RPG Design Choices: Objective Systems

Many RPGs have vast worlds to explore, with lots of quests, items, monsters, and other things to discover.  So at any given time, how does the player know what to do next?

Have you ever gone a long time without playing a certain game, and then when you returned, you had completely forgotten what you were doing last time?

A good quest or objective system can be very helpful for players, reminding them of what their next move should be.  There are several different ways that RPGs usually handle such a system.  We’ll be discussing a few of them in this article.

Minimal Guidance: No Quest/Objective Lists or Indicators

Some games do give players quests, but don’t provide a quick way to see the current quests or objectives at any given time.  In such games, the game itself keeps track of the current objectives.  Players often learn about the next mission from character dialog, which might not be repeatable.

There’s a risk that players might forget what they’re supposed to do, or might not know where to go next.  This problem can be even worse if the player comes back to the game, after having not played for a while.  Players might need to revisit certain non-player characters (NPCs) to remind them of what they need to do next.

This limited guidance approach is common in older JRPGs with linear story progression.  Think about older Final Fantasy games, for example.  In these types of games, players can also revisit the most newly-discovered locations, which is usually where the latest tasks are centered.

Map/Location Markers

Some games, including some older JRPGs with no quest lists, might provide in-game map markers for important locations.  All towns and notable locations might be marked, and the next quest location could be highlighted in some way.

Older and more linear games with a small game world can usually pull off such a system, without other guidance, particularly shorter games.  However, as game worlds have grown larger and more immersive, particularly with open-world games, it’s usually much more helpful for the player if the game provides some sort of object list or journal along with the map markers.

Objective List/Quest Journal

These days, many RPGs feature an objective list or quest journal that tracks in-progress and completed quests and objectives.  Players can view detailed information about what they must do next, and even see past completed mission info.

This feature seems like a must-have for Western RPGs, which have historically been considered more open-world and non-linear than JRPGs.  However, lots of JRPGs, such as Dragon Quest IX, Octopath Traveler, and Radiant Historia, have quest logs as well.  It’s really a great way for players to always know what they are trying to accomplish next.  When players return to a game like Fallout 3, or any other open-world games, it’s easier to pick up where they left off, even if they’ve been away for a long time.

Scene Replays

Some RPGs allow you to revisit cut scenes and important parts of the game.  These scenes might include information about the next objectives.  Beyond quest information, a system like this can refresh the player’s memory about important story events.  It’s a great way to relive the best moments in the game.

As you can see, these are just some ways that players can stay aware of what their next move should be.  However, some players might feel that these systems might be too much “hand-holding.”  You should consider whether your game would need these systems, and the overall impact on the player experience.

Are there other systems and features you can think of that might help guide players?  Please feel free to share them in the comments.

As a reminder, I am putting together an RPG course.  If you’d like to provide some feedback about what you’d like to learn, and get updated when it’s ready, please fill out this form.  And don’t forget to check the page on developing RPGs for more learning.

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