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 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.
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!