Micromanagement is term we usually associate with the real-time strategy genre. In these games tactics are required to win a fight, but often the victor is whomever can perform the most actions at the same time. Simultaneously managing an economy, unit production and an expanding army is the norm for this type of game, but RPGs also have their own forms of management.
The most common experience of micromanagement in an RPG comes from the inventory. Limited space is often found in online games or those found on older consoles. Players can only carry so much before returning to town to vendor their hard earned loot. Sometimes this is combined with a Tetris like backpack in which items must be organised to ensure optimal use of the space. Veterans of the Diablo series understand the pain of having to find a merchant to sell to every five minutes because every pack of enemies drops something shiny. Thankfully the latest iteration of the series allows the player to carry around more items at a time, though frequent trips home are still required.
Grinding is usually found in hard games, or as a way to alleviate the difficulty of future content. Whether it is for experience, currency or drops, players need to discover how best to achieve their goal in the shortest time possible. In World of Warcraft players often need a considerable amount of materials to increase crafting professions. This requires time to gather all the materials oneself, or to earn enough gold to purchase them from other players. Whatever method is used to acquire the resources, players will have often been required to perform many repetitive actions.
Leveling up characters is compulsory for heading further into a game, but it is also another form of management. Maybe another level will award a few more stat points to allocate. Maybe it will allow a character to equip that rare weapon that dropped a few hours ago. Either way, a player often has to consider what leveling up means to a character and what benefits it brings. Pokémon uses this to great effect as a pokémon can be trained to increase specific stats upon leveling. Repeating this six times over for the perfect party is time consuming work, but is only really necessary for competitive play.
Some games limit how much that can be achieved while playing. In the recent Persona games characters can only perform a few actions each day while not in a dungeon. Players need to work out where their day is best spent for the best results later in the game. Even during the dungeon delving portions of the game players need to work efficiently. Spending too much time in the dungeon tires out a character, thus having a negative impact on the following day. Large sections of the game may need to be replayed if too much time has been devoted to socialising and not enough on dungeon crawling.
The RPG series that offers players the ability to manage their character to the point of being overpowered is Disgaea. A few maps in each iteration of this strategy RPG offer the player the ability to quickly level a character. High level characters can be ‘reincarnated’ starting them out at level one again, albeit with higher base stats. Repeating this process several times creates characters that become powerful very quickly. If the character was at a high enough level before reincarnating that an improved class may be unlocked further increasing that characters ability. These powerful characters can then delve deep into the item world dungeons to earn the best equipment.
The game does not stop at making characters powerful either. A piece of equipment must be chosen to enter the item world. The better the gear, the stronger the opponents inside and the better the rewards will be. Clearing floors within the item increases the power of the item itself. Each item has a rarity value with higher rarities offering a greater number of floors inside the item for a player to clear. Creating a character this powerful might seem like overkill for the final boss of the game, but it is nothing compared to the optional event bosses found in the post game.
Love it or hate it, micromanagement will part of the RPG genre for years to come. This gamer only hopes that more developers make use of it in the way that Nippon Ichi has with the Disgaea series.
How do you feel about micromanagement in RPGs? Does it give you a reason to play, or is it a turn off? Let me know in the comments!