Ever since the first Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons
, most RPGs have used the system of simply leveling up once you have hit enough Experience Points
. But that doesn't mean that some companies haven't tried to make an alternative to simple leveling to try something a bit different.
One of the most common is Stat based grinding. In an RPG that uses this system, there are no actual "Levels" to gain, per se. Instead, you are playing to increase your stats. As opposed to leveling up the character overall and giving them a boost to every stat, you level up each stat individually, or can work on multiple ones. How do you do this? It's actually rather simple, use the stat more and then you gain it. You gain Strength by successfully landing physical attacks, Magic by landing magical attacks, Endurance by surviving enemy attacks, and so on so forth.
This is based off of real life workouts. If you want to boost your overall strength, you practice lifting more and more weight, but if you want to boost endurance, then you add more reps. One of the pros of Stat based grinding is that you can customize characters a little more this way, and it can give that feel of immersion to it. (Such as say, Morrowind.
) It also gives some strategizing because you need a certain stat but you don't just go out smacking enemies to level up your magic stat.
This system is not without its problems. For one, if the time needed to raise a stat by one point is comparable to the amount of time needed to level up in another game, and the difficulty curve is just as steep, players will regularly need to put the plot on hold just to train their characters and keep up with the pace of the game. This is especially problematic, as the very nature of the system generally makes designated Peninsulas Of Power Leveling
useless; training in one region will only serve to make you more powerful against the monsters in that region
, not the monsters in the mandatory dungeon halfway across the globe that are preventing you from advancing the plot.
A related problem comes when there is an Absurdly Low Level Cap
, and you are only allowed to build a limited amount of skills. Say you spend most of the game raising money for the Infinity+1 Sword
by basket-weaving, and this automatically increases the weaving stat throughout—when you reach the cap, you'll be a basket-weaving monster
, but good luck actually killing anything with that sword. This can be averted if the game has a mechanic to reject leveling up in unwanted stats.
Another drawback: blatant Catch-22's. You need to build your defense and health/stamina by getting hit, right? Well, the problem is that you need to survive
the hits to gain the health you need to survive. You need to hit enemies to gain accuracy, but without accuracy, you can't hit the enemies. This can make the game absurdly difficult and frustrating in the early hours, the part where players are supposed
to be getting acclimated to the system. For this reason, some systems makes the stats increase even if or only if
Yet another drawback: is not only dependent on what the player does in battle but what the enemies do. In a party-based game, a player would find themselves putting someone out right in front of an enemy in hopes they decide to attack the character, that way the character will gain much-needed defense and HP. And if they don't, the player could wind up with characters who are extremely powerful but have little more HP than they actually started with, creating a true Glass Cannon
Still another drawback:
with the absence of levels, it can be a little harder to gauge how strong you should be by a certain point. Levels give you an idea on your progress, and how strong you should be before attempting a certain sidequest or starting off an event. Even if the enemies scale with you
, this is a problem. Sure, you're level capped, but unless most enemies are weak to
ornately-crafted baskets, that high Weaving stat probably doesn't count for much.
In practice, it often falls into a Violation of Common Sense
. The enemies may not always attack who you want them to, so a good way to level up your characters' health and defense? Intentionally place them in harm's way, and let enemies beat on them.
Other games do actually combine simple Level Grinding
with Stat based grinding. Since statistics and percentages are the bread and butter of the RPG Genre (don't let those fanboys prove you wrong) and it is your statistics that rule the battlefield, you may not start off automatically knowing how to use an axe as effectively as a sword. Some games instead make you train an individual skill in a weapon or armour proficiency by using it, or commonly, trade skills. These may often not
require grinding, or at least as much as stat-grinding. (Commonly, MMORPGs
have this type of grinding with professions.)
- Brave Fencer Musashi also had this, but it also combined an item-based leveling up system with stat-based grinding. While Musashi's swords and defense increased the more he fought, his health wouldn't. He had to be given an item that would increase his max HP.
- Quest for Glory requires you to perform one action repeatedly in order to build it up, which makes sense in-universe as well: you're actually practicing the skill to get better at it, so that you're good enough at it when it counts.
- The Tony Hawk's Underground games utilized this in a way. As opposed to previous games where you collected money or stat points, Underground had stats increase by doing various related tasks- to increase Spin you do various spinning tricks, to increase Rail Balance you grind a lot, to increase Switch you do...things generally unrelated to switching stances, etc.
- A subtle implementation of this is used in the Smash Run mode for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, as your stats will slowly build as you use the corresponding action during the item-gathering segment. It's not a huge boost, as you still need to gather power ups to really build your character, but it does provide a small benefit that can help in the long term.
- The Mabinogi skill system is drenched with this. Every single skill level comes with a list of successes, failures, particular results and specific applications that must be met to level the skill up, plus requiring a bunch of AP. It works well for the most part, but you can run into difficulty when it comes to higher-level craft skills that require a certain amount of successes and failures to level. If you level the craft skill too high too quickly, then it becomes harder to accumulate the necessary number of failures than the number of successes.
- Runescape pretty much uses a combination of this and Level Grinding. Each skill such as health, defense, strength, prayer, cooking, etc all had skill levels, and you don't exactly gain a single level to raise the combat level, per se, you increase your Strength, attack, and defense. Certain actions give the player with experience towards a specific skill level. The way the game determines combat level also avoid some o the common drawbacks to this trope, while creating their own. Raising combat skills you don't use much can make your level disproportionally high relative to what you can actually take on. Conversely, a little Min-Maxing can make your level disproportionally low relative to your actually lethality or survivability. This is occasionally abused in PVP, whether to surprise enemies or annoy them.
- Tibia uses this for every weapon, shield, fishing and magic strength. You are only able to learn magic at a certain level though. The catch is that each class has certain skills raised quicker than others.
- RF Online has this as its entire basis. You still gain levels, yes, but these are mainly used to limit the maximum HP and the level of every stat & spell available. Want to use those high level spells? Then you'll have to not only increase your Force level, but your White / Dark Force level too. Its so prevalent that its not uncommon to see a player getting mobbed by 30 monsters just to level his Shield stat.
- World of Warcraft uses the variety for trade skills: basically, doing an orange combine, harvest, or what have you is guaranteed to give at least one skillup, yellow is highly likely, green is unlikely, and gray won't.
- An older version of Flyff does this with skill grinding, ie. you gain experience for a certain spell everytime you cast it and after a certain amount of experience in it, it levels up. However, this was replaced with the usual skill point system like in most other MMO's after a big update patch.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, although your stats are defined by regular levels, there are expertises, that need to be raised by using them again and again. It's common knowledge that expertises are more important than levels themselves (most people only level up so they can raise their expertise points limit). However, due to some events and a couple dungeons allowing for easy ways of getting a huge amount of experience, it's possible to see a lv90 character who can't deal any damage, only has basic skills, and don't know how to fight properly. It's not hard to see a well built lv40 character outdamaging lv60-70 characters due to this.
- This is how Level Grinding works in Kingdom of Loathing. You reach a new level when your main stat (Muscle, Moxie, or Mysticality, depending on your class) reaches a certain plateau. Since some level quests can be finished in a blink if the Random Number God is on your side, you can find yourself with no other recourse than hammering away at your stats. Expect to hear much talk about "Louvre It or Leave It" (considered one of the best single adventures for stat points), the Haunted Bedroom (has good single-stat adventures), or the Moon (scaling monsters equals very high stat gains).
- Dwarf Fortress uses this. In Adventure mode, this is what you'd expect. In Fortress mode, not so much. The Dwarves will grind up their skills properly on their own given proper management and supply lines. A player may choose to help a dwarf develop other attributes, such as stoicism, to better deal with tragedies, via fine methods including: killing their entire families, subjecting them to constant battle, torture, or the ever so infamous dwarven childcare, which is absolutely ordinary childcare, but with rabid dogs, a pit, and very little food.
- In adventure mode there's even a way of automating it: you can record a sequence of key presses and then use a command to repeat the sequence however many times you want.
- One of the best ways to train for combat in adventure mode is to find a werebeast when the moon isn't full, when it will be an ordinary human without any weapons, and wrestle with it until you end up strangling it to death. Not only does it train combat related stats, it trains the fighting skill, which helps with all forms of combat, including armed combat. If you can't find any were-beasts then you can find a dangerous animal, break all of its legs, and then wrestle with it until you choke it to death.
- Other forms of adventure mode training includes swimming, knapping stones, grappling a weak creature so its attacks bounce off your armor, and just moving around in hiding. All of these train useful attributes used by said skills, and for the latter two the skills themselves are rather useful (armor user to move around better in armor and ambush skill to move faster and be harder to spot in hiding). Just don't try swimming anywhere that's near freezing, otherwise you're liable to get frozen in a block of ice.
- Elona combines this with Character Level: using a skill trains both the skill and its associated attribute (strength/dexterity/etc). Killing monsters gets you Experience Points, but so does training any skill. There's even in-game methods to help the grinding: spending platinum coins (gained from Irrelevant Side Quests) will increases how quickly a skill trains, and there's a potion which increases how quickly you gain attributes.
- One of the first games to do this was Final Fantasy II. Many things are still done today, but one of the things people made fun of in Final Fantasy II was that the most efficient way to power up your characters wasn't to kill enemies. It was to order your characters to smack themselves across the head with their weapons. Seriously. The way it was set up, you were helping yourself more when targeting yourselves and attacking than you were beating up the enemies as you were intended. It was also the most surefire way to level up the Cure magic. Even in the remakes, this remains one of the best ways to gain experience and empower your characters.
- Magic was also a different story entirely, and was almost as big of a Catch22 as evasion stats. You had to cast spells and after a specific time, they'd level up. This unfortunately meant that while magic can be powerful after all, it's just too tedious to level up since your characters can become just as powerful after a few rounds of masochism than they would fighting a million battles with magic. It also didn't help that you could still inflict dinky damage with the most powerful spell in the game's world because your intellect stat was still low.
- The NES version was considered a little easier for magic-fans because there was actually a benevolent glitch that enabled you to simply select and deselect the spell over and over again and it eventually levels up.
- The remake made it so that magic levels faster than weapons. (Though still not as easy to powerlevel as exploiting a glitch.) The Bonus Dungeon is much less tedious if you go at it with a party of mages.
- Final Fantasy II also had another method to keep you from maxing all your characters stats out so even the manly-fighter Gus wouldn't wind up also being a formidable magic user: Whenever you worked on some stats, others would actually go down. This was removed in the remakes, meaning one could just make ridiculously powerful and nearly identical characters with enough time.
- Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid. Leveling up does not raise stats; it just grants you moves on the Sphere Grid. To boost your stats, you use spheres to activate spaces on the grid that boost your characters' stats and grant them new abilities.
- Final Fantasy XIII's Crystarium is very similar to Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, except the "grids" were unique to each character, not universal, and the ability/stat unlocks just required enough points. Thankfully, they gave you a lot to use, and it used Leaked Experience.
- The SaGa series uses this a lot, to the point of being a Trope Codifier, although the method of grinding changes from game to game:
- Makai Toshi SaGa (aka The Final Fantasy Legend) does this primarily with mutants. Humans can use items to speed the process and monsters simply transform into stronger monsters with fixed stat values (a hidden "rank" stat on monsters and enemies allows for some real shenanigans, such as evolving a monster to one of the monsters outside of the last boss's room — before ever entering the tower).
- In SaGa 2 (Final Fantasy Legend II), humans can gain stats the same way mutants do. Monsters evolve the same way as before (plus the inability to use weapons). New to this game are robots which simply increase their stats through equipped gear, as if it's added on as upgrades.
- The Romancing SaGa trilogy tends toward everyone using the same system as humans in SaGa 2, although they gain random special attacks and spells based on the attack types they use.
- Sa Ga Frontier brings robots and monsters back into the mix, with an additional twist: robots can switch bodies, gaining intrinsic stats and abilities on top of their equipment.
- Used in The Elder Scrolls. Also helps when it's a solo game and your character is pretty much a Game Breaker by the end anyhow, and it uses Level Scaling. Many skills are leveled up this way.
- Quite frustrating in Morrowind was that you only made progress to leveling a skill on a successful use. Evidently people in Tamriel don't learn from their failures. Unless you want to spend half an hour swinging and missing a broadsword at a worm at your feet, nearly every non-Primary/Secondary skill on your character sheet required a small fortune in training before it would successfully go off once.
- Also consider grinding spellcasting as a non-spellcaster. Your basic fireball has a laughable chance of success, costs a good chunk of your mana bar (whether it works or not), and the bar doesn't recharge until you rest. Plug-ins aside, there are two ways to grind:
- Buy an already cheap and weak spell of the school you need. Craft the weakest spell possible with that effect, e.g. "heal 1" or "chameleon 1 for 1 sec". Cast until out of mana, sleep, repeat. Proceed until school of magic skilled enough to actually use. Works with all spells, just be careful to practice anything offensive indoors and if possible, after dispatching the inhabitants.
- As a case of heavy meta-gaming or a possible exploit, maybe a developer oversight, there is a single NPC selling the "Drain Skill" spell. Craft "Drain Skill ??? for 100 points for 1 sec on yourself" and get to the trainer. Drain, train for some measly coins (training any skill 1 to 2 is dirt cheap), watch skill rise by 1 - the drain skill correctly restores as many points as drained. Repeat until satisfaction.
- Maybe it was a good thing the alchemy was obscenely buggy and exploitable. To elaborate: While the game engine of Morrowind didn't allow for more than one dose of a particular potion to be effective at the same time, crafted potions worked slightly differently. The same potion made twice, with the same ingredients, didn't count as the same potion mechanically so long as it granted even slightly different bonuses. Since Alchemy was Intelligence-based, it was simply a matter of producing an Intelligence-boosting potion, drinking it, gaining the buff and repeating until you eventually produced potions with effect values in the millions and durations of in-game decades. As the whole process is exponential, this actually happened fairly quickly.
- Oblivion made this far less painful, as failed attempts at crafting counted toward skilling up, accuracy rolls in combat were removed altogether, and your mana bar recharged passively. However, the skill points and attributes in Oblivion are handled in such a way that efficient grinding requires a lot of micromanagement (and the much more expansive level scaling made raising the 'wrong' skills much more potentially painful). The limits on training also make this a pain.
- The Total Conversion Nehrim features this technically, but every skill is considered minor and raises REALLY slow. Instead, you mainly rely on Experience Points and leveling up, which grants you skill points that can be spent at trainers, ala Gothic.
- Skyrim has a system whereupon combat skills always hit if the attack is landed upon the enemy actor. There is no longer a "chance to hit" stat; if your weapon hits them, they will bleed if their shield isn't up. This means you can raise skills by repeatedly hitting weak enemies, but skill advancement is still dependent upon the base damage of the weapon you use. Skills such as Lockpicking also let failed attempts get you experience as well.
- Skyrim has such a large number of skill advancement exploits that it would be very hard to list them all here. Needless to say, the more you know about them, the more you wish you hadn't. Knowing the best way to make your character into a god sucks the fun out of the game quite rapidly.
- The first Digimon World had no levels. You raise your Digimon's stats by having them train at the gym, by feeding them chips, or by having them win battles. (Unfortunately it was a grind for levels.)
- The fact that your Digimon partner has a limited lifespan before needing to be recycled from scratch as a Baby level doesn't help, either.
- In The World Ends with You, your stats do not increase except by eating food. Leveling up only affects your health. Pins also develop this way.
- Secret of Mana had skills for each weapon and element, which increased with use and raised the damage/healing/duration/whatever of the skill you were using. Any element with noncombat skills can be easily raised with repeated magic casting followed by returning to an Inn. The level of the weapon skills also determines how far you can charge up a special attack.
- Its Spiritual Successor, Secret of Evermore, also had this system, but with much lower level caps for weapons. Alchemy spells could be raised to level 9, and could be cast in quick succession for easy leveling (provided you had enough reagents to use them).
- Pokémon has the Species and Level System, randomly-determined stats, and this in effect all at once. The first of these determines the bulk of your stats, modified by the second system, called Individual Value (IV) or PokéDNA — a sliding score of 0 to 31 that determines an individual Pokémon's modified potential in any given stat. The third is called EV — Effort Value (officially called Base Stats), and plays this trope straight — the Pokémon gains 1-3 points to 1-3 of their 6 stats based on what type of Pokémon they defeat. Vitamins can also give set amounts of EV, up to about half the total cap, and certain berries remove set amounts. Changes to EV typically only register at level-up, but putting the Pokémon into storage also recalculates its stats. The original game had caps on each stat, but no overall cap; every game since the first has a set cap of 255 effort points in any given stat (until Generation VI, where the cap is 252) and 510 total. It also added Super Training.
- In Fable, using an ability of one of the three types (Strength, Skill and Will) gives you a form of XP that you can use alongside regular XP to level up abilities of that type.
- Quest 64 used this in a way that ignored typical level up systems. You can improve your HP and Defense stats by getting hit, you can improve your MP stat by using magic, and you can improve your Agility stat by running around anywhere. However, this sort of system has its downsides. The best way to level up HP and DEF is by getting hit repeatedly by the quickest and weakest spells that you can; since being hit is all that matters, your best levelling chance is enemies that fire many projectiles that each do little damage. Conversely, your best chance for levelling your magic is to use spells with large numbers of projectiles that do little damage. As for agility, in some areas you can make your character run in circles by holding a direction on the analog stick. Hitting L+R+Start simultaneously will then register that position as center, so he will run indefinitely. You can max out your agility by letting the game run on autopilot.
- Vagrant Story twists this trope by applying it not to its protagonist, who only gets stronger by beating bosses and gaining a boost to one of his stats from the roulette that pops up afterwards and using stat-improving items, but to his equipment: the more a weapon is used to kill a certain type of enemy (Human, Undead, Demon, etc.), the stronger it becomes against that type, while simultaneously becoming weaker against the others. This means that any one weapon could only be truly effective against two types at best, forcing the player to carry several differently "trained" weapons at all times, switching between them as the situation demands. Also, the only way to effectively grind some of the rarer enemy types was to find their Training Dummy and whale on it... for tens of minutes at a time. Between these two facts, this implementation ended up driving away a lot of players.
- Some of the Grandia games up weapons and spells by using them.
- The original Dungeon Siege applied The Elder Scrolls-like philosophy of use-skill-to-get-better to the Diablo II-like four stats. The Melee and Ranged stat improved by the use of weapons of respective range, while Combat and Nature Magic increased with casting spells of the respective school.
- While gaining normal levels still exist, Hyperdimension Neptunia V and the Neptunia spinoff Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart also have some challenges that you can undertake for each character. This usually increases stats up to a certain point.
- Betrayal at Krondor is another possible Trope Codifier for Western RPGs, as Stat Grinding is the only way to advance your abilities, since the game has no levels. You have three options for advancing a skill: using it, using a training item (like a practice lute for the barding skill, or reading a book), or getting training from an NPC (whether paying for it or as a quest reward). You could also tag up to three skills for focus to advance in them faster than normal, and could change tags at any time. (An early Good Bad Bug for gaining a lot of money required grinding the heck out of Owyn's barding skill, making piles of money in a town available in Chapter 1.)
- The first two Star Ocean games allowed your characters to power up their special attacks if they were used a certain number of times, usually a few hundred.
- The Rune Factory series indulges in this. Farming, taming, melee, magic, cooking, weapon crafting, clothes making...there's a stat for everything.
- Rune Factory 3 and 4 take it to hilarious extremes. You can level up eating, walking, and sleeping. And what makes them worth it is that they all funnel down into farming and dungeon crawling. Each skill raises the appropriate base stat which are used in general activities. Level up your bathing (yes, you can do that), and you raise your max HP.
- The Sims level up their career attributes by practicing similar activities. Oddly enough, they can only do this in their spare time - despite presumably practicing their career skills whilst actually working, they never level up on the job.
- Some career tracks in The Sims 3 do allow for on-the-job skill training, such as Culinary (Cooking), Criminal (Athletic), Journalism (Writing), and Professional Sports (Athletic).
- The Sims 4 has a more limited version of The Sims 3's on-the-job training, as only a few careers allow you to do this. In the "Get to Work" expansion, any Sim who participates in one of the three "active" career tracks (Detective, Doctor, and Scientist) can earn skill EXP by interacting with objects just as they would do while at home.
- The World of Darkness has a variation of this, where you choose which stats to boost to use your experience.
- Chaosium's Basic Role Playing system did this first with RuneQuest, and later in Call of Cthulhu, Elric!/Stormbringer, Superworld and others. It took a successful roll to become eligible for a chance at improvement, and then between sessions (one week) the roll was made to increase the skill. There was also the possibility of taking formal training for skills and characteristics, but in Superworld (a generic superhero RPG), a critical success, special success, or fumble with a characteristic allowed to improve the characteristic as well.
- Bunnies & Burrows used this system, where every time a character used a statistic, they would roll at the end of the play session to try and increase their level (not their ability) in that statistic.
- PDQ# inverts the trope; you have to fail a roll to get Training Points (the logic being that, if you succeed, the challenge was too easy for you to learn anything from it).
- Since the fourth edition of The Dark Eye skills have to be increased from a budget of experience points, costing less if they were used often or spectacular.
Non-Video Game Examples
- Partially done in Disgaea, which has regular level-ups, but also has a system by which spells become more powerful/cover more range the more you use them, and you become more proficient with a given weapon the more you use that. A character/class's weapon proficiency only even affects how fast they will level up with that weapon. Apart from that, you can boost the stats of items by going into the item world.
- Disgaea Dimension 2 has a third option. You can boost all your stats by defeating enemies in the Land of Carnage. The problem is actually defeating enemies in the land of carnage, but a few trips to the Cave of Ordeals or the item world to strengthen your equipment and some reincarnations later and you can handle these enemies.
- Phantom Brave combines both Level Grinding and Stat Grinding for both your characters and the items they can wield.
- Special Abilities use this system in Soul Nomad & the World Eaters.
- In the X-COM titles, this is how your soldiers become better over time. Several statistics (Time Units, Strength, etc.) gain experience for any successful action, while more active stats like Firing/Throwing Accuracy are trained by hitting aliens.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown did away with this: characters gain stats based on their specialization when they're promoted. The Second Wave modifier arguably make things easier and harder by completely randomizing all stat gains regardless of class.
- The Fire Emblem games use this for weapon proficiency gains, in that by attacking with a certain weapon/magic (or healing with staves) enough times will allow the character to use the next relevant level of arms.