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The Use of Feedback Loops in Dungeons in Phantom Brave

by Samantha Wheeler on 12/14/18 10:08:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Phantom Brave is a tactical RPG game in the fantasy genre. It was originally released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, but has since been also released for the Wii, the PlayStation Portable, and PC. As a tactical game, the bulk of gameplay in Phantom Brave is centered around character creation, developing new strategies to take on enemies, and improving characters’ statistics and giving players new abilities by taking on side dungeons. In these dungeons, characters can gain experience, equipped items can gain mana, new items can be obtained, and money can be earned, all of which are resources players can use to improve their team of characters. Phantom Brave gives players a large degree of customizability for both characters and items, allowing characters and items to learn almost any attack or ability available in the game despite their class, if players have the time and patience to earn the resources necessary to do so. Continuously challenging dungeons to obtain these resources could easily become tedious and uninteresting to players. Phantom Brave, however, makes use of feedback loops to help break that monotony and to keep players thinking about both what they’re currently doing and what they plan to do next.

    What resources a player earns from a dungeon, and the quantity of resources earned, depend on the difficulty of dungeon challenged. Difficulty is determined by multiple factors, but two of the strongest are the dungeon’s level and title. Dungeons with higher levels and better titles will be more difficult for players. However, neither of these factors are stagnant. In order to enter a dungeon, a player must first buy it, with more difficult dungeons costing more money to buy. Once bought, players can change the title of the dungeon. The titles most dungeons have by default will have little impact on the dungeon’s difficulty. However, by changing a dungeon’s title, characters can make a dungeon more or less difficult, with both options offering different benefits to players. All enemies encountered in the dungeon will have the same title as the dungeon, and their level will be based on the dungeon’s level. A dungeon’s level changes based on the player’s progression through the dungeon and will increase based on multiple factors. The dungeon’s title will also change as the player progresses. Titles alter the statistics of the character they are applied to, but these alterations for the dungeon’s title will improve as players progress, and the title can even earn specific abilities that are given to the character it is applied to. By allowing the dungeon to change based on both the player’s decisions and actions, multiple feedback loops are introduced.

    The level of a dungeon works in both negative and positive feedback loops with the player. The level a dungeon starts out at impacts the types of items found within the dungeon. Dungeons with high levels hold better items, and in most cases this leads to characters earning more experience and leveling up faster. The dungeon’s title has little impact on the experience earned by characters who fight in the dungeon. This gives players the option of buying stronger dungeons and applying weak titles to them. The weak titles will make enemies in the dungeon easier to defeat while still giving characters more experience. Based on experience, dungeon level creates a positive feedback loop. Characters grow stronger more quickly by challenging more difficult dungeons, which prepares characters to take on even stronger dungeons. However, enemies with even the weakest title applied to them can still be too difficult for characters to defeat. This creates a negative feedback loop where, as characters grow stronger and a player takes on higher level dungeons, enemies will be more difficult to defeat. This loop is furthered by the fact that dungeons improve as characters progress through them. Enemies grow to higher levels as players approach the end of a dungeon, meaning that a dungeon that a player can take on easily at the beginning can be too difficult for them to complete at the end. However, higher level dungeons contain another benefit for players. Players have a chance of keeping items they find within dungeons. Since better items are found in higher level dungeons, these items will be more beneficial if a player is able to keep them. These items can be equipped to other players or used to improve other items or characters. This system also exists in a positive feedback loop. As players play through higher level dungeons, they can receive better items to help better their characters and prepare them to take on more difficult dungeons. Lastly, money exists within a negative feedback loop with dungeon level. More difficult dungeons cost more money to buy, and level is one of the strongest factors in a dungeon’s difficulty before it has been affected by the player. It is more beneficial for players to take on stronger dungeons to earn more experience, but they will lose more money in order to do so. 

    The titles that dungeons have also creates multiple feedback loops. One of the most obvious loops is in how dungeon titles change through player progression. As player get further through a dungeon, the dungeon’s title will earn improved alterations in statistics and even new abilities. The title of the dungeon is applied to all enemies found within the dungeon, and these changes apply to enemies as soon as they are made. This creates a negative feedback loop. Enemies improve as players progress, and this can result in scenarios as extreme as a title earning a powerful spell that enemies can immediately use against the player’s characters to defeat them. However, a positive feedback loop is created by this situation as well. When a player defeats a dungeon, they can use the title applied to the dungeon, and the title keeps all the benefits that it gained while the player was in the dungeon. Since players can apply different titles to a dungeon, this gives players the option to improve titles for their own use and use the improved title for their own characters. Titles also correspond to how much money is earned while challenging a dungeon. Players normally earn money as they progress, but the title of the dungeon alters how much money the player earns based on a percentage. Better titles allow players to earn more money, while worse titles take away most of the money the player would’ve earned, or even prevent the player from earning any money at all. This creates a positive feedback loop with the player. The player is rewarded with more money for going through dungeons with stronger titles. Since the player’s earning more money, they will then be able to challenge more dungeons.

    These loops help gameplay become more fun in Phantom Brave and turn the normally monotonous task of grinding levels into a system that allows the player to put more thought and strategy into their actions. There are multiple ways to create and improve a team to become more powerful and strong, and a player’s short and long-term plans affect the way they approach dungeons. Players prioritizing or requiring more experience for their characters will play differently than players trying to make money. The amount of freedom given to players in customizing characters also allows them to benefit from this system, benefitting gameplay overall.

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