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Which games have the best economies? [roundtable]
It's roundtable time! I was thinking about game economies today, for whatever reason. So many of them are poorly-balanced. Some to the point where finding additional currency/orbs/whatnot means almost nothing (if you can even hold them in the first place). Most recent Zelda games are somewhat guilty of this, as with Twilight Princess's endless treasure chests of fail (Phantom Hourglass added an infinite amount of ship tchotchkes to combat this, but it wasn't the most elegant solution - ditto for the Malo Mart, armor-that-used-money-as-fuel, and literal bridge-that-you-had-to-buy in TP). Others to the point where it feels like you have to grind forever to get that spiffy new item/ability. (Read: Dawn of SORROW.) In fact, I would say most games kind of screw up the economy aspect in some major way. And you could even say that the main appeal of CoDs and Diablos are their economies... maybe?

One cool wrinkle of Bastion that I just read about was that unusable Health Potions will give you XP. What a brilliant idea! This is an area of gaming with so much room for improvement. I liked Shantae's system, as well. The cool abilities didn't just cost you grindable money, but also non-grindable Magic Jams. Finding a new Magic Jam was always a fantastic feeling, and it made the exploration that much more rewarding.

I haven't played Tingle's Rupeeland (since I'm not European), but the economy in that game seems interesting, as well. You basically fight with money. Which was also in... Goemon, maybe? Even F-Zero's boost/health/recharge mechanic is a neat sort of game economy. By that token, Mario Kart Wii probably has the shittiest economy in the world.

So which games do you guys think strike the balance best, in a way that keeps you engaged throughout? All related aspects can be considered - inventory, pouch size, buyable items, new abilities, etc.

Have I abused the word "economy"?

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Posted: 07/20/11, 19:24:48  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 19:38:28
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Both Harvest Moon 64 and Rune Factory Frontier have great economies--money is a valuable thing, there's tons of stuff to spend it on, but the progression is gradual enough that you're always getting new stuff and it never feels "grind-heavy."

Little King's Story does a good job with it too.

Most recent Zelda games are awful with it. Why can't they get that aspect of the game right?? Maybe they should just axe the money limit altogether. I think part of the problem is that there just aren't enough things to BUY in Zelda. What ends up happening is that the money becomes pretty much useless by the halfway point since all big items then come from dungeons (Ocarina of Time), or they make these very expensive sidequests (or mandatory quests) that force you to spend money with very little in the way of rewards (Wind Waker, Twilight Princess).

LoZ did it right, probably because money was scarce enough in that game that you could only buy like one thing between each dungeon.
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:31:32  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 19:33:53
I dunno. It's kind of puzzling. It seems like something that wouldn't be that hard to achieve. Or maybe it would, since Nintendo wants to both keep the 'base game' from being too difficult and tightly orchestrate the game progression. I mean, you can't build a boss encounter around an item if someone hasn't bought it yet. So what appetizing, yet non-essential reward can they dangle in front of you, really? A bigger pouch or some crazy ultimate weapon (Biggoron's Sword, Oni Mask, Spiffier Arrows) or armor, so far. Some of those weapons are cool, but the games aren't difficult enough for them to make much of a difference.

I think Skyward Sword will attempt to circumvent the problem the old fashioned way - with upgradeable weapons. The Devil May Cry approach. Or whatever came before it.
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:33:47  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 19:45:45
I think the problem with Zelda money started in Link to the Past with the ability to get money without killing things or finding secrets. As soon as you could get money just by breaking jars or cutting bushes, it made money something that didn't have to be really earned, so buying things didn't feel like an achievement like buying the blue ring in the original. And I think the designers realized this, so they stopped having important things for sale at all. Which leads to Twilight Princess where opening a chest and finding money just feels disappointing.
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:41:06
Yeah, scrounging up the scrilla to buy the Blue Ring really was significant. And with the high level of difficulty (for people who hadn't played it 100 times), it came in very handy. Wasn't the shop even hidden away somewhere?

I think difficulty is a key factor. If the game is already super-easy and you want every player to experience all of the content, you can only offer items that are 'neat', at best. Nothing that transforms the game.
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:49:25  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 19:49:43
They should make rupees "worth" less in Zelda. Like, buying a handful of bombs costs 300 rupees or so. That way, you can still hide single rupees in grass (to make cutting grass kind of addicting), but it gives Link a much smaller monetary boost. Valuable items like Heart Pieces and Bottles could cost around 2000 rupees.
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:50:08
Yea difficulty has been the specter hanging over Zelda's head for generations.*

*I like how you can make fifteen years sound like a really long time in video game terms
Posted: 07/20/11, 19:56:25
I like the fact that valuable items cost money in the original Zelda, but at the same time, the only way to get money in the game is completely tedious. "Guess I'm gonna be spending some time in the graveyard for a while."

Perhaps in a future game, a great sum of money can only be obtainable after a sidequest? Maybe you can find chests containing 50-70 rupees in dungeons, and these could be used for things like potions, bombs, arrows, etc. If you complete a more time consuming side quest, perhaps that could net you 500 ruppees at a time, and that would be more helpful when it comes to getting a better shield or upgrading your magic or something like that.

I really just don't want to see them continue to limit the amount of rupees you can get. Why do I have to upgrade from a tiny wallet to a big wallet, when Link is able to carry a small arsenal around at all times? I mean, doesn't he basically have a little big that can store an endless amount of items.

"Oh, well I have room for this hookshot, these bombs, a dozen maps and compasses...but I really can't take that extra rupee, I just don't have the wallet for it."

I ranted about this in an old top 10 I did about my least favorite Zelda items. They really should just revamp the way the wallet/money system works.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:18:17
Yeah, limited wallets are no fun. The designers create a necessary utility by crippling you at the beginning. And it's not like you have to make a strategic decision, like with the RE4 inventory.

Guillaume likes to talk about the XP that you get from finding new areas in Xenoblade. That IS pretty cool, actually. Maybe quests and such should be primarily rewarded in RPGs, rather than killing random flora and fauna.

That Cthulhu indie game does something interesting, too: after you fight a fixed amount of random battles, the area becomes 'clean'. Kind of like Pool of Radiance.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:24:34  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 20:25:35
I don't have a specific game in mind offhand, but I actually like money systems where it is pretty clear that you're not going to be able to buy everything, and then you have to make real choices. (Kind of like real life, unless you are Bill Gates.) Of course, this only works if you can't completely screw yourself with a "bad" choice either.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:29:54
If I recall correctly Viewtiful Joe had a bunch of cool upgrades that took quite a while to buy.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:33:24
I don't have a problem with limited wallets in the context of current Zelda games. Since it's so easy to get money, buying something for 500 rupees doesn't feel like an accomplishment, unless you actually had to accomplish something to be able to hold 500 rupees in the first place. I agree it's a backwards way of doing things, though.

Getting XP from exploring is one of my favorite things about WoW. Especially when you're not high enough level to really survive fighting with the enemies yet so you have to sneak around while exploring. Then if something spots you, you have to run like hell. Fun stuff.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:33:43
Oh, I didn't know that was part of WoW.

Yeah, games like Diablo (and Monster Hunter!) do that pretty well, I think. You can play a variety of different ways (that actually FEEL different), based on your skills, and create your own playstyle. Tons of players probably check FAQs for optimal skill layouts, but that kind of kills the fun, I think.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:34:08  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/11, 20:35:01
If you're masochistic like me, you'd probably like how Demons' Souls does it. Your experience comes in the form of souls. It's also the currency of the world. If you die, you lose all of your souls and have to backtrack to where you were to reclaim them. That is, if you don't die again a second time due to the game halving your HP when you take soul form.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:41:05
Hmm, I can only think of broken economies. Isn't that sad?

Particularly Assassin's Creed 2. On paper it sounds cool: buy crap for your residence and collect interest. In practice, buying high-dividend stuff early is a very effective way to break the game.

The designers realized this and "solved" the problem by having you physically backtrack to your mansion every so often to collect your cash. Which is a crummy solution if I've ever heard one.

Is the economy better handled in AC Brotherhood?
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:42:02
I'm finally playing through Resident Evil 4, and upgrading the guns is one of my favorite parts of that game.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:45:08
How could I forget Roguelikes?? Talk about a focused, crazy hardcore example of game economy.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:46:14

From what I have played so far it doesn't seem like it. You still go around restoring buildings and collecting interest except now you have to liberate them, actually have to go to each individual store, and can collect your earnings at any bank in the city. I'm still really early on though.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:49:31
Ooh, I remember what game economy I like: Dragon Quest!

Am I the only one? It's pretty simple, but effective: die and you are sent back to the last save point, your gold is halved, but you retain your experience. And you can put your gold in the bank to minimize the risk.

You're constantly improving your stats so you always get a chance of progressing farther than the last time, but death is still a setback.



Are the archers as stupid as in AC2, watching you kill their buddies and taking way too long to react?

I tend to remember the bad stuff from that game, but right now I kind of want to give Brotherhood a shot. Despite all my criticisms of AC2, it was still a fun time.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:55:52
It's very hard to put my finger on why, but Animal Crossing's economy must be doing a lot right since I'm still playing it after all these years.
Posted: 07/20/11, 20:59:25
Has anyone played Terraria? That game is crazy hard to find gold coins. Granted, they still have a lot of patching and updating to do, but still, I have yet to really buy myself any cool items.
Posted: 07/20/11, 21:00:12
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