In my last design post, I outlined how PMDiscord’s battles switch between a close-and-personal, ‘Engaged’ state and a far-away, ‘Retreated’ state. If you’ve ever looked at Pokken Tournament, it plays out something like that… Actually, it’s a whole lot like that. Just picture several monsters on a field throwing all kinds of projectiles at each other, with one or two mini-duels happening in the middle. It’s a little chaotic, but probably no more hectic than the last Monster House you ran into. On the subject of things people loved about Mystery Dungeon games, here I’m going to discuss a few more places where I disagreed with how Mystery Dungeon handled its combat, and how PMDiscord tries to improve upon it.
Branching off from what was said before, the Engaged combat was mostly finalized at this point. When two monsters are Engaged, it plays like a typical trainer battle, while any monsters outside are free to do their own thing. It works seamlessly while keeping most of the old-timey feel, that much seemed perfect to me. With this out of the way, there was just two hurdles left to cover, and the first was that ‘Ranged’, or ‘Retreated’ combat was… rather bland in comparison. If no-one chose to Engage, everyone would be free to attack anyone at any time, without much in the way of countering or strategy. Both sides would just hurl attacks at the highest-priority targets until one was left standing. A lot like how the original Mystery Dungeon games are, in fact. There were no really interesting choices to make there, which is something I considered a flaw in the games that PMDiscord is inspired by. So I set about brainstorming on a few ways to make these battle decisions more interesting.
To solve this first issue, a ‘Guarding’ mechanic was introduced to the game. In the vein of other popular JRPGs, a monster can step in front or behind one of its Retreated allies, preventing it from being targeted. They’ll stop Guarding if they Engage with the opponent, or if the monster they’re Guarding moves out to attack. Now, I didn’t like how I had to include another new rule here. Simplicity is one of Mystery Dungeon’s appeals after all, whereas this change is more likely to appeal to more hardcore RPG fans; this is something to keep well aware of. But in the end, I liked its function enough to keep it in. It does the important task of completing a little ‘combat triangle’ of sorts: Retreating protects from Engaged monsters, Guarding protects from Retreated monsters, and Engaging shuts down Guarded monsters. All of these choices have their own risks and costs associated with them, and that (in theory) should help make the battles and their states more dynamic and interesting.
The second hurdle, was that I wanted PMDiscord to retain some of what made competitive battling fun in the main series games — namely, the element of predicting what your opponent will do. A large part of what decides a Trainer Battle is thinking ahead, timing choices correctly, and making use of options when they least expect them. PMDiscord couldn’t copy this perfectly, due to the fact that battles are split into Mystery-Dungeon-styled turns. If a monster used Protect in Mystery Dungeon, for example, you can see it and wait until the status ends. But when a monster uses Protect in the main series, you have no way of knowing what the monster used until it has already blocked your attack. This might just be my opinion, but one of these is far more engaging to deal with than the other. The Mystery Dungeon games could have implemented features like this better, I feel, instead of turning them into stagnating status effects, or in some cases removing their effects entirely. And, well, making Mystery Dungeon better is exactly why PMDiscord exists. To make this game complete, I had to come up with a way to preserve this vital part of the franchise.
The fix for this was a fairly simple one, although there is certainly room for it to be improved. Every time a monster does something which isn’t a direct attack, it is marked as a Hidden Action. This includes Retreating, Guarding, or using any ‘self-buff’ status move (like Protect, Counter or even Swords Dance). The opponent will have no way of knowing what this Hidden Action is, until right after they’ve made decisions on their turn; it gets revealed just before their own attacks happen, which forces them to guess correctly beforehand. While it’s still different from the main titles, which simply make both monsters choose their options on the same turn, I think this is as close as I can get without completely compromising the Mystery Dungeon feel.
There are still a few caveats here at the time of writing, especially when dealing with Priority Moves. But that is a topic which I think I’ll save for a later post. Nonetheless, besides a few game-crashing bugs, PMDiscord’s combat is looking to be in a fairly good state. Fights are dynamic, team roles are fairly well established now, and I’ll be glad to see what people think of it once it’s polished enough for testing. Stay tuned for the next.