Organic grinding- the experience (EXP) the game developers force you to accrue because of thoughtful game design.
Artificial grinding- the experience accrued for no other reason than to lighten the burden on the player or subvert the difficulty spikes.
Motif- A fundamental mechanic of a core environment in an RPG, such as a dungeon, or the overworld. Motifs encompass reoccurring mechanics.
Gimmick- An area-specific mechanic of a core environment. Usually a puzzle or gameplay element exclusive to an area.
Aesthetic- The artistic design of a core environment. This artistic element can contribute to gimmick mechanics.
|Dragon Quest features a traditional|
Overworld in its purest form. Basic,
but possessing terrain obstacles.
We see all kinds of Overworlds reoccurring in JRPGs, but let's identify them in the simplest terms: Our "traditional" Overworld is a large space with miniature representations of towns and dungeons located on the map. Although the JRPG has evolved quite a bit over the years and there are more and more "unconventional" examples in the medium, the traditional design is something that has remained persistent, appearing in classics such as the original Dragon Quest titles, then appearing again in SquareSoft's Final Fantasy series, even up through the fifth generation installments. Games from Bandai Namco's Tales of series also use this design, and it's not hard to understand why. The objective of an RPG is to immerse the player in a fully-realized world, but that's no easy task. It also mitigated the need for different sprites and art assets for the different environments of the game.
|The traditional elements of the Overworld|
continued into the fifth and sixth
generations, albeit with the inclusion
of a minimap for convenience's sake.
This aspect is then expounded upon with the usage of fast-traversal systems, such as the mount, the boat, and the airship. This cycle is so prevalent, it is hard to separate it from the traditional definition of the JRPG (in fact, we might as well coin the phrase "travel cycle"), though mounts are sometimes missing from the equation. It is not unheard of to liken a traditional Overworld to a dungeon, seeing as it usually features some sort of terrain gimmick, but the travel cycle appears to surmount these and by the end of the game, there is rarely any sort of impediment to crossing vast space.
We could delve deeper into the many examples of unconventional Overworlds, but there are so many variations, it can be difficult to define the unconventional. However, we can take the same ideas of motif, gimmick, and aesthetic in order to define them.
|Ni No Kuni uses many traditional elements, including the travel|
cycle. However, it also uses three-dimensional aspects and terrain
obstacles successfully, all paired with a sweeping soundtrack..
List-based- a map with various locales that can be selected via a menu.
Connected room- a series of large environments connected to one another that form a larger, more cohesive world. These often possess multiple paths in order to create less-circular formats.
Open-worlds- an expanse map with locations that are scaled properly with the player avatar. These often attempt to encourage exploration.
A final conversation regarding the implementation of the Overworld is perhaps its decreased emphasis in more modern games. While there are certainly modern JRPGs that utilize this aspect and indeed emulate the traditional model, many games that feature an unconventional design tend to shy away from keeping the Overworld important. However, as stated before, an optimist may be led to believe that an Overworld is meant to fully immerse the player in the world. On the other hand, the prevalence of high encounter rates coupled with traditional design elements usually meant that completing a JRPG would end up feeling like a long journey, likely one worth its high asking price. In more recent games, Overworlds are not as great a focus because other aspects, such as dungeon design, combat, and story are given greater importance and tighter design, whereas Overworlds themselves tend to add little to the experience beyond a sense of traversal. They can also build upon the feeling of progression, especially when coupled with the travel cycle, but the argument is certainly debatable.
With the the sixth and seventh generation, unconventional,
interconnected open-world JRPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles
and Final Fantasy XII allowed for more fully realized worlds.
A stellar example of the proper implementation would be Chrono Trigger's usage of the Overworld, in which the player is given the opportunity to interact with different locales based upon their persistent location throughout Time. Alternatively, the usage of several Overworld maps are used in order to depict the passage of Time, creating an example where the environment is a key element of the story, and contributes to gameplay based on a novel gimmick. It is further justified because of its lack of any random encounters, therefore simply acting as a welcome reprieve from combat. While travel still exists, it is less harrowing and more beneficial to the mood.
|As JRPGs refined themselves, Connected-|
room and list-based Overworlds allowed
greater focus on game-specific strengths.
Next time, we'll move away from the world-building aspects of the genre and instead focus on character mechanics- in specific, we'll be talking about one of the core aspects of JRPG design, which is the battle system itself. I hope you have enjoyed reading, and that you look forward to the next installment.