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The difficulty spike: how would you address this situation?

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Moog
I'm running a test after having changed some of the commands, and I'm hitting an immense difficulty spike at the Esper Defense in Narshe (right after the scenario split).  I found myself spamming tonics between fights (each heals 25% in my hack) and several times I had a party wipe out, forcing me to quickly heal them and run them back into the battle.


I'm especially concerned because the Esper Defense battle poses a threat as a soft-lock; there's no way to leave Narshe and build some experience before attempting the fight again, and depending on the last scenario you beat you might not even have access to a shop to buy more gear.

As currently implemented, Gau is the most powerful character during the battle and Edgar is the weakest (his new cover command not serving much purpose but to kill him from the heavy strikes of the enemies, unless you park him in the back row... he was much more useful on the train).  The only characters with multi-enemy strikes are Terra and Celes (and maybe Gau), whereas the fights are designed with strike-all in mind.  So... how do I change the fight to make it more easily beatable?  Or rather, how would YOU change the fight?

What?! The Nerf Bat
I could reduce the battle power of the enemies to 75% or 60%, so that they're not hitting for 100+ damage each attack.  I'm not sure how much this would help... it might keep the dogs from one-shotting characters that aren't fully healed.
Alternatively, I could remove an entity or two from certain formations so that they don't get as many attacks on the party before defeat.

Wink The Buff Stick
I could give Edgar a Bracer (permanent Protect status) relic on recruitment.  Protect almost halves physical damage, and while a relic like that wouldn't normally be available it could make the difference with careful planning.  Alternatively, I could put it on the Coronet he starts with.  Unfortunately, this doesn't help with the soft-lock situation because it could easily be sold before the event.

Confused The New Contender
I could try to make an event tweak to add Mog to the player party for the event, and then remove him again.  He's set to a high level average and he's got natural magic in the hack, so it would evenly balance the three parties.  The trouble is making room in the event code to make that change; it's probably only a couple hex bytes to add him and a couple more to remove him, but the last time I did something like that I had to completely change the cinematic motion of the Falcon to make room... and that was just a palette swap.

Anyway, what would you do to smooth out something like this?
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#2
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Vanish
Those are definitely some points to consider, but I'll start off by saying that in the worst case scenario, the player can avoid softlocks by just simply dodging every soldier, because it is possible unless you messed with that for some reason. Naturally, that's a terrible fallback, but it is a fallback nonetheless. In response to your three ideas:

1. Personally, I find RPGs are better when the difficulty is beyond simply high stats. Ideally, if high stats are present, they can be overcome by hard counters(such as, say, Image, as a relevant example). If you've given no options this early because, well, it is early in the game, then stats that are too high to overcome are obnoxious. If it's not in the cards to add things that would hard counter physicals(such as a couple sparse pieces of good armor that heavily reduce the damage dealt to a single character when stacked, a Rage that uses Image/Vanish, a Mirage Vest type thing for Locke), then reducing enemy stats is something definitely worth considering. RPGs like Dragon Quest 1 show their age in part because enemies scale in difficulty simply by doing "damage, but more" with not too much to reduce it, and this should be avoided. It's hard to offer more specific advice without a detailed look at everything the player must have access to(mandatory/obvious pickups), as well as what the player can have access to(secrets, optional things in shops, etc.)

2. Buffing Edgar in particular is an option I instinctively shy away from. It will have a butterfly effect down the road, and may potentially make him overpowered later. It's not something you can change in a vacuum as easily as the enemies here, which only appear here(I assume). It also runs the risk of making "an intended solution" in that if Edgar is buffed explicitly to counter these enemies, it becomes necessary to use him in a certain way if the buffs must be extreme to allow him to contribute. If Edgar ends up being the weak link in many other areas of the game(especially areas he's mandatory for, such as early WoR), then this becomes a more defensible option as it will adjust his viability more naturally instead of just disproportionately making him useful for one specific area/task.

3. This runs a similar risk to 2. in that if Mog becomes necessary to add to make the segment viable, he becomes necessary to use and thus the number of viable options to beat the segment becomes smaller. I understand that he's basically just an extra character and not a solution to the puzzle in this case, but if his strengths happen to be "just perfect" for the segment, it makes him disproportionately likely to be used and this is probably a downside.

With that in mind, I'll propose an option 4:

4. Add some tools in other chests that allow players to deal with the more powerful physical attacks that are thrown at the player. I recognize I'm making this suggestion rather lightly without knowledge of how the rest of the game is balanced or what effect that will have, but one advantage you have at this point in the game is having the three scenarios. It may be that each scenario has a couple pieces of gear that make things easier, but the true value doesn't become apparent until you start to get them all. A decent example is armor. As a hilariously oversimplified example, if the average defense is 150, and each notable piece of armor grants 20 defense over the average, then the first piece of armor which changes defense from 150->170 will reduce damage by ~20%, and then the next piece which changes defense from 170->190 will decrease damage by ~25%, and the third one(190->210) would reduce by 33%. Each piece of armor does comparatively more than the last, and thus the accumulation across the scenarios would allow for better combinations when the parties finally reunite(a similar argument applies to equipment increasing damage for the sake of one-shotting enemies, for example). It doesn't stop at gear either, as you could have additional ways to apply Safe, Image, Vanish, etc. instead, and these could be gathered throughout the game.

All that being said, it's definitely possible you may reject this solution straight away based on the balancing of the rest of the game, and that's fine. If there's a lack of purpose to parts of the early game, then this could be a useful cause to point them towards.

TL; DR: Options 1 and 4 are advisable in my opinion, option 2 could be done as long as it's done carefully, and option 3 is probably my least favourite option of the group.


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  • C-Dude (09-14-2019)

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Nattak\'d
Adding Mog is a good and fun idea, I went that route as well as adding Shadow so each party could have three people, and it really does help that whole battle a lot, allowing for the enemies to be tougher, or rather not basically forcing the player to rely on having an uber party of four. It is pretty straightforward event coding, a bit more than a couple bytes though. And depending on how you do it, you'd need to account for Mog's sprite possibly needing to do a pose like the other characters right after Banon says "They're coming!", if he is the leader of one of the parties. And a bit more challenging to have him there as a selectable sprite that you can change to and equip like the others, before the battle. I highly doubt you could fit this inline with the already existing event code, but if your ROM is expanded than this shouldn't be an issue to jump to free space.


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  • C-Dude (09-14-2019)

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Moog
I considered what you both said, and decided to try adding Mog first.  I spent a bunch of time futzing with the event code for the battle and finally got something functional within the existing event space.  Basically, I set two event bits true for the battle (Mog is found, Mog is current member of the party) so that he'd appear in the character selection screen.  I then turned those bits back off in the Esper cutscene that followed.  In doing so, I didn't have to nerf the enemies or buff any of the characters.  It's amazing what another party member does for the fight, even just as an extra body to take hits.  It even makes Edgar more powerful; with an extra body to soak damage his Cover ability is more effective.  The fight went from arduous to taxing but beatable, which is what I was going for.

I had gotten Mog to do a pose after Banon's quote, but for some reason the game would soft-lock if Mog was in a party and there were team members not selected.  When I removed all the 'ready' poses from the start of the fight, this soft-lock vanished, so I'm guessing I hadn't set his actor up correct or a pointer was going to the wrong spot.  I did use some free event space to give him dialogue during the fight, though it's just "Kupo-po!".

Likewise, for the "Terra takes flight" sequence, I deleted maybe four of her 'random flight' animations to make room for Mog removal and cleanup.  It's the same move I applied to the Falcon in the World of Ruin to change Character 09's palette to and from 01 during the tomb flashbacks.  Now Terra circles the globe before settling near Triangle Island (or if you prefer to interpret it differently, she's flying towards Crescent Mountain).  Since her flight starts with a listless soar to the west, the scenario is still valid and the player is free to fill in more flight shenanigans with their imagination (burning the house in Kohlingen, flying past Jidoor, landing in Zozo, etc.  It's not like Vanilla depicted any of that anyway, the sequence was pretty random as it was.)

With regards to Cecil's concerns, Mog isn't a solve-all mega character during the fight.  He's got Bolt magic, which is effective against armored opponents, but neither of the dances he knows by the end of the fight are particularly useful for the Esper defense (although CaveJun has Autocrossbow... if you get lucky enough to have it trigger).  His real advantage is that he's got a morningstar, which is a maneater weapon.  The player doesn't get the opportunity to equip him in advance (didn't have room or insanity to try to arrange THAT!), which is okay because he must have wandered out of the mines at the sound of the ruckus and not had time to prepare.  Additionally, being that his presence is completely optional (you don't have to put him in a party), challenge players are free to exclude him from the team if they so desire.

Anyway, thank you both for the input.  I may have lost a night's sleep over this (and I may have to do another full playthrough once this test run is done to make sure my event meddling didn't break anything), but at least the difficulty spike has been addressed!
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