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Grinding can mean a lot of things. It can mean high schoolers dancing in a way that makes me puke, it can mean pushing something against a spinning stone wheel, or it can mean battling lots of enemies in order to level up in a video game. Really only in RPGs, as far as my knowledge goes, grinding can be either a delight or a complete turn-off for a game, and a recent game has inspired me to talk about grinding in RPGs. I won't be going into every single possible game with grinding, but I will try to be broad with my thoughts.
First, to clarify, when I do say grinding, this can mean just battling in an RPG in general, because that is what levels you up, in most cases, though I'm not aware of any specific exceptions. Although, when people say grinding, it usually means that a person is battling enemies over and over in order to level up sufficiently. This usually occurs when there's a particular boss or area that is too difficult for the player/player's party, or maybe just done so it doesn't need to be later. Whatever the case is, I'm looking at multiple aspects of what can making grinding fun, tiresome, or so bad that I stop playing the game, or games that actually do the best thing possible, and eliminate the need for grinding.
Before I get into the bad of it all, let's look on the more positive side of things. If a game does it's battle system right, grinding can actually be a very, very enjoyable experience, for many different reasons. Several of my favorite RPGs have had their battle systems fully realized, which made grinding in them fun. These titles include the Pokémon series, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Radiant Historia. Each have taken measures that made their battle systems to fun that I usually didn't mine going back to earlier areas to level up.
Xenoblade Chronicles' battle system is like that of MMORPG's, but it's also unique within itself. The fact that the player only moves around and chooses special moves for the head of the party is something not really seen in any other RPG that I know of. This sort of creates the idea that the game doesn't have tons of player input during the battle system, but that is completely the opposite. The player can choose what skills the other party members have at their disposal, and the skills used by the main party member are quintessential to defeating most enemies. Also, there's the whole thing with chain attacks, which can make battles immensely satisfying, if you do them correctly. That's what I've realized makes grinding fun-making the battles satisfying all the time, even when you're doing tons of them in a row.
A little-know DS game that I love is called Radiant Historia, which I call the modern Chrono Trigger, since it came out in 2011 instead of 1995. It has time travel over a few months time, and the battle system is grid based, which is why grinding in the game is fun. Getting into a battle is quick, and after a few battles, you start to understand how it can be utilized. The enemies are on a 3 by 3 grid, and certain moves can be used by the player party to push and pull them across it. What's really satisfying about this is that you can push enemies into each other, and then attack them all at once. This makes me as a gamer feel satisfied and smart, knowing that I took down 4-5 enemies in 3 moves because I pushed them together all at once.
I also mentioned Pokémon, which has fun grinding for one good reason: it feels personal to you, the player. Sure, when I play a story-based game, I'm connected to the characters, but with Pokémon, I do feel like it's more connected to me-those Pokémon are the ones I chose to be with me on my journey, and so battling with them feels a little more special. Also, these Pokémon sometimes evolve, which sets a goal-when you're playing a new Pokémon game, and you don't know how the Pokémon evolve, it's so exciting to see them evolve into something entirely new-that's what made grinding in the main series fun-you're going for a goal that has an outcome that is exciting and new.
Something that all of these games have that also make grinding satisfying is a good battle system. I grinded so much when I got to a certain area in Xenoblade because of one simple reason above all others: I wanted to listen to Mechanical Rhythm as much as possible, because it's sooooo wonderful. Blue Radiance is just a nice, charming tune for Radiant Historia, and don't get me started on The World Ends with You, because it has several amazing battle themes, from Twister to The One Star. A recent JRPG with catchy battle music has also been Shin Megami Tensei IV, which I found myself listening to a bit before the game even came out.
Honestly, The Bad.
When I heard Shin Megami Tensei was a hard series, I wasn't really put off by it. Once I started playing the newest entry, IV, for 3DS, I liked the battle system, and the music it had, so I was having fun with the title, but then something happened. See, with all the past games I talked about, I didn't really have to battle 40 times to level up-in Shin Megami Tensei IV, sometimes, that happens. This is where I start to have issues with grinding-when it simply takes up such a time investment that I'm not having fun anymore. I know, I may just be a weak-willed gamer when it comes to this, but I honestly haven't even touched the game in weeks because battling seems to earn me little to no experience. I was having fun at first, but when I was earning 100 exp, and needed maybe 3000 to level up...I wasn't having fun. In fact, I was frustrated, and even defeating bosses didn't help me gain tons of experience, nor did side quests. This brings up an important point with grinding-the game can be balance to require grinding, but it should be balanced enough that I want to actually feel like I'm getting somewhere while doing it.
Dead Island is a game I didn't play tons-my Steam records show I only played it for four hours, but I think that the time I spent with it shows it got grinding wrong. I was simply searching for zombies, and just jumping at them with whatever weapon I could find, and then jumping away from them again. I probably should have played the game more to get a good feel for it, but in that first little bit where I felt underleveled, I tried to get up, but didn't have fun much doing so.
The Nonexistent Need.
Before I write a blog, I usually think of a couple examples that go with the idea I'm thinking about. When I thought about this game, I realized that I never really did grind in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. The leveling system in the game is unique, because all your magic, potions, and skills are decided by how you sort the panels, which you can see in the image above. You can also get special sets-see in the top left of the panels, with the small LV panels? Well, the different one with "LV4" means that all the level panels in that group count for four levels instead of one, which is a big boost, and saves putting tons of level panels and wasting space. This made battling well balance throughout the game-I got leveling panels at a good pace, and if I ever had a hard time with a boss, it just meant I had to adjust how I sorted my panels-it didn't mean I had to go beat some old mission five times in order to get more panels.
Fallout 3 also didn't require any grinding, from what I remember. I just trekked through the game, killing what I encountered, and wasn't ever really under or overpowered. I don't know if this was good design, or just me encountering enough enemies, but I guess Bethesda did it right (with this game-Skyrim just simply had cheap enemies that required tons of reloads on my part-those dumb crawling bug things). In any case, Bethesda did something right with this title, making there be enough encounters to make the player progress at the right pace.
Well, I think that's it for today-I think I covered a good line of ideas, but if anyone has any others, or disagrees with how the grinding is in any of the titles I mentioned, feel free to comment below. I'm glad grinding isn't required in every game. :P
Do I have to grind to get my chest flaming?