This is going to be more of a rambling post than I usually do. I just wanted to talk about a particular mechanic that a few games have used that, for some reason, I just really enjoy. That mechanic is where equipping a character with a certain piece of gear gives them an ability, and then they can master the abilities granted by equipment through earing ability points. Once they’ve mastered an ability, they can keep it even if they remove the equipment.
I’ve probably been thinking about this mechanic because I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy 9 over the last few days. Other games that use this mechanic include Lost Odyssey and Xenosaga (at least episode 1, I haven’t played the other two yet). Another related system is where you have one type of equipment dedicated to teaching you new abilities. Examples of this system include magicite in Final Fantasy 6 and Heraldry tomes in the RPG Maker game Forever’s End.
As an aside, these are all really fun games and I recommend any of them if you like JRPGs.
Anyway, I’ve been pondering over the last few days why I like this ability system so much. I think the answer comes back to an idea that I’ve been talking about quite a lot in the last few blog posts: Player Choice.
In normal RPGs, when you arrive at a new town, you get access to new equipment which is basically just the next incarnation of gear that you already have. It will have higher stats, but it will just fill the same role a little better. Sure, some games do avoid this, possibly by having a few different options that fill different roles. For example, one weapon for a warrior might make them better at taking hits for teammates, while another might improve their ability to cause damage. Also, if the developer took my advice, you might not be able to afford everything. Still, most of the time, getting new equipment is basically a formality.
The consequence of learning abilities from equipment is that at least most of the time when new equipment becomes available, you have to make choices. You can immediately switch to the new gear, giving up the chance to master abilities in exchange for better stats, or you can wait to finish mastering the abilities you were working on. Even grinding has some additional choices added into it because of this system. You’ll find yourself wanting to switch between equipment each time a character masters an ability so that they can learn another. It can also lead to rotating equipment between several characters because they can all learn a new ability from it, but you only have one.
This also adds a layer of excitement when you find new gear in a dungeon or as a reward for completing a sidequest. Normally finding rare equipment just leaves you comparing it to your old gear to see if it gives you better stats to make a character better at what they were already doing. Now, getting new equipment means learning new abilities, which can cause you to change your playstyle to incorporate these new options. In addition to all of that, there’s a certain enjoyment that at least I get from seeing how many different abilities I can master in a single playthrough. It’s like getting collectables, but with the added bonus that the things I’m collecting give me additional ways to modify my playstyle.
In summary, this system adds choices to the process of getting and equipping new gear, as well as to the process of fighting random enemies. These choices keep your brain active while performing ordinarily routine tasks, which keeps the entire experience interesting.
So, that’s why I find this particular ability system particularly addictive. Obviously using this system is not required to make a game fun, it’s just a particular mechanic that I happen to enjoy a great deal.