I’ll bring up some more examples of amusing examples in which it broke its own rules, or I suppose subverts player expectations:
- I’m sure almost everyone here knows about illusory walls in the Souls games, just in case though, illusory walls look mostly like any other wall and are by default impassable, but if you attack them the illusion breaks and you can enter a hidden area. These are, I suppose, sort of rule-breaking if you think “walls are solid and the environment is what it looks like” is interesting enough to be a rule. Of course, more interesting than that is that they expect you to get used to the rule of illusory walls and so make some illusory walls break the illusory wall rules, like when there are illusory walls behind other illusory walls, entire optional areas behind illusory walls, I think there has to be at least one example of an illusory wall that only hides a trap, there’s at least one illusory wall in Dark Souls II I can remember that hides something as important as a bonfire (it’s somewhere in the wholly wretched Black Gulch area). Even if you’re very used to the rule of illusory walls they can still surprise you and keep you assuming anything about where they might be and what might be behind them, I can’t remember specific ones but I am fairly certain there’s at least one or two examples of illusory walls in boss arenas, which are generally otherwise static.
- In general I thought it was very funny that in Bloodborne, there are no illusory walls. Except… that’s not entirely true either, as there are illusory walls in Chalice Dungeons.
- Another sort of meta rule subverting thing in the Souls series are mimics, and there are less double rule subverting moments I can think of here. However, I did think it was absolutely hilarious when, while first playing Dark Souls III, while it’s a little but off the beaten path, and might not be something inexperienced players are going to find (which might be the point), one of the very first accessible treasure chests in the entire game is a mimic.
- Still blows my mind that an optional boss in Sekiro, the much harder optional time-travel flashback rematch with Owl, is one of the few enemies in I think any of the From Software 3D action-adventure games who can bait you into going in for a punish on a slow, telegraphed overhead swing, and who will move cancel and counterpunish with a 360 degree radial swipe if you attempt to dodge it too early. I thought only I was supposed to be able to do that!
The panelists got me thinking about Undertale and Deltarune, and then also thinking about how brilliant Toby is at laying out rules and setting up player expectations, and either breaking them, or hoping that you’ll attempt to break the game’s rules so it can either reward or reprimand you with at least a stupid joke about it. It’s a big part of what makes those games stand out, Toby more than many other developers or studios seems to enjoy taking into account how games are played and keeps the play experience itself and the perspective of the player in mind a lot. What could we call this, something like, I dunno, meta-gameplay? It’s another conversation entirely to decide whether it’s good or bad that at least some of the jokes fully landing depend on a high degree of videogame literacy, but we’ll forgive Toby for that.
- The brilliant tone setting right off the top of Undertale when that motherfucker Flowey tries to kill you in a tutorial, which, of course, gets lampshaded if you go back to it and not fall for the trick.
- I’m far from alone on this one, but the moment I knew something was special about Undertale was when I, like many, accidentally killed Toriel because I was just so epically good at the game that I had no idea there was such a creative solution to the puzzle of clearing the encounter without killing her. If I remember correctly as well, the final blow that kills Toriel comes much sooner than you expect it to because I think there’s something where if you get her below a certain health percentage she suddenly takes a huge spike in damage, as well as of RPGs more generally, in the sense that in most games where you need to “win” a fight without killing someone, there will be a event that will make them give up at a certain health percentage, or a way to choose what to do. Nope, Toby teaches you the hard way that you only Fight if you mean to kill.
- Another meta-gameplay rule that gets smashed to dust surrounding this fight is that your save file is its own self contained reality with no continuity. You can find this out very early if you accidentally kill Toriel, feel instant crushing unbearable remorse, restart your save file immediately, only to find that Flowey will call you out for killing Toriel and restarting.
- High drama example is in the ostensibly final showdown with Asgore where he opens the encounter by removing your Mercy menu option.
- Equally high drama example of the above is in the intense showdown with Sans Undertale in the Genocide route where, first he dies in one hit (if you can hit him), but then when his ultimate ultimate attack is trapping you in an eternal prison of waiting for him to take his turn-based turn. Which you escape from by dragging the white box with your cursor over to the Fight button.
Sidenote but one of my favourite examples in an RPG of menu options being blocked off as part of a particular encounter is in Super Mario RPG, that goofy lookin bow and arrow guy who fires special arrows at the buttons on the interface itself. Is that a pretty early example of specific menu commands and the subsequent submenus being blocked off temporarily happening in an active way like that?