Japanese RPGs used to have very little focus on cutscenes, characters, or dialog and instead were all about diving into dungeons and fighting monsters that would kick your teeth in every few steps. Both the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy were what we now call dungeon crawlers: dungeons rarely featured boss fights, there were no save points outside of towns, and enemy encounters were designed to test your party’s endurance by hitting really hard or being tough to take down (making you spend more resources to defeat them efficiently). Final Fantasy had pretty much abandoned severe resource management by the time of Final Fantasy VI, but Dragon Quest kept at it, toning down the encounters somewhat and adding more boss fights in dungeons (this article explains this in more depth than I can elucidate now). Emulating this specific kind of dungeon crawler was a major design goal for Blessed Ones, but we spent a lot of time thinking about how to handle it.
The most important decision we made was about MP and what kinds of resources would be available to the party. We argued for hours about completely ditching an MP system altogether (I was most definitely not a fan of that), but these debates really got to the core of what I find compelling about the resource management of Dragon Quest. When enemy encounters provide just the right amount of resistance, it makes me want to spend MP so I can get through them without having to spend more resources healing my party later. One huge problem with this implementation in the Dragon Quest series is there are a ton of abilities that cost 0 MP, including the one nobody ever thinks about – the Fight command! Claire argued that the reason 0 MP abilities are so much more preferable is because they’re effectively like driving a car with infinite gas mileage; sure you could have a car with 50 miles-per-gallon mileage, but that’s still completely dwarfed by being able to drive forever. In addition to that, many 0 MP abilities in Dragon Quest fulfill the same function as other abilities that do cost MP (namely, dealing damage). Why does the basic magic attack spell Blaze cost 2 MP when Fight is 0 MP for everyone and does at least the same amount of (and most likely much more) damage? Why should non-mage classes not have to think about managing MP at all? Through our arguments we determined the problem we needed to solve: how do you keep what I like about resource management, while also making sure the player won’t hesitate to spend resources in normal encounters?
We came up with two answers: 1) Make everything cost MP or 2) Make almost nothing cost MP. It’s important to keep in mind that whichever option we chose, the important thing is to balance all skills that fulfill similar functions against each other. MP is one of these balancing metrics, but there’s still a lot of other ones like damage, accuracy, range (eg. single target vs. group), or type effectiveness. The Pokemon games already do this by making every command cost 1 PP and varying the max PP a command starts (in addition to damage and accuracy).
We ultimately decided on option 1. This decision meant that even the Fight and Defend commands had to have a cost as well, which meant we could think of those as just another skill a class can use, which meant we could add flavor to those commands by giving them each a unique name and making each class more distinct (in fact we even toyed with the idea of putting those commands in the Skills sub-menu in the battle UI). I do feel that option 1 is more frustrating players to figure out, and it’s a little clumsy in Blessed Ones because we wanted long-term resource management to be important, meaning we needed to give every class a large MP pool to start with (starting the game with 150/150 MP is kinda weird). This is actually the opposite of how Magic: The Gathering resource management works, because in that game the player starts out with an empty resource pool every match and has to build it up from there. We’re still not completely set on this option, and we’ve discussed releasing an additional mode as a free update after release that re-balances the whole game to use option 2. If we did this that would also open up the potential to make each encounter group a lot more difficult, shifting the strategy from long-term resource management to short-term tactical decisions; right now the game tries to achieve a balance of both of those aspects. We also have ideas on iterations we could use for a sequel, which would make it play a bit closer to Magic’s intent.