In RPGs, one usually gains strength and abilities through repeatedly killing monsters, over and over again.
Forget trying to figure out the right combination of elemental attacks; just walk around a certain area and kill monsters for a week, then pound away at the boss as if you were the Incredible Hulk.
In video game plots, only the hero ever has this advantage. It never occurs to townspeople to walk around their village and bash slimes until they're strong enough to face the pirate who's taken over.
In online RPGs (and regular ones occasionally), this is known as "powerleveling" or simply "grinding" and is somewhat controversial, as it can be a tedious, mechanical affair criticized for taking the fun out of a game. It is considered extremely rude to level grind and then complain a boss is painfully easy.
The traditional way of level grinding is to kill lots of a very low level enemy, for example, rats. However, Metal Slime-type enemies that give out large amounts of experience can shorten the process considerably. Given that the second group are always much more likely to be able to actually kill your character at lower levels, a ladder system is usually employed. Modern MMORPGs have turned to 'Quest Grinding' instead, offerring both one-time and Repeatable Quests with massive Experience Point rewards compared to simply killing hordes of monsters - but this has simply changed the type of activity players use to grind instead of eliminating the grind altogether.
The act of Level Grinding is probably one contributing factor to the creation of the Bonus Dungeon.
Level Scaling can invert the trope, with monsters that scale according to the character's level. This negates the need to grind, but introduces its own set of problems. Final Fantasy VIII, the SaGa series, and The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion are all examples of this.
If the game is unbalanced or mean enough to practically require you to level grind, that's Forced Level Grinding. On the other hand, there's Anti-Grinding, where the developers set up something that stops this behavior, as well as Low Level Advantage.
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Ninja Gaiden Black has a group of mook demons to fight near the end of the game. They are big, purple-ish zombies who hit hard, are tough to kill, but easy to avoid. The source of income in the game is the yellow essence that you gather as you kill enemies, the average enemy gives you about 20 points of essence. These three creatures, once you kill them, give you around 10,000 points of essence. And they respawn after you leave that arena and return, so you just return and kill them seven or eight times until you max out and upgrade all your weapons. Then you can return and max out again to buy all the extra health potions and ninpo items you want. If you're a halfway decent player, you can beat the final stage of the game relatively easy with all the items you bought.
Ninja Gaiden 2 also has an easy way to grind as much essence as you need to max out every weapon and buy as many healing items as you can hold: in one part of the Airborne Aircraft Carrier level, you come across a long hallway that's blocked from one end by laser beams: if you try to pass them, you naturally take damage and an alarm is triggered, which summons some TAC Ninjas to take care of you. However, the alarm trigger is actually seperate from getting hit by lasers, meaning that if you inch your way right next to the lasers, you can summon as many of them as you want without running out of health in the progress. Not only that, but the ninjas enter the room via a long hallway and take their sweet time getting to you, which easily allows you to kill them in a single Ultimate Technique from the Eclipse Scythe.
X-Men Legends has the Danger Room accessible from any safe point wherein a player can spend a lot of time grinding by purposefully losing teamwork missions. The mission simply restarts with all of your newly acquired goodies and XP intact with none of the damage. In relatively little time, you can use it to level up enough to beat whatever boss that gives you trouble.
The classic Hero Quest (later Quest for Glory) by Sierra had this. You improved your skills by using them, leading to sights such as the main character working on building up his 'climb' skill by scrabbling (initially ineffectively) at a tree.
Skills in Quest... were odd ducks: as long as you had at least 1 point in a skill (the lowest is 5, but whatever) you could use and improve the skill. The difference between low skill and high skill was success: if your weapon use was 5, then a basic stab might miss or be easily blocked, and if it does hit, it won't do much damage. The only skill that averts the success rate is magic: the higher your magic, the more you can cast before needing to rest or use a potion (skill rate with spells, on the other hand, increases damage or duration).
In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the only side-scrolling installment, Link has 3 skills (Magic, Life and Attack) which can each reach level 8. Doing this in the first playthrough requires a bit of grinding.
In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, there are twenty-two separate characters all of whom can reach level 100. This is in fact not the true grind - through proper setup a level one character can beat a level one hundred Exdeath and jump to level 100 in a single battle. The true grind is the equipped abilities - some of the late ones require 500 points to master, and under normal circumstances you get one point a battle. Even on a day when the game gives 4x the reward per battle, it would still require 125 battles to master.
You also have to grind for any of the exclusive level 100 weapons. In order to get them, you need to have 5 battlegen items that have, at most, a 5% chance of being created when you break a level 100 version of the person who's weapon you're trying to make. In addition, you need 5 exclusive "soul" items that will never drop during battle. Instead, you have to go to the second hardest Duel Coliseum track and hope you can get enough Megalixirs, which require 18 medals in a course where you max at 10 per battle. And they don't always show up. And you need 20 per exclusive weapon. Suffice to say, you're going to be fighting for a long time.
In the NES version of Double Dragon, as you fight and kill enemies, you fill a level bar that gives you new techniques when it resets. At the rate enemies are normally spawned, you don't get all your techniques until late in the game. If you're really patient, though, it's possible to get the entire moveset with the first two or three enemies you fight simply by punching them a few times and then moving away before you knock them out, and then repeating the process enough times to build up and reset the level bar.
On the first playthrough, anything two levels above you is actually pretty easy to kill. Anything four or more levels above you will murder you. On the second playthrough, anything one level above you will massacre and defile your corpse if you're not using proper tactics and weapons.
Hack And Slash
In Crystalis you will find yourself unable to advance to certain parts of the game or damage certain enemies unless you have achieved a certain level
The Diablo series revels in this. Diablo II online is basically made of powerleveling. 75% of characters start off like this: Get glitched by a high-level player to beat the game on the highest difficulty at level 1, join a game, go to the second-last room and wait for the other characters to kill things, exit game, go back to step 2. Maybe 0.1% of people actually play the game like you're intended to.
Even ignoring online play, this is pretty much a necessity. Try going through the game without level grinding, you probably won't access even a single rank of the highest level skill. Now try and go through the game on Nightmare with that character.
If you play on your own (single player), you will not even get enough experience to keep up with the monsters, forcing you to stop and grind. If you play only in full (eight player) online games, you very quickly outlevel the monsters and stop gaining more levels unless you skip ahead. In numerical terms, you gain over five times as much experience in a full game.
In single and multiplay, the better gear becomes more important to keeping up than character stats. Because everything Randomly Drops, level grinding is just a byproduct of farming.
Best example of this come from MMORPGs originating from Korea, notorious for having an atrocious leveling pace. Prime examples are MapleStory and Lineage 2, which has a leveling pace so bad and arduous that there are many private servers that give players thirty-two times as much experience, money, and loot as the official game yet still contain playtimes roughly equivalent to World of Warcraft. Add the fact that dying will result in XP loss that can de-level you quickly, even when another player kills you. Such games give rise to the euphemism Korean flavour MMORPG, even when the game isn't from Korea. Examples include :
Helbreath. Player servers have leveling sped up 10 to 20 times to gain levels at least in somewhat average pace.
RF Online. Given that earlier versions of the game had no side quests and most of the quest requires you to kill a Pitboss (which is only doable with at least a party of 8, if not multiple parties and hope you got the last shot) there is really nothing else to do. On top of that, even on servers with the exp turned up to 300 times the normal amount you still need to grind if you ever want to hit that oh-so-coveted level 65, because even at 300X, mobs still only hand out a sliver of exp per kill (and they can one-shot you).
ROSE Online. Although players can work together in parties to lessen the time it takes to climb the levels ladder (for everyone involved).
Anarchy Online. This game has 200 NORMAL levels, 20 "shadow" levels, 30 "alien" levels (the experience for which can only be gained from a certain type of monster), and also 70 "research" levels, for a grand total of... 320 levels of some sort that can be obtained!
Final Fantasy XI had you grinding from level 1. Add the fact that it can be really hard to level (for most jobs) without other people to help past 20-25, and the fact that if you die, you lose EXP, and even sometimes level DOWN. However, many tweaks to the game's system have made leveling easier, as well as many of the additions made with the Wings of The Goddess expansion that make it possible to level reasonably well on your own past level 55.
The advent of Abyssea has made level grinding much easier. Before, the best XP parties could make 20,000-30,000 XP per hour, average parties making 5,000 to 10,000 XP per hour. (For reference, it takes 156,000 XP to go from 79 to 75.) In Abyssea, players can earn up to 60,000 XP per hour fairly easily. To say that this has energized the player base is an understatement, people look forward to grinding now.
As of Cataclysm, this has become easier. Quests are more plentiful, easier to find, and more rewarding while professions and secondary skills (Herbalism, Mining, Archaeology) now also can grant XP.
The makers tried to avert this, but if you want to complete all the achievements you're still going to have to do a degree of grinding and low-level quests.
Semi-averted in EVE Online. While your skills train passively at a rate determined by your attributes, there is significant grinding to be able to obtain enough cash, faction reputation, raw materials, and other such things to be able to purchase or build any items.
Players have discovered a way to basically "farm" the best subjects for grinding. In 0.0 security space (Free-for-all PVP and player owned) NPC pirate ships can pay anywhere from a few hundred thousand ISK to over a million. By wiping out spawns until one with multiple high-bounty battleships appear, and then only killing the battleships, corporations with 0.0 space can basically create a perpetual money factory. This is due to the fact that there a few set spawn compositions the game loads whenever a spawn has been completely cleared. But when a spawn is only partially destroyed, instead of changing the makeup of the spawn the game just "refills" it, ensuring that high profit spawns stay high profit.
Nexus War averts the obvious expressions of this trope only to use a whole bunch of less obvious ones. There's a clearly defined level cap that most characters reach fairly quickly, after which additional experience becomes useless except for bragging rights. However, the reward for leveling consists of Character Points (which can be traded for skills, spells, etc.), and players can also get Character Points by doing nearly anything often enough. Characters gain bonuses equivalent to levels for doing enough killing, vandalism, door repair, lockpicking, etc., etc. There are even bonuses for dying enough times, and so there are groups devoted to dying as much as possible that make up the bulk of the people visible outside in some cities.
RuneScape. You'll regularly see things like people setting line after line of fires just to get their firemaking skill up, or spending hours mining ores, smelting them, crafting them and selling them just to get those three skills going... It could be nearly king of this trope — according to one of the top players (who has maxed out every single skill), it takes at least 3000 hours to max out every skill (level 99) in the game, and that is if you only grind out the most efficient way possible for every single level.
As a MMORPG, Phantasy Star Online had a lot of grinders trying to catch up to the sharkers/Action Replayers when it was first released. The usual method of doing this was to equip the low-leveled character with a handgun or a rifle, go into multiplayer mode with a character who had beaten Normal mode, and employ hit-and-run tactics on the enemies in the second or third levels while the higher-leveled character stayed back and picked off the faster enemies. Since exiting the room caused the enemies to turn around and slowly march back to their starting positions while retaining all damage done to them, it was easy to exploit. There was a catch—you couldn't enter multiplayer on Hard Mode, where enemies gave eight times the experience, until both characters were level 20 regardless of that difficulty being unlocked in single mode. The game's Normal mode was so easy that grinding did you little good until Hard Mode was available.
The game also had a rather ridiculous alternative to level-grinding: Simply handing a new character a maxed-out Mag (a piece of equipment that, by feeding it various items, could be customized both in looks and stat boosts) and a piece of armor with some high-end Slots (which provide even further stat boosts, including to HP and TP) could turn them into something comparable to an unequipped character 20-30 levels above them.
The MMORPG Jade Dynasty (which is adapted from the Chinese Zhu Xian and its English equivalent Celestial Destroyer) actually subverts this somewhat by giving the player a built-in bot at level 3, which is useable until level 90, at which point it starts using energy that has to be replenished. The bot even uses health and spirit recovery potions for the player, enabling someone to go to sleep with the bot running and wake up a few levels higher and much richer. However, since mobs give less experience and items as you level (up to no experience or items at all since your level is much higher than theirs), the bot cannot be used to avoid grinding completely.
While the low cap (level 20) of Guild Wars tends to lead to less level grinding, there is an odd tactic where players kill themselves repeatedly near enemies to level up those enemies.
It's called death leveling and it's required to get the grind-tastic "Legendary Defender of Ascalon" title, earned by reaching level 20 without moving your character past the Searing. Once you hit a certain level pre-Searing you'll run out of ways to earn XP. (No more available quests, and all the monsters are now too low-level to yield exp when you kill 'em.) The only way to continue your own character's leveling is by grinding the enemies for levels and this is accomplished by letting them kill you over and over, as enemies gain experience points when they kill a player. After a few hours you kill the leveled monsters, gain a comparatively paltry amount of XP, rinse, and repeat. You masochist.
A less aggravating grind is needed to get a maxed Survivor title, IE reach a certain amount of XP without dying. The first level of this title is reached at the levelcap (20), but the highest level of this title is only awarded if you gather enough XP to reach level 100 if there was no cap. While this technically can be done just playing normally, you'll likely die at some point that way, preventing any further progress on the title. Best to find an area with high-level-low-threat mobs and grind them.
Though it flirts with being an Allegedly Free Game, Aeria Games' Shaiya fits here. There are four difficulty modes which are unlocked as a player advances along the leveling curve, each one bringing more benefits and challenges. The problem is, each difficulty mode sends the character back to the very beginning of an unimaginatively-written story, and the leveling pace is even slower to compensate for the power-ups. Some Shaiya players think that this justifies powerleveling, some do not. And some candy-coat level-grinding with dungeon raids involving a handful of very powerful veterans doing the heavy lifting for a number of new meat.
At first, Champions Online seemed to avert this trope - you got FAR more XP for actually accomplishing missions, many of which involved activities besides just killing mooks (such as disabling bombs, sabotaging alien ships, etcetera), than you did for wandering around killing everything you saw. That is, until the Crafted Travel Powers cropped up. In order to actually make the darn things, you have to kill tens of thousands of the right type of baddies to get the drops to make the components to make the components to make the Crafted Travel Powers.
Star Trek Online. Although most of the progression is done through storyline "Episodes", once you reach the level cap there's a lot of grinding to get Marks of Exploration or Emblems in order to get better equipment for your starship.
Replaced now with Dilithium, which is used in all the various ways to get better equipment for your ships.
What's old is new again. Marks of Exploration are back, but just called '<Faction> Marks'. The Dilithium's still there, though, and given time, effort and the right decisions, you can make a good amount of both.
City of Heroes initially had a problem where you could get the next set of contacts only after you reached a certain level but it was possible to complete all the missions from your present contacts long before you had enough XP to level (especially if you were a solo player), so the only option, if you didn't team up with someone on their missions, was to randomly go around picking fights with mooks on the streets until you levelled up which could get real boring real fast. Subsequent updates of the game have drastically changed this: there are now more contacts, Newspaper/Radio missions are always available once you've reached a given (low) level, and you can always play in player-made Architect scenarios. As a result of this, pretty much the only time you actually see heroes/villains fighting mobs on the streets is if they're trying to get the last few XP points needed to level, they're on a Kill X Number of Y mission, or they're badge-hunting.
Zynga games like Mafia Wars get to be this after a while, especially if you're unwilling to spend real money on what are essentially casual games.
The MUDLusternia takes this to an extreme. Level grinding becomes progressively easier as you go on: while you technically gain much less experience per kill, the chance of performing critical hits ramps up massively, increasing the speed of said kills (the most powerful crit you can get does a whopping 32x damage). However, once you reach level 100, you become a Demigod, and experience is replaced with "essence". A lot of the unique Demigod abilities require essence to buy, meaning you have to hunt an awful lot just to unlock them: more insidious is the fact you lose essence when you die, and if you lose enough you'll be kicked back down to level 99 and lose all your neat abilities. Most level 100 players refuse to go outside their organizations unless they have a huge buffer of essence, and there are gank-squads organized specifically to target new Demigods. Needless to say, Level Grinding is a necessity.
Air Rivals, and how! The level grinding there is so intense after level 75 and specially at 8x levels that even the own developers of the game (which are, as you might guess, Korean), decided to add new maps of power leveling for players to get to the so-desired level cap of 110. Even with that, the american server (Ace Online) has a PERMANENT 200% EXP BONUS for everyone below lvl 75 and it gets reduced to 50% on weekends after that point. Geez.
Nethack tries to avert this with a combination of Rubber Band A.I. and a level cap of 30 - however, potions and scrolls and such can boost individual stats without changing levels, which means that Random Drops are the way forward. This generally means grinding by pudding farming: black puddings will happily duplicate themselves if hit with an iron object, provide worthy XP, they very occasionally drop items (of more or less any form) when they die, and also leave corpses. Kill, sacrifice the corpses or eat them when you grow hungry, repeat until the level is full of puddings and your max HP is wherever you want it (usually in the six-figure region); the repeated sacrificing of corpses can also be used to gain spellbooks and artifact weapons, and to increase your intrinsic armour class. Several bots have been written to automate the process.
If you're playing a wizard character who has found a spellbook of Create Monster then you can use that spell to create an endless stream of monsters to kill (non-wizards don't regenerate mana quickly enough to make this feasible). The primary advantage this has over pudding farming is that it will generate monsters that have far greater random drop rates than black puddings.
Inside A Star Filled Sky is nothing but grinding. Because the game has no end that anyone could possible achieve in this millenium (or the next one, for that matter), all you're doing is moving back through entering items and getting better powerups. And if you're bad off, you make have to grind so that the first grind actually shows any effect.
Final Fantasy I had a mapping bug that allowed the player to fight high-level monster groups very early in the game by visiting a two-square peninsula northeast of Pravoka, the second town visited. Once the Mages learned group-effect spells like FIR2 and HRM2, many of the encounters provided quick experience boosts. Later on, the best Level Grinding was available in the Ice Cave, where a fixed battle with the EYE boss could be repeated for thousands of easy experience points. Another location is the "Giant's arm" in the Earth Cave, a certain bend in the cave where every single step you take results in an encounter with giants or green ogres.
Because Final Fantasy II was really difficult from the get go, grinding was the only way to survive the first real mission. This is partially because the game had the PCs starting out as weaklings who got offed in the first battle, and partially because the leveling system was radically different from virtually any RPG today (except the SaGa series, which may have grown directly from FFII); characters gained HP by being damaged, attack skills by attacking with certain weapons, etc. As a result of its odd system, FFII has a very unusual grinding method: having your party members beat each other up to get HP bonuses. The game also had an exploitable bug in which choosing to attack, canceling your selection, and repeating 100 times would register for leveling purposes as attacking 100 times and would level up the character's skill with the weapon in question. While some consider exploiting bugs to be cheating, the tedium of building up skill levels "honestly" causes most players to not care.
The GBA remake fixed the "select-cancel" bug, but raised the overall stat growth rate to compensate. Attacking your own party to boost HP remained a viable strategy, but it was no longer quite so necessary.
It also introduced a new bug which arguably tops the select-cancel bug in effectiveness, or at least automates the process a great deal: equipping a character with twin shields and then letting them try to attack an enemy boosts their shield level, but if you switch weapons before the end of the battle, something not possible in the other versions, all the gained experience will go towards that weapon type instead, letting you gain weapon levels without even looking at the screen.
There is, however, a limit in the GBA/PSP remakes. Weapon skills are capped at a certain point until you progress in the story (for example, try maxing sword skill before you finish the ice cave, and you'll notice it stops increasing around level 7 for Firion). Stat growth is faster, but also capped, though in a "softer" sense (once you reach the stat cap for the point, you have to take slightly more drastic measures to increase them). Magic, on the other hand, is never capped, and if you're willing to put the effort into it, you can have a level 20 fire spell before you're finished the first quest.
There is a bit in Final Fantasy VI where players can force the game into a loop of fighting an unbounded number of low-level monsters, with a party member who can heal the entire group for free as much as he wants. As a result, simply putting a book on top of the 'A' button and going away for a few days will leave the player with four maximally-leveled characters quite early in the game.
The problem with this is that you will have awful base stats, as you won't have any summons to have Junctioned to your characters, which gives them all the good stat bonuses and spells. Doing this can actually make the game harder by the very end and make the bonus dungeons very difficult.
A desert patch next to Doma Castle in the World of Ruin (SNES version) has an endgame grinding area where a bug causes experiece points gained are boosted to extraordinary amounts when you fight with a lower number of members, with a solo fighter gaining maximum exp and leveling up like mad from a single fight. As the result, a player may have a character/a duo taking turns grinding to level 99.
Final Fantasy X: not only do you have mundane level grinding (mixed with the complicated and often annoying sphere grid system), you also have level grinding for your blitzball team! And trust us, you'll need it.
And if you want to beat Nemesis, prepare to rip out the entire sphere grid and grind to replace all those piddling +1 & +2 stat bonuses with +4's won from arena bosses.
In Final Fantasy XII, with a lot of phoenix downs and a little patience and dexterity, one can advance 30+ levels and rake in a small fortune before even completing the first mission. What's more, once you finally decide to advance in the plot, all these levels carry over to the new members of your party. If you do all this with just Vaan, it's like leveling up six characters for the price of one.
Later in the game, you can find Negalmuur, a monster that summons other, weaker monsters. You can set Gambits on your characters to attack the summoned monsters and defend yourself from Negalmuur's attacks, go to bed, and wake up to three level 99 characters and a shitload of dropped loot.
As the battle system of Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is card-based, it's not nearly as important to have a high level or great stats as it is to have a well-rounded, efficient deck. However, since most of the best cards are only randomly dropped by enemies, the net effect is the same: a lot of time spent wandering around in the wilderness killing random monsters until your deck is up to par.
You can also explicitly grind 'recipes' in order to cause specific cards to appear. This is the only reliable method to acquire good revival items (such as the absolutely vital Sacred Wine: 100% Revive + 500 HP).
Level Grinding appears to have found its audience: a Gamespot review for Valkyrie Profile 2 points out that the game seems designed for fans of the process.
It's not really necessary though, as clever usage of skills and accessories will work far better in combat than level grinding. The bonus dungeon, Seraphic Gate, is a very good example of this.
Even so, there comes a moment in the game where four of your main characters (two in one chapter, two in the next) leave your party. Depending on how high their level is, you can get some pretty powerful equipment. The problem? You can get game-breaking equipment this way...but you need to level the characters to levels 40 (for the first set) and 45 (for the second set).
The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion takes it a bit further; one can grind skills as their patience allows. Every skill can be increased this way, some easier than others. Skills that require targets can be helped along by summoning monsters to use as target practice. Certain skills, like Destruction and Restoration advance so slowly that unless you grind them regularly they'll remain permanently low. Others, like Alchemy, level so quickly this way that if linked to the player's level results in many many Empty Levels and can actually weaken the player in comparison to the world's enemies.
This, in turn, led to the strange practice of deliberate under-leveling, whereby the player increases her skills up to and beyond the point where she could level up - but chooses not to. The theory is that the opponents will remain at low levels, because the player does, and will have skill values appropriate to those low levels, while the player will have disproportionally higher ones. Thus, a first-level character in Oblivion can become the Archmage of the Mage Guild, Master of the Fighters Guild, leader of the Thieves Guild, Listener of the Dark Brotherhood and Grand Champion of the Arena. At the same time. Oh, and defeat invading demon army. The disadvantage to this is that the equipment and rewards available will always be of the lowest quality.
The first game in the Bard's Tale series features an egregious midgame level-grind. A repeatable encounter with 396 midlevel fighters — certain death for a low-level party, but no particular threat to a party with good armor and group-effect spells — nets the party 65535 experience points for a victory; as that suggestive number implies, XP per battle are capped and no other battle even comes near the cap. It thus becomes an obvious strategy for players to repeat this one encounter over and over instead of seeking out more dangerous and less rewarding fights.
Aside from That One Boss and bonus bosses, the Shin Megami Tensei games tend to avert this. Taking the appropriate skill set and immunities into a fight is generally vastly more important than having a high level. Nothing drives this home faster than getting ambushed and watching your team get wiped out by relatively weak enemies spamming skills one or two of your characters are weak against, killing the rest of the party in the process.
All this really means is that rather than level grinding, you're skill grinding instead. You didn't think "appropriate skill set and immunities" came for free, did you?
The games also make the inverse possible: with a low-level party and the right skills, it's possible to kill higher-level enemies with relative ease. The later games with the "Push" weakness system means you can go entire combat rounds of just pummeling the opponent over and over without consequence, or even letting the bad guys get a turn. Ever. Although God help you if you don't have your party members on "standby" at some points, as they tend to think attacking the enemy (and therefore putting it back on its feet) is more useful than, say, forcing the enemy to waste its turn getting up. Even when they know the enemy is immune to weapon attacks, they'll still go after it.
But then you get something like The Answer in Persona 3:FES, of which 75-90% of that story was a forced level grinding session to get yourself back into the 70s. Yes, for random encounters, weakness exploitation was superior to overleveling, but with bosses that had high chances of evading their weaknesses and very hard hitting attacks, you needed the levels just to have the HP to survive long enough for your attacks to connect. Also the lack of a persona compendium makes covering and exploiting weaknesses much harder.
Can be played to trope in the offshoot, Digital Devil Saga. The skills you need to survive the combination kill of the random encounters in the Karma Temple are near the end of one of the branches of the skill tree. Lack the skills, and you're forced to grind your way to them.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin doesn't really require much level grinding, and you can finish the game with your characters in the mid-60s of levels (out of a possible 99), but if you want to see the high-level content like the Armageddon fusion spell, be prepared to grind. By the end you will need hundreds of thousands of XP per character per level, and the highest-level area (which is optional) provides enemies who offer maybe 3,000 XP to each character per encounter. One encounter, Alice, offers a lot more XP... but she is painfully rare even when you do everything to manipulate encounter rates. The "easiest" trick to grinding is to let all but your leader die so the XP doesn't get divided up, and then he can gather all the high-level stuff for everyone else.
Persona 3 is fond of throwing The Reaper at you if the AI suspects you're level grinding. Unfortunately, some amount of grinding is required if you want to access higher-level personae — the first Star persona is level 39, and you'll need the persona to max the Social Link (the game's other major challenge). Based on the dungeon's layout, you can either engage in combat multiple times as you move up a few floors, then return to base when significantly depleted or attempt a No Damage Run to the next terminal floor by simply outrunning and escaping battles. Of course, you won't stand a chance against the boss on the terminal floor unless you enter some fights on other floors, at which point The Reaper will punish you for grinding by instantly killing you and wiping out any levels and items gained. The boss on floor 110 requires you to advance beyond the minimum, as you'll need to be significantly leveled in order to create a certain persona from the Fortune arcana and fight it solo. (Yes, solo. Otherwise, it's a quick murder-suicide affair with your party members. You have to be able to block wind attacks while carrying no healing abilities, as otherwise you'll heal the enemy when it charms you — thus nullifying the potential utility of Yukari.) There's also the fact that most players have their last save at the dungeon the night before a boss fight, so grinding is sometimes the only option if you can't win the fight and don't want to lose 30-50 hours of gameplay. While bosses should always be a few levels ahead of players, if the boss is ten levels ahead of you, you're doomed.
There is an interesting experiment you can do on Pokemon. Shark infinite Rare Candies from the get go, forget about training and get to the Battle Frontier quickly. Guess what? You reach the zone in half the time it takes to beat the Ruby version legally. It means that you spend more or less 20+ hours of your playtime only grinding.
The series accentuates this trope, though, by letting you start a battle with a weak Pokemon, knock out a high-level enemy with a strong one, and have both Pokemon earn experience points. On the downside, you need to have battled your way to the higher-level locations first.
Interesting note though: that party of Level 100s you cheated up? Worthless in the Frontier or multiplayer. Due to a complicated and hidden set of values, the Pokemon you defeat while leveling up add to the stats you gain. It's not too important for the bulk of the game, to the point that a casual player can safely ignore them, but they're essential for post-game content and multiplayer. Pokemon that were simply Rare Candied up to 100 are vastly inferior to ones which were very carefully level-
the same thing applies to the Action Replay codes that boost XP gain in each battle.
That doesn't necessarily mean 20+ hours are spent grinding. When your pokemon are all sharked to level 100, it cuts down the time taken for all serious battles at the same time, because you're just one-shotting everything. That's not saying that the series doesn't revolve mostly around level-grinding, but that's not really an accurate way to measure how much time is spent grinding, because you're also not experiencing more drawn out and difficult battles which rack up game time. If you're doing a speed run, you still are going to take some extra time fighting the gym leaders, etc.
The PokémonGameCube side-games, Pokemon Colosseum and XD, actually avert this trope for the most part - while you can have level grinding, the Pokemon you can catch are as high a level as the area opponents, meaning you can go through the game with just using Pokemon as you catch them rather than training them. The only real point where it does require leveling is against the penultimate and ultimate bosses, which take a leap of levels over the next best opponents.
The rom hack Pokemon Crystal Enhanced has the level curve set so high that you must grind for a large amount of time wherever you go. This is made easier in the post-game, where you can find a cave that contains only the exp-rich Chansey and Blissey for easy grinding to level 100.
All the Digimon World games sans the first one fall into this. The DS games, however, take this to never seen extents. The random encounter rate in these games is fixed, but very high, and no way to repel enemies. The areas you explore are very large, with no map whatsoever. Plus, the enemies give very low experience, while the experience needed in order to level up grows exponentially (ironically, beating the weakest enemy in the game is enough to level anything from 1 to 3). The later bosses have much higher stats and skills than you'd have without Korean MMORPG-levels of grinding. A simple test of beating the game with no random battles and following the right paths in the maze-like dungeons shows that the main story can be beaten in two hours or so, and the post-story mandatory missions in another hour or so. In a game that a proper raised PvP team may require over 100 hours of gameplay, just by playing random battles and Farmville-like training.
It shows something when, even if you use the code to start the battle with only 1 exp point remaining to the next level, it still can take more than one hour to have a digimon reach Lv. 99 ONCE. Because if you want to max you stats, you'll be leveling from 1 to at least 70 several times, to say nothing of using the cross DNA evolution to learn skills you normally wouldn't be able to.
To keep up its parody status Linear RPG does make you grind. Going straight will cause you to die. Best to end the game at level 40 which means there's a bit of running back and forwards. No really.
Wizardry 1 to 7 and Gold are just jam-packed with grinding. In fact, if you don't want to get pounded just by going through doors, you'll spend hours just 'hanging' on the first floor, killing rats, bats, rogues and plants until you CAN go through doors.
The exception is Wizardry 4, where there's no real reason to go back and level some more because the monsters you summon increase in power with each Level of the dungeon you go up.
Wizardry 8 allows it, but discourages level-grinding by throwing geometrically difficult opponents at the party the longer they hang out in a particular area; in particular, the noob cave monastery and the roads between settlements.
Chrono Trigger allows the party to access 65,000,000 BC as soon as it reaches the End of Time. Once there, the party can go to the Dacytl's Nest, an area that the party won't visit on The One True Sequence until several dungeons later, and fight enemy parties that give out twice the experience the enemies in the dungeon the party is supposed to visit next. The combination of tricks like these and non-random enemy encounters make Chrono Trigger a very easy game to level grind on.
Contact has this out the wazoo. Potentially, anyway. If you want 100% Completion, you'll have to raise every single stat to level 100, get every item, and for good measure fill up the treasure and food screens. Oh, and equip the most powerful decals you can find, if you feel like it.
Dragon Quest is absolutely made of this. The entire series is basically 99% grind and 1% story.
Woe to the poor player who started the DQ series with DQVIII. After many, many JRPGs where you basically just went from one dungeon to another with no stops in between, going directly to the first dungeon immediately in DQVIII will result in death on the way there. Grind, you poor bastards! GRIND!
And, of course, in doing so, you'll earn King Toede's stern disapproval for taking forever to get things done.
Even the very first game has its moments. Wandering too far from the first castle before gaining a level or two from Slimes will result in a quick, depressing death at the hands of... a Spooky.
The grinding is most apparent in Dragon Quest IV. Due to the unique chapter set-up, you'll have to do the pre-journey grind FIVE SEPERATE TIMES. Have fun with that.
III for the GBC with its 150+ medals to collect. If you want to obtain all gold medals, prepare to not just fight lots of monsters, but to make sure you keep the right kind alive to the end of the fight so the right medal drops!!! And if you do get them all... the game's most powerful dragon gives you the ultimate reward! He says he's bored and goes to sleep!!!
IX takes this Up to Eleven. Each character can reach Level 99 in each job. There are 16 jobs. For comparison, beating the final boss is feasible at Level 50. After completing the main game, Level 99 characters can restart at Level 1, but keep all of their skills. This is the only way to maximize all of the many in-game skills.
Of course, maxing out everything is optional. It's also absolutely diabolical, since there's the aforementioned 16 jobs you can level, plus the Alcheminomicon (a book to fill with all the alchemy recipes in the game), the Bestiary (defeat at least one of every enemy and boss in the game), the Wardrobe (get one of every armor and weapon in the game), and the Quest List (just finding some quests are a major Guide Dang It, let alone finishing them!). The page even mentions that a hardcore gamer 'finally got 100% Completion...after 773 hours of play.
Since The World Ends With You subsists on being a Self-Imposed Challenge, you wouldn't think you needed to do this... until you realize that you've used up all your Scarletite, you can't replay the game to get more the easy way, and you need it to get postgame improvements (like being able to chain more than 4 battles together). The only way to get more? Start farming for Dark Matter... which is only dropped by three bosses. And these three bosses aren't any bosses, they're Reaper Beat, Taboo Minamimoto, and Draco Cantus. The first two are Hopeless Boss Fights that you have to WIN this time and the last is the Final Boss, who can only be fought after fighting three other bosses and you HAVE to watch the long ending and credits afterwards, unless on iOS, which allows you to skip. To make it even worse, they're dropped in pathetically low percentages on high difficulties. The only way to bring those percentages up is to not only have a vicious drop rate to begin with, but to chain like crazy in order to multiply the rate further. It may not be level grinding per se, but damned if you're not killing yourself like crazy to pull it off.
You could also Take a Third Option and simply fight taboo noise (as well as regular, to improve your drop rate) for Shadow Matter — ten pieces of Shadow nets one of Dark. On Ultimate difficulty, level 10 leaves you with plenty of hit points for a six to ten chain battle, a base drop rate of 99, and, if you have it, you can add a pin to boost your drop rate even further. The rest of the difficulty can be mitigated (if not altogether eliminated) with equipment and post-game pins. Two Lightening Rooks, a Pig pin, and a subconscious recovery pin "just in case" and you're good to go — you can even defeat one boss before he transforms into his ultimate form.
Golden Sun can become this at times. At least as an inexperienced player who may not collect all the djinn, you will require Level Grinding. In Golden Sun: TLA, you can grind until level 99 in the turtle cave, which isn't really hard considering the insane amount of exp Wonderbirds give, if you want to. It isn't required.
Then again, if you're a veteran dungeon crawler and just kill everything that comes your way without ever running from a fight (not hard since you recharge PP to heal between combat), you may find yourself overleveled for some parts without ever going out of your way to grind. In TLA you may be so lost during the whole trident sequence that by the time you meet Isaac's team you're ten levels past him.
Golden Sun Dark Dawn one-upped The Lost Age, with Tua Warriors, relatively weak monsters, that are the only randomly encountered monsters in the final area of the final dungeon, by taking advantage of the extra experience from unleash-killing monsters, it is possible to go from the mid-40s (the level you're supposed to be near the end), to the max level in two hours
SoulBlazer allowed level-grinding. While monsters that spawned from lairs would stay dead once killed, some monsters did not spawn from lairs, and these would respawn every time your character left and re-entered the dungeon. Because the requirements for each successive level increased roughly exponentially through the game, however, spending several hours of grinding in one area would be completely negated by a few minutes of grinding at the start of the next area (where the monsters would generally suddenly offer 5-10x more XP).
Its Spiritual Successor, Illusion of Gaia, did not allow level grinding at all. Each permanent stat increase was gained after clearing an area of a dungeon, and there were a finite number throughout the game (any missed stat increases were granted anyway on arrival at the dungeon boss, so underlevelling was avoided too).
Terranigma allowed level-grinding even more freely than Soulblazer did. ALL the monsters would respawn when Ark left the current area of a dungeon, and the XP requirements were nowhere near as exponential as before; less than an hour of grinding in Tower 5 would mean that Ark was capable of Cherry Tapping the first boss, Shadowkeeper.
On the other hand, since your current level is a major part of the damage formula, it's extremely easy to end up doing Scratch Damage to every enemy in a new location if you're not sufficiently leveled up.
Kingdom Hearts almost begs you to Level Grind for some side-quests, like Sephiroth in both games or Terra and the Data Battles in Final Mix + : while the final boss can be defeated at level 50, most players will need to reach lv. 99 before being able to defeat these bonus bosses.
Then amped up by KHII's Forms. Suddenly you need to grind not only your level but also your Valour Form's levels. Or possibly your preferred summoned creature's.
Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal has one of the easiest level grinds in RPG history. It doesn't even need the player be there to kill the monsters. Once you reach the city surrounded by attacking giants, go to the ramparts near the gates. Equip all the infinite ammunition items you have available and have those characters set to attack automatically with ranged weapons on aggressive creatures using the game's script feature. Other characters in your group should be set not to attack (no sense in wasting ammunition). Once they start attacking the offscreen (and defenseless) giants and killing them unopposed, go watch a movie. Return later to see all of your characters now at the level cap.
You won't come out of Albion's first big dungeon alive, unless you spend a few days on the previous island, doing nothing but slaughtering the local wildlife, and visiting the local healer for occasional free potions you can sell later.
Septerra Core has a wonderful level grinding spot - the Smelting Complex. It's accessible as soon as you get the airship, but you aren't intended to go there until much later. Since all the enemies are mechanical, Led and Grubb can tear them apart with Repair, earning you large amounts of gold and EXP in the process.
Every Xenosaga game has noteworthy grinding spots. Xenosaga II in particular has the Dammerung, an area in which only Shion is usable the first time you go through. Because of how the EXP is normally divided, in this particular dungeon Shion effectively gains 300% EXP - and everyone else gains 225%! Naturally an excellent place to gain some extra levels. It's a nice option to have.
It is also worth noting that everything in the Dammerung is weak against Shion's attacks; it doesn't take very long until she one-shots everything with her basic attacks. And don't worry if you passed that area up before you discovered it — you can go back to it using the Encephelon. One might wonder if the devs did this on purpose.
The 7th Saga for the SNES is known for the insane amount of time it takes to level up.
The monsters are difficult, the experience is low, and if you level up too much, due to a bug the game is Unwinnable.
The bug in question: The other potential PCs would level up as you do. At somewhere around level 45, the cleric type learns a spell that restores all his HP... and for no good reason, also all his MP. He's essentially immortal at that point. The other potential PCs would also sometimes steal your plot coupons, requiring you to duel to take them. If the Cleric ganked one late in the game, he'd be literally impossible to beat, since the AI isn't dumb enough to forget it has healing spells.
Ginormo Sword. You spend more time level grinding than you do fighting bosses, upgrading equipment, and moving around the map combined.
In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the highest level your characters can reach is 255, so it goes without saying that much Level Grinding is needed to achieve this level without the aid of a cheat disk. Luckily, for normal gaming purposes, there is no need to reach such a high level unless you plan on taking on Freya.
Monster Hunter, while not having explicit character levels, forces you to kill the same monsters over and over to get the weapons or armor made from their parts. Also, one gains experience in the form of real-life experience in killing the monsters, such that extremely good players often take on a high-level monster with no armor at all, just to show off.
Grinding for weapons and armor is not necessarily true. If a player was good enough, a skilled player could take down monsters with an inferior weapon, albeit at the cost of time. Some event(side) quests even require the player to fight without armor thus highlighting the game's focus on dodging rather than blocking.
Averted with Monster Hunter Tri. Monster Hunter Tri's online multiplayer required you to grind "Guild Points" to unlock the more next "level" of quests and monsters.
Averted both ways in the same game. Since you used the same character for both single and multiplayer, a maxed out singleplayer character would find the early game multiplayer trivial since you had already grinded the same monsters in the singleplayer. But it also made the singleplayer trivial since a maxed out multiplayer character fought advanced forms of the same monsters as well as multiplayer exclusive monsters and unlocked equipment far better than anything in the singleplayer. Lesson to be learned? Jump straight into multiplayer, come back later and curb stomp your way through the singleplayer.
Dragon Age: Origins included a pretty boring grind: if you don't slaughter the entire Dalish settlement, the Elven emissary will appear in your party camp and accept "crafting materials" to upgrade Elven troops' equipment for the Final Battle. Now, "crafting materials" include Elfroots, which are available for 60 copper pieces in unlimited quantity at the Elven camp, and each batch of 89 pieces (called "Give all Elfroots") nets you 880 XP (meaning it costs only 112 gold to grind from level 0 to the level cap—roughly an eighth of the transaction volume you can potentially have in single playthrough). So, just go to the Dalish camp, buy an inventory full of Elfroots, return to the party camp and grind.
In Etrian Odyssey, trying to 'skip' to the labyrinth's next floor without having explored a substantial amount of the one you're on will ensure swift death. Oh, and the only way to earn money in the game is to sell off items dropped by monsters. A game where sidequests are arguably a time-consuming practical necessity for the rewards, loot, and exp potentially gained by completing them. You'll need the lot.
In Mario RPG you might have to level grind at the most rewarding easy spot available which by the time you reach the Factory happens to be Star Hill.
Return To Krondor will have you doing this a lot, especially in the first four chapters. You can easily spend hours going through doors and getting into random fights, in the hopes of getting to the next level. At least by going up a number of levels, you will have a higher number of weapons strikes, and more effectiveness with weapons and magic. There are less and less opportunities to level grind as you progress through the game, which may or may not be a good thing.
One of the easier (if patience-wearing) methods to employ in Wizardry Labyrinth Of Lost Souls if you don't want to die as one hit kills (for the Hayate and harder enemies in the above floors) by the fourth floor of Shin's Dungeon, considering the Nintendo Hard nature of the game. Doesn't hurt to have a Bishop either, as they gain a very useful ability in later levels.
Riviera: The Promised Land has a grinding hell. Your characters' stats increase via "Skill Up" from using certain weapons or items for certain amount of time. Your items are breakable, so you have no choice but to spend countless time grinding in a training room to preserve them for real fights. Worse off, your inventory is very limited and you quickly have to discard some of your items away. This means that you want to frequently grind everyone as soon as you have grindable items in order to open up the room for newer ones
Your full party has 6 members, two that don't join until the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of 3. Because you never know what item teach which skill to them before they join, Serene and Cierra may end up losing some grindable stats forever if you've discarded wrong items.
Ace Combat 5's method of unlocking new planes within a "family" involved you farming kills on one model so as to unlock the next, then use the next to farm up to the third etc. Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception also has you unlock a set of colour schemes by grinding enough kills on the relevant planes. Well, all of them to be honest.
Turn Based Strategy
Final Fantasy Tactics took level grinding (or, more specifically, stat-maxing) to unparalleled heights. The Deep Dungeon and several other maps featured tiles that, when stepped on, would level your character down. These could be exploited by raising a character up with a stat-boosting job, then leveling the character down in a job with very weak stats (so the gain would overpower the loss), and then REleveling him up with another job to work on new stats. Many game-breaking tricks were possible to gain JP/XP... for example one could put an enemy to sleep and also speed break them repeatedly, which combined to give the player hundreds of free turns for every turn the opponent got. During each of these free turns you could steal from them, gaining party-wide JP and gold simultaneously.
Any game made by Nippon Ichi, which usually takes this to the extreme (generally the maximum level in these games is 9999). On top of this, the Random Dungeons most leveling up takes place in usually work towards the development of your characters and/or their equipment. It's two! Two! Two grinds for the price of one! It's very to exploit the system in general, and considering the story of the series, it makes sense that the point of the series was never to play fair to begin with.
The Disgaea series especially falls into this category, being custom-made for Grinders. Levels top off at 9999 (excluding transmigrations), and while you're grinding, you're also turning your weapons into Infinity Plus One Swords in the process.
Fortunately, it's very easy to be a smartarse and game the system what for. The fact that you can "Fuse" enemies by way of throwing them into their kin and up the rewards for killing the stronger result is practically built for this.
Including transmigrations, the levels go even higher. Apparently the maximum number of stored levels you can get before storing more stops having an effect is 185000 - and that's not counting the 9999 levels you can make a character gain normally.
Disgaea 3 adds a third aspect to the grinding with the Class World, which allows you raise a character's aptitudes, as well. Taken to the extremes in Disgaea 4, where any character can get all of their aptitudes to a max of 300%.
Phantom Brave has what may be the easiest level grind in existence. Goes like this: There's an easy way to get a character that can easily "steal" objects that are much higher level early in the game. Use it to get high-level items and fuse them together. Use that item to power level the character, then have it get even higher-level items. Before long, all you have to do to level any character up is to hand it your hand-made Infinity+1 Sword and watch the levels add up. (However, every new character starts with a level cap of 100...but this can be easily raised to the 9,999 maximum with a few fusions.)
Made ridiculously easy in Luminous Arc, where healing or buffing any ally earns the character casting the spell 30 experience, and it takes 100 exp to level. This doesn't sound so special until you realise that upon gaining a level, your [HP] and [MP] are reset to full, allowing you to simply go to a low-level map with all your healers and buffers and boost them up by massive amounts.
Wide Open Sandbox
In Minecraft, experience gained by killing mobs gives experience levels. Although these are pointless for the first part of the game, once the player obtains diamonds they can make Enchantment Tables. These allow weapons, armor, and tools to be enchanted with special abilities, such as reduced damage from use, extra damage when attacking monsters, protection from certain types of damage (explosions, fire, water, fall, etc.), and increased item drops. The problem is that experience gained from monsters is worth much less at higher levels, and dying makes the player lose almost all their experience. As a result, even with structures built specifically to spawn and damage mobs automatically, it can take days to get enough experience for the best enchantments. Made worse by the Random Number God deciding what enchantments are received, which can absorb large amounts of exp only to give a common, less useful enchantment or even ignore up to one quarter of the experience (but still take it) when calculating which enchantment will be given.
There is at least one mod that partly rectifies this with a fairer enchantment system, and the latest versions of Minecraft reformed the enchantment system so that the enchantment level better matches its cost in experience points. This trope is further averted by the fact that experience is easier to come by now, with even mundane tasks like mining and smelting yielding experience points.
Accelerator: Guess the secret to leveling up is to face a strong opponent, huh?
In Bleach, Driscoll Berci, The Overkill, gets stronger every time he kills something. He overconfidently thought he was at a high enough level to beat Yamamoto, who easily burns him to ashes.
In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character Phil relives the same day over and over. To fill the time, he learns how to sculpt ice, throw playing cards into a hat, perform CPR, perform the Heimlich maneuver, play the piano, get the girl, be a decent human being, etc. He has none of these skills at the beginning of the story. The implication is that Phil spent the equivalent of decades reliving the same day, giving him the time to perfect these abilities.
The Munchkin's Guide to Power-Gaming lampshades it, recommending that the tabletop roleplayers should make their PCs spill some boiling water in an anthill, so if every ant gives the minimum of 1 XP, you would get a boost of five or six thousand XP. The card game Munchkin has "Boil an Anthill" as a "Gain a Level" card.
In South Park, the boys get sick of being killed over and over by a griefer on World of Warcraft. So they kill boars for a few weeks straight to level up enough to at least be a match for him.
Learning to do anything well almost invariably involves lots (and lots) and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of repetition! You have ever hear of someone who reacts 'on instinct', without thinking? That's because they've done whatever it is so many times that it's already imprinted in their muscle's memory...
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” - Bruce Lee