For many JRPGs, turn-based combat and sweeping stories can make for an excellent game, but sometimes, it's the small diversions that add to the experience.
From game-changing sidequests like in Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, taking a moment to fish in Breath of Fire, engaging in Iron Chef-like cooking contests in Suikoden II, or doing some chocobo racing in Final Fantasy VII, many memorable moments are born out of the things players do when not tackling the main story.
This era, and the minigames and sidequests that frequently appeared in its games, were what made Henry William 'Uwil' Winata, lead game designer for Legrand Legacy, want to make their game.
"Legrand Legacy is our homage to these classic JRPGs of yesteryear, but with fresh new twists that will appeal to modern players," Winata says. "From hand-drawn, pre-rendered backgrounds, epic lore, a sweeping original soundtrack, and 3D cutscenes, 90's kids will be instantly hit with a sense of nostalgia, which is hard to come by these days."
Legrand Legacy is born of love from that early era of JRPGs, one where extra diversions seemed like a constant norm. "You might recognize timed hit combat a la Legend of Dragoon; castle building, tactical war, and mini games from Suikoden; weapons triangles like Fire Emblem; as well as elements similar to Brave Frontier."
It was more than blind sticking to tradition that made Winata want to include so many minigames, diversions, and ways for players to tinker or learn more about the game's world. These elements can serve to show part of a game world's culture, hinting at its history and pastimes in a way that fleshes out the story and makes the world feel that much more lively and real.
Wishin' I was fishin'
"They (minigames) give our players a chance to take a break from their long adventure and play something fun."
Minigames can often be a welcome diversion from the main game, whether by giving players a break from the main quest after putting many hours into it, or as just something fun, new, and surprising to do. However, just because they don't tie into the core play that forms the crux of the game doesn't mean they can't enrich the game's story, setting, and narrative.
"There are mini games, side quests, and puzzles, so there's quite a bit of adventuring to do in Legrand aside from the main story," says Winata. "These activities are intended to provide additional background stories, introduce some side characters, and give the opportunity for you to win rare items and some Danaar (money)!"
With minigames and sidequests, these diversions also offer the player a chance to explore additional lore and character backgrounds that some other players may not be interested in. Arguably, many RPG players come looking for a deep story from their game, but they may not be as enamored with a given character, plot line, or area as the developer is. By including background information and local story as an optional aspect, this allows players to pick and choose whether they wish to follow up on something.
This gave Winata a great deal of freedom to explore the regions of Legrand Legacy, fleshing out beliefs, cultures, and peoples should the player wish to know about them. "These side activities provide more insights into the life of the people in Legrand, the creatures or monsters who dwell in Legrand, as well as all the magical items and faraway lands that you might not come across during your journey."
"There are a lot of regions in Legrand, each with its own unique flavor, from the bustling coastal seaport of Dunabad to the lush Gwenelle Forest and enchanting Murias, home of the elusive Aos Sis (a type of elven race), " Winata adds. "So we want to make sure that you get to explore every corner of this sprawling universe. Every region also has its own soundtrack inspired by the local culture, and we want to make sure you're enjoying that too!"
In order to create minigames that said more about the world and its peoples, Winata tried to consider what sorts of activities would make sense for the folk of a given area. "Fishing is sort of a must. Other mini games, like fencing, shopping, monster busters, and target practice, were inspired by the activities that people in Legrand like to do during their free time. There are also side quests and puzzles to be solved, which shine light on the side characters and reveal just how magical Legrand really is."
Given the history of warfare and gladiatorial combat that persists in Legrand Legacy, it makes sense that there are many violent diversions that focus on martial prowess. Just the same, fishing can be the lifeblood of a coastal city, giving players all the more reason to take part in a large part of a city's culture and heritage. These elements help immerse the player in the beliefs, customs, and activities of a people, making it feel more like becoming part of a city rather than visiting a digital representation of a city.
This doesn't limit itself to cultures, though, as it can also be used to make players feel a little something more for the animals and monsters they fight.
"A good side activity strengthens the lore of the universe, paints a clearer picture to the main story, and allows players to be fully immersed in the experience. For example, there's a fun little quest which invites you to send mother Flurdiaanum (a type of monster) to her babies, and another one where you have to learn the local villagers' language." says Winata.
Each sidequest and diversion adds more to the game's world, telling a story through activities. It's more than just learning a place's culture through a block of exposition, but rather gives the player a playable means of learning about them through sidequests and minigames that are entertaining, and can also encourage play through in-game rewards.
This use doesn't just limit itself to in-game culture, either. "Fun little fact: we've actually injected some Indonesian phrases into the game, like "ram pok" (robber), "aqeeq" (quartz stone), and "mengkhaddu" (noni fruit)," says Winata. "This is just a nod to our friends and family back home, and they always get excited to find these gems hidden somewhere in the game, but gamers from other countries might find this interesting too."
Through clever use of minigames and sidequests, Winata helped bring a part of his own culture into Legrand Legacy, helping players learn some real-world phrases that might draw them into wanting to know more about Indonesian culture as well. These fun diversions, while adding to the gameplay from a pure entertainment perspective, also create that budding curiosity that makes players want to truly immerse themselves in a game's world.
Enrichin' by fishin'
A rich world filled with diverse cultures and peoples will make a game's story so much stronger, and minigames and sidequests can be used to help strengthen the player's connection to those elements. By letting the player choose what they want to learn by taking on their choice of activities, it encourages them to follow their own curiosity, wherever it leads them. More than that, though, it teaches players about a world's history through fun and reward, and making them want to take part in a world that slowly feels more like their own through that connection.
"Side quests and other activities just make the whole game and universe more complete," concludes Winata. "After all, an RPG is supposed to carry players through an adventure, so it's important that the journey is as fascinating as the destination."
This article was originally published on Gamasutra sister site Indiegames.com