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A Final Grind

by nrsm_ha


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A sardonic commentary on RPGs, November 21, 2018
This is not your usual text-based role-playing game. In fact, I'm convinced that it's intended to be a sardonic commentary on role-playing games - and particularly of the noble, heroic figure that seems to be the classic RPG player character.

To start with, the game calls itself "A Final Grind." Grinding is one of the un-fun things you nevertheless sometimes have to do in an RPG. It's not why you play RPGs. Then, the game bills itself as being about "frustration, regret, and slaying goblins."

There's also the fact that (as you gradually come to realize), while the PC does have a quest, he really has entered this particular dungeon not in order to complete the quest but to die. His self-loathing and exhaustion increase with every level (never his strength, the only other stat). He's tired of fighting, and he repeatedly dissuades a younger character he encounters from ever becoming a hero. In fact, the PC says something like real heroes are those who settle down and raise families. The PC says that the only skill he's ever learned from his misspent youth is murdering monsters, so he's not capable of doing anything else. Also, at the very end, (Spoiler - click to show)after you kill the goblin king and save the Duke's son, the PC's emotional reaction is primarily to lament the death of the majestic being he's just killed. He also deeply regrets that he had come into these mines to die and hadn't even managed to get himself killed.

A Final Grind goes one step further, though, in that it very much recreates the feeling of grinding through a dungeon. For one, you quickly realize that the optimal action in each encounter is to (Spoiler - click to show)parry, as opposed to attacking or using magic. In most RPGs, you nearly always want to go on offense, not defense. Every time you attempt to carry out this action, though, the game requires you to solve a math problem. And these math problems are all over the place, from kindergarten-level arithmetic to calculus to questions that require lightning-fast calculation tricks (you're supposed to answer the math questions within ten seconds) - and even to a question whose answer is a fraction that the game doesn't appear to recognize. Not only that, the questions repeat multiple times, so after you've solved a semi-interesting one you find yourself having to type in the same answer again and again. I'm a mathematician, and even I don't have the patience for this.

(Editorial: Do not write games that pull the player out of the main flow of the story in order to solve what are effectively a collection of math homework problems that have nothing to do with the plot. It's not very educational, since we tend to retain knowledge only when it is integrated into some overarching framework. It also reinforces the stereotype of math as something boring that's completely disconnected from real life. That said, this feature does work in A Final Grind, since it very much creates that feeling of grinding. End editorial.)

As if this wasn't enough, A Final Grind also features far more than its share of random encounters, particularly on the second level. There were multiple times where I fought a group of monsters, then immediately had to fight another group of monsters, then immediately had to fight a third group of monsters. Then I got to move one step further down the corridor and do it all over again. (And again, every one of these encounters requires you to solve multiple math problems if you're playing optimally.) By the time you get close to the end, every step feels like a major slog.

The game also features some unpleasant bugs. However, they're kind of in keeping with what the game is doing - especially a bug at the very end.

I think I'm actually impressed with A Final Grind. Getting through it did feel like a grind. I think that's exactly the experience the game is going for. However, I'm not sure I want to have that experience again.