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Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.
Weapon degradation. Lots of people hate it. This whole business of weapons having a durability stat that you have to monitor in order to stop them from shattering into a billion pieces. And this is considered disruptive. There’s the sense that, when weapon degradation is working it interrupts what videogames are normally for, which is hitting things with other things. And when it’s not working it’s because you’re putting in the busywork to keep the game from annoying you.
This is not universal. There are plenty of games that are remarkable for their use of weapon degradation, like Fallout 3 and Dark Souls and The Last of Us. You can see the trend there that these have narratives which centre on survival, and the world being banjaxed. We can tell when needless busywork or additional stuff contributes to a game on a whole or takes away from it. As always it’s all about what the stuff says in the respective context.
One of the best games with weapon degradation, one of the best games in general, is Vagrant Story, a wonderful, incredible jrgp dungeon crawler Square did between Final Fantasies once upon a time. It’s got this great big cast of characters but the protagonist, a peacekeeper named Ashley Riot, spends most of time alone as he’s a solo operative.
Instead of friends, he has weapons, lots and lots of weapons. Your life is consumed by the introspection of inventory management and stat planning.
For our purposes, look at the two bars on the top left here, DP and PP. DP is Damage Points, which decrease as you wear out the weapon, usual durability stuff. PP is where it gets interesting. These are Phantom Points, and they increase as you use the weapon. The higher both of these bars, the more damage the weapon does. When Damage Points reach zero the weapon becomes kind of a dud, but you can spend a weapon’s Phantom Points to repair its durability.
The narrative of Vagrant Story is all about themes of body and soul, balancing identity and power through self-sacrifice. So Ashley’s weapons are building up a phantom, a ghost, an identity, but the more of a sense of personality they get the greater the risk to their strength. They grow fragile.
This all contributes to the weapon’s other, highly important stats of class and affinity, which also change through use and also build up in each weapon a sense of character. And then you can make your own weapons out of parts and give them their own name to call them by. ‘Wand’ might not be the best example of that though.
So, Vagrant Story. A great example of how to do weapon degradation.