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Final Fantasy 8, level scaling and the need for levels


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Hi there. Hope everyone had a nice Christmas :D.

I played through Final Fantasy 8 a decade ago when I was a kid. Back then, I didn't know the enemies' levels scale with yours, so I leveled up to 99 thinking I was hot stuff. People say in that game, leveling makes the battles difficult, as the enemies' stats go up faster than yours. I never noticed it, because I looked up a guide and got most of the best gear, and I even defeated Omega Weapon.

These days, and I prefer to enjoy games without studying guides. I've been replaying FF8 because I found out about the level scaling, and I want to play a game that doesn't demand level grinds. Some say the system's flawed, and perhaps it is, but at least it intrigued me enough to make me purchase the game again on Steam.

Plenty of people hate grinding, but level scaling often comes with its own issues. It makes me think, why not remove the leveling concept entirely? Now I won't avoid random encounters, and when I die, I won't have any excuses about not being on a high enough level. What are everyone's thoughts on this?

And if you've played FF8, I'll be happy to read your opinion on that game's system, too. Some people pick FF8 as their favorite in the series, and I've seen them get ridiculed online. Gamers have strong feelings about this one, so I want to know all about it.

Thank you 8).

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3 minutes ago, InvertMouse said:

Hi there. Hope everyone had a nice Christmas :D.

I played through Final Fantasy 8 a decade ago when I was a kid. Back then, I didn't know the enemies' levels scale with yours, so I leveled up to 99 thinking I was hot stuff. People say in that game, leveling makes the battles difficult, as the enemies' stats go up faster than yours. I never noticed it, because I looked up a guide and got most of the best gear, and I even defeated Omega Weapon.

These days, and I prefer to enjoy games without studying guides. I've been replaying FF8 because I found out about the level scaling, and I want to play a game that doesn't demand level grinds. Some say the system's flawed, and perhaps it is, but at least it intrigued me enough to make me purchase the game again on Steam.

Plenty of people hate grinding, but level scaling often comes with its own issues. It makes me think, why not remove the leveling concept entirely? Now I won't avoid random encounters, and when I die, I won't have any excuses about not being on a high enough level. What are everyone's thoughts on this?

And if you've played FF8, I'll be happy to read your opinion on that game's system, too. Some people pick FF8 as their favorite in the series, and I've seen them get ridiculed online. Gamers have strong feelings about this one, so I want to know all about it.

Thank you 8).

I thought about this many times - removal of actual leveling and level-based progress ingame. The negative factors associated with leveled progress are especially prevalent in mmorpg's since the dawn of era and it didn't really change. Even Witcher 3 has it and it kind of takes away from the experience, to be honest; quite a lot, I'd say.

Imagine a game, where more difficult opponents pose a much greater threat and take more time to bring down, but give away better rewards when defeated. A purely skill-based game. Both TERA and BDO were somewhat close to the concept, but didn't really manage to grasp that, as both of them ultimately fell into the pitfalls of level-based character progression.

To sum it up - my thoughts on that are simple; level-based character and game progression is bad and stiffling, but it's the only thing we have for now and the only one that actually somewhat works. I have yet to see a game with a different approach, that actually manages to pull it off well enough and work at the same time.

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Level-scaling actually takes almost everything from an RPG I like about the genre....

Increasing stats/skills by leveling up and being able to defeat enemies you couldn't beat before and if necessary compensting a lack of skill (if the enemy requires a tactic you're not used to or are simply bad at, learned the wrong ingame-skills for and so on) by patience and effort, those are some reasons why I'm playing RPGs that much. (another reason is the focus on the story but that's not what was asked)

If I wanted a purely skill-based game I would play another genre.....

Edited by sarkasmus
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The opposite of level scaling is the insane grinding of Bravely Default. If you don't grind, you don't win, baby. As easy as that.

I'm much less willing to do grinding today than when I was a kid.

A flawless game without grinding is Fire Emblem and its derivatives -you play the battles in order, and though there are bonus battles for leveling a bit (talking about Awakening), there just isn't much room for grinding. Not that the system is balanced, because there are classes and characters much better than others.

The level thing has been discussed a lot in the world of RPGs. Vampire and World of Darkness had a level-less system 25 years ago, but you could still get to be godly, with level 7 Disciplines and all that munchkin shit. No matter what people said, the gist of the game was being superhuman and meaning it.

In truth, talking about pen and paper RPGs, there are already all kinds of systems. With levels, level-less, more unforgiving, less lethal, with more powerful characters, with characters weak as kittens, make your combination.

In digital RPGs they tend to make player characters powerful, since it's tied to telling a grand history of heroism, sacrifice, or so.

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I think with a level system you can choose your difficulty by keeping your experience to a reasonable amount and adding clearing restrictions.

Level-scaling...if you do level scaling you might as well not including leveling at all, just getting more skills or locking progression all together. Nothing worse than leveling up and getting weaker relatively.

Edited by Chronopolis
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Level scaling is the worst thing jrpgs ever did. Who even thought it was a good idea. The whole point of leveling up was to get stronger and defeat your enemies easier. But with level scaling there might as well not be any levels. The game should just have a constant difficulty curve. I reaching level 99 in FF8 but what this did is gave the boss a 1,000,000 HP. Maybe not so much but it sure felt like it.

Another game that had level scaling is Lunar The Silver Star Story Complete. I think it was only in the English playstation version. As always, Working Designs fuck up a game by 'fixing' it.

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I mostly agree on principal with the "might as well just remove leveling" thing, but people who play RPGs generally like to see their statistics, and they like to see them get bigger as they play more. As a Disgaea player, I can personally vouch that it simply makes my brain happy to watch the numbers go up. Level scaling or not, taking away leveling would take away that particular incentive to play the game, since even if you aren't actually any stronger in the game world, you're still visibly stronger than you used to be in a sense that your brain can subconsciously relate to even better.

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To be honest, I didn't play much game with level scaling other than Lunar PS1 so I don't know here. But at least I knew that while FF8 was had level scaling, the key to win was junctioning although many newbie will surely just leave it to the GF for demolishing the enemies. Oh, and while the enemies level was increasing it's still easy to break the game if you knew what your doing there (Or just follow a guide). You could just play a lot of Triple Triad and just keep drawing the magic until it reach 99 from common enemies if you need my tips for FF8. That's all I could said here.

PS - By the way, Omega Weapon on PS1 will always have 1,000,000 HP no matter what your characters level was.

Edited by littleshogun
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I am all for anti-grinding stuff, but there's more to the meaning of levels than that. I'm not even talking about stats porn. I mean skills/player progression. As you increase in level, most RPGs let you expand your skillset and stats and XP bars serve to let you know how close you are to getting a new skill. Another center feature is that you mostly get XP -proceed in levels- by killing enemies and completing (side)quests. Levels are a very intuitive way of presenting that progress and they encourage the player to spend more time in the game, do more quests, kill more enemies, etc.: MMOs are the prime example of how leveling and the new skills that brings can be addictive. There are games that try to play with this formula, System Shock 2 has you gain skills only by finding "cybernetic modules" throughout the game's setting and using them up at terminals for example, However, no leveling system would mean that all games would have their own system for how to gain more skills/character progression, and that could go to shit real fast. So I'm pretty glad leveling exists, it's really useful in terms of skills.

That said, I don't think level scaling done right is a bad thing. Making some (especially story) fights always difficult doesn't sound bad at all to me, sounds far better than overleveling and beating a supposedly climactic boss to a pulp in a few turns. That said, there's a delicate balance needed for that; you shouldn't get stuck due to the enemy getting even beefier than you do. So can't comment on how FF8 does it.

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I just want to add that just because FF8 and Lunar had level scaling it didn't make level grinding obsolete. Even with the level scaling you still feel your characters get stronger. If a boss scales with you, you still have a better chance of beating him if you're on a higher level than on a lower level.

But I prefer not to have level scaling or perhaps have a system where you don't have leveling up system. But then this probably won't be an rpg anymore.

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It's interesting to note that, while Vampire hadn't levels, it had an experience system.

Anyway, a system can be skill-based. If you get the same powerful ability (for example, stopping time, stopping freaken time) if you advance your skill to level N, or if you advance to character level 19, then it's basically the same.

Edited by Okarin
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If you remove levels entirely but keep the idea of stats, then that's not really much different. 

If you remove levels and stats entirely by not having your character improve, then your character will never progress throughout the game. The idea of improving your character and getting better is one of the key 'reward systems' in the game, removing the concept without replacing it with something might make the game a bit dull. There's a reason why every game is coming with stat improvements these days, like NBA2k and Tiger Wood sports for example.

You can remove grinding without including level scaling in 2 general ways. Making the game more linear, like Mass Effect or Fire Emblem. Making the game open world but resigning yourself to the fact that the game will be really easy for some, ala Morrowind. Of course, Oblivion had level scaling and it was easiest to complete with a low level character like FF8. The problem with level scaling is it doesn't really reward you for leveling, and we go back to the 'reward system' here. In Oblivion you were punished hard the more you leveled - at higher levels every bandit you met came with excellent and expensive gear which made them pretty damn difficult to defeat.

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8 minutes ago, fun2novel said:

Are you talking about Vampire the Masquerade games? I don't remember what kind of system they had but that sounds about right.

Yes, Vampire the Masquerade. It has recently gone through a 20th anniversary edition with some new books. The original ran from 1991 to 2004 in a 13-year cycle (13 is an important number in-game, since it allegedly is the number of vampiric clans, though I think it's not really accurate. It's also the same number of letters in "the Masquerade").

The above is for pen and paper, there has been 2 PC adaptations: the one with the Brujah protagonist in the early 2000s and Vampire: Bloodlines in the mid-2000s, which let you pick a clan.

Edited by Okarin
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1 minute ago, fun2novel said:

I only played the Redemption and Bloodlines computer games. Both are very unique rpgs with very interesting scenarios.

You should probably enjoy the pen and paper RPG greatly. But I do realise that pen and paper RPG is entertainment from a bygone era. Digital RPG (computer and console) are far better known. I myself played digital RPGs first.

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I don't think MMO's should be used as an example in this kind of case, since 'normal' rpgs are not really paralleled to any significant extent by the multiplayer experience.

Anyway... doing away with levels is not a bad idea in the case of a game where the maker wants to control the difficulty level from beginning to end.  Traditionally, levels were a method of essentially 'rewarding' the player for enjoying and spending time on the game by making progress easier later on.  This comes at least partly from the fact that rpgs were designed to be played with the brain more than the hands, which made them more friendly for less-coordinated players (a trend which was reversed when MMO's went into the mainstream).  This is also why only a few rpgs included multiplayer elements prior to the ps3 (incidentally the age where the 'decline of the jrpg' became a stark reality to those of us who enjoyed them). 

To be blunt, the type of game where scaled leveling hurts the most is the FF-style srpg, where just keeping your characters levels relatively equal is a time-sink that is as annoying as hell.  I have always preferred games where areas have a specific 'survivable level' and ones like Suikoden where leveling up underleveled characters is quick due to an experience-gaining system that scales with the difference in level between the enemies and characters.

 

On a personal note: MMO leveling is pure crap.  It is deliberately made slow in order to encourage players to waste hundreds of hours in a world that isn't that interesting because the creators are pandering to the would-be gamer socialites and pvpers.  Even in games where leveling has been eliminated, progress is deliberately slowed by the need to gain reputation or repeatedly use a skill you want to strengthen... etc etc.  In the end, it all turns out the same.  Tedious as hell and even more boring than watching grass grow.

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