A Better Way to Level Up

I have mixed feelings about leveling up in video games.  As we all know, this common feature of RPG’s allows us to make our characters more powerful and, in any game that includes it, it is typically a requirement.  You simply can’t get through RPGs without leveling up your characters, or else you’ll be doomed to inflict 1 HP of damage per attack to bosses whose HP is in the millions, while your own feeble health bar of a whopping 100 HP is crushed to powder by the weakest attack from the weakest weakling…in the final level, at least.

While leveling up makes battling feel a lot more productive (honestly, once you have the maximum number of Deku sticks in Zelda, you may as well leave the Deku Babas alone), and it can make some games easier because, if you can’t defeat an enemy, you simply level up until your abilities far outmatch that of your foe’s, it is also one of the biggest things I despise in video games.  Seriously.  Aside from games that give you a big fat game over once you run out of lives, I hate leveling up.

Okay, yeah, if the game has a good battle system and if the characters level up relatively quickly, I enjoy leveling up just fine.  Dinner’s ready in ten minutes, and I don’t have time to do much else before I stop my game, why not, let’s level up a bit.  Games like Kingdom Hearts and Ni no Kuni are fun, partly because leveling up is fun.  But, in games where battles are tedious, being forced to level up for hours on end can drive one to insanity.  I am serious, I had to spend a total of several months leveling up in Final Fantasy XIII in order to beat various bosses.  I can’t believe I even stuck with the game that long, but that is a major reason I doubt I will ever play it again.

The concept of leveling up makes sense.  It is the game equivalent of “practice makes perfect”.  The more you do something, for example, battling monsters, the better you get at it, and your character gains stats in strength and magic and the like.  But sometimes I wonder if there’s a better way.  The notion first came to me while playing Okami several years ago.  And then I promptly forgot all about it, until I started playing Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns far more recently.  In both games, you don’t gain any experience fighting enemies.  Oftentimes, you can just skip them and suffer no penalty in the long run for it.  In order to get stronger in these games, you simply need to help people (or bring plants back to life, as is the case in Okami).  Yes, many quests in Lightning Returns do require you to collect items dropped by enemies, but rather than being forced to fight enemies to gain experience, you simply hunt down and defeat ten Gremlins, for example, hand over the items you collected, and get stronger as a result of completing a quest.

In both games, I had a lot of fun with this fresh approach to leveling up.  Gone were the days of “grinding” for hours just to level up by one level.  In Lightning Returns, my more recent example, once I completed the main quests, I actually had a lot of fun just spending my remaining days before the world ended completing various quests.  The more difficult the quest, the more your stats would increase.  Sometimes I would need to find an item in a certain location.  Sometimes I would collect items from enemies.  Once I ran around Luxerion in search of all 13 clocks.  It was fun, and I enjoyed making Lightning stronger in this game far more than I enjoyed watching her fight countless enemies in the first game in the hopes that, in a week, I might possibly be strong enough to beat a boss.  But probably not.

So, what do you think?  Would you like to see a new system of leveling up in video games?  Because I just think leveling up is getting rather old.  Video games have improved in so many ways, on the surface.  Graphics get better, the games get bigger.  And yet we are still stuck with this old system of leveling up that has been around for decades.  Unless it’s done right, I’m tired of it, and it’s the very reason I’m a bit sick of RPG’s.  Lightning Returns may not be the best game out there, but this is at least one area they got very right.

I’m a Level 98 Duck, and I Achieved This Status Simply By Playing With My Cat

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    Level-based progression is fun, but it has to be done the right way. What “the right way” is is totally subjective of course, but for me it’s any method that doesn’t force you to level grind.

    Level grinding in itself isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s very difficult to make a player level grind without the process quickly becoming tedious.

    It’s a problem inherent to games based around character progression I think. You don’t want your players to hit the level cap too early, since the game would be over then, but you also have to make the surrounding game interesting enough that they stick around long enough to eventually hit that cap.

    This is why I think games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim work where others like Final Fantasy XIII and Destiny fall flat. In Fallout/Skyrim, the real game is in exploring the world they’ve laid out before you. You don’t care so much about hitting that next level because you’re having to much fun finding stuff. In games like Destiny/Final Fantasy XIII, is the game. The activities aren’t what keeps you around, it’s the quest for an ever more-powerful character. Once you get to the point that you don’t feel like leveling them up anymore, then that’s it. The game loses its hold on you.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      That’s quite true. If I’m going to level up, I want to do so while completing other quests. If I actually have to go out of my way to fight enemies for the sole purpose of leveling up, it feels boring and pointless. I used to be able to tolerate such gameplay, but not anymore. If I have limited time to play games, I don’t want to spend it being bored.

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  2. tyrannodorkus says:

    I agree, after years of doing it, is worn thin to me. That way of leveling looks like it’s more thoughtful with your time and let’s you do more of the story without getting breaks.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I was really happy with the new system of leveling up in Lightning Returns. I am just so tired of the old system of fighting enemies for hours and hours, and in this game, you get stronger while doing actually meaningful tasks. I hope more RPGs employ more creative methods of leveling up because, otherwise, I just don’t know if I can play RPGs anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like leveling but hate grinding. I totally know what you mean. I like leveling most when it is quick, it happens from playing the main story (not tons of side quests or grinding), and it lets you develop your character in a unique way. But so many times it’s done wrong, like you said. Spending all that time in Final Fantasy 12 dungeons, for instance, really wore me out!

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I’m just so tired of level grinding that I have trouble playing RPGs anymore. Like you said, it’s fine if it’s quick or can be done as part of the main game, but when it’s not, it’s terrible. That’s my problem with Kingdom Hearts 2.5. The original version was fun, but this newer version of the game is more difficult, and I have to spend a lot of time leveling up. Despite being one of my favorite games ever, I actually gave up without finishing everything.

      Final Fantasy 12 was an exhausting game in general. It was too huge for its own good. I used to say I wanted games with large worlds…until I played FF12, and then I took it back.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dina Farmer says:

    I don’t mind a little bit of grinding to achieve another level. But the hours devoted to grinding are a thing of the past for me. I rather enjoy how many games are now giving experience points for turing in quests or missions.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I don’t mind when I can level up quickly, but when it takes forever, it just isn’t worth it for me anymore. It is indeed really nice that some games are allowing us to level up in different ways now rather than just tedious fighting. I hope more games will do that, and then maybe my RPG-gaming days won’t be ending so soon, after all.

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      1. Dina Farmer says:

        I think a lot more of the western RPGs are doing that now. I’m sure since it is becoming a trend that more JRPGs will follow suit. 🙂

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