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Game Mechanics Gone Wrong

In most games, the player controls a single character whom the entire game revolves around. In Doom, for instance, you are the Marine, battling your way through the assembled hordes of Hell (on Mars!). Now, when you get your head blown off by a cyberdemon, the game is over. This makes sense; unless one of those pink dudes has a change of heart and drops a health pack on you, you probably aren't getting up any time soon. When Link falls in battle, unless he's got a captive fairy in his pockets, it's the end of the line. This pattern holds true for most action/adventure games you can think of.

I hope one of them is bringing me a power-up.

RPGs, on the other hand, are usually a different kind of setup. Sometimes you, as the player, don't exist in-game in any physical sense, but instead are left managing an entire party. In the Wizardry series, none of your party members are actually supposed to be your in-game representation, with you instead serving as an all-seeing puppetmaster of your motley crew. Other RPGs go the route of having you serve as the lead character, making decisions for that individual alone, keeping the other party members as separate entities. The nice thing here is that you always have back-up; in Dragon Quest VIII, when Whateveryounamedthemaindude gets cut down in battle, someone else in the party is there to pick up the slack, toss a potion on you, and keep things moving. This also makes sense; having friends and allies around means that someone is watching out for you. The world doesn't end just because Lead Character #1 got smacked in the face with the business end of an ogre's mace.

Except, sometimes it does.

Some games make the bold decision to tie everything in the game to a single character; when that guy drops, it's game over. This decision, while (as previously mentioned) bold, is also utterly infuriating in almost every single case. I've been playing two games recently that abide by this particular gameplay mechanic, but I'm going to focus on Persona 3.

Persona 3 is a fantastic game; great story, great characters, all sorts of other great things except for this one glaring flaw. You, as the player, control Unnamed Main Character (UMC) as he makes his way through the world. You choose what he says, how he acts, and whether he decides that Kenji is a whiny bitch and needs to stop calling him. This of course serves to bring the player more deeply into the game, basically putting them inside the action, represented by a spindly Japanese teen.

Where it starts to backfire is in the combat. As you fight your way through Tartarus, you can spend hour after hour watching your teammates get cut to ribbons, then promptly tossing a Revival Pill on them to get them back up and running. If, however, UMC takes a hit that takes him past 0, it's game over. End of story. Goodbye last half-hour of play you spent gaining levels.

What is so bloody annoying about this is that it makes absolutely no sense. Within the context of the game, it is clearly established that death/unconsciousness can be cured by a handy-dandy pill, but apparently all of your teammates are too dumb to use one on you. Perhaps they are too overwhelmed by tears at your passing to think in logical terms. Now, in combat, you only control your own character directly; your teammates are all controlled by AI. I understand that perhaps it was the design decision to say, "well, the player doesn't have control anymore, so they lose." I understand it, but I don't agree with it. If your teammate AI is so clever, I think it could be programmed to toss some help your way in the event of unconsciousness. Ok, so maybe once in a rare while you fall in combat and you have no revive pills and no one who can cast a revival spell; fine, in that case, I can accept a game over. But, seriously, the rest of the time? Hogwash.

He's got a frowny-face because he just realized all his friends are morons.

What is double-extra infuriating about this setup in Persona is the fact that sometimes you can be completely wiped out without even getting a chance to save yourself. Enemies wander the map, and as you approach them, you get a chance to initiate a first strike with a well-timed whack of your sword. If you mistime it, though, the enemies will get a first strike. Now, if that happens, and you happen to have the wrong Persona equipped to deal with whatever enemy it is (you can't tell ahead of time), they may perform an attack that you are weak to. That causes your character to be knocked down and miss his turn. And, since the AI controls your teammates, they have to decide whether to assist you back to your feet on their own. But, since you didn't get a turn to act, you didn't get a chance to set them to Support, so they probably won't! They'll just keep happily attacking as you lay writhing on the floor. So, you stand up and miss your turn, and then the enemy does the same thing again! I have had this happen numerous times, just sitting and watching round after round go by as no one helps me, with no ability to give them new orders, ultimately dying, usually costing me any progress I had made during the last hour. That is not good game design: that is punishment.

Anyone else shared these frustrations in Persona or any other games of similar ilk?
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About ZargonXone of us since 2:37 PM on 10.19.2007

Since the day my daddy handed me an Intellevision, I was set on the path of the gamer. I've got a special home for gamers with history that you can check out right now: Spectacle Rock
Mii code:[email protected]


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