Crystal Vision: Back to the Grind

Crystal Vision is a short series about one inept player’s annual humiliation in a fun but difficult fundraiser: Four Job Fiesta. This installment includes spoilers for Final Fantasy V.

What does my play style say about me?

Last week I ran a Twitter poll after my friend Finn made fun of my “ugly” Stardew Valley farm in our co-op game. It seems that, all this time, other players have been making neat squares and sometimes even building fences around them. I’m not interested in changing my play style, and I’ve been playing this game for an almost unthinkably long time. But I do like thinking about the ways we assign value to different parts of such an open-ended game.

The same can be said of my Four Job Fiesta run. Finn has also teased me about how much I love pixel-art roguelikes, and I realized Four Job Fiesta turns Final Fantasy V into one of those. I’m assigned a random job and have to upgrade as rapidly as I can to avoid dying many times. My friend Tyler is very methodical in his approach to this challenge, but I’m just as likely to grind forever and be happy about it.

 

Four Black Mages

In the run I chose, called an Upgrade run, all of my party members will share one job at a given moment. What this means is that I can put off “upgrading” them to the next job for as long as I want, giving me time to build skills until I master the previous job. And sure, at some point I’ll have to have a party of all berserkers or bards or some other thing, but each of them can equip their learned skills from being black mages.

Building a FFV party is like hiring for a new position at your company. The person needs to be able to do x or y computer task and z administrative task. But what if one candidate has training in social media and search engine optimization? That background skill may give them added value. And in FFV, learning some skills means you can equip different armor and weapons even after you move on to a new job.

 

To Grind or Not To Grind

When my friend and colleague Rebecca and I played Final Fantasy 6 for Autosave’s series Never Have I Ever, we talked about how she dislikes random encounters and the grinding nature of old RPGs like FF6. On the other hand, I like random encounters and grinding so much that I tend to miss them in games where I can’t do them. My favorite franchise, Paper Mario, is guilty of this at times, like how you can’t level past a certain point in the first game. In Paper Mario Sticker Star, you don’t level at all.

But a game’s mechanic can also feel too wide open. Even to me, a devoted grinder, it doesn’t make sense to try to master all the jobs in a game that offers more than a dozen for your four-player party. In my own traditional runs in FFV, I usually stuck with a Knight, White Mage, Rogue, Black Mage kind of party and let the leveling up come where it may. I didn’t think much about secondary skills and didn’t change jobs all that much.

Now, my party’s survival depends on those secondary skills and what I accumulate with intention. I was killed many times by the same early-game boss, whose difficulty is legendary even outside of special runs like FJF. Garula killed me completely dead half a dozen times, in between which I left the boss tower and ran around the countryside for random encounters. I was saved by a deus ex machination when Tyler told me about a tactic I’d never used.

 

Glass Half Full, Glass Half Empty

In a vacuum, I prefer to grind over doing research, because research feels like cheating somehow. I know that’s stupid, and folks who have found and listed enemy strengths and weaknesses have done their own kind of grinding for others’ benefit. Honestly, without Tyler’s help, I don’t think I’d have made it past Garula with my own knowledge set about this game, despite having played it several times with admittedly better or just more flexible parties.

Next time, we’ll visit the black chocobos, be captured by a faraway island, and try to sing for our supper, or at least a successful attack. I’ll probably still be grinding, too.

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About Caroline Delbert

Caroline Delbert is a writer, book editor, grad student, researcher, and avid reader who lives in Chicago. She's also an enthusiast of just about everything.
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