A phenomenon I've noticed recently while playing various tactical video games. During the game's early levels, the game mechanics cause you to prioritize one stat or strategy above all others. By the game's midway point, however, your priorities are likely to change pretty significantly, and by endgame the whole thing is likely to have changed all over again. And let's not even get into multiplayer priorities...
I think the early-game strategy is best described as "avoiding a Game Over
", because it's during this time where your characters are relatively weak and can get into trouble more easily. By the time you reach the midgame your party is more difficult to KO (for numerous reasons).
There's a few different kinds of this, as far as I can tell:
1) Additional Systems:
Your strategy in later parts of the game is changed by the introduction or increased prevalence of a different game system. The most common example would be something like a magic system: during the early game, when you either don't have magic or only have a few spells, your characters rely heavily on their swordarm. During the late game, however, there isn't much point in walking up and striking a monster when you can obliterate the entire field with Ultima.
Examples: Any RPG that doesn't introduce a magic system or similar mechanic until later in the story; earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons that give spellcasters access to things like instant death, flight and teleportation about midway through the spell level progression.
2) Removed Limitations:
Somewhat similar to the above, your tactics might change if something that was once precious and limited becomes much less so. If the Void Crystals necessary to power your most devastating techniques or the ammunition for the most powerful gun start showing up in shops for dirt cheap near the end of the game, you might start getting a lot more use out of them.
Examples: Many FPS games, where ammunition for better and better guns becomes more common as the game progresses; many RP Gs
where the mana necessary to use powerful spells repeatedly is only available late in the game
3) Changed Enemy Capabilities:
Rather than the player's resources or available tactical options changing, the foes they face might force the change. Perhaps the enemies become resistant or immune to techniques that were useful in the earlier parts of the game, or perhaps the enemy develops more powerful attacks, requiring you to tend to your defense instead of focusing solely on offense.
I'm sure there's a few other types as well.
The usual disclaimers apply, of course: this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. In general, it can be nice for a game to force you to step up your tactics as you go, and it can stop things from getting stale. In a game that forces you to specialize your characters, however, you can get to the endgame to find that none of your characters are built properly and the game is Unwinnable
See also One Stat to Rule Them All
. Also, this is Audience Reaction
. Certainly very closely related to the idea of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards
, which would be a subtrope for sure.
Real Time Strategy
- Most Final Fantasy games gradually introduce game mechanics. Often, this includes something like a system of magic or various limit breaks which can drastically change your priorities.
- Final Fantasy Tactics has an odd kind of bait-and-switch. Early in the game, generic Wizard units will stomp all over most maps, only accelerating as your each mid-game. Suddenly, in the late game, the whole focus changes to Special Units granted to you by the story who can do everything your generics can, but better, and physical attackers who can take a hit or two become much more useful than your fragile casters.
- Early in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance you want your characters to have good strength, magic, defense and resistance. By the end game, all you care about is speed and accuracy as more or less your whole army has attacks that can kill or disable an enemy in one shot.
- Due to Pokémon's general penchant for Rocket Tag Gameplay, the defensive stats are less useful. However, later generations have changed this somewhat with a bigger emphasis on tank-style monsters that can ruin a sweeper's day.
- Golden Sun: In the early game, managing Djinn is very important, as a single active Djinni of a different element causes massive stat drops and changes what psynergy you can use (deactivating them allows for Summon Magic, but they then become active). And since they can only be given to those with a smaller or equal amount, one character often finds himself carrying one around without being able to use it. Come endgame, you have enough Djinn to keep summoning various gods over and over again, and attacking is far better than psynergy in just about every way.
Turn Based Strategy
- In the MMORTS Utopia, while your province is under 1000 acres, you concentrate on defense, train mainly basic units, and must divert a lot of land to sustaining your economy. However, once you pass that size, it becomes more viable to direct all resources into military strength and train only elite units.
- In early-game Disgaea, every stat is about as important as it sounds. In late-game, the only stat that matters is the one you use to deal damage.
- Diablo II is all about this trope. Early in the game, it may seem useful to put your stat points into Energy, but by the time you reach end game you realize that those points have essentially been wasted, as all you care about by then is having just enough Strength to equip the best gear and then nothing but Vitality. Likewise, in later difficulties enemies have excessive resistance to various kinds of attack, and some of your spells scale better than others; I sure hope you didn't put all of your ability points into something useless. Surprise!
- Diablo III has a milder version of this, mitigated by the fact that your skills and gear can be changed at any time. On earlier difficulties it is not only feasible but optimal to focus entirely on your character's offensive capabilities. By the time you get into Hell or Inferno difficulties, doing so will get you killed. A lot.
Non Video-Game examples:
- In Dungeons & Dragons editions before 4th edition, spellcasting was a liability in early levels and grew to engulf the entire game by the time you reached higher levels. Early on, your hit points are very low and even the fighter can go down to a single lucky critical hit from a tough opponent, making heavy armor and good hit dice a real boon. By the time you reach mid-game, however, your spellcasters will have obtained a stockpile of very useful spells that let them pull their weight, and by endgame a caster's buffing capabilities combined with their hundreds of spell slots filled with powerful, reality-altering spells have completely changed the game.
- The changing gameplay priorities are actually built right in to 4th edition D&D in the form of tiers. Every 10 levels, your characters get a pretty significant growth in power plus new capabilities, such as flight, teleportation or, in the final tier, the ability to cheat death and resurrect themselves at least once per day. There are some pretty dramatic differences between the capabilities and priorities of a heroic-tier party, where resources are scarce and powers need to be carefully rationed, and an epic-tier party, who won't flinch for anything short of a mad god and who can fight regular enemies for days straight without resting.
- In 3.x Dungeons & Dragons, AC (Armor Class) is important and low-to-mid levels because it allows you to avoid taking damage from enemy attacks. At higher levels, everybody has such high attack bonuses that AC becomes meaningless. Even if you have +5 Full Plate Armor most enemy attacks are going to hit you.