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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rant - RNG Swings

I have always had a problem with games that are heavily luck-based. From my experience, they tend not to favor the player, and usually, there's very little that you can do about what the game rolls with its Random Number Generator. The sense of having a chance of win or loss is a good thing, but when the stakes are too high, and the situation of this risky gamble is forced upon you, the games tend to lose its fun IMO.

For those of you who have read my old wishlists, I'm sure you are aware of my reasoning behind why I got Fortune Street for the Nintendo Wii over the more widely known virtual board game, Mario Party. For those who don't, well, the reason is because of how the recent Mario Party games tend to have mini-games that are completely luck-based. Sure, those mini-games usually only give out 10 coins for winning them anyway, so losing out on them isn't that big of a deal. But why waste a completely good opportunity to play a fun mini-game with friends for a "thrilling" snore-fest of a gamble where you place a bet in a race that a bunch of computers play out? Where's the interactivity? Where's the fun? But that's not even the worst of my beef with Mario Party. I guess the biggest issue is with Chance Time. Chance Time, might not necessarily be ALL luck-based, but talk about high-stakes. All the work and effort into earning the coins or stars you've collected in that game can be swapped or given away with some rolls or the likes. If that happens near the end of the game, no matter what you do, the victim of a massive loss due to Chance Time has very little chance at recovering what they've lost, costing the whole game in an instant. Is that fun? Maybe to some, and only strictly as a party game... RNG-screwage is something that any competitive players would want to avoid however.

Fortune Street is a board game much like Mario Party and it naturally does involve a good deal of RNG rolls. Even rolling the die to move spaces on the board alone can make a huge difference depending on the rolls you get, but usually the stakes aren't as high as stars in Mario Party. Unless someone's well-upgraded store that costs couple thousand gold to land on is in your path, there are very little risks involved. However, even that situation is okay IMO since stores don't suddenly cost that much to land on out of the game's whimsy. Those expensive stores have to be earned by the players who manage their money well and spend the gold to upgrade the stores to be as threatening as that much. In fact, Fortune Street has a whole new element of strategy due to the stock market involved. Most wealth is gained through purchasing stocks and building large stores in the area you invested in. Manipulating the stock market is the way to win, and with how little RNG is involved in the process, it makes it the most reliable method of building yourself up to first place.

To be fair though, Fortune Street does have its share of luck-based events as well as a race of their own and such. Usually the prize for winning is nowhere near game changing however, so its impact on the game is fairly low. 

Oh, but I haven't even mentioned the game that has the worst case for this offense yet, and that is the Fire Emblem series. I first learned of Fire Emblem like most other people; due to Super Smash Bros. Melee. Upon researching the origin of Marth and Roy, I learned of a tactics strategy game called Fire Emblem, and decided to pick one up for the Game Boy Advance. It also happened to be Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi, AKA Sword of Seals, with the main protagonist being Roy. I enjoyed the strategic elements of the game with unit positions, weapon advantages and disadvantages, character arts, sprite animations, and the story. However, the game is horribly infested with flaws involving the RNG.

Good stat gains
Fire Emblem is one of those games that plays with small numbers, unlike Disgaea. Character level only goes up to level 20, and stats are limited to the double-digits range most of the time. The first offense in Fire Emblem is the leveling up system. Each character has an inherent stat growth percentage for each stat, and every time they level, the RNG rolls a number for each of those stats. Say there is a character that has a stat growth percentage of 100% for HP, 80% for STR, 60% for AGI, 50% for DEF, 30% for RES, etc. That means that when they level up, they are guaranteed to have their HP raised by 1. However, the remaining stats will only have a chance to gain 1 stat, depending on what the RNG rolls. In the best case scenario, that character has the potential to gain 1 stat in all of those stats, since none of them are 0%. However, on the flip-side, the worst case scenario will have that character only gain a stat gain in HP, and nothing else. I find that to be horribly stupid and a waste of a level, ESPECIALLY considering that your level is maxed out at 20. Each of those level ups are important for all the stat gains you can get, but when one is wasted on little to no gain (which has happened to me before, a level up where no stats grew at all), it makes that character's usefulness in the future to be hindered with lower stats. Why? Why do it this way?

Bad stat gains
That's not the only offense that Fire Emblem is guilty of though. The next is the actual combat of the game. The units in the game has a chance of avoiding enemy attacks by quickly dodging incoming attacks, which is displayed before the actual attack, as well as a critical hit chance percentage as well. It is certainly nice that the game displays the information for you as otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to fight effectively against stronger opponents. However, do note that the game does not allow you to save during the game; only a quick-save that gets deleted when you load from it, so you can't save before a risky attack and reload when the attack fails. Combined with the fact that if one of your characters die in the level, they are dead PERMANENTLY, with no way to revive them at all. If that doesn't put some great deal of pressure on you, I don't know what will. Anyway, seeing how the price of failure is great, and with the best ending for the game usually requiring many, certain characters to be alive throughout the game, you do not want to let anyone die. To make matters worse, you can't fix any mistakes without having to redo the entire level over since you are only allowed to save between levels. So that means not making any mistakes is the key to playing Fire Emblem. However, that is easier said than done. I have had a situation where I only needed to hit this one enemy to kill them, when my attack had a 87% chance of hitting each time, where I had 2 opportunities to attack them before the enemy counter attacked with a 56% chance of hitting me for some decent damage, but not enough to kill my character. However, the enemy also had a 2% chance of dealing a critical hit, which was just enough to kill my character in one hit at the time. So what happens? Both times, my character miraculously misses the enemy, and the enemy gets the killing blow with a critical on my character. I definitely flipped the shit out when this happened, and that was when I had finally given up on Fire Emblem games entirely.

Seriously, what are the chances of that happening? ... Well, here's the math.
Chance of first attack missing * chance of second attack missing * chance of enemy hitting * critical chance
0.13 * 0.13 * 0.56 * 0.02 = 0.000189
In other words, 0.0189% chance of that happening.

After having spent over an hour on that level, carefully leveling up my characters (with some decent stat gains during those levels too), and then that complete bullshit atrocity happened, requiring me to restart the whole level, which I had already done several times due to the difficulty. Seriously, is it fun to have a game completely screw you over by luck/chance to the point where you are either forced to redo the level again, wasting several of your hours worth of work and progress, or continue on without one of your characters and also be locked out from getting the best ending the game has?

I don't understand how Fire Emblem's low number system is acceptable. The RNG swing involved is absolutely horrible. The only other game that I can think of that works with small numbers is the Paper Mario series, which does a great job of having a balanced and fun gameplay. Although there is less RNG involved in the combat as it is replaced with some "quick time events" instead to deal more damage or take less damage. In Fire Emblem's case though, quick time events wouldn't be an appropriate substitute for the RNG. I do like how Advance Wars plays however since RNG doesn't have as great of an impact in the game.

In the end, I am just absolutely disgusted with how some games allow random luck/chance to have such a huge impact in the outcome of some games. They seem to outright ruin some otherwise good games. If you wanted to put some high stakes on a luck/chance gamble, the casino is the more appropriate place for that. If not, might as well flip a coin. It'll be much quicker than how some of these games will randomly choose whether if you win or lose anyway.

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