here. See, this is another example that at first glance would appear similar to Harem Collector, as your ‘Attack’ and ‘Intelligence’ are seperate stats, Lloyd for example doesn’t have any spells and if you plan to fight only Melee as Genis you’re in for a bad time, but both of these stats are still useful to both of them. See, something the game doesn’t explain is that your ‘Intelligence’ serves a double purpose as both your magic attack and your magic defense in this game (much like generation 1 pokemon, but this causes huge balance issues there which is why I didn’t want to focus on it), and while you can help make up for his lower magic defense both by getting equipment that resists the elements you’ll face or by buffing his sizable HP pool so that he can take a hit, you’re going to be hit by spells at all but the highest level of play, which is a big reason I really like the ‘Boorish General’ title for Lloyd as one of the only ways to boost his Intelligence even if it’s not by a lot (at least until I get the ‘Berserker’ Title that gives comparatively huge HP and Attack boosts), because even if he has no way to use his intelligence to inflict damage it still helps keep him alive. As for why attack is useful for Genis, this comes into play in two parts, firstly if you don’t rely heavily on your item bag you’re going to need to use physical attacks to regain TP to use for spells at time which means that you can reasonably expect to get some use out of your attack, but the bigger use it has plays into staying alive. See, one of the best ways to avoid staying alive when you do challenge runs in any ‘Tales of’ game is that you need to keep the enemy staggered, when they’re staggered you’re doing damage and they can’t attack back, and while there are a lot of nuances to this system there are at least some ‘Tales of’ games that make enemies immune to staggers from physical hits unless you do enough damage, meaning that if your attack stat is so low that you’re only doing 1 damage then you can never stagger an enemy, allowing them to attack you in the middle of a combo with impunity, when you combine these two facts together it means that if your attack stat is ‘1’ on a pure mage if you ever try to use physical attacks to regain TP you might as well be standing in front of them doing nothing because they can basically kill you with a combo or two before you can get enough TP for a spell. There are other things that also play into this balance too though, such as magic instantly cancelling the guard of the target stopping enemies from guarding infinitely until you’re vulnerable, you can get out many physical attacks in the time it takes to get off one spell allowing you to prevent your enemies from doing more damage with physical attacks, magic attacks can hit bigger areas to hit multiple enemies, while physical attacks have an easier time pushing enemies into the position you want them to be at. All of these things play together to create a situation where not only do all party members benefit from both ‘Attack’ and ‘Intelligence’ (though most characters benefit more from one than the other) but also a situation where you almost never want to only have physical attackers or only have mages as these stats feel like they fill distinct purposes.
So yeah, sorry if this got rather long, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as if I think that Harem Collector does a ‘bad’ job with core gameplay, take this as just some analysis of fun ‘quirks’ that I noticed with how the math, gameplay design, and player behavior all mix together to create situations where in some games inflicting an attack and magic attack debuff feels no different than if you only had one inflicted based off of some huge process where the game goes in and determines which is more important and only inflicts that one. One more thing to also point out I guess is that even when in say ‘Tales of Symphonia’ where you get characters like Kratos who can make good use out of both spells and physical skills, allowing such characters to have attack similar to Lloyd and Intelligence similar to Genis isn’t always a bad thing, because they can only ever invest any given second or point of TP into one or the other, effectively making the other stat ‘useless’ for that given resource analysis, the limitations then should be about how the value of being able to go from 2 melee units and 2 casters to 1 melee unit and 3 casters in the middle of the battle influences how likely you are to bring them over a character who can only fill one role, if when they do can only do half as much damage as Lloyd or Genis chances are the players will instead pass them up to take a character who is always at 100% instead of always at 50%.