Why Playability

The main problem with CRPG's is that they are veeeery long: you can play an CRPG usually from 30 to 50 hours, and even if you are a hardcore gamer you can enjoy the game for more than 80 hours. But let's stop here, and think: You play the same game, with the same structure, for more than 30 hours... wow, and you don't get sometimes a bit bored?

This is the point of playability. In a CRPG (and in all games), the primary target is to entertain the player. So we must provide the player riddles, plot twist, and game mechanism to keep his/her attention.

 Playability by Plot

Since we're making a CRPG, one of the more important aspects of the game is the plot. We have the ability of showing the player an history. So... we can make a good history, that can have a player "reading" it all the hours the game lasts.

This topic is more about literature: Having solid avatars (that behaviours as real persons, will real feelings and real reactions to what happens in the world), having a "solid" world (solid does not mean real: means credible), having a nice plot (with some plot twists, maintaining moments of action, relax, love, despair, sadness...)...

This tutorial is not a good source about how to make a good "history", try to find in other places. Anyway, never forget to have a nice, ground-breaking ending ^_-. Players have been playing for more than 30 hours, learning to love and hate their avatars, so don't do a lame ending :-P.

 Playability by Interactivity

Since CRPG's are computer games, we as designers can do whatever we want. So... why don't give the player the ability of choosing how their avatars will live the game, thus changing the plot? This is an advantage games have over movies and books: Interaction. The player is the one who decides the path of their avatars, so... why don't give him/her that power?.
How we can do this in a game?.

 In certain moments of the game your player will face a decision, that can change his/her own personality, the lifes of the people surrounding him/her, or the shape of his/her own world. Let the player make the decision, and change how the player will play the rest of the game (maybe some cinematic scenes will be added/deleted, some new NPC will be added or an old one will die, or maybe the shape of some towns will change).
Example: The player must decide if he absorves the power of a evil demon or not. If he absorvs it, will adquire awesome powers, but will have more chance of becoming evil (by using that powers), or reaching a totally different endgame.

 During the game, the player will face certain missions. That missions can be won or lost, and the rest of the game will change depending of the result of a mission (ey, sometimes can be better to lost a mission ^_-). Anyways, winning or loosing doesn't means continue or game over: just you reward the player, or you make the world a bit more difficult.
Example: The player must destroy a factory of killer robots. If fails, the battles will become more difficult (more encounters with powerful robots).

 Depends on the behavior of the player during the game, you can change the outcoming situations, or change entirely the path of the player.
Example: The player has been seducing one of the other members of the team. If he/she succeds... why not having a nice romance inside the game and not at the end, as usual in all CRPGs?

 Playability by Sub-Games

Usually a CRPG is very linear in terms of how is played: You move the player through the world, enter in towns and dungeons, and fight bad people. But only this. Well, you can try to add some spices to this recipe, in the form of sub-games ^_-.

The SubGames can be done inside the game and outside the game and can involve (or not) some action. Also you can require them to be essencial for advancing in the game or not.  Outside the game
This type of subgames doesn't take place inside the game "world". This means that they don't use the game engine. Examples of these types of games are the motorcycle ride in Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger, or the cards game in Final Fantasy 8-9.

 Inside the game
This type of subgames uses the game engine, and usually are presented like "riddles" (i.e. commanding something for bringing you an item. Breath of Fire IV have lots of this type). But also new recipes can be tried, for example some "Metal Gear-like" scenes (i.e. In Final Fantasy VII, Shinra tower) or some "Commandos-like" scenes (managing different players or parties at the "same time").

 Action oriented
This subgames requires the players to have action oriented habilities (or platform-oriented habilities): Ride a motorcycle or a chocobo, pilot a plane, ... It's like an arcade game inside the CRPG game.

 Non-Action Oriented
This subgames doesn't require high arcade skills in the player: Just make the correct decisions: Sokoban-like puzzles, solving puzzles, make-you-castle/fairy town puzzles...

 Important for the game
A subgame can be essencial for advancing in the game. When using this type of subgames, have in mind one idea: If the player keeps failing and failing this subgame, will leave this game and tell all the people that "sucks". Never forget it.

If a subgame is not essencial for completing a game, you can do whatever you want with it. Very difficult, not very difficult... your imagination is the limit. Just make it addictive (like the chocobo racing in FFVII) and people will play and play again.

Also, remember that all the minigames must give rewards to the players: they will feel frustrated if the mini-game doesn't give anything. And also this can be applied to the entire game flow. Give rewards when the player does a good job.

 Playability by Battle

The players are going to be battling during the entire game, so if you do not make the battle "fun", your game will be trash.

The first part of having a "fun" battle is to having "balance". Your game must be neither difficult (players will leave the game, bored), nor easy (players will feel that the game is not interesting). Also, There must not be places in the game that are more or less difficult than the rest of the game, only if there is a reason to do so (i.e. special reward).

How to achieve Balance?. Remember that the avatars have characteristics (Strengh, Dexterity, ...), and they determine the behaviour of your avatars in battle (how much damage they do, when they hit,...). You must plan carefully how the players are going to level up in your game, and how much is going to be the level of the enemies in every zone of your game. Hard task, but must be done. A little hint: Make the definition of what a level is (make X damage, stop Y damage) and put the enemies in every zone accordingly to the level players are supposed to come. Also use spreadsheets for make tests outside the game. And test, test, test.

The second part consist on adding more ingredients to the battle. The usual things (i.e. player status (blind, stone) and elemental damage/weapons). Different things (Allow players to create their own weapons or to have lots of different weapons like in the "Diablo" series, allow players to have pets, allow players to have the entire party in the battle (as in Breath of Fire IV), ...). The idea is to have the player constantly making choices.

 Playability by "What is going to be next"

Since the player is going to be playing the game a lot of time, we must amuse him/her. New scenarios. New enemies (not just copies from old ones, or if there's a copy, make it entirely different). New Weapons. Plot twists. ...

Try to make always something new, something that makes the player think: "Wow, it was worth to play until this moment".

 Final Words About Playability

The main core of Playability is choices. We must let the player choose lots of ways of achieving fun inside the game. More options a player have, more time he/she can play our game.

Also, remember the CRPGS's you have played. Why you where playing with them a lot of time?. Why you got bored with it?. Try to answer that questions, and then try to design/make a good game that has good answers to that questions.

And as i always say: Try to make it fun ^_-.