So, I'm playing Suikoden 3 again. I remember loving this game to death despite several frustrations because of the ultimate twist of who The Masked Bishop is and the whole plot surrounding his actions.
I'm not playing it just becaus eI loved the game before. I'm actually playing it because my girlfriend knows nothing about the Suikoden series and I've already played 1 and 2 recently to try and showcase to her some neat story arcs for so many cool characters that travel between the games and the concordant eras.
Thinking back on my recent experience with Suikoden 2, I feel the need to reflect on several things that bother me with RPGs in general in the past and present, Suikoden 2 included.
Penalizing RPG players in some games is something that bothers me. By penalizing, I mean making a more difficult road for the player who is more interested in story than leveling. Now don't get me wrong, I am an avid supporter of difficult scenarios in RPGs, provided that they are handled well and good. I'm more specifically calling out the concept in RPGs where there is a need to level lots of players that one doesn't really care about to help achieve an ultimate goal.
In Suikoden 2, when it comes time to take out Luca Blight, he's not the easiest boss in the world. You get three squads who get the luxury of trying to take him out. The first two squads are only present to try and whittle away segments of his HP, I believe. The last squad has to deal with whatever is left on him when he reaches them. The problem is...over half of the game up to this point is spent with several mandatory characters in your party, at least one of whom isn't even very good (I'M CALLING YOU OUT, NANAMI.), and the ones that are good are split amongst the squads anyway!
I believe that leveling is a necessity in RPGs in the sense that it feels good to know your characters are more empowered, capable of doing more damage, taking more damage, casting more spells, and the like. However, I'm a story whore at heart. I don't want to spend extra time leveling other characters that I don't care about while I'm already enjoying a good story (or in the case of Suikoden 2, a good story with terrible Engrish). This kind of function serves to aggravate me, because I'm forced to throw in whatever fodder I can find and hope that the few characters that I brought along at various points are strong enough to dish out the necessary punishment to survive.
Nanami is the worst example here, as she is integral to the storyline, but not overly useful in the long run...so she's essentially filling a slot I'd like to place someone more powerful (or at least more interesting...her anime-esque actions are appealing for a short while, but it gets old quickly...for me at least) into and simply cannot. And of course, for those of you that have played it, you know what happens at Rockaxe Castle later in the game anyway.
Final Fantasy 6 (3, whatever...take your pick) is just as guilty in penalizing the player. The invasion on Kefka gives you three parties to split your formations into for the raid and if you play like I do (and maybe that's all this rant is...my own personal distaste with the way these are handled), you've got several powerhouses that comprise your main force and then a few strong characters and the rest are cannon fodder. Commence with running from every fight possible in hopes that I survive to the final fight and setup my squads properly!
FF6/3 at least handles this slightly better than Suikoden 2, in that all the non-optional characters more or less get some facetime to get SOME leveling in. This means that more than likely, two of my parties won't have too much trouble getting through that final raid, but one party is going to hightail it all the way to the end.
FF7 also doesn't face the Nanami issue, as nearly all characters can be switched around most of the time and the expendable character is never mandatory anyway.
Some games do make up for the frequent party changes by at least adjusting levels to match or come close to your own when these types of things happen. I do applaud that.
Does anyone else feel like I do about this sort of thing? Or maybe someone can list some examples of where mandatory multiple squads or party slot-filling is actually done well? Maybe I'm just bitching too much? I'll stay tuned.