Organic grinding- the experience (EXP) the game developers force you to accrue because of thoughtful game design.
Artificial grinding- the experience accrued for no other reason than to lighten the burden on the player or subvert the difficulty spikes.
In the first installment, I referenced organic grinding as a result of dungeon design- a complex layout, miniboss encounter, and then a boss encounter before completion. This type of design is what I live for, personally, because I love the feeling of tackling something new, pushing further into it, and overcoming its challenges with a sense of growth not only in my playable party, but as a sign of progress through the game. Not all JRPGs possess this kind of organic grind, and that's okay. When a developer is able to make even the artificial grind enjoyable, that likely means they've stumbled upon a really, really, really, really good combat system.
|Tokyo Mirage Sessions uses modern dungeon elements drawn from the Shin|
Megami Tensei franchise as well as quirky objectives and obstacles to
reinvent traversal and the sense of progression.
In the case of Etrian Odyssey, it seems a bit unfair to post a stratum floor- after all, they are designed to be the ultimate test of the player's party, and feature a number of elements merging together to present a harrowing and challenging experience. But Etrian Odyssey gets some very key concepts regarding dungeon design correct, so it makes sense to use a map as an example. Let's take a gander at another map in order to identify what exactly it gets right.
|Etrian Odyssey, AKA dungeon design master-|
class, only really lacks in visual aesthetic.
Of course, another motif of the Etrian Odyssey series are the F.O.E.s that populate dungeons- extra-challenging enemies that are able to move between combat turns if they are not already engaged in combat. These two motifs in combination make for an addictive cycle that is also fraught with peril, especially when coupled with the overarching mechanic of random enemy encounters. But in this specific cave, the F.O.E.s take on an additional quality, one rather specific to the area- they move diagonally throughout the map as the player themselves moves from space to space. This is relatively specific to this dungeon, which is why we'll give it the well-deserved title of a "gimmick". Dungeons in Etrian Odyssey (as well as many Atlus titles) might have two or three gimmicks that are slowly introduced throughout, but a gimmick can be reflected in either structure or enemy design- F.O.E.s just manage to do both simultaneously.
Often, dungeons feel the need to possess a distinct aesthetic, as well- this is something the Etrian Odyssey games accomplish with music rather than visuals. However, aesthetic can also contribute to motif and gimmicks- an underground cave wouldn't feel very well-designed if it had birds flying about that shot water-affinity moves at the player. Likewise, you would be a bit confused if the traps within weren't themed appropriately, unless there were a reasonable excuse based around the plot.
|Bravely Default features rather simplistic motifs and gimmicks|
in response to its deep customization systems, but fails to unite
them with a similarly engaging combat system. This makes the
dungeons themselves feel less engaging.
|The Last Story features a design unlike its predecessors and|
contemporaries, but this is a central part of its motif. Instead,
it focuses heavily on environmental and combat gimmicks.
Some might argue that the usage of gimmick in application towards combat and traversal is too broad- but often, combat mechanics threaten to impede traversal, such as poison. Likewise, a gimmick such as switch pulling is as much as an impediment to progression as is a specific type of enemy encounter.
We will continue to use this terminology in the future, but it is also important to progress further, ourselves. In the next installment of this series, we will be focusing on what is present in-between areas of organic experience- namely, towns and the overworld. We'll continue to add to our list of terms and address the similarities and differences these types of areas have with one another, as well as the similarities they have with dungeons themselves.