Rule-Based vs. Character-Centered Game System
Are the characters mapped onto the rules grid or the rules tailored to the characters?
A Sliding Scale of integration between character concepts and gameplay rules in Role-Playing Games, spanning two extremes:
- Rule-based games have a universal Game System that applies equally to all characters, be they playable, neutral, or hostile. Character abilities are defined solely within the boundaries permitted by the system.
- Character-centered games put character concepts in the focus and invent different gameplay rules and controls for their respective abilities, such as Signature Moves, etc.. Playable characters in particular will have vastly different gameplay styles.
- The Dungeon Siege games have a very simple rule-based system, which allows any character evolve in any direction, regardless of initial stats. E.g. you can hire a mage, give him an axe, and have him become a capable fighter in no time.
- Dungeons & Dragons and video games based on it: Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights...
- Mass Effect games are generally rule-based in that same abilities function exactly the same, regardless of the user. Mass Effect was especially formulaic: its six squad members were designed to cover the entire spectrum of combat, tech, and biotics.
- Dragon Age: Origins was very rule-based, and all characters of the same class had access to almost exactly the same abilities. This was particularly obvious in the expansion, where you could re-spec a character intended for Dual Wielding melee into The Archer for a minimal fee.
- Final Fantasy XIII is very rule-based in regards to classes/roles, to the point where maxed-out characters are pretty much interchangeable. It compensates for this by giving each character a different set of (readily) accessible roles and unique ultimate attacks.
- Dragon Age II retains the strong class-oriented rule-based system of Origins but gives each party member a unique additional talent tree instead of Hawke's specializations. It also restricts the companions to their (upgradable) starting armor sets that can't be worn by anyone else.
- The Fire Emblem series has the same basic rules for each class and allows the characters to upgrade to Prestige Classes, however, the upgrade trees are unique to every character.
- Mass Effect 2 and 3, by comparison to part one, steer strongly towards character-centered approach, thanks to smaller skill trees and larger parties. It helps that at least half of the party members are not even human, and Everyone Has A Special Move now.
- Planescape: Torment is unique in that it is basically character-centered, despite technically following D&D rules.
- The Diablo series features a character-based system since part two, where each playable character has a unique skill tree that no other character can ever use or learn.
- In Final Fantasy VI, almost every character has unique abilities that effectively come with their own gameplay mechanics.
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