Siliconera Speaks Up: To Grind or Not to Grind?

By Louise Yang . May 10, 2009 . 7:00am

To grind or not to grind? Is there a time and place for level grinding? Or do you think it’s an artificial way of adding length to a game and it should be abolished altogether?

 

Ishaan: Oddly enough, I was just thinking of pulling out the old Diablo II battlechest when I saw this! Grinding is designed around the most basic concept of game design: reward and punishment. It’s great in a game like Diablo II where the grinding rewards you with all sorts of cool items and is your gateway to creating your own unique character and showing him/her off online. Tens of hours grinding in D2? No problem. I know I’ll have something to show for it.

Grinding 90 hours into Persona 3? Not so much fun. I generally tend to hate grinding in story-focused JRPGs because it feels like it gets in the way of plot advancement. Luckily, the battles in Persona 3 were entertaining because of the personae and the battle commentary but most turn-based RPGs don’t have that advantage and feel unnecessarily drawn out. Here’s an idea though: if Diablo II can make grinding fun by providing you with a sense of constant discovery, surely this sensation could be recreated for plot advancement or character development? How about an RPG where every major battle develops your character’s personality in some way?

 

Jenni: For me, it depends on the game. While Ishaan doesn’t like grinding in story-focused games, I find that’s where I enjoy it most. I try to play and get involved in free-to-play MMORPGs like Mabinogi, where the focus is on grinding and developing a strong character, but lose interest and get bored.

As for RPG grinding, I don’t mind level grinding in an RPG when it’s optional. I kind of enjoy mindless battling to get a jump start on upcoming enemies. This will probably sound crazy, but the monotonous and repetitive battles are almost soothing.

I do mind level grinding when the developers clearly designed the game in such a way where you have to grind if you want to progress through the game. It annoys me to no end, and I’ll usually end up abandoning the game halfway through or, if it’s a PS2 or DS game, searching for Action Replay or Codebreaker codes.

 

Louise: I fall more in line with Ishaan when it comes to grinding. If there’s some rare and super helpful loot to be had, I’ll happily grind for it. If I need a specific spell that comes with leveling up, I’ll grind for it. As long as there’s a tangible in-game goal or reward coming up soon, I don’t mind.

But if it’s to just gain levels so I can have enough HP to survive the boss? No thanks. That’s boring and implies that I got to the boss too quickly, so I have to walk around and get into random battles just so I can level up more. I don’t mind so much if leveling up means I can allocate specific points to individual stats, since that usually lets me control my character build better, but if it’s just to gain an extra level or two each time I face a hard enemy, I usually get bored of the game.

 

Spencer: I like the idea of optional rewards for grinding like a shiny new sword or maybe Xbox Achievement points. That strikes a good level of balance for players who want to grind and those that want to coast through a story. While it’s not an RPG, Muramasa: The Demon Blade sort of has this kind of setup where you can breeze through the game or play a mode where you have to level up.

Persona 3 has a creative approach to grinding. Instead of fighting slimes you develop character traits like courage and explore the storyline to obtain stronger avatars and spells. Other games can do something like this too! Lost Odyssey has players searching for memories and reading Kaim’s stories. Tracking shards of Kaim’s past could unlock spells or abilities opposed to the Final Fantasy IX like learn-an-ability-from-your-equipment-system.


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  • Akimitsu

    I love level grinding, as long as it’s optional. I dislike games where the center of attention is grinding for the next storyline boss or something along those lines. One of my favorite games to level grind in is Disgaea. Getting those levels up high and powering up your character up so much is such a sweet thing to witness when you blast away enemies with minimal ease. I’m used to grinding a lot in RPGs when I get the chance to play them, but sometimes it gets boring if the battle system isn’t good. For example, grinding is fun in games like Persona (and the previously mentioned Disgaea), as the battle system caters to the Grinder, especially when you get that new Persona that you’ve been working toward.

    • http://www.nakedsushi.net/ Louise

      That’s weird, because one of the reasons I like Persona is that it doesn’t take grinding to beat a boss. Usually, as long as I had the right persona, I could handle the boss. But you’re right that sometimes, it takes grinding to get the right personas to fuse, or a high enough level to actually fuse the persona.

  • Aoshi00

    For me, I would have to say I loved grinding when I was a kid, leveling up and seeing all those 9999 HP/MP was an achievement in and of itself, and dealing crazy damage to the bosses. I even called it “training” :). But that was during the NES days for Dragon Ball or Romance of the 3 Kingdoms RPGs.

    Nowadays I can’t stand it because of the limited time I have to play games. RPG is time-consuming as it is. I just want to advance the story, nothing worse than getting stuck in a boss for not having high enough levels, everything just grinds to a halt. Fun battle system helps of course, like Star Ocean 4 where I don’t mind it, but the dungeons are very long so you’re essentially grinding along the way.

    I love Lost Odyssey’s balanced system where it prevents you from excessive grinding, you get to level up until you hit a cap, then random battles only net you low exp and render grinding futile, so the boss fights would stay challenging w/ strategies involved. I died quite a few times in LO (that is if you did’t get the extra DLC accessory which was sort of game breaking). At the end though, I did end up logging over 100 hrs in it as it was one of the most fun turn-based RPGs I’ve played in many years.

    To conclude, I don’t want mandatory grinding, I used to be able to finish FFX in a week back in college, nowadays it takes me weeks or months to finish most RPGs, I have to do them in sessions..

  • Davey

    It all depends on how good the battle system is. If it’s fun, engaging, and constantly throwing new things at the player, then I’m happy to grind for hours. If it’s boring and repetitive, then grinding is bound to be a chore. Unfortunately, I have to say that most games end up being the latter, in my experience. On the other hand, I tend to find that strategy/tactical RPGs fare well because every battle tends to play out differently, and there’s room to try out different strategies.

  • Necroth

    Grinding is stupid, and it only acts as artificial padding to increase a games length. Grinding for experience tends to destroy any challenge a “RPG” might have and makes those games based less on tactics and more on boring repetitive fights. Did I mention that it also gives developers an incentive to create boring, me-too enemies that have no special attributes or that don’t make players use tactics in fighting them other then pressing the attack button.

    That is the problem with most “RPGs.” They tend to use grinding and experience gaining as a crutch to prop up boring play. At least I have my tri-Ace, Atlus R&D1 (mostly), and Falcom left to make fun games and not boring ones.

  • CleruTesh

    When it comes to Persona 3, on the first playthrough, yeah, the grinding sucks.
    But the only real reason for that is that the story is so fantastic, you just can’t wait to see more.
    One of that game’s strengths however, was that you could always “call it a day”, and by advancing a calendar day, get in a little character development/story anytime the grinding got you burned.
    Really, the better a story is, the more playing the game gets in the way of the story.
    That’s why I really wish we’d get more “visual novel” type of games in the US, that way, when I’m in the mood for a good story, I won’t have to worry about things like random battles.
    Diablo 2 is a good point though. I was just thinking the other day, what if turn-based JRPGs had some sort of Diablo-esque loot generation?

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Kamiwoo Kamiwoo

    In games where no grinding is necessary whatsoever… those games tend to be far too easy. Which kills my enjoyment of the game’s battle system and ability system. After all, if I don’t really have to think too much to beat a boss, or if it really doesn’t affect much that I found this new weapon or spell, then why bother? On the other hand, I don’t want to have to grind mercilessly in between dungeons, either. Especially my first time through.

    It’s unfortunate that more RPGs don’t have selectable difficulty levels. Put in an easy mode for people who just want to see the story and breeze through the game with no grinding. And put in harder modes for those of us who enjoy the challenge and want to experience the game to its fullest.

    Speaking of Persona games… those games have easy modes. So I don’t see how anyone could really complain about grinding in them if you have the option to reduce the amount you need to do.

  • http://www.nisamerica.com NickyD

    I don’t mind it, so long as battles are fast-paced. Grinding in Xenosaga 1 & 2? Pass. Magna Carta? Pass. Everything else is fair game. I don’t mind it at all. Like Jenni said, it is oddly soothing to get into a routine for fighting certain groups of enemies. If you think about what you’re doing, it’s pretty weird to think you’re pressing a random combination of directions and buttons and then everything dies. To others, you’re going so fast, but to you, it’s a calm routine.

  • Little Tear

    leveling up is fine, i don’t mind it all (i hate the word “grinding” and i hate the term “j-rpg” / it sounds so f**king lazy). leveling up or “grinding” (as the young kiddies say) isn’t the problem.

    role-playing games are way too easy and short nowadays, that’s the problem. there’s too much hand holding. but that’s a different conversation for a different day.

    • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

      What? I remember “grinding” for levels in Dragon Quest 1 and Final Fantasy 1. Then again I never really grew up so I’m fine with being called a kid at my age.

    • http://www.nakedsushi.net/ Louise

      I like the short length of RPGs these days. Back when I was a kid and only got 2-3 games a year, a long RPG was great because it lasted me many months. But now that I have a job and other things to take away from my game time, a 20hr RPG is the perfect length for me.

  • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

    I see it more as a necessary evil for games. After all, you need interaction for games, and you need to make it difficult, somewhat. I agree that if you get lotsa bonuses, like in Disgaea, it’ll be more motivating and worthwhile. But honestly, random encounters don’t bother me too much unless you’re finding yourself regularly decimated and it doesn’t matter how high a level you are, or there’s just too many.

  • Vrakanox

    I just don’t like it when grinding is the one and only purpose of the game like in a lot of MMO’s. If there is PVP involved sometimes I’m willing to grind. Grinding never bothered me in traditional JRPGs because it’s never been even close to as much grinding as I’ve had to do in some MMO’s.

  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    I LOOOOOOOVE to grind as long as the game rewards you properly for your efforts. For instance distributable skill points in Etrian Odyssey or 7th Dragon. Or at least nice big, tangible increases in offense and defense with each new level. I don’t like when levels come every minute or every 3 hours. Leveling up needs to have a nice pace to it and it should be, as others have noted, somewhat optional.

  • http://www.liquid-crystal.biz/ kryptonics

    I’d like to see more RPGs skip or rethink the numbers game. Do we really need all of these numbers or are developers just being lazy and following the norm?

    I like what Ishaan and Louise have said, the use of discovery can turn grinding into something more natural. It’s no longer grinding; it’s a hunt, either for rare monsters, treasure, or just new locations to explore.

  • Hello Hello

    Grinding is only as fun and fresh as the game’s battle system. In something like Spectral Souls (I used CFW to kill all of the loading) or Tales of Vesperia, I don’t mind grinding, because those games are just fun to play. In other games like Disgaea, grinding is just a chore. It comes down to finding the best EXP exploit so you can minimize the amount of grinding you need to beat the next boss. It’s boring, it’s sale, and it’s just not fun.

  • cesca

    I think it’s good as long as it’s optional – for an extra dungeon or boss. For story purposes, never. Battles are supposed to be won by good strategy and management rather than whose level is higher. Grinding for plot advancement is the RPG equivalent of backtracking in an action game, which I loathe as well.

  • Zefiro Torna

    Surprisingly, if it weren’t for the combined psychological effects from a unique game like Breath of Fire V and a case of OCD, I would still be a grinding maniac to this day. Now THAT was a game that encouraged playing through normally or having to feel (in my case) humiliated each time I had to rely on SOL Restart and SOL Restore in order to take advantage of the unique approach the game was designed around in regards to grinding.

    Ever since then, I normally play through RPGs by solely leveling up as I go along and things have been going great for me. The sense of accomplishment felt from taking down a boss or thoroughly exploring a dungeon without feeling overpowered really helps add to games feeling challenging once again. That in mind, makes me feel like I didn’t pay so much for yet another feasible quest, resulting in adding value to both the purchase and the experience.

    Similarly, avoiding the desire to grind also allowed me to take advantage of, and therefore enjoy, what separates one RPG from another: the battle system and the accompanying rules and restrictions surrounding the overall game design. I can say that taking my post-grinding era approach to something like Dragon Quest, for example, had allowed to me to not overlook every little feature that makes a Dragon Quest game what it is (and so forth with other games).

    Outside the “don’t grind” approach I’ve taken, I have still found myself from time to time doing what I dread to do. However, in these instances it’s grinding as I have fun, or perhaps: grinding when it really isn’t grinding. The main culprit would be action-RPGs, as they are usually designed around their action oriented battle system which means that a lot of thought was put into crafting that aspect in the game in which players are expected (or expecting) to be having fun in. As a result, I find myself looking forward to getting into battle to beat up some wandering beasts with the tap of buttons, moreso than trying to advance the actual plot. During these battles, some kind shmup mentality seems to possess me: “How many of these enemies can I take down with trying to replenish any health?” “Let’s see how well I do at avoiding their strikes and attack patterns!”

    Whoa! What DID I just write here…?

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Agreed, I don’t mind grinding as much in action RPGs either. Rune Factory Frontier’s grinding, for instance, is completely tolerable. I wouldn’t even call it grinding…it doesn’t feel monotonous because there are so many ways you can approach combat in the game.

      I think diversity is the key here. Like you said, games with more thought put into the battle system are often the more entertaining ones. I haven’t played more than 11 hours of it so far, but I’m curious to see how I like FFXII, since people say it essentially auto-grinds for you.

  • http://soulcaster.gametrailers.com/gamepad/index.php [§oulÇaster]

    I love grinding in RPGs, especially when the RPG has a fun Battle System and awesome Battle Theme to go with it. This is probably why I have always put Gameplay/Music (they’re a tie) before story when it comes to RPGs.

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Yes! Awesome battle music is a must. :)

  • Justin Bailey

    Grinding is a relic from the past that was likely created in order to cover up space limitations for game media. With digital distribution and formats like bluray disc we should theoretically be able to create a unique enough experience that the player should not need to complete mundane tasks (collect n number of magical thing for a potion etc) or endure random encounters in order to progress through the game.

    The Star Ocean series (particularly Star Ocean II) was ahead of its time when it introduced the ability to do things like cooking or pickpocketing in order to help gain experience, and those things actually managed to be exciting and challenging ^_^

  • http://twitter.com/nameoftheyear Elliot T.

    I think RPG grinding is a lazy design mechanic that should be reworked far more often than simply accepted as necessary.

    That said, grinding is “grinding” because of the monotony involved. If the game can give you enough interaction & variety within that repeated act of fighting monsters or whatever, then that game is so much better for it. And, like others mentioned, I think thorough grinding should be as optional as possible.

    I could tolerate it as a kid, but it feels like a frustrating waste of time now. Every now and then I still subject myself to the hours of grinding, though, because old habits die hard… Both for me and RPG designers…

  • imz

    Shiren the Wanderer is the answer!

  • Chris

    I can’t stand grinding. Doing random fights over and over just for the sake of increasing your stats? Boring. Numbers don’t substitute for the usual payoff that comes with winning. That is, either story advancement, or the high of having overcome a challenge. There’s no challenge to grinding. You’re just walking around killing things that are weak enough you already know you can kill them.

    I’ll do anything in a game to avoid having to grind.

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