Gameplay Design: Enabling Overachievement [NEO: The World Ends With You]

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For the first post of this blog, we’ll start with a broad topic and a relatively recent game (from last year), NEO: The World Ends With You—henceforth “NTWEWY” for short. NTWEWY is an action RPG with a notable emphasis on combat.


In NTWEWY, the player controls multiple characters at the same time, each with 1 move/attack per character. When various criteria are met, stringing different moves on the same enemy can result in a “Beat Drop”, which is in essence a combo bonus that adds to the player’s “Groove” gauge. Upon obtaining 100% or more groove, the player can use a special attack, which creates a simple game loop of executing combos and unleashing powerful attacks.

The circular UI element with the “GOOD!” text in the center is the Beatdrop Gauge. Once the blue fill in the gauge empties, the window for stringing attacks together expires, and Groove is no longer rewarded. (In this screenshot, the Beatdrop Bonus is 15%, while the total “Groove” is “Groove” is 92%.)


One element of any game hoping to keep a variety of players engaged is having different levels of engagement the player can have with the game’s world or mechanics. For instance, in a typical platformer, you can have the mandatory objectives required to progress the level—like a star in a 3D Super Mario game—and bonus objectives, such as collectibles that can later be viewed in a music or art gallery. The latter are not essential to the completion of the game and are often more challenging to acquire, offering both a greater test of the player’s skill and a reward to incentivize the use of that skill.

In a combat-focused game (though it can apply to non-combat-involved games as well), it’s likewise important that the player can be challenged not just by “needing to do more damage” or “needing to make less mistakes”, but also through executing more complicated, advanced, or timing-sensitive maneuvers.

One such example is present in NTWEWY.


While the core mechanic of stringing attacks together is engaging, the allotted window is relatively large, and as a player becomes more accustomed to the combat, they may desire a way to further “push” the battle system. This is especially important on harder difficulties, as only increasing the amount of attacks or damage needed to defeat an enemy can sometimes increase the time spent defeating them, but have little impact on the skill required to do so, and thus not present a meaningful challenge to the player: doing 3 hours of a menial task is generally only more challenging than 1 hour of a menial task because it requires more patience and energy, but not any difference in ability or knowledge.

Of course, patience can be considered a skill in and of itself, but it shouldn’t be the only skill a designer tests. After all, there are many ways with which to challenge the player, and one such method is adding something akin to NTWEWY’s extension of the Beatdrop Gauge.

Please note above the orange section of the Beatdrop Gauge. The window for connecting two attacks is now divided into 3 sections: an early blue section with a normal bonus, an orange section that grants an increased “Excellent!” bonus, and another blue section to cap off the combo window.

This small addition may seem insignificant, but can completely change the dynamic of combat. Imagine previously that, upon finishing attack 1, any attack 2 within 1.5 seconds can trigger a combo: the player can, in many cases, simply line up their attacks roughly one after another, without much care for the timing or flow of their actions.

However, with the incentive of a greater gameplay reward for timing their follow-ups more strictly, the player has reason to pay attention to and even react to the presence of the orange “Excellent!” window. In order to utilize this, they must learn more about the start-up of their individual attacks and when they will connect with the enemies, how multiple moves chain together, and more, in turn building a more precise rhythm to their attack timings in general.

While this “higher level of engagement” is, in general, “good to have”, it is not, and often should not, be necessary to complete the game. Stringing attacks at all still enables the normal reward and game loop, and the player may sometimes get an “Excellent!” bonus even without intending to, which is completely fine.

In fact, “accidental overachievement” is a great way to convey the benefits of becoming more engaged with the game, so I’d even say it’s welcome, if not desirable. For instance, you can make the first hidden items in an exploration game a little more obvious, and slowly teach the player through patterns or context clues on how to look for them within future levels. Having experienced the joy of finding secret items before, it’s only natural that they’re more likely to try and find them in the future—even if it takes a bit of extra work.

In this example of NTWEWY, getting the “Excellent!” bonus has more visual flair to it and a bigger number to accompany it—both of which can trigger greater excitement—so players may go, “that was neat, I’d like to do that more!”, and try to figure out just how they can achieve the bonus more consistently.

Ultimately, the inclusion of even little additions to a level or mechanic can allow the game to be more engaging overall, as without something they can better themselves at and feel accomplished for achieving, any player can end up feeling bored—and you can probably think of similar examples in real life, too!

So with that in mind, don’t be afraid to offer a little more with your game—you can still keep it casual and accessible as long as you keep “overachievement” as an option instead of a requirement, broadening your audience and adding more “spice” to your work in the process.

Extra Thoughts:

“Overachievement” is a subjective concept in that the standard for “regular achievement” can vary by the individual. In order to enable overachievement, you must first design a standard for what you expect the player to do. For instance, usually the player can be expected to travel the most obvious path(s) in a level, complete required battles and fight a large portion of enemies that obstruct their path, and utilize the minimum level of mechanics necessary to move forward. By definition of the word, most players may not overachieve, and that’s okay—for most games, we don’t want the “typical” member of our target audience to find the game too difficult—but without the ability to overachieve, a game may be seen as too easy, too simple, or too shallow.

Furthermore, the rate at which people “overachieve” may differ: some may pick up a game quickly, others may only master a game’s mechanics towards the end, and others may take a 2nd or 3rd playthrough of the game to explore all it has to offer. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you present and incentivize the option. From there, it’s up to the player how they want to play and find the way that they enjoy the game the most.