Adversity = engagement? A Legend of Heroes adventure.

I wanted to share a story with you.

I’ve been playing The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on the Vita lately (though its a PSP game). I’m really not very far into it. Five hours maybe? The game features the typical (in JRPGs anyway) plucky young heroes out doing battle with monsters. In this case, the first two characters you meet are Estelle and her adopted brother Joshua. Their father is a Bracer, which is basically an adventurer-for-hire in this world. Estelle and Joshua have been training to become Bracers too; in fact they’ve just earned their certificate when the game begins.

Shortly thereafter, their father gets called away on business and it falls to our determined young Junior Bracers to finish up a few jobs he’d accepted before leaving. These are kind of semi-tutorial warm-up quests, or so I thought.

In the last of the three missions you have to escort a newspaper reporter and his photographer assistant to the top of a tower. We’d been to that tower once so I figured it’d be another cakewalk.

I was wrong.

As we climbed higher, the monsters got tougher. We got a little lost and had to backtrack a few times and every time we’d leave and return to a floor the monsters would have respawned. In LoH ‘random’ encounters can be seen on the map as you get near them. Once you spot the monsters you can try to surprise them, approach them normally or avoid them altogether. In the latter case, they’ll sometimes chase you. This isn’t normally a problem because you can outrun them outside, but in the confines of the tower, and with the addition of the 2 ‘guest characters’ that made our party ‘train’ longer than usual, that wasn’t always possible.

As I stumbled into battle after battle it dawned on me that I was going to get wiped out. I hadn’t spent any of my hard-earned Mira (cash) on upgrades or supplies. Estelle (who has a healing spell) was out of mana and my supply of healing items was all but depleted. And it’d been a LONG time since I’d saved.

I decided it was time to try to fall back and regroup, but that meant fighting my way out of the tower. I figured if I could get back to town I could rest and resupply and if I fought my way back to the tower I might gain a level in the process.

It was tough and I did wipe a few times (those gorgous game designers added a “Retry?” option to battles so when you do wipe you can try again using different tactics) but eventually I made it out. Threaded my way past random encounters on the road back to town and finally flopped down in an Inn. Whew!

At that point I looked up and it was 1 am and I had work in the morning. I’d totally lost track of time and was going to be exhausted in the morning, and to make matters worse, I’d failed to complete the quest!

And yet it was the most fun I’d had gaming in recent memory. In fact it was so much fun that I had to bring my Vita to work and sneak out at lunch and have another go at that tower. This time I paid attention and made a mental map as I went, rather than stumbling around blindly. I also bought some armor and a satchel of healing items before leaving town. And I made it to the top of the tower! Yay! And was only 20 minutes late getting back from lunch. Ooops!

So what’s the point of my little story? Well it dawned on me that having to go back to town like I did would be seen as a horrible flaw to a lot of today’s gamers. It could de decried as ‘pointless travel’ or even worse, as ‘grinding.’ We dislike anything in our games that slow us down and cause us to struggle.

But it’s the struggle, and frankly the fear of losing all that time and having to go back to an earlier save, that made my little adventure so compelling and exciting. In broader terms, without risk, rewards aren’t as, well, rewarding. Last night my ‘reward’ was making it back to town safely (I’d accumulated a lot of currency-ish loot during all that fighting, plus lots of experience).

Maybe this is the difference between an ‘old school’ gamer and a ‘new school’ thinking, I dunno. I’m just doing that ‘thinking out loud’ thing I do.

Anyway, be that as it may, I’m really enjoying Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, with it’s strictly turn-based combat and quirky, chatty (text only) characters.

3 thoughts on “Adversity = engagement? A Legend of Heroes adventure.

  1. There is that almost impossible balance between challenge & frustration that I don’t envy game designers dealing with. Nothing will kill a game experience for me quicker than being “stuck” in a no-win battle. On the other hand, if the conflicts are extremely easy my attention will wander. On the gripping hand, I don’t mind being defeated, even multiple times, as long as I feel I’m learning and there are other optional approaches to try.

    One of the things (beyond a compelling story) that I love about RPGs is the fact that in a well designed system you have a number of options in regards to skills, levels, etc. and can usually “go elsewhere” to move forward.

    I guess you can put me in the “old school” gamer category, though I feel like I missed out of most of the old school goodness. I hear about all these great games that came out before my time, but being the shallow person I am cannot find it in me to play the dated graphics, sounds, etc. I’m spoiled by all my cinematic wonders!

  2. Yeah, I don’t envy them trying to hit that balance point either. One of the nice things about this game is that even this early in the story I felt like, when I lost a battle, I could hit retry and have other strategies to try. Like which monster to take out first, or whether to use certain limited resources in one big nuke or spread it around doing less damage more often, and so on.

    And I have that same shallow problem, honestly. I fired up Arcanum, an old-school RPG I bought from GOG last weekend. It runs at 800×600 resolution and man, it was really hard to get past that.

    For some reason I can accept dated graphics more easily on a handheld screen than I can on a TV or monitor.

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