Designing Silicon Void’s Combat, Part 2: Critical Eye

Last time, I described how I designed Silicon Void‘s turn clock in response to what I perceive to be flaws in Chrono Cross‘ combat mechanics. In this post we finally leave Chrono Cross behind and look at a mechanic that has an entirely different inspiration.

Besides the upcoming enemy turn schedule, the turn clock also shows which turn effect is active. The clock has four phases, each of which is three ticks long and has an associated effect:

  1. Empty
  2. Hit% Up – normal attacks are more likely to succeed
  3. CPU Down – attacks and Abilities cost 50% less CPU (aka stamina)
  4. XP Up – enemies yield 20% more XP on defeat

As different effects rotate into the active turn slot, different actions become incentivized. Attacking during the Hit% Up phase is optimal, particularly to start a new combo or target an enemy with high Evasion. The CPU Down phase is the only time it’s possible to use an Ability and immediately act again, since the CPU cost is reduced from 7.0 to 3.5.

Obviously arranging for enemies to die during the XP Up phase can be worthwhile, but sometimes this is harder than it seems; since you’re unable to simply pass a turn without acting, it may take some gymnastics to avoid delivering a finishing strike until the right moment. If the optional goal of juggling turns in order to squeeze more XP out of enemies sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve read my very early blog post about a similar system in Xenosaga!

The order of the effects is the same each battle, but each phase also has a color assigned at random, corresponding to one of the four “energy types” (i.e. elemental affinities). The color of the active turn slot determines which of those energy types will benefit from a critical effect during that turn. For example, during the blue segment, Electric attacks will deal 50% extra critical damage. Every attack and Ability gets some kind of benefit when used during its critical clock phase, such as extra damage dealt, extra HP healing, or longer duration of status effects, buffs, and debuffs.

Having random combinations of color and effect during each phase from battle to battle adds an additional layer of potential optimization. The color of the CPU Down phase determines which attacks will yield the best damage:CPU ratio for the battle; attacks matching the color of the XP Up phase make the best finishers. On top of this, each enemy is vulnerable to a specific energy type and resistant to another, so there is an optimal phase of the clock for targeting each enemy.

Enemies also benefit from critical effects, and preparing for upcoming enemy criticals is the main defensive strategic element of the game. Particularly during boss fights, guarding before an enemy critical is important for avoiding heavy damage. Alternatively, a few specialized Abilities make it possible to manipulate the enemy turn schedule or the clock itself to prevent enemy criticals.

Your own frames have the Neutral energy type at the start of combat, which has no corresponding clock phase, so critical basic attacks are impossible – until you use an Ability, which changes the frame’s energy to match that of the Ability. From that point on the frame’s basic attacks deal that type of damage, allowing you to take advantage of critical bonuses and enemy vulnerabilities. This is a nice example of the principle I laid out in Part 1: “Every action you take should have multiple consequences, allowing novel scenarios to emerge from a limited set of choices.”

You most likely won’t use an Ability in order to change a frame’s energy type – Abilities are expensive, and their immediate effects represent the large majority of their value. Rather, the energy change is a secondary consequence which slightly alters the value of your options going forward. It is not entirely beneficial, either: your frames gain the vulnerability of that energy type as well as its strength.

Together, the random pairing of clock phase effects and colors and the changing energy types of your frames based on your Ability choices provide a wide variety of combat scenarios when repeatedly facing the same set of enemies. As a result, you’re challenged to consider your strategy carefully in each battle. (This suits my taste very well, but of course it’s not objectively better – some players like to cruise through random encounters.)

To further incentivize you to develop different strategies, one of the key progression mechanics of Silicon Void requires you to temporarily give up your Abilities to make them stronger. This will be the subject of the next post! Thanks for reading, and please keep spreading the word about the game – the Kickstarter is coming soon!

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