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Level-Up System in RPGs

Level-Up in RPGs  

17 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you like the level-up system in most RPGs?

    • Yes
      6
    • No
      2
    • Usually
      7
    • Only in some cases
      1
    • It depends on the individual game
      1


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A lot of RPGs use the level-up system. I was recently watching a video about the level-up system in RPGs and whether or not it actually makes sense in a large number of games that use it. It pointed out the flaws inherent with the level-up system, such as level grinding and the risk of breaking immersion because sometimes all you have to do to defeat a tough opponent is gain enough levels. Not only that, but he pointed out one game where the player character has saved the city and is being praised as a champion, even though the player character at that point is level 1 and had only beaten the weakest monsters in the game.

At the same time the level-up system is a way of showing progress and experience, and it has been used often enough that people are familiar with it; kind of like having elves and dwarves in RPGs.

So what do you think? Do you like or dislike the level-up system in RPGs? Do you find it necessary or unnecessary?

Here's the video if you are curious:

 

Edited by vanguard333

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I generally don't mind experience level systems in RPGs. I find it satisfying when I hit certain level benchmarks. Of course, I also have a thing for games that eschew the experience point system in favor of nontraditional leveling methods. The Sphere Grid in FF10 comes to mind. I also like the kind of character progression mechanics you see in games like Metroid, so if experience points went the way of the dodo and were replaced with those systems I wouldn't mind so much.

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If you don't like RPG mechanics, don't play them.

I'm not interested in hyper-realism in games where my character is slaughtering things left and right with nary a hint of PTSD.

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In RPG games, yes. Leveling up is a satisfying way to see your character grow through continued work. It's been a staple of the genre since its inception.

In pretty much every other genre, no. Get that shit out of there. I shouldn't need EXP to unlock new cars and guns.

Also, whatever video you watched... the way you describe them makes them sound really short-sighted, since the same shit happens in EVERY genre. There's always a difficulty progression that matches the rising stakes. Master Chief is already being praised as some uber-man world destroyer in the first level of Halo CE, even though at that point he's mostly just taking down a handful of Grunts and Elites. By the end of Halo 3 when he's basically conquered the Flood, fractured the Covenant, and taking on armies of Brutes with Fuel Rod Cannons all at once, he's basically still just uber-man world destroyer like he was at the beginning of Halo CE. And depending on how good you are, fights that are supposed to be narratively tough can seem like a breeze. Halo 2 ends with a fight against the strongest Brute in the Covenant, wielding a planet cracking hammer, and basically the second in command of the whole operation. And it's shit easy.

These phenomena aren't isolated to RPGs. It's just how games are paced to keep gameplay engaging for more than an hour.

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This does bring to mind the idea of there being a finite amount of experience in the game, handed out through significant plot events and maybe sidequests. Probably not sidequests, that'd defeat the purpose.

You're still growing stronger, but you shouldn't need to grind. It'd be weird, though.

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11 minutes ago, phineas81707 said:

This does bring to mind the idea of there being a finite amount of experience in the game, handed out through significant plot events and maybe sidequests. Probably not sidequests, that'd defeat the purpose.

You're still growing stronger, but you shouldn't need to grind. It'd be weird, though.

Some games have done that, and I've never really been a huge fan. Chrono Cross comes to mind, where you level up by beating bosses and such.

Even though I understand the disdain for grinding, I do like that everything just isn't handed out to you, and you actually need to dedicate time and effort(Usually tedious effort, but still effort) to get your characters their best abilities, maxed out stats, and stuff like that.

Chrono Cross, as much as I wasn't a big fan, did it kinda right, since there are a ton of side-quests you can do to get stars to level up, so mainlining the story won't flat-out get you to max level and everything. Lost Odyssey does something like this, where you're more or less EXP-gated as time goes on, and weak enemies stop giving you enough EXP to level up, encouraging you to keep going to level up than stick in the first forest fighting fairies or whatever. These are fine systems, but I'd almost never prefer them to games where you can grind if you want. The only times I'd prefer it are in games with level scaling.

Games that have only done just story level ups, though, I think defeat the purpose of an RPG. If you're at a set-level for every major fight, it kind of ruins the feeling of progression, since then EVERYTHING will scale with you as the story dictates. I think Paper Mario Sticker Star did something like that(Can't remember, been a while), and Sticker Star sucks.

Edited by Slumber

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2 minutes ago, Slumber said:

Some games have done that, and I've never really been a huge fan. Chrono Cross comes to mind, where you level up by beating bosses and such.

Even though I understand the disdain for grinding, I do like that everything just isn't handed out to you, and you actually need to dedicate time and effort(Usually tedious effort, but still effort) to get your characters their best abilities, maxed out stats, and stuff like that.

Chrono Cross, as much as I wasn't a big fan, did it kinda right, since there are a ton of side-quests you can do to get stars to level up, so mainlining the story won't flat-out get you to max level and everything. Lost Odyssey does something like this, where you're more or less EXP-gated as time goes on, and weak enemies stop giving you enough EXP to level up. These are fine systems, but I'd almost never prefer them to games where you can grind if you want.

Games that have only done just story level ups, though, I think defeat the purpose of an RPG. If you're at a set-level for every major fight, it kind of ruins the feeling of progression, since then EVERYTHING will scale with you as the story dictates. I think Paper Mario Sticker Star did something like that(Can't remember, been a while), and Sticker Star sucks.

Sticker Star didn't have much in the way of actually gaining experience beyond getting better gear.

Aside from that, I actually do like Xenoblade's system of experience, though I do agree that maybe combining it with permanently missable sidequests and the ease with which one can become overlevelled are genuine flaws of the system. You don't have to grind (except, ironically, in a speedrun).

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You mean this video?

And yeah, I think Level Up systems are the easiest way for a developer to get across the idea that you, the player are better at the game. Leveling systems put in literal terms what an action game can only hope you notice before you rage quit at the fourth or fifth roadblock. There's nothing a developer can really do if the player is incapable of seeing how much better they are at the game than hour 1, so make a game of numbers that they can observe. 

RPG systems can also be detrimental to the player's experience. One of my favorite NES games is Zelda 2, and it's an action game where kills net you experience. I hear all the time from people that they don't like the game because of how much you need to grind. Here's what the game fails to tell them: you don't need to grind. This is an action game where you need to keep trying to tackle these obstacles until you succeed. Not tackle a bunch of minor enemies and slowly accrue experience. You don't learn anything about the real obstacles by grinding, it's false practice. The game should have rewarded you with the level upgrades through tasks, not experience. And I feel it would have been a much better received experience in that case.

I'm also not a fan of level scaling. It's a common practice for open world RPGs, and developers just can't anticipate every possibility that players may attempt. Say you spend too much time in the early areas with non threatening encounters. Then move on to the sea of "mid game content" and the enemies have a huge difficulty spike - and huge stat boosts to match your inflated level.  You probably don't have that mid game level equipment that the developers imagined you would have. It's messy.

 

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4 minutes ago, phineas81707 said:

Sticker Star didn't have much in the way of actually gaining experience beyond getting better gear.

Aside from that, I actually do like Xenoblade's system of experience, though I do agree that maybe combining it with permanently missable sidequests and the ease with which one can become overlevelled are genuine flaws of the system. You don't have to grind (except, ironically, in a speedrun).

I fucking hated Xenoblade's way of doing it, purely because of how the game puts a massive debuff on you if you're more than 3 levels below whatever you're trying to fight. It basically tells you "Hey, don't try to fuck with the level curve at all."

Edited by Slumber

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This isn't something I've really thought about, to be honest, but it could be an interesting subject of discussion. I'm curious about that video you mentioned.

Mechanically, it depends. I enjoy the sense of progression it brings in a some games; I like getting stronger and unlocking new abilities to play with, so if the gameplay is fun, I'll probably like any leveling system tied into it. Other times it's just kind of there, but the game is probably better for it. Something like Dragon Quest or Fire Emblem wouldn't be the same if characters couldn't gain experience and get stronger, and it can add more breadth to the game, like how Fire Emblem has its Jagen and Est archetypes. The only level up systems I can say I dislike are those that serve little purpose but to gate content behind playtime, but... I can't think of any examples off the top of my head. I'm pretty sure they're out there, but I don't often play games like that. But anyway.

So when it comes to gameplay, I think that level systems in games are often a good thing. Even if they're not fun in and of themselves, they can add to the overall experience and give designers another tool to work with.

Immersion is another matter. I don't think it's necessarily a big deal if a character's level and story-recognized power are mostly kept separate, but it can be a bit jarring when, say, some infamous swordsman (I'm not naming any names) has a reputation for being a terrifyingly skilled murder machine, but when he joins, he's weaker than the guy that begs to be his apprentice. Or when the heroes are arrested by some guards that they could probably kill without taking a single point of damage.

That depends on the game, though. I feel like some disconnect between story and gameplay is a necessary evil in a lot of games, and it's not worth crippling either side to make sure it's compatible with the other... but that's an overly broad statement and I'm sure there are a million ways the two can be handled. I guess I'd be better off analyzing and discussing specific examples.

17 minutes ago, Slumber said:

I fucking hated Xenoblade's way of doing it, purely because of how the game puts a massive debuff on you if you're more than 3 levels below whatever you're trying to fight. It basically tells you "Hey, don't try to fuck with the level curve at all."

I hated Xenoblade's system too, though for the opposite reason: I spent a lot of the early game exploring and doing sidequests, only to find that I was overlevelled and that meant the next several areas would be completely effortless. A game as huge as that should have a system to minimize level difference, not enhance it, so players are free to take as much or as little time as they want to advance the main story.

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1 minute ago, Phoenix_Kensai said:

Immersion is another matter. I don't think it's necessarily a big deal if a character's level and story-recognized power are mostly kept separate, but it can be a bit jarring when, say, some infamous swordsman (I'm not naming any names) has a reputation for being a terrifyingly skilled murder machine, but when he joins, he's weaker than the guy that begs to be his apprentice. Or when the heroes are arrested by some guards that they could probably kill without taking a single point of damage.

That depends on the game, though. I feel like some disconnect between story and gameplay is a necessary evil in a lot of games, and it's not worth crippling either side to make sure it's compatible with the other... but that's an overly broad statement and I'm sure there are a million ways the two can be handled. I guess I'd be better off analyzing and discussing specific examples.

To be fair, Zelda has the Gerudo guards- who Link could probably handle charging at him regardless of experience level.

Spoiler

I'm still bitter about their ridiculous line of sight on the boats.

 

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4 minutes ago, Phoenix_Kensai said:

This isn't something I've really thought about, to be honest, but it could be an interesting subject of discussion. I'm curious about that video you mentioned.

Mechanically, it depends. I enjoy the sense of progression it brings in a some games; I like getting stronger and unlocking new abilities to play with, so if the gameplay is fun, I'll probably like any leveling system tied into it. Other times it's just kind of there, but the game is probably better for it. Something like Dragon Quest or Fire Emblem wouldn't be the same if characters couldn't gain experience and get stronger, and it can add more breadth to the game, like how Fire Emblem has its Jagen and Est archetypes. The only level up systems I can say I dislike are those that serve little purpose but to gate content behind playtime, but... I can't think of any examples off the top of my head. I'm pretty sure they're out there, but I don't often play games like that. But anyway.

Destiny and MMOs do this. These are examples where level up systems usually fail, even in RPGs.

Edited by Slumber

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I am automatically suspicious of "level-up" systems, as I have suffered THE GRIND too many times. Intelligent Systems is miles ahead of most RPG devs with the EXP systems in Fire Emblem and (old) Paper Mario, where the EXP you get depends on your level.

Nowadays, even f***ing Kirby has THE GRIND. I'm currently playing Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, and it is the worst Kirby game ever because it's leveling system is tedious AF.

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Level up systems are usually fine with me, as I rarely burn out from grinding. The only time I ever have a problem with them is when experience earned is split amongst party members instead of being a flat value that everyone who participates gets, because it's pretty blatantly the developers wanting to pad out the game by making you grind more a la Final Fantasy XII. There's was also Persona 1's awful EXP system where your party members got EXP relative to how much damage/healing they did, which could make certain party members Masao completely useless because they couldn't catch up.

1 hour ago, phineas81707 said:

This does bring to mind the idea of there being a finite amount of experience in the game, handed out through significant plot events and maybe sidequests. Probably not sidequests, that'd defeat the purpose.

You're still growing stronger, but you shouldn't need to grind. It'd be weird, though.

Lightning Returns has this sort of mechanic (except instead of levels/EXP, it was stat boosts). It was a mistake and I hope no game ever adopts that system again, because it rendered random encounters almost entirely pointless and also would have rendered sidequests pointless due to the minuscule stat boosts you got for them if you didn't need to do sidquests for plot reasons.

59 minutes ago, Phoenix_Kensai said:

I hated Xenoblade's system too, though for the opposite reason: I spent a lot of the early game exploring and doing sidequests, only to find that I was overlevelled and that meant the next several areas would be completely effortless. A game as huge as that should have a system to minimize level difference, not enhance it, so players are free to take as much or as little time as they want to advance the main story.

I don't know if I'd say I hated it, but I also had this problem with Xenoblade. Only a handful of fights ever gave me problems, and the final boss fight was not one of those fights due to the 20 level difference between us.

Edited by AzureSen
I hate Masao so much I apparently forgot how to spell his name

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I don't really mind level progression at all. It's certain worth trying other things out instead of it sometimes and not just accepting it as a given, but I think it's a pretty decent system. One thing I have noted, though, is that it and a basically-linear equipment progression system are essentially redundant with each other, since they're both separate forms of equally-linear stat growth progression, except in rare instances where there are equipment pieces that actually do other things besides give linear stat boosts, and even those are usually eclipsed by the inevitable "best" equip in that area that gives all the bonuses at once.

I do think balancing a level curve well is important, though. Ideally, it should be possible, but more difficult, to do things while you're below the recommended level for it, but the game also shouldn't force you to pick between that and grinding... That is to say, grinding should never be basically mandated in order to progress through the game, because all that is is padding, not actual additional content.

I do say this, of course, with an understanding of the fact that older, particularly NES, RPGs often end up requiring grinding in today's gaming environment due to walkthroughs and such information being readily available, when they were originally balanced around the idea that the player would gain the necessarily levels just wandering around figuring out what to do on their own. At least, that's my understanding of it.

On the topic of Xenoblade, I don't think it's particularly good game design to artificially increase the effects of level disparity in that way, because not only is it redundant with the level difference itself, but it also tries rather heavy-handedly to push the player into playing the game a certain way, and players should not be penalized for, say, trying to take on challenges they're underleveled for.

Edited by Topaz Light

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I remember when I first read the Dsimpson FAQ on how Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition handled stats... I was fascinating by the way that "leveling up" only affected HP and soft stats, and that Dex / Str / Con /Int were basically stuck with what you rolled unless the Campaign had stuff to raise it a bit (probbably my main gripe with Bioware's CRPGS). Sure leveling up gave you important soft stats, such as THACO, extra spell levels or a higher backstab multiplier, but after all the JRPGS I had played, this was a breath of fresh air. The promisse was there- a  game that could challenge the player consistently, with no attack or defense benchmarks ever, with enemies who would assuredly include all the tools of a player class themselves, and challenge you by mixing enemy grids constantly; A valid player group, here, a monster with the equivalence of one there. Granted that some ADD campaigns miss the opportunity of this by simply replacing the experience grind with an equipment grind and THACO is a helluva serious soft stat   I've always been waiting for the campaign that will love up to the mechanical promises of that FAQ... 

As for story interfering with level/ups, I have no problem. I mean, if I took the battle system literally in Chrono Cross / Skies of Arcadia, like every boss after Getting Summoning / Water temple would have required us to crash a moon into the planet, and by the end of my playthough Serge/ Vyse has probably caused more destruction than Fate/Ramirez. I think having to take mooks seriously even after becoming super strong is fine. It usually screams of a lost oppurtunity to have a the villian antaganozie you throughout the game personally, but nevertheless,  having mooks do it through cutscenes is still in line with the narrative models of both pulp sword and sorcery fiction and with anime. If it gets you into a situation, then it did its job. I don't really worry about their power level. 

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10 hours ago, Gustavos said:

Yes, that video. I was unsure whether or not to put a link to the video. I have now included the video in the original post.

Honestly, my two favourite game series' of all time are Legend of Zelda; which does not use level-up aside from Adventure of Link and yet still does a great job of showing character progress, and Fire Emblem; which I think is the best case of the level-up system, as, in most games, there is either no grinding or the level grinding is not necessary to progress in the game. So I'm not sure, but I do agree with the video that level-up can remove the need to think strategically if it's possible for a player to simply gain enough levels and easily beat all the opponents in one part of a story. I also agree with the fact that, in some games, you can walk around without any weapons or armour and low-level enemies won't be a threat simply because you're at a high enough level. So I do agree that level-up has its flaws, and that in quite a few cases, it is unnecessary. But I also think that, in some cases such as FE, it might be necessary, so I am not sure.

Edited by vanguard333

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12 hours ago, Slumber said:

fucking hated Xenoblade's way of doing it, purely because of how the game puts a massive debuff on you if you're more than 3 levels below whatever you're trying to fight. It basically tells you "Hey, don't try to fuck with the level curve at all."

I get why they did the level curve the way they did, but yeah, that is the largest glaring flaw of the combat system (why on Earth did they not fix this for the 3DS port?). And it's really annoying if you want to unlock the optional Monado arts and extra skill trees, which require high area affinity levels, which requires lots of experience-giving quests, which means overleveling. And if you choose to unlock all the fifth skill trees (about half let you skip leveling), you'll end up having an unepic final battle experience if you don't do that first.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade had autoleveling for baddies, so I don't think you ever really got any stronger from leveling- it was meaningless there. And of course now that I've spoken of autoleveling, I must now bring in FFVIII, the game where leveling is a curse that makes the enemies stronger than you.

Wasn't fond of Chrono Cross's star system (the game, alongside Xenogears, is on my list of classic games that need a remake). Good for keeping everyone leveled, but the small stat gains between stars was kind of annoying if you want to maximize them with everyone.

Remaining on the topic of Square Enix- FFT is a game where level is far less important than equips and skills. And Berwick Saga has something of a mystique for me because it's FE except with stats and levels reduced to near irrelevancy (translate it- somebody, anybody).

Also, if a game has an experience curve, could developers please include at least one endgame/postgame area where that curve is void so we can actually hit the max level?

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If there's no "level up" of sort, it's not a RPG. FFX may not have Level per se, but in the end it's not that different. You fight, or do other stuff, and you gain Exp that makes you stronger. Wether it have a different names (not sue how FFX called it),or it's an hidden value (SaGa games and FFII.)

Which is why Zelda isn't and will never be a RPG. /End of rant

Now that it's said, discussing which way/systemof getting stronger is the best is interresting.

And grinding too much can be considered a case of bad game design (early NES RPGs comes first to mind,). A good RPGs shouldn't force you to grind to progress through the game (except for special sidequests/Post game) but it's not the system that is bad, it's how it's used. (Thogh giving bonuses to the one who grinded, like the Lufia games do with the SInistral Battles (you're supposed to lose, but gaining gives you a cool item) is a cool thing to do.)

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3 hours ago, Interdimensional Observer said:

Wasn't fond of Chrono Cross's star system (the game, alongside Xenogears, is on my list of classic games that need a remake). Good for keeping everyone leveled, but the small stat gains between stars was kind of annoying if you want to maximize them with everyone.

Unfortunately this likely wouldn't happen unless Squeenix and Nintendo worked together to make these things happen. And I doubt Monolith Soft is jumping at the opportunity to work with Square again, given how the development of Xenogears was cut short so the team could work on FF8, and then another chunk of the team left when Chrono Cross was cut short to put work into FF9.

Then again, if studios like Platinum seem super open to working with companies that screwed them(Capcom), maybe the bad blood between Monolith Soft and Square is behind them. I could actually see a Xenogears remake if the Xenoblade games get big enough. I doubt a CC remake would ever happen, though. Square doesn't seem to give a shit about the Chrono series beyond milking Trigger for what it is.

I wonder if they'd keep the event-based star leveling if they remade CC.

Edited by Slumber

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19 hours ago, AzureSen said:

Level up systems are usually fine with me, as I rarely burn out from grinding. The only time I ever have a problem with them is when experience earned is split amongst party members instead of being a flat value that everyone who participates gets, because it's pretty blatantly the developers wanting to pad out the game by making you grind more a la Final Fantasy XII.

I apologize if I misunderstood this part of your comment, but honestly I never felt that way regarding FFXII: you can finish FFXII vanilla with just three characters(and grinding is necessary only if you want to use all the characters, which helps but not too muc), including defeating the secret bosses and espers, and the IZJS version - with Its fast forward function - makes grinding incredibly fast.

Anyway, I don't mind the level-up system, as I find it a satisfying way to become stronger. However, I do a personal problem: whenever my characters cannot oneshot a generic enemy, then it's clearly because they are underleveled(of course, this tend to not be true most of the time when I play and, as I said, this more of a personal problem of mine rather than of the game Itself). Altough such a thing made me a lover of grinding, so there is that.

 

 

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