Which RPG Companion Leveling Method Do You Prefer?

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Posted by SethMode (2039 posts) 6 months, 4 days ago

Poll: Which RPG Companion Leveling Method Do You Prefer? (121 votes)

I like when they level up no matter what! 90%
I like when they only level up while in my party! 8%

Hey everyone, and happy weekend to those of us that it applies (and happy, whatever day it might be wherever you are)! My wife and I were talking about RPG companions because I had shared with her the other thread from here from yesterday about worst video game companions (found here). At some point as we were talking about favorites we've had, least favorites, and those that were forgettable, I mentioned that I find it frustrating when RPGs don't continue to level up the companions you have on the "bench", so to speak, while out with your main party. My argument is that I've played so many RPGs now, I want to conveniently see the stories of all of the characters involved without feeling like I have to swap them in and out over and over just to ensure that they remain at a reasonable level to be useful. I feel like this is a pretty modern setup anymore. My wife, however, actually prefers when she is forced to choose who to commit to, saying that it helps her to feel a larger connection to the characters in her remote squad, and within her personal role playing it makes more sense to her that those hanging out at the base wouldn't be getting stronger, naturally, because they aren't seeing the action required to gain the necessary "experience" to improve. I thought that this was a pretty neat take that I can totally respect, despite maybe not completely meshing with how I like to play games anymore. It made me want to pose the question to the rest of you to see where everyone shakes out!

So, do you like it when "bench" characters level up with everyone else no matter what, or do you prefer when they only level up when they're in your immediate party?

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#1 Edited by Efesell (4532 posts) -

Yeah I can't see the latter as anything more than an obvious waste of the players time or an attempt to force them to pad the game out by training up characters that have fallen off in use. It's one thing if you have a constant say in the matter of who is in the party and are choosing how you spend your resources but most RPGs with this system also arbitrarily exclude or force characters on you.

Narratively a lot of RPGs also imply that everyone is travelling at the same time anyway so there's no real reason they wouldn't be gaining experience along the journey, even if they are not in the active player party.

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#2 Posted by MerxWorx01 (871 posts) -

@efesell: that's how I like to abstract teammate down time. Even if the characters are back home at the base I like to think they are holding the fort and fighting off enemies or going on side missions on their own. In any case making the decision of playing a leveled character I like versus an under used lower level character whose skills are need for a particular encounter tends to be a wall for me when I'm playing CRPGs.

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#3 Posted by liquiddragon (3445 posts) -

I have a sickness where my entire party has be all near the same level (no one can be more than 5 levels below the highest level.) So while I’m with your wife’s take, for my fucking sanity I wish everyone gained exp. Persona 3 and 4 took so much out of me because of how much I had to grind to get everyone leveled up.

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#4 Posted by Efesell (4532 posts) -

It's also fair to go with the relatively common compromise of having the reserve team gaining levels but staying a handful of levels weaker than the active party.

This honestly is probably the only sensible option if you do want to approach from a narrative angle.

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#5 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4438 posts) -

I'm with liquiddragon on this. I will make a point of getting everyone equal xp, but i wish it was just automatic. I'm also okay with how Shining Force does it. Where you can make a point of giving a certain character the death blows for extra XP if they start to fall behind. This could add some extra strategy to the fights.

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#6 Posted by SethMode (2039 posts) -

I think a big reason my wife doesn't mind the objectively time insensitive method she likes, is that she basically plays 1 or 2 games a year so she has the leisure of either taking her time, or replaying entirely.

I do think that the automatic "soft leveling" for bench party members is probably the best middle ground between the two.

And I am definitely not surprised at the results so far.

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#7 Edited by SethMode (2039 posts) -

As an aside, it also really drives me nuts when a game doesn't auto level your bench characters and then suddenly thrusts you into a situation where one is required for what might have already been a challenging boss fight, only now it's made even more challenging because you have a weakened party member that is forced into the party. So it's either bang your head against the battle or grind. Blech.

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#8 Posted by Relkin (1196 posts) -

At this point I consider the second option in the poll to be a cardinal sin. If a game drops a character into my party that's severely underleveled (Rydia/Twins in FF4 or Paula in Earthbound, for instance), that's even worse. JRPGs are already a huge time-sink even if you're just mainlining it; I don't need additional hours of pure grinding added to my playthrough length.

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#9 Edited by FacelessVixen (2633 posts) -

The first option saves time. I can literally get in four near-completionist playthroughs of Mass Effect 1, which takes me about 30 hours, within the time it took me to beat Persona 4 [Golden] with everyone at 99, which was about 140 hours. But, I got everyone to 99 in P4[G] again on new game plus, so I really don't mind the grind in games that I really like.

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#10 Posted by soimadeanaccount (621 posts) -

If we are only talking about the two choices the first is preferable to me.

However isn't JRPG now a days usually have the reserve members gaining partial exp so they might be behind, but not totally unless you really really ditch them. Occasionally I kind of like that because I also obsess with leveling everyone, and it gives me an excuse to rotates people in and out and kind of learn about different team compositions. Lately I also kind of enjoy the idea that characters that have peaks and valleys at different levels in conjunction with the rest.

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#11 Posted by Nodima (2619 posts) -

I voted for the second option, though obviously with caveats. I like that the system asks you to keep using different configurations and builds rather than pick your absolute favorites and go with that. When it's well-designed, that typically means are the characters are some form of likable (Chrono Trigger) or the system is prepared to account for having a lower leveled character catch up quickly (Final Fantasy VIII, though obviously you could argue you don't want to level up in that game). When it doesn't work, that usually just means they didn't really think through why they were asking that of you.

I don't play JRPGs anymore, though, and the "give XP to your unused Pokémon" skill was something I always needed to have around in Pokémon Yellow, so maybe I'd find that mechanic annoying now. But as a kid, I mostly felt like it was justified unless the game was bad or half its characters were uninteresting to me and I didn't want to read their comments during missions.

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#12 Posted by doctordonkey (1838 posts) -

The problem with the second option is that it just leads to a scenario where I use the first few party members I obtain, and then ignore the rest. I mean, just look at the difference between Persona 4 and 5. I used almost every party member consistently in Persona 5, because they were always only a couple levels behind my main party. In Persona 4, I hardly ever used Kanji, Teddie or Naoto.

I think the second option is not so much a preference, so much as it is just old, outdated game design.

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#13 Posted by SethMode (2039 posts) -

31 votes for a total percentage of....93%? I don't think we need to account for a margin of error here haha

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#14 Edited by Brackstone (922 posts) -

I think it depends heavily on the game and how strictly we define RPGs. If it's a story based one like Kotor or something, everyone should level up equally no matter what, and new companions should always match your current level. Otherwise you run into an issue where difficulty can restrict your party choices, and it becomes a bad cycle that can be hard to break out of.

If it's a game with mechanics that promote swapping people out all the time, they should all level separately. If companions can be injured or killed or sent on their own missions separate from everyone else, it makes more sense to me that they level up individually. With those mechanics, you generally will get the (often mandatory) opportunity to diversify your party, and maintaining a strong roster that isn't reliant on a couple star players that could be taken out of action becomes a compelling aspect of the game in and of itself. They may not be RPGs in the traditional sense, but this is clearest in something like Xcom or Darkest Dungeon. However, there are more traditional RPGs out there where a companions can get temporarily wounded and need some rest away from combat.

I like games with gameplay incentives to use all your party members, so I generally like it more when they level up independently from one another, so that's what I voted for. It's a trickier balance for a game to achieve, and it's not suitable for every game, but when it works, it really feels great to be in charge of a team full of useful people that you need to figure out how to properly utilize, rather than just going with whoever has the biggest numbers.

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#15 Edited by BladeOfCreation (1367 posts) -

This is one of those things where I'm okay with breaking the logic of a system in order to have more fun playing the game. Much like the idea of a shared inventory stash. Does it make sense? No, not really. But I'm okay with that.

What's really annoying is when you decide not to arm any characters you don't use, and then you have to use those party members as part of the climactic finale.

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#16 Posted by BigSocrates (1966 posts) -

Grinding sucks. There are too many games I want to play so I have no desire to do busy work in any of them. Let me play the fun part of the game. I'm okay with the soft fall behind people have discussed, or if there's another mechanic that lets me catch characters up (such as buying training or special items you can get that level characters) but if a game is asking me to spend hours doing repetitive battles in a genre where most battling systems get stale long before the game ends anyway....that game is likely to get turned off forever.

People my age like to say that when we were kids we would put up with a lot of this stuff because we had so much time on our hands. That's partially true, but in addition to time on our hands we had many fewer games to play. It was okay for a game to take two months of solid play to finish because that might be the only game you played that summer. Now there are like three games I want to play coming out even in random weeks in January, and my backlog is huge, and even kids with little money can afford games because they're so much cheaper. New AAA titles might be expensive with DLC and season passes, but an Xbox Gamepass would give you a big library and was on sale for like $80 a year recently, including all Xbox Exclusives and a ton of other stuff. Then there are constant digital sales where you can get huge games that are only a few years old for like $10 or less. And that's 2019 money.

Given the massive flood of available games there's no excuse for time wasting (the only possible exception being intentional throwbacks.) I'm kind of pissed that New Super Mario Bros. U has lives and save points, if a game asked me to grind 5 hours just to use a character I liked I would be insanely pissed. In 5 hours I could get through a whole indie game, or a couple walking simulators!

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#17 Edited by Zeik (5201 posts) -

100% level up no matter what. I love being able to mix up my party and try different things, but when only your active party gains exp it generally means I pick a static party and never change. (Unless a new unit comes later I want to swap in, but that's different.) It's not really an issue of grind, because I usually just don't end up leveling those other characters. Even if I end up replaying the game I'll often end up sticking with the same team, since I don't want to not use my favorite characters for the whole game just try someone else out. It doesn't add anything to the experience for me, only subtracts.

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#18 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2083 posts) -

I like the first method. It allows me to swap in and out characters without feeling like they are going to be a burden because they are so far below the rest of the party.

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#19 Posted by TobbRobb (6585 posts) -

The first option means I might actually use half the cast sometimes, in contrast to never. In most RPGs there is no plus side to the second option. You will normally not hit a level cap on your cast before finishing a game, so any post game shenanigans are still going to require your main party to keep leveling up. If I hit a limit/cap with my main party before I'm done playing the game, I'd be more ok with having the rest of the cast lag behind so I can start leveling them up instead.

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#20 Posted by Cure_Optimism (81 posts) -

I feel like it's already pretty much been decided that method 2 is bullshit, even by the most hardcore RPG fans out there.

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#21 Posted by aznan (138 posts) -

My favorite implementation of party leveling is from Suikoden. Throughout the game you gain over 100 party members who do not gain any XP if they are not in the active party, so you'll end up with a lot of underleveled characters. However, there is XP scaling based on the difference between a character's and a monster's level, so when the story forces you to use a guy who is 50 levels below your mains, he will die in one hit, but if he survives he'll gain 10+ levels from a single battle. Trying to make the dude survive is a fun challenge and if you succeed he'll catch up in no time. Also, watching the XP bar fill up over and over again is so satisfying!

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#22 Posted by The_Greg (543 posts) -

I like it when all companions level up at the same time, and then I auto-level them.

I spend enough time f*cking about with my own character to spent time on ones that I can't actually play. Plus, I feel that these characters were designed in a particular way, so I'd rather let the game decide how they should perform.