99 is too many

I have an item hoarding problem. It’s getting a little better, but no matter how much trouble I’m having, I often just can’t get myself to use anything that I can’t easily replace. This problem is entirely my own fault, and it usually leads to generally imbalanced difficulty and an anticlimactic endgame. No matter how well adjusted to provide the perfect challenge a final boss might be, they tend to go down like chumps when faced with parties lugging around comically large inventories of untouched rare goods. And it’s for this very reason that I love the limited inventory systems in games like the first Suikoden and Odin Sphere.

[[image:cg_odinsphere.png:I like beat ’em ups more when gardening is involved.:center:0]]
This may sound crazy, but I always thought that managing inventory in Suikoden was one of the most fun aspects of the game. There is so much equipment scattered throughout Suikoden that, even if you constantly switch between all 108 of the game’s characters, it’s easy to keep a well-maintained party without ever visiting an armor shop. If anything, buying extra defensive goods is a hassle, since the amount of items any one character can carry is so limited that you will constantly be throwing things out to free up space even if you limit yourself to what can be found in treasure chests and occasional random drops. Since the difficulty in the actual battles in Suikoden is fairly low, the biggest challenge in it for me is struggling with the dated inventory system. I hear that this should irritate me, but for some sick reason I enjoy organizing imaginary equipment. Suikoden is so relaxing and player friendly that dealing with this design flaw is the time I feel most like I’m actively playing the game.

Odin Sphere is even better, in that it seems to be a game designed entirely around forcing the player to make the best of an awkward inventory system. While the combat system is enjoyable, it’s far too awkward to build an entire game around, and Odin Sphere makes no pretentious otherwise. The heart of Odin Sphere is not a sub-par beat ‘em up, but rather an intricately designed game of resource management. The loot rewards for even moderate success in battle tend to fill your inventory quickly, and any item you toss out is a missed opportunity. Any seed you throw away instead of plant is both a missed curative food item and wasted HP experience; any alchemical material you pass over instead of immediately mixing with whatever ingredients are on hand deprives you of both a new potion to use in battle and also experience to strengthen your weapon. In essence, Odin Sphere is a game where you grind levels not by trudging through endless random encounters, but by fighting to get the maximum efficiency out of the inventory system.

In a strange way, my tendency to hoard actually leads me to enjoy games that actively prevent me from doing so. My item hoarding problem largely comes down to a love of being over-prepared. When there are no limits placed on my inventory, I often end up ruining the game for myself by collecting items instead of using them. In a misguided attempt to prepare for what might come later, I often ruin the game balance by limiting my use of an integral gameplay system. On the other hand, when I am limited, either by an archaic inventory system in a game like Suikoden or a conscious design choice to force the player to use items constantly like in Odin Sphere, my tendency to constantly perfect my inventory helps me to make the best out of those limitations. Not only that, my experiences in games like these has helped me to get more enjoyment out of games without inventory limitations, teaching me to focus less on the obsessive accumulation of imaginary goods and more on, you know, actually enjoying the game.

19 thoughts on “99 is too many

  1. This happens to me, too. Generally, I can get by without using items so I don’t. Then, when I’m up against an enemy that’s dominating me, I just unleash the power of my inventory. It works fine for me, and actually causes me some irritation when I can’t do that.

  2. This entire article reminds me that I still have yet to make it past Gwendolyn’s final boss.

    I always want to go back and grind a bit more, but I never do.

    Damn that Queen.

  3. My problem with Odin Sphere is that it’s too limited. Suikoden and Etrian Odyssey at least have simple outlets for your excess by means of a vault (with unlimited capacity) in the former and plenty of shops to sell things off in both. Odin Sphere’s main outlet, on the other hand, is a stupidly arcane, trial-and-error-based item fusion system. It is both tedious and unfun.

  4. So… what’s your take on the new Castlevania games? They practically demand you farm stuff to get that perfect gear synergy. On the whole, I can identify w/ ya. I’m a RPG pack-rat too, and there’s this pathological pleasure that comes from min-maxing w/ absurd loot.

  5. How can you say the fusion system in Odin Sphere is trial and error based? You literally cannot make anything by a trial and error method, even if you wanted to do so.

    Not only do you always know the outcome of what you will make beforehand, you are not allowed to even attempt to make things by trial and error.

    Although I wish trial and error was allowed in addition to the system that is already there, it’s pretty easy to look at your items and immediately see how to combine them to free up space by making something better.

  6. This really resonates with me. I end all of my RPGs with those rare items unused, for a “just-in-case” scenario that never appears. Inventory management is something I’ve enjoyed since playing Shining Force as a kid.

  7. “Not only do you always know the outcome of what you will make beforehand, you are not allowed to even attempt to make things by trial and error.”

    It does? Huh, I don’t recall that at all. Then again, I didn’t play for more then a few hours before I decided I really wasn’t enjoying myself and said, “Screw this.” So yeah, I’ma chalk this bit of delusion up to my general hatred of item creation systems in rpgs.

  8. Is anyone NOT an RPG pack-rat? Seriously. Everyone always complains about this, but no one ever says that they use items.

  9. I’m not a pack-rat. But it took years of practice.

    The trick is to use rare items at bosses or at a section where you know you’ll be irritated if you lose your progress.

  10. Hahaha… FF8 = pack-rat supreme. I mean, jeez… if you’re using the junction system right, it inevitably punishes you stat-wise if you use any of your high-end spells.

  11. I think you tangentially hit on the main problem I had playing Odin Sphere – you’re right that the inventory management and item creation systems are essentially an entire game in themselves. That’s great and all, but the problem I had was trying to deal with all that *while* simultaneously trying to play a frantic and somewhat challenging beat-em-up… I just found it frustrating and eventually gave up on it, despite really wanting to like the game.

  12. I’m in the same boat as wumpwoast. I used to hoard tons of items, but I also found myself getting frustrated. It was actually Chrono Trigger which changed my perspective. I simply decided that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by not using items in the game and started experimenting. This isn’t to say that I don’t like to keep one of everything just in case, but I do recognize that sometimes it pays to make a tough situation a little easier.

  13. Yes. Item management and creation were my favorite part of game in Odin Sphere. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where the EXP, weapons upgrading, and item creation systems were as entwined together as they were in Odin Sphere and spent many hours just figuring out different combinations of my resources that evolved into entire new strategies of play.

  14. I know what you mean — this problem can be even worse if the game allows for unlimited hoarding of items through some repetitive action. What a time-sink.

    It occurs to me that inventory systems are in most cases a flawed system of game difficulty management. The Castlevania series is the perfect example of this – many of the bosses are insanely difficult, but if you hoard potions you can muscle through them without much challenge. You can choose not to, but this is a choice made by the player rather than the game.

    This is less a problem in turn-based games, where using an item prevents another action (though in most RPGs, leveling is the difficulty-killer). It seems much more challenging and rewarding to design a game in which there are no inventory buffs but flexible difficulty. Of course, I definitely see the pleasure in collecting — it’s just not great game design when progress is largely based on time-investment, luck, or arbitrary hidden secrets.

  15. In most RPGs if you don’t use an item I think it just makes it more challenging and your play more efficent. Instead of just spamming magic and constantly using mp potions, I learned to play effectively managing my parties resources between each trip to the inn or save point. I rarely ever use items in RPGs beyond healing when I do not yet have a healer. Its true having hoarded items can some times break certain battles (like in the Castlevania games), but you don’t need to do this and it is better sometimes to just use those hoarded items to get past a hard boss battle instead of just saying ‘screw it’ and giving up on the game.
    Plus complaining about this is like complaining about having too much money in a savings account and how it takes away the challenge of having to deal with some unforseen financial crisis.

  16. The whole “you never actually use the cool items you keep getting” thing is one of the reasons I love Persona 4 on expert mode. You get a fair number of powerful healing items, then you face the end-of-dungeon boss and find yourself having to actually [b]use[/b] those items in order to not die. It’s great. If you end a boss battle without having burned through most of your full HP heals, you’re not doing it right.

  17. i feel the same way. I’m such a packrat in RPGs…never use my elixirs, always keep extras of my weapons just in case i *need* it later on for alchemy or somecrap. Recently, i’ve been trying to let my whole completionist and perfectionist mentality go and just have fun with games again. Don’t worry about not getting the ultimate weapon etc..

Comments are closed.