Our final element for this article is the concept of no growth. One of the common criticisms of games based on licensed properties is how repetitive or bland the game is. Every level follows the same objectives, fighting armies of the same basic type of enemies, while the player's entire move set consists of a few attack combos.
The challenge of avoiding repetitive gameplay has plagued designers even from the early days of simple arcade titles -- even Pac-Man has multiple mazes and ghosts with different behaviors. PopCap's success with many of its titles is how with every new level, something new is added to change up the gameplay and motivate people to continue playing, such as the unlocking of new plants in Plants vs. Zombies.
Now, you may think that issues with growth only occur in games with simple design, but that's not entirely true. The JRPG genre is known for long hours of playtime with lots of places to explore with the player fighting lots and lots of enemies. There are two examples of unique JRPGs that we're going to look at, and how one succeeded in providing growth where the other failed.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Resonance of Fate are two JRPGs that strayed from the norm. Nocturne can be described as a more adult version of the Pokémon design, using demons as your party members, with the added dynamic of being able to alter the number of actions during each round of combat, if you correctly match attacks with your enemies' weaknesses. Demons can be fused together to create new ones and transfer skills, allowing a dedicated player to create their own personalized dream team.
While the combat system does not change at all throughout the game, the designers keep the game fresh by introducing new demons for the player to collect and experiment with new team combinations. Boss fights are with enemies with unique skills designed to be more of a puzzle than a normal JRPG battle; these test the player's knowledge of the game's mechanics and their party composition. Players can do the standard "grinding" if need be, but most often how well your party is put together and counters the boss determines victory.
Resonance of Fate features a very unique combat system, with different kinds of damage and weapon customization among other concepts -- going into full detail about it would extend this already large article.
Resonance of Fate
The relevant point about Resonance of Fate is that, like Nocturne, the game plays all its cards very early and the player will experience all the mechanics in the game within the first few hours. However, unlike Nocturne, the game does not expand on these -- and players will find themselves doing the same thing from beginning to end. Different enemy types are introduced, but the combat strategy for fighting them is largely interchangeable.
Many RPGs are designed around having at minimum 30 hours of playtime and without any new content or growth, motivating players to continue is a challenge. Contrast casual titles, which are usually designed around short, repetitive play sessions. One distinction is that someone can play a casual game for a long period of time; however the design allows someone to make progress quickly.
Going back to the PopCap example, it gives them the freedom to be able to constantly grow with small deviations to the core game design. Whereas there are a lot more systems and content in an 80 hour RPG, and that makes it harder to figure out where there should be growth without introducing mechanic conflict. Case in point, the now infamous "20 hour tutorial" of Final Fantasy XIII, which must be completed before the game opens up.
While there is no exact science that dictates a good game from a bad game, hopefully this article will help designers avoid the common pitfalls that can drag a game down. While playing great games can be a good time, it can be educational for designers to once in awhile, play a game that they know is bad to see what to avoid when it comes time to create their game.