Here's How The Wii U Could Make RPGs Better

I am not a game designer. I have made games before, but they were not very good. My talents lie elsewhere. So when I write about games, I consciously try to avoid offering my own suggestions for what their designers should have implemented or cut. My job is to critique what's there, not talk about what they should have done.

But today is special. I spent most of yesterday fiddling around with the Wii U during Nintendo's big bonanza in New York City, and all I could think about was how many cool features it could bring to the world of role-playing games. The Wii U's tablet controller — which is constantly tethered to your game and could be used for all sorts of dual-screen experiences almost like a bigger, more versatile DS — opens up a whole lot of opportunities.

So let's open the brain dam. Here are some things that RPGs could do with the Wii U.

Maps and maps and maps

World maps. Dungeon maps. Battle maps. One of the coolest things about having a separate screen in your lap is that it can be used to supplement what you're seeing and doing on your TV. And one of the most irritating things about gaming displays, as any interface designer will tell you, is how obnoxious and cluttery all those little things on your screen can be. Mini-maps, health bars, status gauges, etc.

The Wii U can help fix that. The big screen can be clean and clutter-free, showing nothing but beautiful 3D (or 2D, or isometric, or whatever). All that nasty UI stuff — like an interactive map that you can touch and play around with — can fit in your lap.

Character and inventory management

Again, the second screen can make all that UI clutter easier to deal with. Maybe we don't even need menus anymore. Instead of pausing the game to open up a separate set of screens that allows you to swap your characters' equipment and use items and manage your inventory, the Wii U's tablet could hold all of that information for you 24/7. No reason you shouldn't be able to do all that stuff while walking around.


Remember Triple Triad, that fiendishly addictive card game from Final Fantasy VIII? Or the (godly) Iron Chef knock-offs in Suikoden II? Think about how much cooler they could be if you could slide cards around a touch-screen in your lap, or furiously whip up sushi dishes on your GamePad as the judges yelled at you from the big screen.

We've seen the DS and 3DS play around with ideas like this before, but this could be a totally different scale. And if anyone knows minigames, it's Nintendo.

Overpriced Square Enix tablet games

Just kidding.

Crazy combat systems

Maybe combat that forces you to tap along with a beat ala Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Or fights that task you to draw patterns on the small screen while you control characters with buttons on the other. Basically, the Wii U will let more RPGs copy The World Ends With You. That's a good thing.

Plus-sized bosses

Bosses that take up both screens. Some DS games have also done this — Bowser's Inside Story, for example — but again, we haven't seen them that frequently, or on this scale. Imagine a giant tower whose head has to be attacked by characters on the big screen while its base is taken down by your fingers on the GamePad. Or a boss that can only be defeated by simultaneous attacks on both screens. Lots of potential here.

Strategy guides, helpful messages

Here's a good opportunity for developers to implement social features — a buzzword that drives gamers crazy — in a way that isn't intrusive. Maybe you're walking around an area and you can see live reactions and feelings from other players on your bottom screen. Maybe you get cryptic messages ala Dark Souls or see other RPG players like in Journey.

And what about extra help? You could play the game on one screen and read about helpful tools and tips on the other. Maybe you pay a bit extra for a built-in Prima strategy guide that recognises exactly where you are in a game, and updates with supplementary information as you progress.

Routes, battle orders in strategy-RPGs

One of Madden 13's coolest features on Wii U is the way it lets you plot out receivers' routes by just drawing where you want them to go. Can't you imagine strategy-RPGs using a similar mechanic? Maybe you can give all of your characters simultaneous assignments in the hypothetical Valkyria Chronicles 4 for Wii U, or move them along the grid battlefield in the hypothetical Final Fantasy Tactics 2. Excited yet?

Extra camera angles for cut-scenes

Not to go all Kojima on you, but wouldn't it be neat to see cut-scenes from multiple angles at the same time, each on a different screen? Could get expensive. Not a priority.


Few things are more annoying than trying to read large chunks of virtual text on a big-screen television. Let's make that easier. What if you pick up a book in Skyrim or a Tales game and open it in your lap? More convenient, easier to read, bam. (Thanks to Kirk for this idea.)

Simultaneous combat and exploration

Let's get crazy. We've all dealt with random encounters. Nobody really likes them. But what if random encounters didn't interrupt your progress? What if your characters could actually fight battles while you continued exploring?

Stay with me here. Let's say you're exploring a dungeon on the television, right? Third-person 3D view, etc. What if your characters hung out on the bottom screen as you explored, automatically fighting enemies while you walked around? Maybe you could help them out by tapping the screen to cast a spell or heal them every once in a while. Maybe every once in a while you run into a more powerful enemy or boss that takes over the big screen too.

So you'd have to micromanage, but you wouldn't have to grind. You'd have to deal with the challenge of random encounters without the tedium. Seems like a cool balance, no?

Some of these ideas might work. Some of them might not work. But the Wii U has a lot of potential, and it could do a lot of good things for all kinds of RPGs. Now it just needs to get some RPGs.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.


    "Overpriced Square Enix tablet games"

    A+++, I seriously lol'd. Would laugh again!

      There's another type of Square Enix tablet game?

      I actually wouldn't mind if SE made some new decent games that use this. I'll pay the price.

        I might actually have a reason to buy a Wii U then. Otherwise if the rest of the next gen gets here soon. Not a chance on buying a Wii U until I find it in a bundle in a Dick Smith sale for $120 like my Wii

    *thinks about new Monolith Soft game that's like Xenoblade*

    OH. MAI. GOD

    Unrelated: but yay Jason Schreier for consistently writing good articles

      Absolutely. Jason and Mark Serrels are the two best writers on here.

      Now, if they could just rehabilitate Ashcraft, Tina and Plunkett

    the menu and interface stuff is the super obvious stuff, and I think that should be the 'default' use for the screen - if not doing x cool thing, show menus and info. It has already worked fantastically in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - which is a game I'm really hoping will get a successor on the WiiU for this reason.

    how about slots for abilities for MMORPG's on the console, now that would be interesting.

    I have to say I agree with a lot of this, but one thing I don't agree with is the 2 screen bosses. That is so dumb. It would SUCK on Wii U. It only works on DS because one screen is right above the other, so using both to project one half of the boss makes sense, and you can see it better. The Wii U would not be fun to do this with. Yes, i think the Wii U is the best system that has ever been made, which it is. But that idea would be dumb, and a failed gimmick. Leave it to DS, or make it a choice for those of us who dislike it.

    Some nice ideas here but somehow I doubt the screen will be responsive enough. Encouraged though that someone who's used it thinks it is though.

    Tactical Shooters: You control one character in first person on the TV, and swipe in reinforcements for flanking maneuvers etc via the minimap on the touchscreen.

    A clutter free game is a dream come true, and the idea of picking up supplemental items like books and being able to peruse them on a small tablet is a great idea. Being able to play around with the character, equip things directly on them or use the map is a good idea, and maybe even using it to direct a boomerang or something....

    Now the wait begins to see what completely different crappy uses developers think of for this.

    I am buying the WII U at launch and am hoping we are going to see more rpgs i have been very disappointed with this gen, I like the ideas you have suggested and hope that developers will take these ideas on as i agree with some of these ideas, I am hoping we get a few decent rpgs long ones like 60 hours plus like we used to have?

      Ever play Xenoblade?

        Great game. Have yet to hear an addition to the series announced for the Wii U. If they had one it would be nice. But it still isn't really enough.

        I'm not buying this until I get enough.

          Did you see this comment?

          I loved Xenoblade but the new game doesn't necessarily have to be related to it. As long as it's anything like it I'll be extremely happy. Imagine it all in HD as well... mmmm

            *Places deposit on pre-order*

              Well maybe not just yet. But that's great news. Once I finish school and get me a job next year I probably won't waste much time getting this.

    I thought this was a good idea:


    So much potential at the very least! The ideas are great. But I wonder how many devs are going to A. Do cool stuff with it. B. not be limited by the horse power required to run both main screen and screen2 effectively. That's all I worry. I mean... It's no mean feat to make both run fast and efficiently. And if you're cramming more dynamic stuff onto that smaller screen... Well! Fingers crossed :)

    I'll also point out that RTS' could give consoles another go now

    It will probably never happen knowing Game Freak but imagine a Pokemon RPG on the Wii U, using the game pad as a pokedex.

    Like the vita, it will be the pip boy for fallout. I hear from decent source that both will eventually be packaged with FO 4 with a strap/clasp so it csn, theoretically attach to your arm too

    This could potentially boost Vita x PS3 crossovers as they can port stuff over from teh Wii U.

    The fact that the tablet opens up interesting design possibilities doesn't negate that the system is going to be vastly outclassed in a year or two. It also doesn't mean third parties are going to support it - in fact it likely means the opposite, since just like the Wii they'll have to design a different game to the other platforms in order to work with the different control scheme.

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