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Weekly Musings #33 On "New Game+" Mechanics
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: March 21st 2005

Capcom weren't the first to come up with the concept of a revolving-door game, wherein players had to play through two or three times to unlock everything. Not at all. For those of you who aren't familiar with the history of RPG gaming, the concept of a "New Game+" mode was first given to us by the folks at Squaresoft when the SNES gem Chrono Trigger was first shipped out, and it was good.

The idea of a New Game+, from a game design standpoint, makes a heck of a lot of sense. RPG's especially take advantage of this, because there's usually (especially in a Square-style RPG) a ton of equipment and abilities that are only available after hundreds of hours of gameplay and power leveling. Most gamers that I know of don't want to waste the time on that; for every person who maxed out their characters to the ultimate level on Final Fantasy VII's first disc and actually saw Aeris's level 4 limit break, there are thousands who never bothered because it was a waste of time. A New Game+ mode for Final Fantasy VII would have saved them much unnecessary grief.

Additionally, the New Game+ mode offers RPG designers a chance to throw in "extras", provided the game itself isn't ridiculously long. The Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross titles did a very good job of offering multiple endings, for instance. On the other side, if the game's long enough (80+ hours, such as Final Fantasy X-2) a New Game+ will feel like a tease; why should gamers put that kind of effort into finishing, only to be told "Now do it all again to get the GOOD ending, mwa ha ha"?

Indeed, for RPG's, the New Game+ turns out to be a balancing act. If your RPG is a once-through affair like Arx Fatalis, stay away from it. If your RPG is a "collect all the items and get 100% exploration" RPG, sure. If your RPG is only about 50 hours, and you want to put in extra endings, go for it - but please, for the love of all that is playable, make the first ending something that will satisfy players!

Action games are where the New Game+ mode gets even wierder. The first title I can think of to try this, originally, would be Konami's classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which had faux-RPG elements and an exploration aspect. Still, it was good and fun to go back through the game hunting down items and getting the Walk Armor up to 200% power.

Capcom's done fairly well with it too, mostly in the Devil May Cry series. We'll ignore DMC 2 for the moment; Devil May Cry, the original (and still the best), presents tons of special options to unlock, and 2-3 playthroughs is where it gets fun as new modes unlock and Dante's abilities remain the same. Yes, it makes some of the plot points rather silly, but Dante never turns out to be overpowered even with all his nifty abilities, so the game remains fun and challenging.

This weekend, I started in on Megaman X-8, and for the first time, it appeared Capcom had done something truly nifty that way with a Megaman title. Unlike X-7, which was just horrid, they've gone back to using 2D stage layout and just exploiting 3D graphics. The difficulty (even on "normal" mode) is significantly higher; in fact, I can safely say that the last time I was as frustrated with a Megaman title's difficulty would be playing the original NES Megaman.

But they didn't stop there. No, they added in the "rpg" elements in the form of upgrades to X, Axl, and Zero. And then they gave us "New Game+" mode. As it turns out, X-8 has three "super" armors (one for each protagonist) that become available for the entire game, as well as three hidden characters, but only after the game's beaten the first time. It's a nice touch and a good way to extend the replay value.

Again, New Game+ isn't for every game. Some games, it would be worthless. Some games, it would just destroy. But for a game with a shorter storyline like a Megaman title, it's a good way to extend the gameplay and make it more worth picking up.

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Weekly Musings #33: On "New Game+" Mechanics

Added:  Monday, March 21, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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