Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a tactical RPG that aims to challenge players both on the battlefield and with their creativity, allowing them to combine abilities from various classes to create their own powerhouse units to take into battle.
With their Kickstarter campaign underway and a demo available for players to try, Siliconera spoke with the developers to learn more about what powers players will be able to combine, what new character classes the devs were bringing to the genre, and how it drew from, and deviated from, its Final Fantasy Tactics inspirations.
What drew you to create a tactical game? What inspired you to make Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark?
Pierre Leclerc, co-creator of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark – Both members of our team are big fans of RPGs. We’ve been playing them, be it on computer, console or pen&paper, for more than 30 years. When we’re thinking about making a game, an RPG is what we think about. So, when we decided to start creating our own game, these are factors that stood out:
– it needed to be a game we’d really love playing ourselves, i.e. an RPG.
– we felt a tactics game would work better than a classic RPG for a small team of 2.
– focusing on a genre that’s underrepresented would increase the odds of success, another point in favor of a tactical RPG.
– we especially love tactical RPGs ^^
Ever since Disgaea 1 came out a long time ago, it reminded us how much we love the Tactics genre and even though we really enjoy the Disgaea series, we don’t think it’s quite fulfilling what we’re looking for in a Tactics game. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is certainly primarily inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics, but you could say that Disgaea played a big part in inspiring us to actually start working on a tactical game.
You draw some inspiration from Final Fantasy Tactics. What aspects of Fell Seal are similar to that game? Where does it diverge into your own game?
I think the general aesthetics of the game should put the player in mind of Final Fantasy Tactics. Specifically, I think the way the story is told, via scripted in-game cutscenes and copious dialogue, is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics and, even more so, of Tactics Ogre.
The overall gameplay draws a lot from Final Fantasy Tactics, both in the way the actual battles unfold and in the class system that brings everything together. With over 20 classes, each with a set of active and passive abilities, the player can really mix and match to create their own unique characters, much like Final Fantasy Tactics would allow.
Even though we think Final Fantasy Tactics was a masterpiece, at the same time, we also think some things could have been done better or simply haven’t aged that well. Many years have passed since FFT and gamers’ needs and tastes have evolved with time. This is a large part of where our game diverges. For starters, we have a lot of improvements in the UI department. Things like making important information (like turn-order, relevant resistances, etc) more easily accessible and getting to information in a lot less button clicks.
On the gameplay side, there’s definitely a long list of differences, too many to all list, but here are some salient points:
We’re going for a more consistent difficulty level, which includes replacing perma-death with an injury system (somewhat similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown) and ensuring your benched people remain more easily viable with a more generous party-wide class-points rewards system that’s also meant to encourage you to use more of your troops than only your "main 6 guys".
We have a very different take on many classic game mechanics. For example, we’re handling the items in a completely different way than usual. You will start every battle fully stocked with items and you never need to purchase them (actually, you can’t purchase items), but their amount is very limited. Using crafting, you will be able to discover new items and also increase the potency and amount of items you still start battles with. The idea is to prevent players from hoarding items until the final battle and then realize they never actually used them.
We’re also using status effects in a different way than FFT. They generally aren’t as devastating as they were in FFT, but they’re also much more likely to succeed and are often bundled with attacks that do a fair amount of damage. The idea is to make status effects a real and reliable strategy, rather than a super specialized setup. There are countless valid strategies to adopt with them, it’s all up to the player.
We also don’t have random encounters on the world map, a faster class learning progression, the ability to customize the visual appearance of all your recruited troops…Well, I could go on for a while, as we have a pretty good list of new and different features, but I think you get the idea. :)
What thoughts go into creating a fun class for your tactical game? What makes each one create interesting tactical opportunities?
Lots of thoughts and many excel spreadsheets go into the creation of every class in the game (we have over 15 different excel sheets for classes, items, gear, etc)! The baseline is always to make sure that as we look at a class as gamers, we get excited by what we could do with it, about the havoc we could raise on the battlefield. Then comes making sure things are balanced properly.
Creating the classes is definitely a complex dance as there are so many different levers and knobs to play with. Each has different stat growth, equipment they can use, abilities, and unlocking requirements. The goal is to get a balance that’s just right with all those variables to create classes that are truly exciting for the player. While it’s important to balance things so every class brings something of their own to your repertoire, the ultimate goal is to make the game fun. We’re not creating a MOBA here, so not all classes need to be created equal and some might be somewhat stronger than others, and that’ll be part of the fun and discovery.
We’re primarily designing each class around their abilities, which is really the part that creates unique tactical opportunities in combat. We have classes specializing in damage, healing, status effects, or simply ‘versatility’, and within these groups, we have single target specialists right up to vast area-of-effect (AoE) specialists. Then, we round them up with stats growth and available equipment. Each class ends up bringing different strategies and opportunities to the tactical table, and from there it’s really up to you as to how to use them and combine them.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the more unique classes in Fell Seal?
At this point, we have over 20 base classes ready and are planning at least 5 ‘secret classes’ for the player to use. Obviously, the secret classes are going to be more on the unique side, but at the same time, we don’t want to reveal too much about those at this point (they are ‘secret classes’ after all! ;)).
With respect to the core classes, I think one class I personally find very interesting is the Warmage. They attempt to blend a strong magical arsenal with the ability to wield very powerful melee weapons. Their spells include a special ability that lets them infuse a physical attack with any spell they know, for a big single target punch. They also boast some of the largest AoE spells in the game. Such power comes with a price though, and their AoE is centered directly around them, so to make use of it, they have to be in the thick of things, which isn’t the safest spot for a mage… They are a high risk, high reward class and promise to keep things very exciting ^^.
Another interesting class is the Sorcerer. They have spells that will target every single character on the field, including your own troops. Those spells are on the costly side, so you can’t exactly unleash them every turn, and as mentioned, they target your own people as well. But with the right strategy (or the right mix of abilities and gear), some pretty fun outcomes can be created.
We have the Fellblade, a versatile melee fighter with lots of debuffs and the ability to spread all debuffs from a target to adjacent targets. They can be very devastating with a little planning.
I think our Gadgeteer is pretty interesting. It’s a bit hard to explain, but you can think of him somewhat as Edgar from Final Fantasy 6: he can use special tools that you find/craft to do some pretty unique things on the battle field. The class doesn’t really learn many abilities on its own, but as you start collecting all those tools, its arsenal will grow dramatically and eventually should be one of your most versatile classes, with access to multiple miscellaneous and strange abilities.
Why have players be able to mix and match abilities using sub-classes and passive powers? Why add that layer of customization?
In our opinion, the main thing that really set Final Fantasy Tactics apart from most other tactical JRPGs out there was the insane amount of customization they had through their job system. If you took that away, it would start looking a lot more like Vandal Hearts, Tactics Ogre, Kartia, etc. This immense level of freedom for the player to tailor their troops is really what brought the gameplay a cut above most other tactics games. So, when we decided to create a tactical RPG, it was a given for us that we would have a class system allowing for a very high amount of customization.
Allowing a sub class on top of your regular class serves 2 main purposes. First, it creates awesome potential of customization through either super specialization (get your mage access to all the offensive spells, so they can really dish it out at all times) or super versatility (give your tank access to powerful healing magic and they can now double as a healer as they soak damage for you).
Second, it also makes leveling new classes more interesting. If you don’t retain anything from past classes, why even bother with them? Just go for the class you want and never bother with anything else… With all these abilities and passives, everything you learn opens up new ways of personalizing your characters and nothing is ever wasted.
Active abilities are not all of it, though and having a complex system of passive abilities really allows you bring things to the next level. Passive abilities add a very wide range of possibilities and can be used to simply shore up weaknesses in a character, or to totally change the way the character behaves on a fundamental level. For example, dual wielding really changes how you attack with a character and some of the MP-related passives really change the way you can use a character and what’s possible for them to do.
We think giving this amount of freedom to the player is what makes the game so interesting in the first place. It also adds a greater replay value. You only really get one chance at experiencing the story for the first time, but with countless character setups, you’ll get as many chances as you want at creating exciting teams and experiencing unique battles.
Can you hint at some of the unique powers players will be able to mix up? Some powerful builds players may want to try?
The player’s imagination is really going to be the limit with this and there are so many possibilities that I certainly can’t say I know all the best ones! But, some builds that I think are going to be interesting…
I’m a big fan of dual-wielding, and I have 2 basic builds in mind there that should pack a big offensive punch. With the right combination of passives and equipment, you could have a Mercenary dual-wielding 2 two-handed mauls, with 38% crit chance and 100% crit damage bonus. That’s probably going to hurt ^^
Another powerful dual-wielding combination is simply a dual-wielding Gunner. Guns are 1 handed, so you could equip 2 of them and while their damage isn’t the best, they have ridiculous range. This is going to be a very annoying unit to deal with.
As for something more active-ability based, a Sorcerer with 1/2 Mp cost, Mp-recovery-while-walking and ‘No friendly fire’ should be a very powerful AoE battery.
We also have a few unique displacement/positioning abilities that a clever player can take advantage of for devastating effect and a complex set of abilities for counter-attacks that open up a lot of possibilities.
How do you create a battle that will push the player’s mind and character builds without making it too challenging? What sort of work goes into finding that right balance where the player feels challenged in a tactical setting?
That’s definitely one of the hardest part of the challenge when creating the battles. We’re combining various concepts to try to make sure we’re hitting the sweet spot for this.
We have scaling story encounters. Enemies scale within a specific range, for example level 20-26, which means that the enemies you encounter in that battle will roughly match your own level, but never be lower than level 20 and never be higher than level 26. This means they should, generally speaking, be within your power level, but you could ‘grind past them’ if things were somehow not working out for you for some reason. It shouldn’t be needed, but it’s always good to know that if everything else fails, you can brute force an encounter.
We’re making sure the AI can’t "cheat". Not only do we not like it when the AI plays by different rules than your own, but if the AI can’t cheat, you know they are bound by the same constraints as the player. So, the idea is to make sure the enemies have a power level that roughly matches the player’s so the fight is ‘fair’ to begin with. Then, we assume the player is smarter than the AI, so we might toss in an extra enemy or 2 to compensate. There’s more to it than just that, but so far this general idea has has been yielding fairly balanced fights where your main key to victory is your wits, either through strategy or more clever builds than what the AI is using.
We’re relying on many, many years of playing tactical RPGs to come up with the initial balancing of things, but we realize that might not always be enough ;) We’ve been relying on our testers for feedback so far, but our more long term plan is to use feedback from the fans from our upcoming demo, beta access and early access to tweak the balance until it’s as close to perfect as can be.
We have multiple objectives for the maps, rather than simply "defeat all enemies". Not only will this keep things fresher, but it can also be used as an extra variable to play with for the difficulty, giving us one more knob to adjust when balancing a map.
We’re keeping the option on the table to create different difficulty settings (easy, normal, hard, for example) if it looks like it’s something the fan will enjoy.
Lastly, the game comes with a simple .txt config file that players can easily edit. There’s enough settings in there for the community itself to create balancing mods and tweaks. We’re not planning on relying on that for balancing, but as a gamer myself, I certainly like to know there’s always that option in the cards just in case I really want some special tweaks of my own (there isn’t a Dragon Age or Neverwinter game I haven’t tweaked the balancing of to make it just perfect for my liking!).