Better Bubbles

My wife’s favorite RPG is FFIX. Which I have never played. Because I don’t like where Final Fantasy went from VII onward. For most people these days, the 6 to 7 border is where Final Fantasy began; for me it’s where it ended.

Turns out 9 is a callback to the pre-FFVII world. So now I have to give it a try for research purposes.

I’m not trying to make a Final Fantasy. I am not a huge fan of that series, even before 7. But I am a huge fan of Chrono Trigger and Mario RPG, both of which owe a debt of gratitude to Final Fantasy, and I especially love Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga and Paper Mario, which grew out of Mario RPG.

If my bubbles make you think of the Final Fantasy ATB, you aren’t far off. I have both a fondness for and a problem with the ATB.

My problem with the ATB is it’s mostly window dressing. Sure, it visually shows you how differences in speed (and effects like haste) affect your turn order, but you could just math out who moves next and immediately jump to their move. Waiting for the ATB to fill is slow (I hear especially in in FFIX, of all things).

Now, this is mitigated in Chrono Trigger by combo attacks because combo attacks give you a reason to choose to wait longer than necessary. You may want to wait for two characters to both become ready so they can combo. If an enemy attacks while you are waiting, that enemy’s action may change the situation so that you change your mind and decide to move immediately (e.g. to use a healing spell or item). This may still be easily mathed and abstracted out (just give each character a “Pass” option, and then the moment someone else moves it’s their turn again), but the abstraction is at least as annoying as waiting for the ATB to fill.

If you add timed commands, including timed defenses, ala Mario RPG/Paper Mario, and the Fighting Game inspired system of indie hit Indivisible, the timing and slowness of the ATB takes on a more tactical feel. You aren’t just waiting for your ATB to fill up; you are watching for an enemy to attack so you can defend yourself.

This I plan to do. But you’ll note in place of a bar I have several bubbles.

What I’ve done is slipped in shades of the Bravely/Default system. Not really, since I’ve never played Bravely Default and I came up with this system independently, but from what I’ve read it’s effectively the same thing. And I should play Bravely Default for research purposes. (And FFIX and Octopath, but all things in due course).

Your character can act any time any one of his bubbles is full. However, some actions cost more than one bubble. Moreover, you are allowed to go into negative, so if you want, you can use a big attack that costs 4 Action Points even though you’ve only got 1 Action Point filled, but if you do you are going to have to wait then for those negative Action Points to empty out before a positive one will permit you to act again. Now, waiting for your bubbles to fill is an active choice. A choice to avoid debt, or to attack twice rapidly in succession. Or you can pick an attack the moment your hero has a single point charged and try to get the first strike. You can pick a cheap attack so you won’t leave yourself open, or an expensive and hard-hitting one in hopes of ending the battle quickly.

I think it’s a good system. And it’s all been done before. But to my knowledge it hasn’t been done together before. At present, my plan is to make a prototype that uses this system in December and test it in January. If all goes well, it’ll turn into an RPG set in the world of one of my fellow indie creators, with my first choice being Adam Smith’s Deus Vult Wastelanders world. If none of the indie authors with whom I am friendly like it, I can easily adapt one of my own stories and settings to the system. Hat Trick is a likely candidate.

And, hey, you should buy Hat Trick now. It’s a fun little yarn.

Update: HP Counter is coded.

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