Oh god, I’m not dead. Undead though, so close. Don’t worry, you’ll see what I’m talking about soon. I promise. Power outages and a little bit of life issues and blah blah, get to the game talk Kana. Alright me, sheesh, so bossy. Anyways… today, I’d like to talk about a certain mechanic that is present in a massive number of games, if not all of them. I’m talking about the horrid nightmare of grind, the act of repeating an action and and over to gain some kind of reward. Most of the time, when you hear the phrase “grind” it means slaughtering dozens to hundreds of a certain type or group of NPCs for a reward at the end, but virtually any repetitive action can be defined as grind. It’s all in how you perceive it that makes it good or bad. So today, we’re going to compare two of my favorite games and see if there is any way to make grinding more fun. One of the two I’ve already covered, my personal monster killing fetish fest, Monster Hunter. The second is a smaller game, based on the Touhou series called Labyrinth of Touhou. It’s a more-or-less standard dungeon crawler with an obscenely huge cast. Right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.

The main thing I want to get across is that I absolutely love both of these games. Over the course of a week or so I dumped well over thirty hours into Labyrinth, I enjoyed all of the characters, the music was absolutely beautiful, the mechanics were solid, and my favorite, favorite, favorite character from anything ever was in there as part of the recruit-able cast, and she played the ‘high-yield glass canon’ archetype, which is my personal favorite. The whole thing sounded like a dream, and it was right up until about the 30th hour of play. Everything came crashing down as little things that had previously annoyed me piled up and I ran into a massive brick wall. The only available solution? Grind levels. A lot of them. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it. Two levels later, I had to turn the game off. I came back later and played for another level, then another, then just… stopped. I couldn’t find the effort to keep going. The three main things that got me were character development, repetition, and a distinct lack of rewards. Now then, let’s compare how my monster-murder game compares and, in my opinion, does grind better.

The first thing was character development. And for once, I’m not talking about a role-play like growth in character, I mean in developing your character to be better at what they wish to be. Call it evolution if you wish to separate the ideas. Anyways, when you start a game in Monster Hunter, you usually get a very, very basic set of armor and starting weapons. From there, you grow by collecting materials and forging new weapons and armor while upgrading the things you’ve already made. It presents a truely wonderful feeling when you finally get that last ore or monster piece and rush back to the smithy to have your new piece of gear. It feels like you, the character, are progressing forward. Alternatively, in Labyrinth of Touhou, all the characters start out with every skill they could possibly have. No matter how you level, no one will ever “learn” anything. This slices off a massive portion of the rewards (and more on that soon) by never really giving a clear goal. What do I need to make character X more effective at Y? Go kill things for levels. Then try again.

While in Monster Hunter, you have extreme freedom to try new things and set a goal. Say you want the Rathalos Firesword, which is going to need Rathalos parts. I know, they were super original sometimes. You can start off with a much weaker weapon and slowly evolve it over time, working your way through its iterations until you finally make it to the Rathalos fight and the Firesword. But, you can also alternatively try new weapons, giving your character more ways to combat the goal. Think of it as temporarily learning new skills, if only to break up the repetition. Speaking off…

Combat

Several hours of this.

Repetition is the make-or-break part of a game. I stopped playing Labyrinth of Touhou somewhere between 30 and 40 hours while pumping weeks and weeks of playtime into various Monster Hunter games. Why? To put it simply, I had to repeat too much in Labyrinth. The only real option open to me was to go in and fight on the most recent few floors until my party was spent, go back to town, and then return to the dungeon to do the exact same thing over again. Monsters constantly did the exact same thing and after a very short time I had optimized the best way to grind by rotating characters, meaning doing it virtually any other way felt less fun because it was putting me further away from my goal. If I wanted a change a scenery, I had to go to earlier levels, where exp gains where so small it barely felt worth it.

Now, this is the point where I prove I actually do have something other than never ending love for this series. This is the exact same thing that I despise in Monster Hunter. While getting that last rare monster drop is amazing, don’t let me short sell it, nothing is really more boring than doing the same fight over and over again. The main difference is how I an tackle this problem between games. Whereas I had a “best” solution to grinding in Labyrinth, there is no such thing in Monster Hunter. Sure, some weapons are better than others on certain fights, but no weapon is ever useless when compared to the other styles. When I got bored of tackling a fight with a Gunlance, I’d just change armor and grab my bow for a refreshing little change of pace. The monster never changed, but I changed the way I was playing the game, giving it a new spin. And if that got to be too much, I’d just hunt something else. You might be thinking, “But wait, that just puts your further away from your goal!” that is often not the case. I can have several weapons or armor sets I’d like to work on, and if I get bored working on one, I can always work on a new one. Likewise, some pieces of equipment require parts from more than one monster. If I’m getting bored farming one, I can just go give another of the component-bearers a spin. Multiple paths and multiple goals help stave off boredom and make it feel like I’m actually working towards something.

Rathian

Several hours of- Oh god, not the face!

Finally, we’re down to my last point. The rewards of both games. Here is what you get for completing a fight in Labyrinth: experiance points and points you can spend to up a single stat on any character you choose, and maybe if you are lucky an item drop. Maybe. Here is the list of loot from the boss monsters in the most recent game in America, Monster Hunter Tri. The bosses. That’s not counting all the metals to mine, parts from smaller creatures, fish to catch, or herbs to collect in any given mission. And you get money and guild standing for ever successful hunt, plus whatever parts you don’t need that can be sold to help stock up on more useful items like potions or traps.

To me, it just doesn’t compare. All I’m gaining in Labyrinth is a bunch of numbers to some vague goal. While in Monster Hunter I gain whole pieces to my reward, I can physically go to the shop and see just how much closer I am to my goal, inspiring me to do more. I never beat Labyrinth, I never even got to recruit my love of the series. I’m planing on trying to start over, take it slower so I won’t have to focus so much on grinding later if I can spread it out before. But if I could just have one or two of these points, I could pour far more hours into the game. Some clearly defined goal to reach, like the ability to learn skills, or more tangental rewards for my efforts. Something to help push me further and feel like I’m doing something.

So I’ll close with a couple question. Does anyone else have a game they regret not finishing due to grind? Any way you personally would have cleared that up?