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