Stian: The concept of working towards a goal is nothing new. Whether it is progressing through platforming-stages, exploring an open-world, planning a good strategy for an army, or even for our topic of today, it’s all about getting further into a game. However, grinding can be a dirty word for many. Doing the same thing over and over again, might be appealing for some to see their stats getting higher or even acquiring some news skills. For others, it can rather be a way to pad out game-time. RPGs are the biggest offenders in this regard. Personally: I love this genre, but even I have just a certain tolerance for this. When grinding is required, I dread to think of how many creatures I must kill in one area just to get further. However, I still love games such as Dragon Quest, Guild Wars 2, Etrian Odyssey and Monster Hunter, despite them requiring grinding to be able to get further. But why is this?
First of: I think one of the most important parts to make grinding a positive thing, is the combat. Surely this might sound like a no-brainer, but how do you make doing the same thing over and over again interesting? In a traditional turn-based RPG, I believe that variation of enemies and even searching out for stronger opponents that you might be able to kill, can make grinding more interesting due to variation and actually strategizing. Since you will have to put your mind into the game, it would be much more engaging, and fighting stronger opponents to get better goodies, can also be a good risk vs reward appeal. With Monster Hunter, an action RPG, I also think it shows that being better in actually fighting against a monster, getting more skillful in the hunt, and not just become statistically stronger, helps make the encounters more engaging.
Second: With Guild Wars 2, it showcases different ways to get leveled up. By always giving you options on how you want to improve yourselves, from combat and doing side-quests to exploring huge environments and getting rewards for it; it gives the player different ways to get more XP, making it feel more varied. Not to mention, the ability to visit different environments and having co-op also helps. Lastly, giving other elements, such as gold or searching out areas for better weapons and armor, can help give a boost of confidence and seeing clear progression. Certainly the XP-bar can be appealing, but when it takes hours to get to the next level, a new weapon is always appreciated. What do you think Casper?
Casper: When it comes to grinding I think a lot of factors come into play, but most important to me is whether the actions you are asked to do are intrinsically fun, as in: do I actually enjoy the grinding or am I just doing it to reach the next bit of content. Guild Wars 2 is a good example of this, as you can cooperate with friends to explore, kill enemies, or undertake side-quests. A personal favorite of mine Kingdom Hearts where the combat system is just so fun that killing a few extra enemies is no hassle; in fact, it generally allows me to try out some different abilities and weapons.
Another important factor, for which I don’t really have a fancy word prepared, is whether that action stays fun. You mention Monster Hunter, but I absolutely loath those games because every armor set just has to have that one item with a drop chance of 1-2% After 48 rathians and still not getting that final component, even an activity that is intrinsically fun ceases to be that when it severally outstays its welcome. On the flipside, grinding in something like Final Fantasy or Pokémon can be made bearable if the combat is fast enough to not make it a bother. I appreciate, for example, how Earthbound makes enemies flee in terror if you are too strong and still gives you the reward. A fast-forward button would make a lot of turn-based combat infinitely more bearable.
S: Kingdom Hearts is a very good example of that, as you are sort of like a battle-mage that can choose to focus on one fighting-style, but still change up tactics if you choose to do so! Although I never found KH very grind-heavy, I do think I could have easily spent a couple of hours on grinding in that game. At least, if it had not been for other annoyances, which I will explain in a review later on. I do agree that if the drop-rate is low for an item in Monster Hunter, then the fights can get repetitive and it should not be when you have proven more than enough your capabilities in fighting Rathians. I do still love the concept of fighting a monsters to get better at it and there are tougher monsters that will drop certain items more likely, but I cannot deny this annoyance will be present.
That is actually true! The remake of Dragon Quest 8 for the 3DS, added a fast-forward setting where fights can be finished much quicker, which is definitely a nice feature. Having the ability to skip animations in certain games, can also be a nice option. I also loved in the DS version of Final Fantasy 4, where you could set in automatic commands for how people should act in combat, so you could basically move the characters with one hand and do other things with the other like eating or taking a drink. I do still question if this makes the grinding “good”, as it will still become repetitive and even automated, but it is at least better than nothing. However, Earthbound also added in the instakill, which I love. It usually works for weaker enemies, but can also work for stronger ones if it is absolutely sure you won’t lose hp in the battle by doing normal attacks. Maybe as a contrast though, when have you experienced the worst kind of grinding? After all, there can’t be good without the bad, right?
C: I already cited my gripes with Monster Hunter and that is actually a game that really drove me to the edge of my patience. Besides that I look back on my World of Warcraft days with mixed feelings, where you and 39 others got to take on some really heavy challenges for a chance at getting a rare item. Nothing drives friendships apart as quickly as spending weeks taking on tough boss encounters to see that one item you want drop, only for somebody else to beat you on the roll by a small margin. Do you have some nice examples?
On top of that, I’d like to say that I sometimes find grinding comfortable. When I know the game allows me to detour from the main campaign to get stronger as much as I want, I feel less stressful about playing that game. For example, I never liked how in X-COM games challenge goes up regardless of what you do. When a battle costs you most of your ace team you don’t get time to compensate for that by training new rookies, there are no petty missions to grind, and that really weighs on me. People talk a lot about save scumming, but you don’t have much choice in the late game. In Disgaea you get all the time in the world to grind and, while I sometimes find myself severely over-prepared, I at least never end up feeling like I am going to hit a brick wall in those games.
S: Ah, I remember something similarly from Final Fantasy 11, where many people would camp at a certain area (no spoilers) where you could get a really amazing ring which an enemy might drop when slain. Everybody was after that equipment and here it was even worse where you had to be the first to grab the bloody item, as anybody could take the same loot from a fallen enemy. I hated this with a passion. I don’t think WoW would make me much happier in its concept though. However both for me were doable compared to Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Now I will hold my tongue a bit, but while I have some fond memories of it, I hated that grinding never made me feel stronger in that game, since enemies also got more and more powerful when you leveled up. It never made me feel a progression in character-building, only giving me more elements to deal with, such as the dodge-roll. It was not nearly as annoying, but even worse: it was simply boring.
I do agree there, I am all for being punished when mistakes are made, but you should have the ability to rise and become strong once again without too much of a drag. Disgaea sounds like it at least gives you the opportunity to be more prepared, which is nice. If I may, I really liked Fire Emblem 7’s concept, where it had a linear progression through chapters (with some being unlocked when certain conditions or choices were made), and some of these stages had arenas, where you could take one of your characters there and make him/her fight to the death. Literally: either your comrade won or got killed. It was balanced enough, since you still had a good army if you lost one good character.
I suppose grinding might show its best sides, when it is presented as a choice on getting stronger and you feel a progression. Even better if it’s either fast paced/automated, given a fun combat-system or at the very least variation. What do you think, Casper?
C: I do believe that is the sweet point. Players aren’t fundamentally against grinding, they are against being bored. If you make your grind fun and put a light at the end of the tunnel for players to work towards, a lot of complaints will just vanish.