This article, for better or worse, is dedicated to the Sandworms in Phantasy Star IV. The Sandworm, for those who have not played that game, were a fairly easily campable enemy, easy to find, near a city for recovery, and, most importantly, from level fifteen to sixty-five, provided the best experience point gain per time interval spent in the game. It is also remarkably stupid and reflective of problems deep within the game structure that have little to do with camping the sandworm. Camping the sandworm is a strategy that simply became prevelant to overcome other design issues the game had.
What is this issue that it's reflecting? A lack of variety in enemies that give reasonable gains for time spent? well, yes, that's one. It's a pretty bad idea to have players continue to go back to the same spot early in the game to overcome challenges. Players should generally be moving forward or to the side, not backwards in game design because backwards motion is usually quite frustrating and/or boring to the player. What if they had the worms be traveling around though? Enix likes to do that, giving metal slimes and their varieties as quick growth zones.
Would that solve it? Well... What about the range though? I mean, fifteen to sixty-five is a huge range. Sixty-five is where you finish the game at and fifteen is reached pretty early on. Just a bit after you pass the sandworms area, in fact. Why should an enemy you can beat so early be relevent fourty hours later to powering up? Isn't that a bit poor balancing of the growth rates? Either an enemy strong enough to be good to camp late in the game should be way too strong for neopyte adventurers or shouldn't really measure as a reasonably effort taking experience for heroes who are used to dealing with mighty demons by that point. Well, that's not too bad to fix. Spreading out and giving multiple areas to grow in is always a good thing in a dynamic character growth setting. Keeps it from getting boring. Shrinking the effective range for the enemy in question and all should fix things, right? Make it unproductive to camp just one guy, rebalance the growth rates a bit?
But that doesn't really fix it either, does it? It doesn't get at the heart of the question. sure, the player can't camp that same enemy so often and won't have a reason to go back, but that's handling symptoms of a greater problem. And really, it's not the power levels as you can pretty much crush the enemies you encounter if you're lucky, particularly with how nice the run rate can be when trouble happens. But wait...luck? What's this here? That shouldn't be it. And why are the player's camping in the first place? Shouldn't the players want to explore the game in most cases and only really camp if they feel underpowered? So why would players feel underpowered? Are the enemies too strong? Well, no, you can usually wipe them out easily...if you're lucky.
Luck, again? That's odd. Maybe that's where it comes from? After all, games should generally depend on solid strategy or clever ideas or whatnot. Luck should be a small part of the whole mixture. A strategy that is both solid and right for the enemy used by characters of the correct level should win almost always. Does this happen in Phantasy Star IV? Well, no, it doesn't. Luck tends to determine the order in which folks go, whether a given set of moves will transform into that needed combo or whether it'll just pelt the enemy with weaker stuff, and whether or not the enemy will cast megid round after round until you collapse dead. Here, we come to the real broken part of the system. Where it fell down. It let randomness take such a high level of priority that literally not even the order of attack could be predicted with good amounts of accuracy.
Check the faqs though. You'll find everyone recommending level gaining. 'Cheats' saying how the worm is so awesome to camp. You'll hear time and time again how the game requires constantly keeping up your level. It does, but no where near the degree that people generally believe. Phantasy Star IV is, for all intents and purposes, a good game brought down by a simple flaw in the system. Why the brief walkthrough? It also illuminates a pretty interesting point in my mind. What appears broken is usually no where near what's actually causing the problem. Really, outside of the randomness factor being far too high, the xp balance of the game is reasonably fair, there's little reason to need to camp the sandworm during those periods, even if you can, and the growth rate of character abilities gives them just enough flexibility to get stuff done, which is always good. The other apparent problems of the system all sort of fade away with the real issue cleaned up. Game design is interesting that way.