Thinking about RPG parties

I’ve been thinking about JRPG game design lately. It’s one of those topics where, when you google for opinions, you run into superficial criticism before you run into anything worthwhile. Sad!

Anyway, I was thinking about JRPG parties in particular. There are three types:

  1. Fixed party that stays the same throughout the story
  2. Fixed party where characters join or leave according to the plot
  3. Party you can choose freely from a (more or less large) roster of characters.

I am not sure what I prefer. Well, that’s a lie, I don’t think I’m overly fond of the second type. I don’t want to lose a character that I’ve levelled up and equipped with nice weapons just because the game demands it! And worst case scenario, it’ll be like Grandia and I’ll be stuck with a damn annoying bunny while the cool characters have better things to do than hang out with me!!

I like having a number of characters to pick from. Narratively, this creates the problem of “But if you’re a group of 14, why is it that only four of you ever take on an important battle by themselves?”

Chrono Trigger found a decent in-universe answer for this. Chrono Trigger does something else really well, I think: Aside from the initial trio of Crono, Lucca and Marle, there is one party member from each time era. That’s good because I think that every party member ought to bring a unique experience to the table. That’s why Final Fantasy VIII‘s cast was kind of blah. It’s not just that they were all 17/18 years old – they all belongd to the same organization and grew up in the same orphanage. Usually, I’d hope to see characters who provide new perspectives on the plot, who have ties to different towns or people. Who have obviously lived different lives and each represent a different part of the world. Really, the “rag-tag group of adventurers” isn’t just fun because it’s a classic trope. It’s fun because it’s the best way to access the depth of the game’s setting.


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