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Annoying Menu Design

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You know, I was randomly playing Disgaea 5 again today and I was reminded of a recurring problem I noticed with the series a while ago. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I found it's not just a problem with this one series, but with a good chunk of the RPG Genre. Namely the menu design is kind of annoying. Kind of really annoying sometimes. Most often in ways that are pretty fixable.

Let me ask you the following: If you are browsing the item menu, and you see a cool piece of equipment you want to equip, would you rather: A. Press a button or something and choose who you want to equip it too right there, or B. Press cancel, go to an entirely different menu, find the item in the list again, and then equip it? Call me crazy, but I rather pick A. Having a dedicated equipment menu is still good of course, but is there any reason not to allow you to equip stuff from the item menu too? Now you may think it's a pretty petty thing to complain about on it's own, and believe me this is just the tippy top of a massive iceberg when it comes to annoying menu issues, but it's a pretty common thing in RPGs to design menus like this, as completely segregated from one another in  ways that can sometimes make it so to get anything done you have to flip flop back and fourth between menus a lot.


Let me go back to Disgaea for a moment here to explain exactly how bad this problem can get. Okay, for those that have never played any of the games in the series, there are a lot of really strange but kinda neat mechanics you can use to power yourself and your equipment up. But all of these mechanics are completely segregated into their own little menus. What makes it worse is that a good chink of the things you need to do a lot are not really accessed from the menu at all, but instead the menu is called up if you talk to an NPC in the game's 'main base'. So you often literally have to run around from one NPC to another as well as flip flop between menus a lot. I mean don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a home base you can get more NPCs for that provide more functions, but there is no reason you shouldn't be able to quickly access them in the menu is there (this is something I need to do in my game too for a few things come to think of it)? In Disgaea 5 for example, you have to talk to an NPC to learn abilities (and you can only learn them one at a time even though shops and stuff let you select multiple items, but that's a whole other issue), but you need to pull up a whole other menu to equip them, and to change your class you need to go to yet another NPC. Equipment is powered up though 'innocent' monsters that live inside the item (like I said the mechanics can get really strange, you even get a good chunk of powerups from playing a friggin board game) and that has it's own NPC to swap them around, another to go into the item to power it up (for a third time, the mechanics can get really strange) or power it up in other ways and... Phew! Can't you already feel exhausted just listening to my description? It's still a pretty fun game, but would it really be that hard to make the menus flow together a little better? Poor menu design is also probobly a big reason why I dislike 'quest' systems and feel ambivalent about a lot of crafting systems. There is more to it then that really, but nothing annoys me in RPGs more then needing to go to a crappy quest menu (Disgaea 5 added quests the series and it perfectly encapsulates everything I hate about quests and crappy quest menus, as if I didn't have enough to complain about), or messing around in a crappy crafting menu (sometimes just figuring out what I can make in some games takes ages).


So what should we do instead? Well, I admit it can be tricky sometimes, but I think it's mostly a matter of figuring out what the player needs to do most often and figuring out ways of skipping unnecessary steps. In the game I am working on for example, I am using a script that lets the player attach runes to equipment. Now the script comes with it's own scene that was meant to be called form the menu, but I am not really using it that way. Instead, I changed it so a rune could be selected and 'used' form the item menu, where it would switch to a mini-scene to select an item and slot to attach to. Though my original motivation was to allow runes to be attached though using them where as you needed to find a special place to detach/swap them, but functionally I could easily let you do both. I later kinda expanded on the idea by changing the item menu to be like item menus in Mystery Dungeon style roguelikes (I mean, that kinda goes without saying, as my game basically is a Mystery Dungeon style roguelike) where equips are displayed in the item menu and selecting an item opened a submenu of options for what you wanted to do with the item rather then just using it right away. That way you can do stuff like equip and unequip stuff in the same menu and give some items multiple uses (like throwing them at things). It makes me wonder how much I can get away with doing this way... but best not over rely on it. After all searching though your inventory can be a pain too.


What do you guys think?

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