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3 Reasons Why The Hama and Mudo Techniques In Persona Are Bad Ideas

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You're probably familiar with the Persona (aka Shin Megami Tensei) series of JRPGs, but if you're not, here's a quick explanation:

HAMA SKILLS: A light-based magic technique that deals zero damage but has a certain % chance to insta-kill the enemy. Does not work on bosses.

MUDO SKILLS: Same thing. Only darkness-based.

Also important to note: In the Persona games, you can issue very general orders to allies but you cannot control them directly or assign them specific actions. So you can tell your allies not to cast magic AT ALL, for example, but you can't tell them to cast a specific spell or forbid them to use a specific ability.

So here are three reasons why these spells---at least how they end up functioning within the framework of Persona's gameplay---end up being, in my opinion, really bad ideas.

REASON 1: WHEN ALLIES SUCCESSFULLY USE THEM, IT POINTLESSLY SQUANDERS YOUR TURNS AND RESOURCES

This would probably only concern you if you were a min-maxer or a bean counter, but considering that most RPG players do tend to be both of these things (and the RPG genre encourages it), I'd be surprised if it hadn't occurred to a lot of the players who watch their numbers like hawks.

Here's the deal. Let's suppose you have a full party (4 characters, including the main) and let's say one of your allies has the ability to use Hamaon. You enter battle against a single regular enemy, but it's a tank type enemy with a lot of defense and HP. Let's consider two different scenarios as to how this battle could unfold.

Scenario A:

Turn 1 - Main Character: Spends 15 SP to cast Fire Break (nullifies enemy fire resistence)

Turn 2 - First Ally spends 12 SP to cast Agidyne (deals fire dmg)

Turn 3 - Second Ally sacrifices 16% of HP to use Vile Strike (deals physical dmg)

Turn 4 - Third Ally spends 12 SP to cast Hamaon, successfully insta-killing the target

Scenario B:

Turn 1 - Main Character does nothing.

Turn 2 - First Ally does nothing.

Turn 3 - Second Ally does nothing.

Turn 4 - Third ally spends 12 SP to cast Hamaon, successfully insta-killing the target

The Problem:

Both of these scenarios have the same result with the battle ending when the third ally casts a successful Hamaon spell that insta-kills the target. But the two scenarios are extremely different in that, in the first scenario, a chunk of your resources end up getting pointlessly wasted. Two of your characters spent a large chunk of SP for nothing (total of 27 SP lost) and one of your characters lost 16% of his HP for nothing.

In other words, victory in Scenario A ends up costing the player 39 SP and 16% (i.e. almost a fifth) of an ally's HP. Victory in Scenario B only costs 12 SP. This is not a matter of planning your strategy to be economical, because Hama skills are like a slot machine. When an ally casts Hama and it fails, the ally wastes SP and wastes their turn. But even if they cast Hama and it succeeds, they waste the successful actions of every ally that went before them.

Maybe I'm just being obsessive compulsive, but does that NOT drive anyone else crazy? That drives me a little crazy.

REASON 2: ALLIES WITH HAMA/MUDO SKILLS WILL ALWAYS TRY TO USE THEM IN A BOSS FIGHT

The reason why this is infuriating is probably obvious to anyone who has experienced it. You take an ally with Hama (or Mudo) skills into a boss fight. Let's say the boss is an extremely powerful user of defensive magics and casts a lot of different reflection and nullification spells, rendering ALL attack types either ineffective or causing the dmg to reflect back onto your allies. The result is that you have to either wait out the duration of his defensive spells or cast a skill that deactivates them.

So this is the scenario. You are facing a boss which is essentially immune to EVERY TYPE OF POSSIBLE ATTACK at the start of the round. So, being the astute strategist that you are, you summon a persona with Fire Break and deactivate his fire resistance, leaving a hole in his defenses wide open for an Ally to deal the damage. Your first and second allies don't have fire attacks, though, so they just wait on their turn.

Then it's the third ally's turn. He's got that sexy Agidyne spell that can really bring the pain. And then he casts Mudoon. An insta-kill spell. ON A BOSS.

Look, it's not rocket science. This could literally be THE FIRST RPG YOU HAVE EVER PLAYED, and you could probably figure out that the game is not going to let you insta-kill the boss. Why is this even a thing?

So the ally wastes his own SP in addition to wasting YOUR SP due to the fact that he wasted the opportunity that was purchased with it, and he puts all your characters in greater danger, because now you all have to fight an extremely dangerous boss for one more round than you otherwise would have had to.

The boss casts a defensive spell that re-nullifies fire attacks. You are pissed and your ally is a worthless sack of sh*t. Possibly you inform him of this by yelling it at the television. I mean, an insta-kill attack? On a boss?

This kind of scenario could perhaps be avoided if you could tell your allies, "Hey. This is a boss. You know that one skill you have? Don't use that one." But you can't do that. The best you can do is, "Hey, don't use ANY MAGIC AT ALL." I could not think of a better example of throwing the baby out with the bath water if I tried.

REASON 3: PAYING MORE FOR A LOWER FAIL RATE AND STILL FAILING IS FRUSTRATING AND WASTEFUL

Let's talk about a skill called Samsara, which is the highest level light skill a persona can possess. The next highest is Mahamaon which casts light on all enemies with a 40% chance to kill each enemy. Samsara also casts light on all enemies, but its success rate to kill each enemy is a whopping 80%! Wow! But that higher probability comes at a cost. The spell costs 35 SP per use.

Imagine the frustration then when you enter a battle with 5 regular enemies, and you spend 35 SP to cast Samsara, which has a success rate of 80%, and only ONE of the enemies dies.

That's probability, I guess, but damn man. Damn. Just damn.

So you cast Samsara again, racking up an expense of 70 SP. Three enemies die, but there is still one standing.

Hm. Just hm. Also? Hm.

SOME WAYS THAT THESE SKILLS COULD STILL BE FUN BUT RUIN YOUR LIFE LESS

1. Here's one way to solve the second problem I mentioned: A lot of RPGs where you are not in direct control of your allies allow you to go into a menu and deactivate abilities, taking them out of your allies' repertoire until you activate them again. That would be super useful in Persona. I'm thinking especially of boss fights where your Hama/Mudo allies take special pleasure in demonstrating the height of AI stupidity.

2. Here's one way to solve the third problem I mentioned: Scrap Hama and Mudo skills as abilities and confine them to their attack item versions. This way if you use an expensive attack item version of Samsara and it fails, it costs you a lot of money, but it doesn't screw you over in the current battle, nor does it leave you low on resource in your dungeon crawl. Don't like that solution? Think it's too dramatic? Alright, try this one on for size: Even if a Hama/Mudo attack fails, it still has a small positive effect. That's at least a less egregious version of the same problem.

It's difficult to think of a way to solve the first problem of one ally's success squandering their allies' turns, though. That is one fundamental problem with the Hama/Mudo skills that makes me dislike them. RPGs are, to me, about assessing a situation, forming an action plan, then executing it. When you incorporate Hama/Mudo into your action plan, they make the entire action plan unreliable, and even if they work, they make the rest of the action plan pointless.

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reason 2 is definitely a problem of stupid ai, but 1 and 3 just sound like you don't enjoy gambling. more randomness is not necessarily a flaw. some people enjoy chess, some people like blackjack. one isn't more correct than the other.

maybe there is there a way you can just not learn those skills that rely on the random number generator? i haven't played the game.

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reason 2 is definitely a problem of stupid ai, but 1 and 3 just sound like you don't enjoy gambling. more randomness is not necessarily a flaw. some people enjoy chess, some people like blackjack. one isn't more correct than the other.

maybe there is there a way you can just not learn those skills that rely on the random number generator? i haven't played the game.

It's true that I tend to usually dislike (but not always) gambling elements in RPG games, but I don't know that it's the gambling aspect of it that I don't like. I think what dislike about it is 1) how ABSOLUTE it is, and 2) how not in control of it you are.

Like, imagine that in place of an insta-kill attack you had a skill that was a pass/fail gamble. If it passes (at a success rate of 40%), the attack deals triple your weapon damage and/or possibly even bypasses the enemy's defense. If it fails (60% chance), it's a miss. In short, an extremely powerful hit that could very likely reduce the enemy to 0 hp. But it also may not. There is also still the chance that the enemy will have 1hp or 10hp or however much remaining.

In my mind, this is way better. This means that if the first three allies work together on a plan of action that deals the enemy damage, then when the final ally takes a gamble on an attack with a significant fail rate but a chance to deal a devastating blow, that if the attack succeeds, the damage being dealt is still being STACKED on top of the damage your allies have already done. So if the attack reduces the enemy's HP to zero, your allies could still be seen as playing a role in that kill, because they chipped a few points off first. They set the ball, and your gamble attack spiked it.

But having the gamble attack absolutely insta-kill the enemy regardless of their defenses and HP value means that, if the attack succeeds, whatever your allies did before you to contribute doesn't matter.

The two other aspects to consider are

1) it's not really gambling, because THE PLAYER ISN'T THE ONE DOING IT. If it were a typical RPG where the player controlled every person in the party, then choosing to use a gamble mechanic is the player's call. The human player decides to put the rest of the party members' contributions on the table and gamble it all on this one long-shot move. But that's not what's happening here. This is a situation where an AI character is deciding for himself to risk the longshot, which is different.

2) the Persona games aren't like other RPGs where you can enter and exit the dungeons as you please and rest as much as you want. Every time you enter then exit the dungeon, time in the game advances by one day, AND TIME IS FINITE. Entering then exiting the dungeon advances the story, advances the game, and moves you closer to the next big boss fight. So you want to squeeze the most out of every dungeon run that you can without leaving to rest or visit a store. What you go in with is what you get. Once those resources run out, they are gone. So when your party members gamble them away without asking you, IT IS A LITTLE BIT ANNOYING.

Imagine a scenario where you and three friends are going to be locked inside a cabin for the entire winter, so you save up a bunch of food and supplies and then settle into the cabin. Then on the first night, you hear the sound of an animal outside the cabin. One of your friends freaks out and throws a week's worth of food out the window. The animal goes away, so what your friend did was a long-shot strategy that "worked", but now you have a week's less food for what was probably a very stupid reason.

You see what I mean? Annoying.

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yeah i see what you mean. that sounds like annoying gameplay to me too. still though, i think there are some people who like that kind of stuff and it's more a matter of taste than a "Bad Idea". some people like the thrill of "all or nothing" when gambling and that person will probably like the thrill of absolute kill-or-miss mechanics too, even if it devalues strategic planning somewhat.

it is you (the player) who's choosing to gamble, because you are choosing to play a game that forces you to gamble. maybe persona is just not the series for you? i am also not fond of games that have a lot of randomness, but some people are. look at pokemon. if you want to get a shiny version of a pokemon, you have to roll the dice thousands and thousands of times. it sounds so stupid and annoying to me yet some people get immense satisfaction from it. i leave you with this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AlhaJF5Afw

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Yeah, I understand that some people like randomness, and that's fine. I just think the way it's built in there is dumb. All RPGs use randomness or luck-of-the-draw to some degree. Here are some examples of randomness I don't think are dumb:

Randomization of end-of-battle item drops

Randomization of treasure chest contents

Randomization of enemies spawned in a room or battle screen

Random encounters

Randomization of dungeon floor layout

Randomization of damage within a set range (e.g. a weapon that deals 10 to 15 dmg)

Randomization of recovery within a set range (e.g. a spell that heals 10 to 15 hp)

Randomized success of auxiliary effects (e.g. a weapon that always deals basic dmg, but has a 15% chance to deal additional fire dmg)

Randomized success of auxiliary penalties (e.g. skill always does X, but has a 15% chance to poison the user, etc)

Randomization of enemy behavior (i.e. preventing enemy predictability)

Randomness of accuracy roll (accuracy stat means ALL attacks have a small % chance to occasionally miss)

What I dislike about the Hama/Mudo skills are that they strike me as coin flips built inelegantly into a strategy game. Imagine playing a tower defense game or an RTS where, whenever you went to purchase a new unit, there was a 60% chance that your resources would get spent but the new unit wouldn't get produced. Or to venture away from strategy for a moment, imagine playing a platformer where the character is only allowed to jump 20 times per level, but with every jump there is a 60% chance he will FAIL to jump and still lose a jump from his allotted reserve. Imagine playing a first person shooter where you're given a pistol that, with every pull of the trigger, has a 40% chance to fire a bullet and a 60% chance fail to fire and still penalize you one bullet. What a crappy gun.

I haaaaaate sh*t like that. It's not just that I don't find it fun (and I don't); the very concept to me is sort of dumb. That's not even gambling. That's just handicapping the player by shackling them with probabilities. Gambling is where you wager X amount of something you possess and risk losing it completely, but the reason you do that is because there is a chance you will receive something even better in return. But when you're playing a game where there is a 40% chance that you will accomplish something ordinary (e.g. jumping, shooting, killing an enemy with one attack---very common in Persona, actually) and a 60% that you'll garner a loss.... then that's just dumb. Yes, that is dumb to me. And anyone who likes that likes things that are dumb. There. I said it.

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Your OP is incorrect. In Persona 3 you can't give direct orders to your allies, but in Persona 4 and Persona 3 Portable, they changed that. I haven't played the first two Personas, but I think you give orders to allies in those too. I'll read the rest of your points later.

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