Editorial Miscellany: Level Up!

Close enough.
I forgot that the guy’s name was Bartz. I named him Bugs.

There was a time to me, dear reader, when I am not sure that anything meant more to me in the world than leveling up did. Whether it was killing off Marcus outside Treno so that Dagger could level up faster in order to have access to her summons before she lost them in Final Fantasy IX or obsessively battling until my party had enough spirit points for Aika to use her Alpha Storm ability every turn in Skies of Arcadia, it was a world that made sense to me and a world that I felt I had a mastery over.

I still get some satisfaction from leveling up these days, but I am a lot more suspicious of it. This week’s Editorial Miscellany is a look into that.

Final Fantasy V

I redownloaded the game to my Vita a few days ago in preparation for the site playthrough and started playing last night. I am not far at all (Faris just said goodbye to (spoilers) her pirate friends), and seeing just how not far that part of the game is I realize how little of the game I have actually played. I used to list it alongside IX as my favourite Final Fantasy game, but that was based on extremely little. I remember the first time I played it way back in the PSX days. I remember being so excited to play another Final Fantasy game at a time when the tip of the disillusionment iceberg was beginning to show with the series for me. After my amazing experiences with VII and IX, I assumed that every Final Fantasy game would give me a similar experience. But then VIII felt off and my expectations were so high for VI that I was too intimidated to ever play more than a few hours of it, and I could not see what the big deal was about IV. But here was Final Fantasy V, a game that appeared to have the same jovial tone as IX, the same self-awareness as VII and best of all, it very quickly gave me multiple layers of leveling up in practically no time at all by RPG standards. I was in heaven.

I realized during my recent short time with the game so far that the reason it felt like I had gotten farther than I did was because of just how much time I spent leveling up. I wanted to take advantage of all the free healing near the beginning of the game, so I would just wander around leveling until the process became preposterous even for me. This was even before I got the first set of jobs which as anybody who has played the game knows, happens extremely early on.

All this gives context to the most shameful part of my past.

I guess they do a good job highlighting the benefits of Capitalism.
The devil.

AdVenture Capitalist

I have a more fluid definition of what a game is than, say, Lusipurr does, but I would never call AdVenture Capitalist a game. It is the bottom feeders of bottom feeders and I have succumbed to it in the past. It is what takes hold when I want to inflict self-harm. It is what I turn to when I do not believe I deserve better.

But for all its turgid nothingness, it did give me a small insight into leveling up. AdVenture Capitalist is a highly distilled reflection of the mechanic. It is constant reward and constant progression. Of course the difference in an RPG is that the player is supposed to earn this progression, but most RPGs are easy (certainly almost all the Final Fantasy games are), and therefore through the lens of AdVenture Capitalist the genre begins to take on the appearance of a paint-by-numbers book in video game form.

I do not think it is simple as that, obviously, but I do feel like the inherent dangling-carrot nature of leveling-up is a dangerous crutch.

In that vein…

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

I was gifted a New 3DS by my very kind and generous lover and both to take advantage of its power and because I was curious about the game on the Wii, I downloaded Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. In one way, it is like Bravely Default in that it feels like a comfortable return to RPGs of old in its easy and plentiful leveling up and exploration, but I am no longer drawn in to that mechanic simply for itself. I know that if I had this game even three years ago, I would be spending hours just running around to power up my characters, but this does not satisfy me in the same way any more. It still provides a comfortable relaxing experience for which I am grateful, but I am not as fooled by the game patting me on the back for something I feel like I did not earn.

Final Thoughts

I do not have a conclusion for all these leveling up thoughts, LusiExperiencePoints because it is something I have only recently started thinking about in this way. So what do you all think? What place does leveling up have in RPGs? Is it just used as a disguised mutation of “games” like AdVenture Capitalist, or is the problem that RPGs are just generally too easy? Let me know in the comments!

5 comments

  1. I do the same thing, except simply call it grinding. I refuse to let the discotheques take our word from us. I tend to do more of it in the beginning, when the experience gaps are smaller, and there seems to be less of a chance of party death. In a few games, this helps optimize gear right way, and all that jazz, but you know this.

    I find myself NOT doing this in the FFV play-through. I can loosely say this is due to two reasons, the first being that I’m on a schedule. The second, I might have to save for the actual discussion thread, because it is something I want to bring up about the game that I severely dislike, but I fear I may be unfair in disliking it.

  2. “but I am not as fooled by the game patting me on the back for something I feel like I did not earn.”
    Exactly. This is why I have not been able to get into Xenoblade. Twice now. Twice.

    My rule with JRPGs since the SNES era has been simple and direct: I do not run from any battles, but I do not wander around fighting random battles in order to ‘level up’, either. As a result, I found Final Fantasy Tactics impossible on my first several playthroughs until I made an exception for it (a necessary reality for most SRPGs).

    This policy renders most games very easy (in my estimation, at least) without needing to go further by grinding. I recommend it. Maybe you can try enforcing it upon yourself for the next while you spend playing FFV. Think of it as a challenge (and, simultaneously, as a better way to spend your time with the game).

  3. I find grinding to be a necessary evil at times. As with most things, moderation is key and it is exciting to play a title in which the developer understands and embraces this notion. All RPGs inherently have the option of grinding, but it is the good games that do not make it a necessity. Obviously there are exceptions, but I find a happy balance is struck when the gameplay is challenging enough on its own. Grinding simply gives the gamer the option to demolish opponents by reaching insanely high levels or strengthen themselves for a particularly challenging area of the game.

  4. Ugh, ETHOS! EVERYONE knows you should use Lambda Burst instead of Alpha Storm because it doesn’t have a line of sight limitation. What kind of SoA fanboy are you, anyway?!

  5. @Lusi – This was good advice that I took immediately and then never said so, so I’m saying so now!

    @Bek – That’s how I used to feel about it, and I’m not sure I can say the same anymore.

    @Mel – THIS IS HOW LONG IT’S BEEN SINCE I’VE PLAYED, I’M TRYING MEL I’M TRYING BUT BETWEEN MY COPIES DISAPPEARING AND THE $70 COPIES I BUY BEING BUSTED I JUST CAN’T, MEL, I JUST CAN’T.

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