I Love A Good Grind…

After last week’s aggressive chunk of negativity (which I like to think was cathartic), I’m going to tap out a few words on something near and dear to my heart… something I often forget about until I realise I’m knee-deep in its clutches, having a rollicking good time: grinding.

Because I love a good grind-fest.

I’m currently focussing my gaming time on two gorgeous examples of great grinding: Chrono Trigger and Halo: Reach. The former, nearing the end of a second playthrough, has seen me level up from a relatively comfortable Level 35 to the mid-70s, exploiting the hell out of a couple of well-known EXP-farming spots exposed in the late-game sidequests.

Now, some people may think that running through the same areas over and over and over and over and over again, using the same button presses to dispose of your foes, with no variation in the proceedings from one iteration to the next… well, that would be boring, wouldn’t it? And there’s a part of me – a tiny little part of me, mind – that may (when the repetitions climb into three-figures) agree with them.

But the payoff… oh, the payoff. Running into battles with not a care in the world about the offensive/defensive abilities of the party. Caring not a jot for the fine-tuning of equipment. Being able to run into an otherwise tricky fight and beat the living shit out of your opponent…

Yes, I am a bully. A big, grinding bully.

I love games that give me the option of trading time for talent. Chrono Trigger gives me the ability to waste an hour or two on a long flight, or half-watch the news while playing, or catch up on e-mail during the predictable successful-battle celebrations… all while my EXP is accumulated, and I march steadily forwards to becoming an all-conquering tank. Now, I know that there’s no real requirement in levelling up that much (apart from the OCD stat-maxing that must be done… but hey, Chrono Trigger requires at least twelve playthroughs, so I’m not sure EXP accumulation is going to be a problem); but the feeling of power associated with being that over-levelled is undeniably intoxicating.

That trade-off – time versus talent – must be a bitch to get right… if indeed it is even considered. I’d love to think that it is a focus for game designers; certainly something like Ocarina of Time is moderately challenging if you’re just playing through “normally”, a doddle if you collect as many additional Heart Pieces as you can at any given point in time, and a major challenge if you’re attempting a Minimal Run. The very idea that the game can be satisfying on so many levels is fantastic.

So my Chrono Trigger grinding is pressing all the right buttons, so to speak; but what about Halo Reach? The obvious grindable benefit in Reach is for the accumulation of cRedits, used to buy additional armour and gain rank. The armour adornments are purely cosmetic – there’s no additional protection afforded by one piece over another – and the rank has, likewise, no impact on either single- or multi-player gameplay… but, when you discover the correlation between rank and cRedits, it all gets a little bit addictive.

Or maybe that’s just me ;)

Now – I’m no great shakes as a Halo player. Yes, I’ve completed the original Combat Evolved solo on Legendary, but I used many cowardly practices that would make hardened veterans scoff. Certainly, my ongoing solo Legendary run through Reach has seen me leave most of the killing to the rest of Noble Team; my thankfully-completed run through the Fourth Mission saw me notch up a mere 55 Covenant kills. Amongst many, many restarts.

So – I’m not going to attain rank through my inherent skills. But I can gain rank through… erm… time served.

And my time served is spent playing one of the Score Attack modes in Reach‘s many playlists: Gruntpocalypse. In particular, Gruntpocalypse on the Corvette map. Because, over the course of ninety (yes, I just counted) games so far, I’ve nailed that particular process. Sprint ability; run for ammo. Scoot to top of ramp. Headshots as Grunts emerge from doors, stairs, doors. Clean up, wait for “reinforcement” announcement, run for ammo. Rinse, repeat… 970-ish cR for twelve minute’s work.

And, after those ninety games, there’s still plenty to learn, and plenty to surprise me. The different intonations of Grunts when they’ve got you in their sights; the way you can drag the reticule whilst firing for a better chance at a headshot. And the repetition has even helped my in-game skills somewhat; dropping back to help a friend on Normal this evening was a real joy, with my precision skills making me far more useful on the battlefield of Reach than the scaredycat of old.

Of course, to hit the (rumoured) top rank of Inheritor I only need an additional 19,758,126 cR – which is only around 20,370 more games of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette. Now that is a grinding challenge.

Lastly this week, I just wanted to sing the praises of three gamers I met during a Crackdown 2 session this weekend. We gathered using TrueAchievements‘ party support to wrap up some of Crackdown 2‘s trickier multiplayer co-op Achievements; focussing on a common goal, we nailed the immediate problem, and then the group started cleaning up other outstanding Achievements. This resulted in me wrapping up the current batch for the game (though I’m reluctant to strike the game from The List just yet, with additional DLC incoming), and a great wodge of progress for other players, too – it really was a wonderful session, with a great bunch of strangers gathering to be helpful. So thanks again to lordmaster andy, LitaOsiris, and hatchywatchy – for reminding me that not everyone on LIVE is a mewling teenager :)

5 thoughts on “I Love A Good Grind…”

  1. I’m not a massive fan of grinding, with one current exception… the Etrian Odyssey series. I’ve just received my copy of EOIII, with a nice artbook. So I’ve got the whole series, despite the fact I’m technically nowhere on the first two. By hell, is it hard and does it force you to repeat and repeat and repeat those dungeons. Takes some amount of willpower, but for me, in these games, it’s worth it.

  2. Oooooh, now you’ve got me interested in Etrian Odyssey! A nice repetitive grind-fest… but can you over-level that way?

    And is the grinding something you can manage through muscle memory while doing something else? Currently, I’m grinding Chrono Trigger (and I mean literally! Just 86-ed Frog as I typed that last sentence!) whilst attending to blog, forum, and e-mail matters… :)

  3. I don’t know if it’s possible to over-level! I suppose eventually the first level critters should be easy, but I’ve never got to the point where the big FOEs are anything but a hard battle. But basically, you spend the entire game doing a level, going back to the surface, doing the level again and maybe pressing on a bit further into the next level, then running away again… over and over. You have to physically draw the map of each level, so once you’ve been through it a few times you know exactly where you’re going and how to avoid anything nasty if you know it’s there. Really old-school, like “The Bard’s Tale” old-school.

  4. Draw your own map? A novelty that may be, but inexcusable in this day and age ;)

    You’ve managed to un-sell me on it again – for which I guess I should be thankful (hey, the last thing I want is for The List to become a wasteland of long-term RPGs!) The flip-side of that is that Costume Quest looks (and feels) amazingly good… though is apparently short. Hurrah!

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