Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lords of Xulima's Enemy Encounter Rate

I do not, unfortunately, care very much for Lords of Xulima. I don’t doubt the care that its creators put into it, but it’s obvious that effort was directed primarily at the gameplay aspects, while the exploration of their world’s lore was a secondary concern, the game’s plot was a tertiary concern, and the depth of the cast was...whatever comes below tertiary priorities. I’ve thought about ranting about LoX’s storytelling aspects, but there’s so damn little there that I don’t even know how I’d go about it. There’s only so much one can expand upon a game that can be summed up by 2 words: “It’s boring.”

At least what Lords of Xulima cares about, it does well, I guess. I mean, the gameplay works, which is good for people who care about gameplay a lot, but not quite enough to play games that aren’t RPGs. Still, even that’s not perfect...there is, after all, the annoyance of the random encounter rate in the game.

See, here’s the thing. The encounter rate in Lords of Xulima is really, really slow. Like, the slowest I’ve ever seen in an RPG. When you’re wandering through an area where there are random enemies to be encountered, you may stroll across as much as a third of the area’s map before you hit a random encounter. Sometimes even more. And I mean the sizable maps, too, the big outdoor areas that substitute for a world map.

Now, when you first go through an area, this is not all that noticeable, because in addition to random encounters, there’s a lot of enemy encounters in fixed positions on the field waiting for you to step into their line of vision. So when you’re initially exploring an area, you won’t notice the low random encounter rate, because you’ll be frequently scrapping with the fixed, visible enemies anyway. In fact, the low encounter rate is a really good thing, because it helps ensure that you’ll have a chance to retreat to a town when you need to be healed up without being overwhelmed by random enemies during your trip back. And in a game like Lords of Xulima, built with the idea that old-school RPG fans want a return of old-school RPG difficulty, and in which even the easy mode is rather taxing (at least for a lamer like me), being able to beat feet without monsters harassing my exhausted party every step of the way is a good thing.

But after your initial foray into a new zone, once the fixed enemies are cleared out and you’ve explored the area to your satisfaction, then the plodding special encounter rate is really, really annoying, both from the game playing standpoint and the standpoint of someone who has common sense. First of all, from the gameplay-practical standpoint, it’s frustrating that you have to just walk around for so long to bait each encounter because your food supplies dwindle as you do so. Walking back and forth is traveling, traveling slowly drains your food supplies, replenishing your food supplies costs money, there is a finite amount of money to be had in this game, and that money can always be put to better use. I don’t care if this is yet another case of elaborate checks and balances in the game, it’s still annoying, and it’s not like Lords of Xulima is wanting for intricate gameplay restrictions and challenges. They could’ve upped the encounter rate and dropped the whole “spend half the money you got from the random encounters just on the food you burned through trying to make those encounters appear” thing, yet still have had more than enough player micromanagement going on.

More importantly (to me, at least), this is just an irritating gameplay choice from a common sense angle. I admit that I played Quest 64 from start to finish, but even I have better things to do with my time than to spend hours--literal hours of my life, if you add it up!--watching a character move back and forth 45 times because the invisible pack of skeletons nearby are just too damned shy to come over and say hi. I’d probably be a lousy audience for a Las Vegas night show, by this point--playing Lords of Xulima has built up my tolerance for watching an object slowly go back and forth over and over again so much, that I’m probably completely immune to being hypnotized now.

For Poseidon’s sake, the majority of RPG hours are already unnecessary filler, Numantian Games, you didn’t need to add to that! Ugh...it’s like trying to go from one island to another in Suikoden 4, just empty, repetitive travel time that puts you to sleep as it drones on and on. And, oh, have I mentioned that as you clear the random encounters out of an area, the encounter rate begins to drop even further? The longer you go about this process, the longer it takes you to continue doing so. It’s supposed to be to make the process seem more real (the more enemies you kill in an area, the fewer there are running around to bother you), but all it does is just make the process even more tedious.

A minor additional annoyance in the common sense department relates to that food angle I mentioned before. Since you will run out of your food supplies like 3 or 4 times trying to clear an area of random encounters, that means you have to keep traveling back to a town (or other spot for food supplies), and then come back to continue your exceedingly prolonged monster extermination. So you’re adding that much more time thrown away by this ordeal, thanks to the low encounter rate.

And yeah, I know what you’re thinking, at least those of you reading this who have never played Lords of Xulima (which is probably everyone): if it’s so much trouble to fight random encounters, why not just ignore them and continue on without the level-grinding? Well, the answer to that is: finite experience points. LoX is one of those RPGs in which there is a limited number of monsters you can encounter in the game, and thus a limited amount of levels you can gain. Yeah, there are a TON of enemies to take down in the game, but it’s not Final Fantasy: eventually the enemies in each area run out. And Lords of Xulima is, as I mentioned before, not a forgiving game. You need pretty much every level up you can squeeze out of it, at least for a while. Late in the game, if you planned well long-term (Hint: When leveling up, ALWAYS INCREASE SPEED), and made smart use of your resources, you may be strong enough that you don’t really need to eradicate every possible enemy any longer, but early in the game, you’ll be clawing for every advantage you can grab hold of, and can’t afford to leave experience opportunities behind. So polishing off every enemy in an area is not an activity you engage in on a completionist whim, it’s just an assumed necessity of Lords of Xulima.

It wouldn’t be hard to fix this problem. All Numantian Games would have to do would be to increase the encounter rate to a regular level, like most other RPGs. The slight benefit of providing more opportunity for a retreat from a new hostile area just does not outweigh the frustration of waiting and waiting and WAITING for the next random encounter to finally show up later on. And also, get rid of the stupid mechanic of enemies taking longer to show up as their numbers dwindle. Yeah, it’s more realistic, but so are weapon maintenance and sprint meters--it’s one of those areas where dedication to realism is the sacrifice of enjoyability. It detriments the game, while gaining nothing.

Hell, if they really didn’t want to change the encounter rate, they could still make the system more user-friendly. Lots of RPGs have items or accessories that increase or decrease random encounter rates; the Tales of series has been using such things since the get-go. Numantian Games could just incorporate some kind of “lure” item, equipment, or skill in the game, and when the player’s ready to clear an area out, they could activate it and have the enemies come at a reasonable pace. Or maybe each area could have a programming flag that activates once all the stationary, non-random enemies are defeated that increases the encounter rate, since at that point the player’s obviously ready to handle everything the area can throw at him/her. Or how about one of those items like the one from Chrono Cross, the thing you get for beating the game which allows you to speed everything in the game up several times over? Even if the encounter rate stays low, with one of those babies, you’d still cut the boring waiting time down several times over.

There are probably plenty of other ways you could improve the encounter rate situation in Lords of Xulima besides the ones above, too. All I know is that just about any other way of handling the random encounter rate in Lords of Xulima would be better than what’s there right now.

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