I finished Disgaea 4 this last weekend. Well, to be fair, I finished the main story: I’m not sure it’s possible to finish a Disgaea game, but whatever. And along the way, naturally I was addicted to the Item World subgame of power-leveling items and raking in the loot. And there’s something very interesting about how they handle the gambling aspect there.
If you’re not familiar with the Disgaea series, it’s a turn-based strategy RPG. You get loot in one of two ways: you can steal it from your enemies before you kill them, and you can get loot-table bonus rewards when you clear a stage. There are nine slots on the bonus gauge, filled with random items, XP bonuses, extra money, etc. The more you fill the bonus gauge, the more stuff you get.
Now, the interesting thing about this is that in the Item World, you can powerlevel an item by running through stages, but you don’t have to finish them. You can just race for the exit for the next level, and that counts for adding a level to the item you’re running through. Whether you stay to fight the enemies depends on two things: if you’re trying to level your characters as well as the item, or if you see some nice, rare stuff on the bonus gauge. If it’s worth the effort you stay and fight, if it isn’t you don’t. But the point is you see the results of the random loot when you start the stage. You know what items the enemies have (you can mouse over them), you can check the bonus gauge before you deploy a single character.
It’s a fascinating system, and it’s profoundly addictive. You know what you’re going to get, and you can go for those rewards, or dive down another level and “roll again.” You don’t fight the same mob over and over again hoping to see the reward you want. By listing off the rewards at the start, you can choose your engagements. You still aren’t guaranteed most of the rewards (it’s hard to steal items, for instance, unless you really grind up a thief), but you know what you can get.
It really makes me think about how you could use a similar arrangement outside of the Disgaea series. Much as I’d love to see it replace the “commit to the fight, then see if you were lucky” loot system of the average MMO, I confess it’d be near-impossible there: the only way to hold most groups of players together is the hope that there’s something for everyone. If you see right up front that the dungeon’s gonna be dropping mostly druid loot and nothing for warriors, the warrior will probably drop the group instead of running the dungeon anyway. You get something similar with event-type loot — the seasonal boss will be dropping X loots this week — but it’s still not really the same model. It’s still “commit to the fight, then see if the gamble paid off,” rather than “gamble, then decide to commit to the fight or not.”
All told, though, I think it’s an approach worth considering. Yes, it lets people pick and choose their fights instead of spending more time in the game — but it becomes remarkably addictive in its own right. So much so that I’m pretty glad I can now set the game aside with a clear conscience, telling myself “I’m done for now.”
Until Skyrim hits, of course. Urgh.