I somehow woke up an hour early this morning and rather than go back to sleep (and probably sleep through my alarm) I decided to just get up and get started on FFII. I still didn't have a plan but I thought maybe if I played a bit without beating myself up I'd get an idea. Even at starting stat levels I was barely getting any skill-ups at all from anything as I did the first couple plot points. Having an avenue to power and ignoring it for no reason is frustrating to me so I wasn't really enjoying myself. So I decided I need to come up with a good reason to ignore power or I need to just give in and play the game like I play games.
The most common complaint I hear from people when I explain the FFII battle system is that it just seems wrong to attack yourself or your friends in order to raise your stats. You should level up on monsters, fantasy gaming common sense says, and not on yourself. But does that complaint hold water? I asked myself if fantasy Nick would consider attacking fantasy Byung with a sword in order to get powerful enough to save the world. Which made me think of the fencing club at UW. I went to one meeting but couldn't get anyone else I knew to join with me and wasn't that interested in doing it alone at the time. But if Byung had joined with me wouldn't I have been spending the day hitting him with a sword in the hopes that I'd get better at using swords? Wouldn't he have gotten better at dodging swords and gain more endurance to dodge swords for longer stretches of time? Real Nick and real Byung don't even have a world to save and yet we could quite conceivably have hit each other with swords in an attempt to get better at using swords.
If it makes sense for real people why does it seem so wrong in a fantasy game? Is the problem that there's an imp watching me train? Is the problem that I wouldn't actually kill Byung in a fencing club (hopefully!) and could kill him in a game? Is the problem that games just intuitively involve grinding on mobs instead of rote training?
Having an imp along for the ride is a little weird for sure, but he can't hurt me. (Even at base stats the imps can't do enough damage to give me an hp stat-up.) It would make more sense to stand around fighting with no mob around but the confines of the game prevent that. That the most intuitive way to rote train is removed doesn't mean I shouldn't go for the next best thing.
Fantasy Nick can't actually kill fantasy Byung, either. Final Fantasy games have permanent deaths in them and they never result from generic combat. Even if I knock off all his health I just need to use a phoenix down, cast life, or take him to church. Even wearing him down to low health has no negative consequences. We can just drink potions or cast cure spells afterwards. Health is more akin to physical endurance than to a source of life, really. Run on a treadmill some and gain some endurance! I'm actually more likely to maim or kill real Byung with fencing swords than to hurt fantasy Byung and yet fencing clubs still exist.
Grinding on mobs certainly makes more sense in most fantasy games for sure. But this game doesn't work like most fantasy games. Unless you take "cheesy" tactics (I eventually equipped one of my characters with 2 shields so he wouldn't do any damage with the attack command in the hopes that the prolonged fights would allow for more stat-ups) it's pretty likely you're going to end up unable to get stronger. Monsters you can kill will die trivially and be worth nothing at all. Monsters you can't kill will kill you. FFII just doesn't have a smooth difficulty progression from dungeon to dungeon. Sometimes the difficulty takes a huge jump and if you don't do something weird you're screwed. Hitting yourself with a sword may seem wrong but so do the other tactics for getting stronger. (Swapping life with an imp, intentionally doing less damage to make the fight take longer, spamming buff or heal spells to rank them up, cancel trick, etc...) Different people may have different ideas for which tactics cross the cheesy line but pretty much any successful tactic is in that grey area somewhere.
The fencing club train of thought also got me thinking why I'm not actually good with swords. The answer there is time. There wasn't enough time in the day for me to sleep, eat, go to class, do assignments, fence, pump iron, and still play 16 hours of games each day. Something had to give and it turns out fencing and pumping iron were easy cuts. Fantasy Nick has much more pressing things to do than code Connect Four AIs and figure out how we can detect planets around distant stars. He has a world to save! So perhaps the best reason for why standing around hitting yourself in the head around the starting town is illogical is that he really has to get in gear and save the world. But the game doesn't have any such time restrictions on it, as games rarely do.
And then I had the answer to all my problems. My arbitrary limiting factor for FFII can be time related! Fantasy Nick can't screw around forever powering up because I'm saying he can't. I don't currently have a specific time limit in mind, just to try to get my game clock as low as possible when I win. I may search around and see if I can find a good benchmark on the internet but realistically all I'm going to do is establish a benchmark for myself when I do this whole thing again 10 years from now. But it gives me an actual plan and will let me twink up within reason so I'm pretty happy with the idea. I am, however, going to ban the cancel cheat. If thinking about doing things actually made you better at doing them then real Nick would be a much more powerful person. Fantasy Nick can do all the rote training he feels he needs to do but he can't just daydream and become awesome.