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About the Story
Text-based RPG where your character becomes weaker over time. A game about frustration, regret, and slaying goblins.
72nd Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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I think this was one of the more underrated games in its IFComp batch. The game is crawling with bugs, and contains some rather bizarre design choices, but I still enjoyed the game for what it was.
"A Final Grind" belongs to a similar genre as games like The Forgotten Tavern from its year, and The Cursèd Pickle of Shireton and Tavern Crawler from 2020. It contains dungeon-crawling RPG mechanics built in twine, and its story is a parody of typical RPG tropes.
I was surprised at how compelling I found it to be. Part of me wants to say that this game is the inverse of Undertale, but that would be only correct insofar that every game is the inverse of Undertale. It’s hard for me to describe what makes this interesting; perhaps all the grinding got me addicted. The quality of the writing was good throughout, especially given that this was gameplay-heavy.
The game has a sparse aesthetic, and takes place in a standard Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy setting. The protagonist is an adventurer trapped in a mine, the last survivor of their party after a cave-in killed the rest. He is a death seeker for unspecified reasons, who wants to go down in a blaze of glory saving other people. The mine is the domain of monsters; they’re just living there peacefully, and you humans had the gall to invade their space, and when they attack in self-defense, you massacre them. Even more so, humans constantly “dehumanize” the monsters and treat them as an unintelligent, uncultured, indistinguishable mass, regardless of their reality. Eventually you have to kill their king. As you approach the king, the monsters are terrified of you and run away. I've never played the "genocide" route in Undertale, but it's familiar from what I've heard.
Much of the game involves mechanical combat, where you can choose to use attack, parry, or magic. Using the ‘parry’ action involves solving math problems randomly selected from a pre-written bank, from “5 + 5” to derivatives. The game says don’t use a calculator, but most of the problems were solvable in my head. Does using pencil and paper count as cheating? The only confusing part was that it required decimals instead of fractions. So I just used parry every time, so I never took any damage or exhaustion. Given how many random combat encounters there were, it got tiresome, but I memorized the answers.
Problem: I ran into a bug fairly early on. After visiting the foreman’s room and trying to break the safe, I was unable to continue - there was a “Continue” link, but it wasn’t clickable. After restarting, I worked around this by just skipping this room, and continuing onwards. Going back to that room after I got the key worked. There are also a bunch of other bugs in this game, mostly syntax errors with incomplete passages. Also literally the last line of the game is “Double-click this passage to edit it.” which is... surprisingly apt given the path leading up to it.
Like with a lot of Twine RPGs I’ve seen in IFComp, this game is not really “balanced” in any way. My level got ridiculously high, but it didn’t really mean anything. I never knew what exhaustion does because I only ever used parrying.
Translations of the goblin text:
(Spoiler - click to show)
MONSTERS HAVE BEEN DRIVEN FROM EVERY LAND
BUT GHIDORAH UNITED US INTO ONE TRIBE
WE PRAISE HIM, LORD OF THREE FIRES
MASTER OF THE WORLD BENEATH EARTH
MAY HIS REIGN BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD OF MONSTERS
AND IN HIM MAY WE FIND A HOME IN WHICH TO THRIVE
WHO IS GHIDORAH, KING OF MONSTERS?
I WISH IT COULD BE DIFFERENT, HUMAN
I wanted to like this game. I have a soft spot for games that combine interactive fiction with RPGs, and also a soft spot for traditional dungeon crawls. Furthermore, although the game’s premise seems tired and cliched – rescue miners from a mine filled with goblins and orcs – the author nevertheless manages to make it feel fresh. The scene in the storage room, for instance, where you remember your training days? That’s great! Nothing fancy, but enough to turn a standard scenario into something more memorable.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from two big problems: an annoying combat system and a severe lack of testing. To take the latter first, (Spoiler - click to show)if you try to crack open the safe, you get stuck on a page with a dead link. In some circumstances – I do not know which ones – the spade cannot be found in the storage room even though you have seen the cave-in. When you arrive at the magical barrier, the page displays an error message and some code. It seems to me that even some mild beta testing would have caught these problems.
I would nevertheless have persisted if it had not been for the fact that the combat system becomes annoying rather quickly. There’s only one action you should ever take: parry. Parrying leads to a sort of mini-game where you have to answer a question of arithmetic in order to succeed. It reminded me a little bit of Typing of the Dead, in which you must practice blind typing to kill zombies. Here you must practice calculation to defeat goblins and orcs. That might be fun... if it were not for the following:
1. You have to do far too much of it. A single fight can easily consist of four to five parries, and there are many, many fights. Not so much the main story ones – they are limited. But the random encounters just pile up, and it happens regularly that you finish a random encounter only to immediately begin another one and then yet another one afterwards.
2. The questions seem to come from a rather short pre-made list. This in itself is mysterious: it seems easy to have a computer come up with random arithmetic questions. Instead, you will get the same questions again and again, so the game quickly turns into memorising the answers and typing them in when needed. This removes any feeling of skill or satisfaction.
3. The difficulty of the questions varies immensely. You might be asked what 2+2 is, but you might also be asked for the derivative of x cos(2x). Who is the target audience here? Anyone who can so much as understand what the second question means, will be insulted by the ease of the first question. (It would make some sense to have easy questions for easy opponents and hard questions for hard ones, but I don’t think it works that way.)
4. And then there’s the impossible question: “-13 x - 7 is 46, so what is x?” Well, it is -53/13, the decimal expansion of which is infinite. As far as I could figure out, getting this question is an instant loss, because you cannot give a correct answer. (Typing in the fraction doesn’t work.)
After a while I noticed that my enjoyment of the game had vanished and had been replaced a feeling of exhausted annoyance whenever another random encounter appeared on my screen. So I decided to quit. (I did not, by the way, find a way to restore saves, even though you can supposedly save the game.) There is something fine here, but changes need to be made before it can actually be enjoyed.
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.
|The Cursèd Pickle of Shireton, by Hanon Ondricek|
Average member rating: (9 ratings)
Evil, sealed away for Aeons, has been released.