The Guilty Pleasure of Grinding

The Guilty Pleasure of Grinding

Nintendo's Fantasy Life has hit me right in the "mundane repetition" pleasure center.

I am not, by nature, someone who enjoys repetitive grinding in video games.

Some people have the compulsion to max out new classes or characters or gear in RPGs; I prefer to let those things grow more organically. I've gotten into spirited dust-ups about Final Fantasy V with people who spend hours fighting the same set of battles over and over again as soon as they acquire a new Crystal and the set of Job options that come along with it.

"The game's too boring!" they complain.

Wealth is no fun when they just hand it to you. I want to earn it, bit by tedious bit.

"Because you're making it boring!" I retort. "You're supposed to build up your character levels over the course of the adventure, not in a single go!" And then we threaten to punch each other over the Internet because video games are very important and serious and worth ruining others' lives about.

I would be lying if I said I didn't occasionally partake of some grinding, though. But it's almost never in pursuit of abstract numbers and leveling up, unless I've simply hit a wall with my current characters and need to bulk up in order to break through the barrier. No, my guilty addiction comes in the form of crafting systems.

Maybe I'm just a materialist at heart. I don't care about getting stronger or learning new talents, but building my way toward new loot? Hold me back. When I played Skyrim, I leveled my smithing skills to 100 in a single sitting. My main goal in Dragon Quest IX wasn't to beat the game or wipe out those crazy special grottos with all their insanely rare super-monsters; no, it was to complete my Alchenomicon. (I actually completed more than 50% of it, which is more than about 95% of the people I ever Street Passed in the game managed.) Heck, I even enjoyed the crafting system in Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and I know objectively that was a pile of hot garbage.

Don't care. I kept grinding for all kinds of cool gear. Most of it I couldn't even use, so I ended up selling it. But every time I added a new piece of armor or weaponry to the "completed" column of my crafting log, I felt a warm flush of pointless pride.

No, this is awesome, seriously.

Well, now Level-5 and Nintendo have done it: They've made an entire game of crafting in the form of Fantasy Life. OK, maybe not an entire game; Bob is playing as a fisherman right now, and I don't imagine there's a lot of crafting involved in that. But I randomly chose to begin the game as a carpenter, not really certain what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that playing a carpenter in Fantasy Life is basically Alchenomicon: The Video Game. It's all-crafting, all the time.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Developer Level-5 was also the studio responsible for Dragon Quest IX, so it makes perfect sense that they'd apply their grind-feedback-loop expertise to this new title as well. The principles are much the same: You forage for materials while adventuring through your main quest, return to town, combine goods, and end up with something better than you started with.

Ah, but Fantasy Life has gone the extra mile. Carpentry involves playing a small minigame, and the better your performance the better the quality of your product, which in turn affects its value for citizens and its resale price. It's pretty easy to jump right into a money-grinding cycle — buy a dozen wood planks, refine them, then build them in a cabinet that you can sell for twice as much as the planks alone cost. Use that money to buy more raw materials. Continue crafting. Level up like a madman.

It even makes me like minigames, somehow.

Fantasy Life is particularly insidious about this mechanic, since it doesn't allow you to make use of many of the materials you gather right away, or to collect materiel that would be directly useful for a carpenter. To gather wood, you need to spend some time playing as a lumberjack. To build a supply of ores and metals and gems, you need to do your time as a miner. Want to turn that wool and plant fiber you picked up into cloth or string? Better toil for a few hours as a seamstress (or seamster, which spell-check tells me is in fact a legitimate word).

It's an impressive construct they've put together here. I don't have a sense of how entertaining the core story and quest will prove to be, but the grinding, at least, is horribly addicting. I barely made it through this article without giving in to the urge to build a few more cabinets...

Note: The Federal Trade Commission wants me to mention the fact that Nintendo provided the software featured in this article. You will be relieved to learn I did not, in fact, hack into their servers and steal the game before its launch.

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