When cash-grab mechanics make for a great game
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all following the legislative winds in the US and elsewhere, amid stories of children and adults who have spent crazy amounts of money to try to acquire a particularly prized item from these modern-day one-armed bandits.
It’s tempting to say that loot boxes have made many games a whole lot less fun. On mobile, it’s not uncommon to download a game for free and then find the only way to make meaningful progress is to buy in-game currency for a surprisingly large amount of real currency, or to become a gambler, buying access to loot boxes that hand out items based on fixed odds and a random-number generator.
Done badly, loot boxes can turn a promising title into a disappointing experience. But it is possible to do them well. Step forward Final Fantasy Record Keeper
(FFRK), the game I’ve played more than any other over the past few years. In fact, it’s probably the game I’ve played the most ever at this point.
The premise of FFRK is that characters from 32 years of Final Fantasy games are all together in one place to help you take on a series of increasingly challenging battles. There’s a backstory involving corrupted paintings and ‘records’ of battles from the series, but really it’s just an excuse for a good old nostalgia fest.
Technically, FFRK is a ’gacha
’ game, but the basic idea is the same as with loot boxes. Players make 'pulls’ in the hope of receiving the latest powerful weapons and armour. A random number generator based on fixed odds selects what you get. Sometimes you’ll be lucky, sometimes not so much.
What FFRK does so well is that its mechanics are so deep, and there are so many different ways to tackle most of the toughest fights, that players can find their own way through, no matter what weapons and skills they’ve collected along the way.
If you want to be a 'whale’ and spend thousands on 'pulls,’ you can have all the strongest techniques, and blitz the strongest bosses at any given time. But if you want to play for free, you can use in-game 'mythril’ to fund your pulls. It’ll take a lot longer to make your way through the game, but I find that figuring out how to make the most of what I have is far more fun than if I spent my way to victory.
And whichever approach you take, you’re not cheating. There are no player vs player fights to make those who don’t pay feel inadequate. The only multiplayer content sees players team up to take on enemies controlled by the game. So it doesn’t really matter how you play it, paying is only an advantage if you want it to be.
There’s an argument that even done as well as this, gacha games and loot boxes can exploit players who have a vulnerability to gambling. I accept that, but from a game design point of view, Final Fantasy Record Keeper takes the worst form of in-game monetisation and makes something good out of it. It’s proof that modern gaming doesn’t have to feel like the developer is holding you at gunpoint to take your money.