Game Design Talk: XP/Level/etc Grinding

Discussion in 'Games' started by Xylia, Jul 4, 2018.

  1. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    Ah yes, Grinding.

    The very thing that many people complain about when it comes to JRPGs, particularly the harder Japanese ones. This topic came to mind as I've recently been playing 7th Saga (SNES), a game that is rather infamous for its forced level grinding.

    I'm not going to say that this does not exist in that game (it very much does), but I wanted to talk a bit about the concept of grinding enemies for XP to get levelups in JRPGs.

    First, I want to say that I don't think level grinding is bad design, or that it doesn't have a place in games. On the contrary, I think it can do good things for a game and it has its place and function. However, it can by overdone, and it's sad when that happens, because it can turn people off on the game. Here are some points I would like to mention:

    1). Difficulty Slider. Level grinding can be used as a difficulty slider in most JRPGs: Every time you gain an XP level, you are effectively reducing the difficulty of battles from then on. If you want to make the game easier, you simply grind more levels. If you want more of a challenge run, you grind less levels. Many JRPG games make it so that there's a baseline challenge if you kill most enemies you encounter during the natural progression of the game, and if you feel this makes the game too easy, most games will give you some way of skipping combat; avoiding enemies, running from battle, or killing enemies in a way that does not give XP. Or, if you think the game is a little too hard, you can stop and grind a little.

    2). Content Padding. Let's face it, another major part of Level Grinding, is to make the game artificially longer. I know this is the argument that many people will make about games that feature a good bit of grinding and I'm not going to deny it, though I would have to ask, if there was no level grinding, and no need to grind levels, would you really rather have a short game? You might say "oh they could just add more content!" Well, yes....and no. Many of the more grindy JRPGs were released on early consoles, particularly the SNES has a large JRPG library. SNES cartridges had a finite amount of memory on them that you could store your game. Adding content meant that you were trying to squeeze more data onto the cartridge, and if you wanted to make the game a bit longer, you would add things that the player would need to grind for, optional equipment, or perhaps make the game's bosses challenging to slow the player down now and then or at least encourage them to fight all of those enemies in their way instead of skipping past them. I don't see as much Level Grinding in today's RPGs, though it does/can happen especially if the developer wants to make a game that feels "oldschool".

    3). Progression of Character Power. You know what feels good as a player? My characters getting stronger. A game that lets you level grind and see your character's growth as you start out by struggling with a particular set of enemies, and then over the course of an hour or so, turn them from a struggle into an even fight, and them being pushovers is a fun and rewarding feeling. I like seeing numbers go up, I like starting off with reasonably difficult enemies, only to smooth them into curbstomp battles, pointing and laughing at the enemies that gave me trouble an hour or two ago. Not all games do this well, but I can think of a few where you can start to feel the difference after a level or two.

    4). Using Abilities You Wouldn't Normally. Grinding for levelups gives you the ability to use certain spells that usually don't work on bosses, and spells you would not use on the way to a boss because of MP Conservation in the many JRPGs that have limited MP systems. Instant Death spells, multi-target spells and abilities, status effect attacks, a lot of these things can be fun to actually use, but impractical if you're on your way to the next boss as you will want to save your MP for the boss whenever possible, and the bosses are oftentimes immune to such things, as mentioned previously. It can be fun to grind near a town and just go wild with your character(s)' attacks and then go rest at the Inn only to do it some more.

    So these are a few ways in which I think XP/Level Grinding are good for a game, and now I'm going to present a few tips on how to make your XP/Level Grinding experience more palatable:

    1). Work Smarter, not Harder. Hey I get it, you want to get done with this and move on as soon as possible. Hey this happens to me too, so don't feel like I'm judging you for not liking the Grind. One thing one should realize is XP/hr and smoothness of combat. Picture two scenarios -- you fight a tough enemy that gives you 500XP when killed. You only need 3,000 for a levelup so that's great! Five more of those and you've got your level. Well, what if I told you that you could go back to the previous area you had already passed, and kill three 200XP enemies in the same amount of time and it would be a lot easier and there'd be far less danger? You would be making better XP/hr and thus get done faster. Always consider things like this. Also, You might run into a 900XP enemy that comes out every so often in a particular spot, but it only appears in 1 out of 10 random battles and the rest of the battles only give you 100XP per. That's not really worth it either; the place where you get 200XP per battle is far better, because it's more consistent.

    2). Do It In Segments. One mistake some players make, is burn out. If you think you need, say, 5 levelups and each level takes an hour, that seems so daunting in the more grindy games, doesn't it? Break it up into segments! Set a time for yourself and say "I'm going to grind for (insert amount of time here)." Maybe take 30, 45 minutes and get as much XP as you can in that time, save the game, and do something else for awhile. Maybe later on in the same day, come back for another 30 or 45 minutes. You'd be surprised how short the grinding sessions feel when you split them up like this. Set goals, stick to them, and don't overdo it.

    3). Distract Yourself. Use a tablet, a phone, or alt-tab if you're using emulation software. Do other things while level grinding. This is another reason why you want to do your grinding on easy enemies that pose little threat; you can take your mind off of what you're doing, and do something else. Chat away on IM, get into a voice conversation with friends while you grind away. If you're sitting there doing the grinding and nothing but the grinding, it will get boring because very little of your mental acuity is devoted to the grinding and the rest of your brain is getting bored. Doing something else in the background, such as talking to friends helps with this immensely. Or even browsing the internet, art sites, reading forums, etc between battles or turns or what-not can help a lot too.

    So, hopefully this post softened your mood towards Level Grinding in JRPGs; it does have its place in a game's design. It's not something that should be overdone if you're designing a game, but yet none at all is even more detrimental in my opinion.

    Thoughts/comments, feel free to share!
    Shuredda likes this.
  2. Shuredda

    Shuredda Master Chief

    Your title doesn't specify if you only wanted to talk about JRPGs. I can't talk about those because I dislike them all (and games like Warcraft, Aion, Tera, Final Fantasy). But Grinding appears in other genres.
    I HATE grinding.

    When I play I want to enjoy every moment. The 3 tips you gave at the end are very good and I do them all when I need to grind. That demonstrates that there is a problem with grinding, I know no one that likes the grind. What they like is the game's mechanics, they enjoy the game so they don't mind playing over and over because they are having fun, but when you rather have your game minimized instead of actually playing it, it means you are not enjoying said mechanics any longer, the grind has gone too far. Quantity or Quality?

    Grinding can be optional, for example I could grind for gold in Resident Evil 5 by playing the first chapters a few times so I can upgrade my guns and have a better chance later in the game. I see no problem with this since it's the player's choice. But it's easier to simply set the difficulty down and you don't need to replay what you have already played. Besides the game is balanced, you don't need to do this unless you are a really bad player. It has a good curve of learning and the gold and guns are perfectly scattered, so grinding is optional.
    Your Nº1 point is similar to Nº3 wich I like more. The feeling of getting stronger and stronger. There are areas in Dark Souls where enemies are too strong for you, so you better go somewhere else, and later in the game you go back to that area and you manage to get through those enemies that were decimating you before. But you don't need grinding to bring this mechanic to a game. Shepard also goes gradually stronger in Mass Effect, and there is no grinding in that game.

    Content Padding is what I hate the most. It should simply be avoided. Yes, I would prefer a shorter game with more content, but let me clarify something, the grindy games I have seen are grindy because if you could get everything without grind, it would be extremely easy to get everything because the game has no mechanics. I like when content is locked behind a skill wall, not a patience-monotony-proof wall. Reward me when I am a good player not when I am patient. If the game is able to reward certain players because of their skill, it means it has mechanics.
    I have 332 hours of Dragon's Dogma (minus character creation) and I have spent it all on playing. It's not a perfect game and it has boring missions, but I played it over and over again because I enjoy it's mechanics. It's a good game and it earned my time. I preffered playing instead of doing something else so the time passes faster. I wasn't suffering when playing, I enjoyed it. I started playing Warframe like 2 years before Dragon's Dogma and I have 1620 hours. The game let's you know how many hours you where actually on a mission, wich is like 800 hours (less than half!!). The other half I was trying to trade things with other players (grinding premium currency in chat. I signed to shoot things and cut them in half with my Katana). And how much of those 800 hours was me grinding gear or resources instead of playing because I wanted to enjoy the gameplay? It seems like I enjoyed Dragon's Dogma muuuuuch more than Warframe, wich I only have bad memories of when I think of it thanks to the grind.
    So basically I am against artifitally extending a game's lenght with grinding. Quality over Quantity any time for me! I happily recommend those 200 hours or less from Mass Effect 2 instead of the grindfest that was Warframe.

    Dark Souls does the Xp grinding so good. In case someone doesn't know how it works: enemies give you souls (what you use to level up) when they die. Weaker enemies give less souls of course. Every level requires more souls and if you die, you drop a green orb thingy that contains all souls you had at the moment, so it's dangerous to advance too much without spending your souls on new levels. If you die again you drop another orb with the souls you gather on your way there, but the one you previously wanted to recover is gone forever. Enemies respawn when you die or get a checkpoint.
    I think it's good because it makes you grind without noticing (not that I like the grind, but this one has it implemented so you automatically get the "difficulty slider" you mentioned without feeling like you are loosing your time). You make a path to a boss, but enemies kill you everytime, so you start getting further everytime because you get better and because you are grinding souls. They respawn, you kill them again and get more souls, so at some point you should be higher level enough. BUT you can't simply minimize the game or get distracted because if you die you could loose your souls.
    The game does not encourage you to go back and grind easier enemies because they give less souls, and every level costs more (I found it usually better to not grind, considereing the XP/h you mentioned). But you can go back if you want to. I never felt like I had to or that "I should go back grind, it's what I am supposed to do".
    Now, Dark Souls is way too punishing to some people I get it, but it does it right. You don't need to go back and grind, just play the area you're in until you beat it. And since it has been proven that you can complete the game without leveling up and with the worst gear, I think it's safe to assume it is a game with good mechanics that rewards you if you are a good player.

    I will allways come back to play the good ones like RE, Fallout, Killing Floor, Skyrim, because these games have something that makes me get engaged, be it either role playing like in FO or Elder Scrolls, or simply a damn fun game like Dragon's Dogma. When updates stop coming to Warframe I won't touch it again.

    TL;DR: I hate grind with a passion
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2018
  3. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    To each their own. And yes, I was talking mostly about JRPGs.... MMOs... well those are going to have grind no matter what. It comes with the genre.

    I was mainly talking about games that fail to provide enough XP/Levelups to get through dungeons that force you to stop and fight junk or you can't progress because the enemies are too strong.

    Now thankfully this is rather rare (once you get past the first areas) in most JRPGs, especially newer ones.

    What I like best, are games that if you kill everything you encounter on your way through the game's various dungeons and such, you should be able to handle everything that gets in your way with a reasonable difficulty, and if you ever wanted to make it easier, well... you could go grind a little. Get a levelup or two extra and then things get easier.

    And I think Dark Souls is actually not a very good example to use here. The XP in that game, Souls, is not only used for buying and upgrading junk, but also for raising your stats through Soul Levels. They have the Souls/Kills way too low through the first half of the game and the second half of the game everything takes too long to kill. You can exploit the forest enemies in Dark Souls 1 where you use that key to unlock that gate, but even that takes forever and is highly repetitive.

    And yeah, sure, you can beat the game naked on SL1 .... but 99.9999% of players aren't going to have the skill that takes.
  4. Shuredda

    Shuredda Master Chief

    I think it's still an interesting topic no matter the game genre.

    Yes I agree with what you say, I don't mind if it's optional. That means a game where you should only grind if you want the game to be easier than the devs intended, that's my opinion.

    About Dark Souls, I haven't played it now in a good while so I don't remember very well, but I do remember that I had a good ride on my first playthrough, relativley better than my second (not NG+). I don't see the problem on using XP to both level up and upgrade your gear since both play a good part in your survivability, they force you to think hard before spending, I think that's more of a design choice that goes well with the "hard game" that is Dark Souls. Besides, upgrades and weapons were kinda cheap, if I remember correctly the real cost were the resources (titanite shards, element based titanite, etc.). These ones are scattered in the game but can be farmed if you wanted.
    I think the devs were thinking very well on how many souls each enemy gives you. On my first playthrough I never felt like the game was being unfair, I never encountered a "bullet"sponge that I couldn't run past (I remember some enemies extremely hard that were optional).
    I am not saying the game is perfect, if you are right about how the souls are distributed between enemies, I think it's more of a balance issue, but I would say you are overleveled for the area you're in. If enemies weren't dying maybe you didn't choose well your stats, or didn't upgrade your weapons the right way. Either case I still think the system is really good. Buuuut maybe you were right and it wasn't a good example, Dark Souls is way too punishing after all.

    I remember the forest thing. Completely optional, I didn't use it on my first and did just fine.

    The naked thing was another example. Dark Souls has mechanics and rewards you for your skill even if you are level one, that was my point. It's not like "you're either good enough to complete the game naked SL1 or you are so bad that you can't get past the first boss", you can be a good player and not be able to beat the game like that but you still get rewarded.

    Sorry I didn't want to turn the post into a Dark Souls chat :avalihug:
  5. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    It's okay, np. I just... thought Dark Souls was a fun game gameplay wise, but certain things about it really made me sour on the whole experience and I'm not necessarily talking about the difficulty.

    Buuuuut anyways..

    I suppose I'm just used to grinding? lol. I can get though where it turns some people off entirely. It's a hit or miss thing.
  6. clintonjmolina

    clintonjmolina Space Hobo

    Totally agree

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