So, I’ve been playing games that let you choose your team from a pool of characters. The Suikodens, of course, give you 108 total characters — not all of them can be in your party, but it’s still probably at least 50. Shadow Hearts: Covenant gives you about 9 or so; so does Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. The X-Men Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance series gives you somewhere between 10 – 20. And I’ve played a number of other games that do that, too. And one thing far too often bugs me about them:
The characters that you don’t play with don’t gain experience at the same level as the characters you do play with. And, invariably, the game will contrive to make it so that you have to use some of those characters you haven’t been playing at some point.
Suikoden III wasn’t bad at it. Sure, it did force you to divide your forces into three groups, but with the Tri-View system you’d played through well over half the game with three distinct parties. Four if you did Thomas’ story. You should have people close enough to a decent level to at least be able to win, and you can get better if you pay at least a little attention to the new ones you pick up. Suikoden V, on the other hand, was really bad. I had set out the party I liked and could fight well with, and I ended up having to split into three parties, one of whom was led by a character that I didn’t care much for. In both these games, if you didn’t take a character with you they didn’t gain experience, and so you had to drag them along if you wanted to level them up, even if you didn’t care for the character much.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age have a set number of replacements, and so they get experience even if they aren’t in your party. At about half the rate of those who are in the party. Meaning that if I used only one party, when they were at level 40 the others would be at level 20. LotR: TTA also required that you gain skills not by level or item, but by use, so that even if they had let them level up at the same speed as you they’d still be crippled. However, at least that game didn’t force you to use all those characters that you might have been studiously ignoring the whole game. Which SH: C actually did. Which I hadn’t been expecting the first time I got to that point. So that dungeon was a lot harder than it should have been, if I’d known to keep everyone moderately balanced.
The problem here goes beyond being forced to use them at some point, however. It’s essentially about being forced to use them to prepare for when you need them, even if your playstyle doesn’t let them fit in well. Or, in fact, even if you actually don’t like the characters or even like the characters you want to keep in your party better. You’ve got a pool of heroes, some of which you really like and enjoy playing with … and then you have to go and put them away to use characters you don’t enjoy playing with as much just to make sure you don’t cripple yourself later. Gee, thanks.
Other games didn’t do this. If I recall correctly, KotOR 2 did force you to use two parties … but it kept their levels pretty much the same as yours. So you might not have them ideally suited, but at least they aren’t 20 levels behind you.
And that’s the thing that really bugs me: why add this in the first place? Why make it so that you either have to vary your party or cripple them? As an encouragement to use a varied party? Why should the game care if you use a varied party if you don’t want to? And since you often find out that you need to use a specific character when it’s too late to level them up, it’s also not a way to encourage you to have a varied party so that you can handle that plot-relevant case. So why not let me choose all the characters I want? If I want a party of Yuri + Karin + Joachim + Lucia or Wolverine + Deadpool + Ms. Marvel + Spider Woman to use through the whole game, well, what’s wrong with that? Why make me use Gepetto or Iceman just because at some point the plot declares that I really need them?
Let me choose my party members based on the heroes I want, not the heroes the game declares I need. And then the game can indeed force me to use a hero because the plot demands it without my reacting with outrage.