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Games where failure is necessary for progression

jothkijothki Registered User regular
A long time ago, I fell in love with a pair of games called Shadow of Yserbius and Fates of Twinion. At first glance, they're perfectly normal Wizardry-style gridders. You explore a dungeon built on a 2D grid, solving puzzles, collecting keys and other important items, and fighting monsters in a semi-separate turn-based combat interface. And then you die.

In most games, you would be presented with an interface asking whether you want to load a save or quit. In these games, there is no option, you're just dumped right outside the dungeon. With all your loot, and all your gained experience. Right next to the only place in the game that allows you to level up and shop for items.

This completely upended the nature of the game. You don't go into the dungeon intending to beat it, since you're too weak to do so and have no means of getting stronger while inside of it. You go into the dungeon to learn, to map everything out, discover its secrets, and plan where future trips will take you once you've become powerful enough to face the foes obstructing your path. The most that dying will ever do to you is make you have to fight back to where you were, which if you got completely slaughtered was probably a place where you shouldn't have been yet anyway. Playing the game isn't a matter of carefully marshaling your resources (though doing so will help you progress faster), it's a matter of beating your head against an area until you've completely torn it to shreds, at which point you move on to the next one.

I want to recapture this, but unfortunately, those games seem to be a bit of an aberration. They were built as some of the first MMORPGs, meaning that death needed to not disrupt the flow of normal gameplay and couldn't impede player progression, but they were also built on gridder exploration mechanics, meaning that the game couldn't just repeatedly throw harmless pulls at the players until they leveled up. This led to death needing to be almost completely harmless, which then led back to dungeon design where causing players to die for reasons beyond their control was acceptable. Absent these requirements, pretty much every other game has chosen to either treat death as an aberrant state that needs to be resolved by mechanics outside the normal game (load game or quit?), a punishable setback (go back to the last checkpoint and maybe lose some money or experience, then walk back to exactly where you died and try again harder), or as a complete reset of all progression (go back to level one, and the dungeon is now completely different).

Are there any newer exploration-based RPGs out there that work like this, where death is an active part of progression rather than a temporary hindrance? I know of a few others in different genres, like Infinity Blade and Rogue Legacy. If you stretch the concept of death, 10000000 and You Must Build a Boat are tile-based puzzle games where between attempts you can spend resources to become more powerful. There's also a whole slew of Flash-based games based on repeated upgrades after you "lose". I have yet to see a spiritual successor to Yserbius and Twinion, though, and I really want one.

If anyone wants to talk about the gameplay style in general that's good as well. And no, Soul Reaver doesn't count, there is no failure involved in deliberately "dying' to access a temporarily useful state.

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    GarthorGarthor Registered User regular
    Rogue Legacy.

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    jothkijothki Registered User regular
    Garthor wrote: »
    Rogue Legacy.

    Mentioned, and yeah, it's kind of close to the sort of thing I'm looking for, with encounters slowly burning you down as you progress and being able to probe into areas where you shouldn't be yet to determine how close you are to actually being able to survive there. Played it a whole bunch, and had a good time with it.

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    MadPenMadPen San DiegoRegistered User regular
    Sort of Darkest Dungeon, depending on how you think about it. Two possible distinctions, though:
    1) You can sort of consider your adventurers gristle for the mill, so in that sense dying isn't really failing, but since you're controlling them, I don't see this as distinctive from rogue legacy.
    2) A party wipe of extremely experienced adventurers is still going to be really painful, because while you still have your upgraded town, those adventurers are dead as shit.

    3DS: 4098-4243-6127
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    jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited August 2015
    MadPen wrote: »
    Sort of Darkest Dungeon, depending on how you think about it. Two possible distinctions, though:
    1) You can sort of consider your adventurers gristle for the mill, so in that sense dying isn't really failing, but since you're controlling them, I don't see this as distinctive from rogue legacy.
    2) A party wipe of extremely experienced adventurers is still going to be really painful, because while you still have your upgraded town, those adventurers are dead as shit.

    There's another interesting category there, hybrids with persistent progression. You're still expected to push yourself forward into a death that may never actually come if you're lucky and skilled enough, but each attempt makes the next attempt slightly easier until winning finally becomes viable for your abilities as a player. The version of Shiren the Wanderer that was ported to the DS worked like that, you unlocked and enhanced party members and town features by playing through multiple times, and had somewhat limited ability to carry over items from previous runs, but much of your power was still tied into progress during a run. I'm not sure if I would put the Mystery Dungeon crossovers in that category, though, since you're generally expected to be able to either complete or safely escape from dungeons, and progression during individual dungeons is minimal.

    jothki on
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    MadPenMadPen San DiegoRegistered User regular
    I played that version of Shiren. The item storage made for some interesting tradeoffs with your current run vs. the next one.

    3DS: 4098-4243-6127
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    jothkijothki Registered User regular
    You could also keep a weapon in storage, having the blacksmith and eventually the restaurant enhance it one per run until it ends up being ridiculously powerful.

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    ShadowfireShadowfire Vermont, in the middle of nowhereRegistered User regular
    I've been playing Lifeline on my phone. It's a sort of choose your own adventure game, but you're choosing someone else's moves. It's weaves pretty good yarn and I've really enjoyed it.

    The reason I bring it up is that it sort of matches what you're talking about. The survivor, Taylor, takes your advice. You could see him/her rescued on your first play through, but she can also die in a number of ways. And those deaths lead to a lot of revelations that you might not otherwise stumble on.

    So it's not necessary to progress, but failure is it's own reward. It's $2, just buy the damn game.

    WiiU: Windrunner ; Guild Wars 2: Shadowfire.3940 ; PSN: Bradcopter
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    l_gl_g Registered User regular
    I don't feel like any of the roguelikes are quite like that because dying in them still hurts: for the current run, you lose everything. You might be better prepared for the next run in direct/indirect ways (sending back better gear in Shiren, unlocking things that can randomly drop in future runs in Binding of Isaac, etc.), but the dungeon will be completely different next time and you will start from some low base level again.

    The Souls games are almost exactly this, however, since the dungeon is both static (in that it does not reshuffle itself into some brand new configuration each player death) and full of intentionally designed deadly traps/monsters (including monsters far more powerful than you can easily handle when you first accidentally stumble on them) coupled with persistent progression of a character/party.

    Dragon Quest made you lose half your money, but later DQ games you could buy items that served no purpose except to be resold for the amount you bought them for, because you don't lose items when you die.

    The many different choose-your-own-adventure/visual novel games have this since the whole game is about traversing a tree of story nodes, with many of them being terminal. However, there's no aspect of character-building in the restarts of these.

    Cole's Law: "Thinly sliced cabbage."
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    ShadowhopeShadowhope Baa. Registered User regular

    Life is Strange and Crusader Kings II both have failures in order to progress.

    Life is Strange weaves them into th plot. The main character, Max, can rewind time. A lot of the story is Max trying something, learning something, and then going back and trying again and taking advantage of what she learned.

    Crusader Kings II can have the best possible deaths. For example, line up the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as your heir and then die. Boom, you're now the most powerful person in Europe. Of course, it also has the worst possible deaths. Nothing quite like losing an empire on death and finding that all you control is a single county in Wales.

    Civics is not a consumer product that you can ignore because you don’t like the options presented.
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    Solomaxwell6Solomaxwell6 Registered User regular
    I don't see a death in Crusader Kings as a failure.

    The game is about playing as a dynasty over the course of a few centuries, not one person over the course of a few decades. Death comes from either bad luck or because you actively pushed for it, not because of a failure on the part of the player.

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    ShadowhopeShadowhope Baa. Registered User regular
    I don't see a death in Crusader Kings as a failure.

    The game is about playing as a dynasty over the course of a few centuries, not one person over the course of a few decades. Death comes from either bad luck or because you actively pushed for it, not because of a failure on the part of the player.

    Oh, there are plenty of failure deaths.

    Civics is not a consumer product that you can ignore because you don’t like the options presented.
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    jothkijothki Registered User regular
    l_g wrote: »
    The Souls games are almost exactly this, however, since the dungeon is both static (in that it does not reshuffle itself into some brand new configuration each player death) and full of intentionally designed deadly traps/monsters (including monsters far more powerful than you can easily handle when you first accidentally stumble on them) coupled with persistent progression of a character/party.

    I'd like to hear more about that, actually. I know next to nothing about the series other than its reputation.

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    PhillisherePhillishere Registered User regular
    edited August 2015
    jothki wrote: »
    l_g wrote: »
    The Souls games are almost exactly this, however, since the dungeon is both static (in that it does not reshuffle itself into some brand new configuration each player death) and full of intentionally designed deadly traps/monsters (including monsters far more powerful than you can easily handle when you first accidentally stumble on them) coupled with persistent progression of a character/party.

    I'd like to hear more about that, actually. I know next to nothing about the series other than its reputation.

    The Souls games use a lot of common RPG tropes that seem fresher because they are in an action game. The game frequently walls off content behind stronger enemies, which gives players the options of banging their heads against them until they crack, going off to level up and get better gear or getting sneaky/gud with the mechanics.

    Instead of making death a save/reload affair, the Souls series has worked it into the system. You get to keep items you find, but your stash of the "currency" - souls - that you use to level up and buy things is dropped when you die. You can run to get your lost stash of souls, but you will lose them completely if you die before you retrieve them. That makes the Souls games a continuous juggling act of getting farther than you had before while returning to a save point to spend your souls before you die.

    One thing I like about the Souls games is that, while it sets you up in several of my least favorite RPG situations at several points - namely the fight you need to lose to advance - you always the ability to beat or at least escape the overpowered monster if you are quick, smart and lucky.

    Phillishere on
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    l_gl_g Registered User regular
    jothki wrote: »
    l_g wrote: »
    The Souls games are almost exactly this, however, since the dungeon is both static (in that it does not reshuffle itself into some brand new configuration each player death) and full of intentionally designed deadly traps/monsters (including monsters far more powerful than you can easily handle when you first accidentally stumble on them) coupled with persistent progression of a character/party.

    I'd like to hear more about that, actually. I know next to nothing about the series other than its reputation.

    A good example of this deadly trap business in Dark Souls is the Mimic. A player who is encountering one for the first time is absolutely going to be surprised by it, however it is that they trigger it (there's more than one way). A player encountering it for the first time has no idea of the tells that indicate that the Mimic is in fact a Mimic and not what it appears to be. You are extremely likely to die to it the first time you encounter it however you trigger it because it is a strong monster and probably gets a free hit on you that you might not survive.

    But that Mimic is going to be in the exact same place with the exact same tell next time you respawn and reach it again. You will know to either give it a wide berth, or to be ready to take it on. You will probably know what one of the bad ways of triggering it (which results in it getting a big free hit on you) is.

    You'll encounter Mimics later in the game, but you'll know what to look for and how to deal with them.

    Cole's Law: "Thinly sliced cabbage."
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    jothkijothki Registered User regular
    Ah, good old learning from unpleasant experience.

    There's a particular sort of audacity to the games I talked about that I'm missing, though. For example, there's one section in Fates of Twinion where you walk along a path bordering a line of pits that block off access to another area of the level. You know from past experience and NPC comments that pits are usually lethal, but that they sometimes lead to new areas. You're also very close to the hub area, meaning that it takes about half a minute or less to get back to where you are if you die. The obvious thing to do is to throw yourself into every possible location in the line of pits, and sure enough, one of those locations doesn't end with your instant death, but is a path (quite likely the only path) to another area.

    The kicker is that at the end of the line of pits, the last position is blocked off by an intersecting wall, preventing you from accessing it. What you need to do is to continue exploring the section of the game, eventually ending up on the far side of the pits. There's other stuff there, but at some point you need to realize that you now have access to that one pit that you couldn't reach, and throw yourself down it just in case there's something interesting there. Which there is, and in fact it's a pretty important item you need to proceed.

    Basically, your progress through the game is heavily dependent on you having a sense of curiosity that reaches the point of being actively suicidal. It would be as if some Mimics only gave you items if you let them hit you. It would be an instance of incredibly shitty design if the game actually punished you for doing the wrong thing, but it doesn't.

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    FremFrem Registered User regular
    l_g wrote: »
    I don't feel like any of the roguelikes are quite like that because dying in them still hurts: for the current run, you lose everything. You might be better prepared for the next run in direct/indirect ways (sending back better gear in Shiren, unlocking things that can randomly drop in future runs in Binding of Isaac, etc.), but the dungeon will be completely different next time and you will start from some low base level again.

    Yeah, the roguelike formula hearkens back from the days when storage was expensive. Hence, the progression mechanic tends to be knowledge, not direct in-game power. Without the knowledge acquired from dying in a lot of new ways, you're not going to acquire power efficiently enough to have any chance at getting through the game.

    For example, Brogue has mystery potions and scrolls that must be identified. The obvious way to do this is to read and quaff things randomly. But a lot of those potions do bad things, like set you on fire or spray poisonous plants all over the place. Dealing with the fallout of a deployed harmful item will, at the very least, waste some of your food as you sleep to recover HP, and usually worse. But when you stumble across a way to reliably test items safely, you'll have more food, more HP, and you'll know what things are more quickly. The only way to discover this (besides reading spoilers) is to experiment and die a lot. This applies to mystery items, magic systems, enemy behavior, damage types, etc.

    There are some roguelikes that let you manually enter the random number generator seed so that you can play through the same dungeon multiple times, but you're still going to be reset to a level 1 character each time.

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