Editorial: Micromanagement and the RPG

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.

But I am a warrior. What need have I of mana potions?
Diablo inventory management used to be about arranging items to fit the limited space.

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.

I often eat alone to improve my social status.
Persona allows you to spend time improving yourself outside of combat.

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!

6 comments

  1. Disgaea is one of the biggest time-sinks ever devised. Each game seems more capable of this monstrous hunger than the last, and the first game was well over a one hundred hour proposition.

    NOM NOM YOUR TIME IS TASTY

  2. I love the ability to micromanage in RPGs. As if they weren’t addictive enough, being able to control even the smallest elements makes them really personal, and also superb at eating up all my time.

  3. Personal. Exactly. I think that’s why I love RPGs so much. You tend to get more out the more you put in.

  4. It’s true. A standard action game can’t really compare.

  5. I know I’m late to the party on this article but I just found this site and I’m really liking it. My favorite game ever is Darkcloud 2 for the PS2. That RPG changed up the traditional leveling system by leveling your weapon instead of your character. The game had so many management aspects in it but many were optional. Adding up all my saved games I’ve poured over 11 days into it and I still play it now, 8 years since I bought it.

    The weapon which dealt the final blow to an enemy would absorb the experience, physically dropped on the ground that you had to collect. Once it levels up it gains synthesis points which are used to synthesize components into it in order to upgrade one or more of its stats. Once the right stats reach the right values you can build up the weapon into a completely different weapon and start the process over again.

    What makes the system so cool is that many of the weapons have special abilities, different attack patterns, and build into different weapons with different overall stats. Combined with the ability to spectrumize every non-plot item in the game to synthesize it into a weapon, and even to synthesize other weapons into your weapons, its just awesome. I have yet to find another game that does anything like this.

    I could write an entire article on this game and everything I love about it though, so I’ll stop now before I write a novel.

  6. Welcome to the site Sentinalh. Have you tried Rogue Galaxy before? Like Dark Cloud it was also developed by Level 5 and has a similar weapon synthesizing system in it. It’s worth taking a look at if you can find it.

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