So, you want to create your own fantasy world in a role-playing game, eh? Well, you don’t really have to dig very deep for a never-before-seen premise or an innovative gameplay that would blow people’s minds when developing an RPG. It’s perfectly acceptable to follow the same blueprint used by other RPGs which has remained constant throughout the years. It’s the same blueprint RPG staples like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and The Elder Scrolls have been using since their inception. So feel free to take an already existing idea and put your own creative spin to it to create something more unique. If you feel you’re up to the task, here are 6 tips when developing your own epic RPG adventure.
1. Settle on a “style” before anything else
RPGs are typically divided into two categories: Western RPG (WRPG) and Japanese RPG (JRPG). Both are distinctive and unique in their own right. First order of business is to decide which style you want to jump into. WRPGs are more action-oriented and are typically set in an open world where players can do whatever the hell they want. Usually, WRPGs only feature one main playable character, which is your in-game avatar.
JRPGs, meanwhile, are more story-focused, with more developed characters, and often feature anime-like visuals. They also have a very linear game progression in a map-based world and are usually marked by a more “boring” turn-based battle system. Of the two, JRPGs are more suited for mobile phones and tablets because the gameplay usually involves a lot of menu navigation, hence the “boring” reputation.
2. Have an interesting cast of characters
The story in an RPG is primarily told through character interactions between both playable characters and non-playable characters (NPC). So it’s crucial that you invest a lot of time in writing the dialogs and texts in the game. Don’t churn out half-assed dialogs just for the sake of filling up dialog boxes. The story must have a flow and not just randomly put players in a situation that doesn’t have anything to do with the previous situation. Players will end up getting confused.
You don’t necessarily have to go Lord of the Rings-like in terms of story. Just enough to keep players engaged. It’s important to create well-developed main characters as well, especially in a JRPG. Players will spend the rest of the game following these characters, so they need to be interested in whoever they’re adventuring with. In a WRPG, which isn’t as focused on character development and storytelling, you can simply mute your main character and just rely on non-playable characters to advance the story.
3. Experiment with the battle system and character progression
This is the area where RPGs usually differ. In regard to the battle system, your goal is to create something that doesn’t easily go stale after just a number of battles. Players will spend a lot of time on fighting battles in an RPG, so the battle system shouldn’t be a snore-fest. You could add a system that makes use of touchscreen gestures to produce special attacks or spells similar to Monster Mountain. You could include limited-time unique powerful attacks similar to “Limit Breaks” in the Final Fantasy games, where each character activates their super-move in a different way. Or you could make a combat system in which the number of moves that can be executed is limited, which would require more strategy.
The same thing applies to character progression: go beyond the typical leveling system present in most RPGs. You can mix-and-match elements from other RPGs if you want. You could also do away with the leveling system altogether and put a system in which characters don’t rely on experience points to grow stronger. Feel free to experiment with character progression and customization and don’t be afraid to break away from the norm. But remember to keep things balanced. You don’t want your system to be exploitable, which could easily break the game.
4. Don’t turn grinding into an absolute necessity
RPGs usually require players to do a bit of grinding just to catch up to enemy levels in a new area. However, it’s a different thing when the game actually mandates that players be at absurd levels before they could move on to the next area or take on an upcoming boss. And by “absurd,” we mean levels that would require players to go through a two- or three-hour grind just to get characters into shape. Those who love to grind in RPGs would get a kick out of that. But for casuals, it would be too much. Keep the difficulty curve well-balanced and fair. Unless, of course, you’re aiming to produce an RPG that’s on the level of Dark Souls.
5. Include side-quests (and mini-games, too)
Side-quests are staples in RPGs. There aren’t many RPGs that don’t feature side-quests which allow players to take a break from all the seriousness in the game and simply spend time hunting monsters, collecting rare items, and generally grinding away without worrying about the storyline. They’re good for extending the longevity of the game, too. You can make elaborate side-quests if you want, where one side-quest gives birth to another side-quest – a series of side-quests, in short.
Optional bosses, which are usually a lot more difficult than storyline bosses, can also make as good side-quests. Just plop them at the bottom of the darkest dungeon and program them to ambush anyone who dares come near. If you want side-quests to be more enticing, make the rewards more, well, rewarding. Like a weapon that can make the next boss laughably easier or an item that can make traveling around the map faster.
6. Add replay value
If you want players to continue playing your game after the credits have rolled, you need to give them an incentive that would be hard to refuse. The easiest of which – and the most common in RPGs – is adding multiple endings where the outcome is dependent on the player’s actions during the game. You can go the typical three-way route which consists of a Bad Ending, a Good Ending or Normal Ending, and a “Best” Ending. If you want, you can go crazy with the number of endings and include a dozen or more, Chrono Trigger style.
Another way to add replay value is to include playable characters that can be missed if certain conditions are not met – optional characters, in other words. Furthermore, you can create a character branch-off where players can choose between two or more characters to join the party and the ones they don’t choose would be unavailable for the remainder of the current play-through. You can also include the so-called “New Game Plus,” a feature which transfers all the game data from the previous play-through to a new play-through, giving players full power right at the beginning. Actually, a New Game Plus feature is recommended when adding multiple endings and/or characters that can be missed.
Do note that if you’re a bit short in budget and resources, it would be impossible to heavily focus on all these things. So, if you’re in a situation where you can only focus on one or two aspects, you can follow this priority order: story/characters à combat system à side-quests/mini-games à replay value/New Game Plus. And in terms of the game’s visuals, well, it also depends on which style you choose: usually, 3D for WRPG and 2D for JRPG.