I've longed to make 'the perfect action/adventure game' for me and my girlfriend Jenn, and I just haven't gotten past the idea stage yet. Hopefully this will propel me toward a finished product.
My ideal game combines bits from other games, much as most other games do nowadays. I'll start by mentioning the games foremost on the list I intend to 'borrow' ideas from - though there may be others involved. Here they are, in order of importance:
o Diablo series
o Zelda series
o Secret of Mana series
o Crystal Chronicles
o Chronicles of the Radia War
The first thing you might note is that there's only one PC game there - yes, I prefer a joypad to a mouse and keyboard. In my opinion, if the game requires more than 4 buttons and a dpad or analog for its main gameplay, its too complicated. This goes for any game. I actually might go so far to say that no game should require any more than 2 buttons - but that may be pushing it.
So what's the connection between all of these games? Control scheme is one of the more important points - they all play alike, aside from Diablo. The reason Diablo is at the top, however, is because it has most of the other important points in it, and has performed extremely well in those areas. Let's cut to the chase, now.
I'm now going to run through each game and make note of (noteworthy) points for each. This is going to be a combination of input from myself and Jenn. While I've played each of the games in the list, Jenn has only played Diablo, Zelda, and Crystal Chronicles, and isn't giving into the others.
For the most part, I'm going to be talking about Diablo II. I don't think there's anything it didn't improve on, as compared to Diablo I.
++ The Good ++
The biggest thing here is the item collection. It seems obvious to me that this game is nothing more than a treasure-hunting game. I've argued with n00bs left, right, and center that the game is nothing more than an RPG - but do not mistake it: every patch added to the game alters or increases the item database; the rest of the patches are just alterations made to increase item finding effectiveness. I've gone so far as to label this a fishing game. If I ever get an action/adventure game off the ground, item-hunting will be the focus.
Another important issue they tackle is world randomizing. Every new game you start on Battle.net will dynamically create a world for you to explore. Sure, I don't see this as a free-roaming game; each map they create will always connect to the same other maps - just in different layouts. For instance, the Rogue Encampment always leads to the Blood Moor, which always leads to the Cold Plains. Treasure boxes and Monster placement is completely random as well, and that's important.
The item/trading menus are straightforward and intuitive, and thats key to any play experience.
Variety of enemies and environment is also a good part of the game.
I like that the monsters can be special, having special powers and defenses, or increased resistances to certain types of magic. There are even two types of special creatures - the Leader types, which have a series of underlings - and the random pair of Berzerkers/Ghostly/etc type that have double hitpoints, attack scores, or whatever.
Skill Trees are welcome as well - as you level up, you choose which skills you want to learn or improve. Skills give a character an edge against the monsters, by allowing a player to use magic or special big attack to do more damage.
In the Diablo II Expansion, Lord of Destruction, they let you have two sets of weapons equipped, and a hotkey to let you quickly switch between them. The biggest reason I like this is because I often want to have a melee set and a missile set; being able to switch between them is an important feature to me.
Having a safe spot to toss things you want to save for later, the stash, is key to any item-hunting game. In my opinion, the upgraded stash in the expansion still isn't large enough; people still use mules to store their stuff.
Allowing players to personalize the effects on their items, with sockets and gems is cool. I've found many places where a socketed item was more effective than any gold (rare) item i could find at the time.
Gambling for items is a great place to use your (for the most part) useless gold. They have rings and amulets to gamble for too, and that tends to be where my cash goes.
Dying in this game isn't necessarily a horrible thing. In Diablo I, if you died, all of your equipped items fell on the ground, and it was a real bitch to have to pick up each item and then manually re-equip them. Now, you just have to grab your corpse and you're back up and running.
Having "hirelings" and minions is a great addition to the game. Equippable hirelings is even better.
Waypoints are an effective way to jump around the world - you should have some way to get around quickly in any game like this.
The automap wasn't just a good idea, it's an essential tool for any experienced player. Finding my way around a dungeon or in the desert would be a real bitch without a guide.
++ The Bad ++
As Jenn has pointed out, it seems that Blizzard took the easy way out when they decided to make the game more difficult. As you progress through the game, each area has a higher and higher count of monsters that flood rush you; as the monsters get stronger, they're positioned in higher concentrations. At this point, the game becomes a "pull; retreat; kill" repetition that gets boring and can even become frustrating.
In my opinion that isn't quite as bad as the lack of AI in the game. Most monsters simply rush you and melee until they die. The missile monsters get in range and start firing away. The monster healers do what the missile monsters do, as they tend to also be missile monsters. Aside from the bosses, thats pretty much all there is to them.
Another thing is that the item drop rate seems to go down as you progress through the areas. You might get an item 25% of the time in Act I, but in Act IV it seems more like 5%. In order to get better drop rates, you need to go back through the game in the higher difficulty settings. It seems like just another way to increase play-time without doing any work. This subject may need more research, however.
Like many rpg games, Diablo has a hit/miss calculation that can lead to much frustration. If I click on a monster and my avatar runs up to it and swings an axe at it, and the axe sprite collides with the monster sprite, I say that's a hit - 100% of the time. I've been in situations where my character was quite good, and I'd be spending 10sec or more just trying to get a hit on a monster. That's not fun for me.
At a certain point when I had gotten so used to the game, I was ignoring regular magic drops (blue names) and looking only for uncommon (yellow), set (green), and rare (gold) items, and even later, i stopped looking for uncommons as well. Why aren't the items spread out more evenly? If you find a blue item and then a yellow item, I'd like the blue item to stand a chance against the yellow item: give the yellow item 4 things, and the blue item 2 things; but let the blue be more likely to have the upper half of the range and the yellow the lower half of the range.
Having your items wear out is a useless part of the game. In the middle of a group fight, I see the "low durability" icon pop up and I swear, because I don't need my weapon to break when I'm stuck in a crowd. Durability isn't something I consider fun in any way.
Stamina is another annoying addition. I appreciate the run/walk toggle - though I generally keep it on run - but it seems that vitality just didn't affect enough stuff, so they added it in. Waste of time, not very fun.
Not letting me have a battle plan for my minions and other NPCs in the party is a real let-down. I should be able to tell my helpers to protect me or to go after the strongest monsters.
The hitpoints a monster had were represented by a life bar that popped up at the top of the screen. As you connected with hits, the life bar would drop relative to how hurt it was. I'd much rather not see how much health a monster has, and just see how much damage I'm doing to it as a number or whatever.
This game might have been the perfect game to me if they had just allowed single computer multiplayer. Without it, Jenn and I can't play together without spending ALOT of cash (and that ain't gonna be happening anytime soon)
They had weather effects and day/night cycles, but they were nothing more than environmental effects - there was no effect on gameplay at all. This could have been a bigger deal.
There's quite a variety in the games in this series - but most of them follow the same formula. I'm actually going to focus my attention on the first Gameboy Zelda, Link's Awakening; it's my favorite one.
++ The Good ++
The control scheme is simple, familiar, and very polished. Many people can pick up this game and play it without the need for a manual.
There isn't any confusion in the menus; there's only one inventory screen, and equipping stuff is as simple as highlighting it and pressing the button you want to use it with.
The monsters in these games tend to have unique personalities. Fighting Octoroks is a different experience entirely from fighting Tektites.
In Ocarina of Time, they worked the day/night cycle in and made important differences between the two. Every zone in the game had different things going on at different times of the day, for instance, at the start of the game, skeletons would come out of the ground at nighttime and wouldn't during the day.
In Four Swords, the multiplayer was really fun. The game was designed with this in mind.
++ The Bad ++
The game is basically a puzzle game. I like puzzles, but once you've solved them, there's really no reason to ever play it again aside from nostalgia.
Some monsters required you to kill them with specific items. If you didn't have the item, you weren't able to kill them. Not real great.
You couldn't roam new areas of land without a specific item. The item usually can't be picked up until you solve the next puzzle, so forget about travelling to the harder levels until you've gotten past everything before it.
Killing monsters is pointless unless you're looking for cash or item refills. Getting better items only happens when you solve the puzzles, and you have to solve them in order.
In Four Swords, in Jenn's opinion, forcing the players to have to do formations to solve the puzzles wasn't cool. We agree that they should have focused on getting used to the controls more at first, and leave the formations for later levels.
SECRET OF MANA series
Though each game is different, there are many things that are consistant throughout the series. Some of these things are good, some are rotten.
++ The Good ++
The diversity of magics and weaponry is the name of the game here. Allowing your characters to get better at a weapon or magic class through practice is a real big thing for me. Instead of just putting points into something, you have to work at it to get it better.
Allowing the player to have other members in the party that they can switch to is pretty cool. That they're unique and have to be played differently is also cool. That more than one person can play at the same time really sealed the deal.
Some of the weapons in Sword of Mana let you do 3-hit combos that did more damage with each hit. If you hit your attack button at the right time, you'd follow up with a hit that did 1.5x and 2x damage. That was cool.
Seeing the amount of damage you've done as a number was always informative. In any number-based game, more numerical information is better. This might be a topic worthy of more research, though.
++ The Bad ++
You have to wait until a certain point in the story to get a new type of weapon. You should be able to pick any weapon up at any time.
The monsters weren't really very much different from one another (sprite sets aside). A little more intelligence please!
Hit/Miss is always crap in my books. If my sword hit the Rabite, I'd better be doing some goddamn damage. Seeing MISS pop up instead of a damage count sucked the big one.
Finding items in this game isn't fun at all. In the first few games, you'd have to kill alot of monsters to find the best items. Eventually though, SquareEnix decided that wasn't hard enough. They came up with a new system where you had to gather materials to forge weapons and armor with, and make plants from seeds that you'd use to improve their stats. The materials for the best items in the game were nearly impossible to come by, and you'd need the materials to improve the stats along with the plants. The process is annoying at best, and if you put any amount of time into looking for the materials, you're likely to improve your character to the point where you don't even need the best stuff anyways, to beat the game.
You were never allowed to hit more than one monster in an attack. If two monsters were stacked one on top of the other, you'd only hit one per attack and the others could nail you as you recovered from the attack.
As you levelled your characters weapons and magic, the NPC you were paired with often take matters into their own hands and steal your kills. You're able to tell them to 'Stay Away' but sometimes they're forced into fights and will attack.
NPCs get stuck very easily too. If you run around behind a group of monsters, the NPC won't try to cut a path through to you, they'll just try to walk or run to where you are. The monsters that get in their way will relentlessly beat on them and often will kill them. I usually just leave them to die - they're just going to get in the way of my levelling anyways.
No multiplayer in Sword of Mana at all. That was the biggest disappointment of the game.
There were alot of new things done in this game, but also alot of things were done really badly.
++ The Good ++
Letting the player hook up the gameboys to the system and look down to see a map wasn't just cool, it was damned useful.
Casting spells was really easy to do - you just hold in the action button and position a cursor that would move along the ground, and you put it under a monster and released the button to cast.
Being able to quick select between a list of actions was a cool way of doing things. You only had 4 buttons to use on the gameboy anyways, so they had to come up with a way to allow for more than 4 things to do - and it works pretty well.
The simultaneous multiplayer was the coolest part of the game.
++ The Bad ++
They set up the multiplayer to force you to use gameboys, so that forces you to have a bunch of them if you want to play.
They decided to force players to work together to get through a multiplayer game in many ways. Having the maps only show monster locations or only the treasures makes you have to tell the group about what is where, or they move around blindly.
Someone needs to carry the chalice around, and that was irritating. You had to keep in mind that you were stuck in the chalice's safety radius, and that was very limiting.
The item creation part of the game was very boring - much like what SquareEnix did with the later Mana games. In this, however, you have to have a design for whatever you're looking to create - without it, you can't create the item. Once you have the design, you need to find the materials by killing monsters.
Killing monsters is only useful if you're looking for items or gil.
The ring command system worked ok until you had too many things in the ring. Suppose you have 8 commands on your ring and you're looking for Heal, chances are you're going to overshoot it when you're spinning the ring. It's also very inconvenient when you need to switch between your attack spells quickly, chances are you aren't going to remember what order the things are in your ring.
++ The Good ++
Clean inventory system.
The game was like Zelda1 on crack to me. You were able to level up your character and choose between different weapons. You also had a series of spells to cast too, which was a new thing in an action/adventure.
Though there was a bit of hand-holding in the game, they let you go to a bunch of areas before you were actually able to progress through them to make you feel like you were allowed to roam a bit.
++ The Bad ++
Your attack range was terrible. If you attacked in any one direction, you'd stab outward from yourself, and only attack on the x or y axis. A sweeping motion is better for these games.
CHRONICLES OF THE RADIA WAR
++ The Good ++
As you progressed through the game, you picked up NPCs that would fight along with you. You were allowed to tell each one a general command in battle - how you wanted them to fight.
++ The Bad ++
Your NPC helpers were dumb as doorposts. Often they'd target a monster in a group and get surrounded - and the monsters would beat the crap out of them.
Before I part, I want to mention some random things I felt might improve on any of these games.
Horses and Mules - Riding Horses or Mules would increase the speed of the character and allow better travelling. If a game has large zones or is completely free-roaming, you're going to want to let the player get around the world quickly and efficiently. If it were a Mule, you could also have a moving Stash of sorts - and it would explain away the inconsistency of Diablo's stash. Having Horses and Mules would also open up the possiblity for a breeding side-game.
[edit: I'm not sure if I ever really completely finished this up, I only worked on it for 3 hours or so over two days. I'll probably get back to this stuff again.]