Nowadays, open-world games have gained huge popularity among players due to their ability to provide autonomous and immersive gaming experiences. As the genre continues to evolve, game designers have been expanding the definition of open-world games in innovative ways. One trend is that open-world games are more considered a design style than a template. Conventions from typical open-world games are extracted and deconstructed, then combined with elements from many other game genres. Such combinations increase the expressiveness of the games.
Some classic JRPG franchises are adopting these combinations in their latest products and achieving great success. Here are three examples: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Xenoblade 3; Yakuza: Like A Dragon 7. A typical JRPG is usually considered to have these features: a growth-oriented plot, a complex numerical system (experience, life, energy, etc.), and a turn-based combat system. The predecessors to the three games mentioned all partially or fully embody these characteristics. After adopting the open-world design, the gameplay changed significantly, and this change was apparently towards a positive as evidenced by their high reviews.
So what exactly changed to make the game better? The shift from a linear plot and limited-world classical JRPG to an open-world game undoubtedly created a more immersive game world.
The content-rich and autonomous game world makes the status of role-playing more convincing. Open-world style exploration elements can also be involved in character growth, making the whole process more diverse and fun. Like in
Yakuza: Like A Dragon 7, “…there’s a meaningful gameplay benefit to almost every little interaction and activity you can undertake while exploring Yokohama. You can, for example, sit for exams at the vocational school to boost Ichiban’s intellect and thus make him less susceptible to brainwash attacks during a battle…” (Ogilvie).
By exploring the effectiveness of these trends and observing and summarizing the pros and cons through prototyping, we can understand which elements can be used to create advantages and which may have negative effects when applied unthoughtfully while incorporating the open-world game design.
Open worlds also have a downside when game designers can fall into the “more the better” trap. Some linear games have lost control of the game scale after migrating to open-world design, resulting in an overly heavy and boring quest list. (
Assassin's Creed Origins) There are also games having performance issues or plot progression problems after adopting the open-world design.
On the other hand, open-world usually takes the price of higher cost and difficulty. Due to radical project planning, the development team may not have enough time or resources to polish the details, and some rough performance will certainly lead to a significant drop in player experience.
There are ways of prototyping a game,
Paper Prototyping and
Physical Prototyping (Adams et al.), what I’m going to do is to build software game prototypes in Unreal Engine that satisfy the above characteristics and demonstrate how open-world game design can make the original genre more effective by comparison.
I’m going to create a game that combines JRPG elements like a leveling-up system and turn-based combat with open-world features like a free-roaming world and a plot that progresses through main and side quests scattered around the map.
Ogilvie, Tristan. “Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review.” IGN, 4 Nov. 2020, https://www.ign.com/articles/yakuza-like-a-dragon-review.
Ryan, Jon. “Far Cry 6 Review.” IGN, 6 Oct. 2021, https://www.ign.com/articles/far-cry-6-review.
Adams, Ernest, and Joris Dormans. “Mechanics and the Game Design Process.” Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, New Riders, S.l., 2012.