We’ve all played a game or two (or twenty) with this system: each character has a finite amount of MP used for spells, more powerful ones cost more MP, and if your MP runs out you need items (or “rest”) to replenish it.
I find many implementations pretty tedious (buying/using MP restorative items constantly, or saving all magic for the boss), but preferences aside, its just plain boring when so many games do the same thing.
Now I happen to think there’s still a lot to learn from older games, so let’s look back at some alternatives to the typical MP system and imagine exciting future possibilities. (Let’s just define “magic” and “MP” broadly as “special moves” and the “special points required to use them.”)
USE HP INSTEAD OF MP
You may already know much I love the Paladin’s Quest/Lennus games, where MP doesn’t exist. In these two games, spells cost HP. It’s an exciting twist that changes the dynamics of casting and healing, and I wrote about it in more detail here. Considering it’s the only game I know of to do this, I think there’s still a lot to explore here.
EACH SPELL HAS LIMITED NUMBER OF USES
Rather than bothering with MP, some games just limit the number of times each individual spell can be cast. Final Fantasy 1 and Chrono Cross do this (this was one of the highlights of CC for me, personally).
Choosing which “element” to use in Chrono Cross- only one shot for each!
In a sense, this goes for any game where items can be used to cast a spell. I always want this to be fun and functional, but for some reason items usually cast weak or “just average” spells and aren’t worth keeping track of. (However, bombs in Dark Chronicle 2 are super useful *wink*).
On this note, I always liked the concept of the “Chemist” class (from Final Fantasy 3/6 and others), who can use items more effectively. That coupled with magic/attack items that actually deal damage would be fun!
FF’s Chemists can also “Mix” items and get special results.
The Draw system in FF 8 is a weird case where you can infinitely “Draw” the items needed to cast magic. The catch is that you infinitesimally weaken your character each time you use any Magic that is “Junctioned.” I enjoyed this, but nevertheless ending up getting frustrated as I spent hours obsessively trying to Draw Magic. In the end, I think the combination of “limited number of casts” and “infinitely available through cumbersome chore” was not such a good idea.
Fire Emblem KIND of does this… Every physical or magical attack wears down the weapon/spellbook used until it breaks. So, in practice, every attack is a “special” attack (ie limited in number), but at the same time characters generally use the same attacks all the time, so nothing is really “special.” The interesting thing is that “magic” is just another weapon, no different from swords or bows, just with its own pros and cons.
Battle animations in the SNES and GBA Fire Emblem games are wonderful.
AVAILABLE ON LIMITED OR INFINITE BASIS, BUT IN SPECIAL SITUATIONS ONLY
I’m talking about all the Limit Breaks and Overdrives out there. They become available either when you are low on HP or have filled up a bar by taking enough damage (though Final Fantasy X lets you fill up the bar in various ways, which was neat).
Lufia 2 had an additional interesting twist on this system where the abilities are provided by equipment. That was a really fun additional consideration when equipping armor and weapons.
When the IP bar (below MP) fills up, you can choose one of the IP techniques of your equipped items.
I loved how in Final Fantasy 9, a certain combination of characters in the party makes some abilities available. I just thought it was so endearing that Steiner could use elemental Magic Swords when Vivi was there! (Unfortunately I never used Steiner…)
Steiner performs Fire Sword with Vivi’s help.
I think there is a lot more to explore with this “special situation magic”…
What if a character could only use certain spells when their HP was above 90%? Or only when an ally was low on HPーor only when the enemies have over 50% health?! Just imagine!!
GIVE MAGES AN ATTACK THAT DOESN’T USE MP
When it comes to traditional mages, don’t you hate having to choose between a powerful spell that uses up precious MP, or totally worthless physical attacks?
Well, in Romancing Saga 3, mages generally have a relatively effective 1MP attack, but also a -1MP bonus to magic. So you get a free attack that is actually effective.
RESET/REPLENISH AFTER EVERY BATTLE
Now, the only game I know that did this with the “MP” is Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song (though they call it “BP”), where it starts at the same base level and increases throughout each battle. Breath of Fire 4 is similar, in that you start with a minimal base amount of AP that replenishes throughout the battle (but only if the character isn’t being used).
The nice thing about these systems is that you are saved (at least partially) from the tyranny of “Ethers” (cough, Final Fantasy, cough).
Romancing SaGa 3 resets HP to the max after every battle, which is a huge relief and allows for consistently challenging enemies. This could be really interesting if also done with MP…
VIA BUTTON COMBINATIONS
It’s standard fare in Action RPGs, obviously, but Final Fantasy 3 also implemented it with Sabin, and Legend of Dragoon used it in a pretty fun way, too.
You must hit buttons precisely to rack up damage in Legend of Dragoon- but if you succeed, the character yells out the name of the attack with hilarious voice acting!
For me the memorization of fast-paced buttons to mash kinda clashes with the RPG vibe. I mean when you want action, you want consistent action (not light action spread awkwardly through parts of battle), and when you want RPG, you usually want atmosphere, strategy, planning, and whatnot- not to be suddenly asked to input fast buttons.
Now this is a wild fantasy of mine but… what if not only did spells use HP, but HP was shared for the entire party? Different characters contribute different amounts, and their spells use different amounts. They could even KO at different points as it decreases…?!
Or, what if the stage where you fought supplied the MP- a limited amount shared by all characters? Some areas are rich in magic, others barely have a shred!? And what if this “Mana Pool” (still MP, haha) was also shared by ENEMIES?
What if performing special moves involved putting your characters in certain locations relative to enemies in a grid-based fighting game (forming an unbroken “Square of Doom” or “Healing Trapezoid,” for example)? Some kind of Geomancy/Feng Shui-based magic system…??
My fantasies are endless… And you probably have your own, too. I’d love to hear them in the comments section!