The fear mechanic is one of the more unique parts of Fiendcatcher’s combat system, and also presented an interesting design challenge for me.
Giving the player a second option to deal with enemies by scaring them into surrender was a very early idea, and I felt it worked well with the tone I was going for, so of course, I went ahead and tried it. It was only after I implemented it that I found it added little strategic depth. From a gameplay perspective, fear was basically just a second enemy health bar, scaring abilities worked in mostly the same way as physical attacks, and thus, there was rarely any reason to choose to use one over the other. For some time, I played around with the idea of having different battle rewards and other long-term consequences for killing versus scaring enemies, even drafting ideas for possible different endings at one point. But this didn’t solve the root problem. I wanted fear to play an important part in the strategy of the game, and for that to happen, I needed to find a way to meaningfully differentiate it from ordinary damage.
Eventually, I landed on the idea of introducing dynamic fear defense. Realistically, one would expect that enemies should be most confident when a fight starts, and as they come closer to losing, their resolve should weaken and they should become more partial to running away. Based on this assumption, I added a hidden fear resistance stat for enemies that decreases as scary things happen in combat. This resulted in fear abilities being very weak at the beginning of an encounter, but very effective at quickly picking off the last one or two enemies at the end. With this change, I improved not only the fear system, but also the overall pacing of encounters! Awesome!
After one enemy is killed, all remaining enemies get scared