A Discussion On Playing Games “Efficiently” (Min-Maxing)

Note: This is a blog post primarily on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and a little bit of Stardew Valley.

The term min-maxing refers to a method of maximizing one’s strength while minimizing weaknesses. Supposedly, this term originates from pen-and-paper RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, but I wasn’t able to find a proper source for that claim. Regardless, min-maxing tends to be popular in RPGs. When you have numbers and builds to play around with, it’s tempting to try and make your character as strong as possible by carefully and deliberately building synergy between their stats and abilities.

Personally, I tend to use the word “min-maxing” as a synonym of playing a game “efficiently”. I’ve seen this word thrown around the internet in regards to games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing (which I’ll get to later in the post). These are games that don’t necessarily have stats to min-max, but have ways to get as much money (or other rewards) as quickly as possible. I think about it as maximizing the gains while minimizing the amount of time spent.

Firstly, I’d like to discuss a game that I’ve been playing recently and my personal experience thus far.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

The Zodiac Age is a version of Final Fantasy XII that introduces a job/class system into the game. There’s twelve different classes that each have their own “licenses” to unlock. These involve upgrades like the ability to use higher level skills or armor, generic offensive or HP buffs, and etc. There are six characters in the game, and everyone is allowed access to two license boards, making it possible, but not necessary, to utilize every class available.

Assuming a character doesn’t select the same class twice, which I think is possible but doesn’t make much sense, each character can have one of 66 possible combinations. With six different characters in the party who all have their own unique stat growth, this gives us a total of 396 possible party compositions. (Please correct me if my math is wrong: 6 * \frac{12!}{2! * (12-2)!}). It feels like a lot, but it’s probably quite average for an RPG, though I haven’t done the math for that claim.

In the original PS2 Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System and the PS4/Windows remaster, your choice was permanent so the game tells you to choose carefully. So naturally, I didn’t heed those words at all and impulse chose some classes for the early characters. The “worst” part of this decision was choosing to make Balthier into a Machinist. Now if you would allow me to rant for a bit…

Why does practically every promotional image and fanart show him with a gun when he’s so bad at using guns? He’s the slowest gun user in the game but one of the fastest melee characters, and it also seems like the guns don’t utilize his high STR stat at all. He ended up feeling much weaker than my other characters. I may have spent an embarrassingly long time deciding what his second class should be and how the rest of my party should be built, because Balthier is a pretty cool dude and I wanted to use him more.

However, in the PC patch, they added in the ability to change classes and rebuild a character from scratch, which is a change they included in the Switch and Xbox One port. I was just dumb and completely missed the character that allows you to do so.

Anyway, I use the word “worst” in quotes because…does it really matter? It felt like a big deal because there are so many guides and threads on the best class combos and the best choice for each character. But in all these threads, there’s usually one user that writes something like “this game is pretty easy, so stop worrying and just pick whatever seems fun”.

Objectively, Balthier isn’t a great Machinist, but you have to admit that he looks pretty damn cool with a gun.

I still promptly went and changed him from a Machinist to a Shikari and spent even more excessive time trying to come up with a well made party that utilized all twelve different classes. However, I really enjoy building characters and planning my way through RPGs (I even wrote a blog post on that!) so I was alright with spending a lot of time trying to min-max my party composition.

The response to this question is going to be different for every single player and for every game: how much min-maxing should I personally be doing while still having fun?

I decided that I cared enough to give Balthier one of the strongest class combos in the game, but I didn’t care enough to make Ashe a dedicated magic user (because I need more female melee characters in my life) and I’m pretty happy with that decision.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Now this is the discussion that is significantly more relevant right now. I feel like I’m constantly seeing complaints and arguments on reddit and twitter about min-maxers in Animal Crossing.

There’s a lot of topics here that I think could touch on such as the turnip market, the black market, time-traveling, the effects of social media, etc. I’m going to focus on the turnip market because that’s the topic I’m most familiar with.

If you want to earn a lot of bells in Animal Crossing, you have to spend quite some time collecting things to sell (e.g. a lot of fishing and gathering). Personally, I find that to be fairly grindy. The most “efficient” way to earn money is to game the turnip market.

As a summary, turnips offer the “buy low, sell high” strategy. You buy turnips on Sunday and then watch the price fluctuate throughout the week. The caveat is that you have to sell the turnips within a week or they will spoil. There’s various trends that the price fluctuation can follow and there’s this neat little site called https://turnipprophet.io/ that predicts what kind prices you can expect (I have no idea how this works mathematically, but it’s been pretty accurate so far).

With a “big spike” pattern, you can sell the turnips for roughly five times the buy price. It’s a powerful “get-rich-quick” scheme. The more bells you throw in, the more you earn back, but only if you can get a good spike. You could get unlucky and end up selling for half of the buy price. That’s a not a big problem though because you can visit other islands. There’s places like the r/acturnips subreddit where users will post their islands for others to sell at.

I had a coworker sell two whole inventories of turnips at my island for 500+ bells each. That’s a ton of turnips. Is that excessive? Is it even worth it?

It certainly gets you a lot of bells with much less in game effort than fishing for a day. But you have to spend a little bit more effort outside of the game hunting for prices. So here in a non RPG game, we’re back to figuring out an amount of min-maxing that feels the most fun.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is similar to Animal Crossing in some way but I think the game is built to allow single player min-maxing. There are items and methods that allow you to efficiently earn a ton of money. It doesn’t rely on the real world clock like Animal Crossing does, so you can play as much as you want and build a crazy farm without any sort of time barrier. Min-maxing your farm is not at all necessary to play the game, but it certainly feels a little more welcoming for that kind of play style.

My friends and I will say that “Seeing how someone plays Stardew Valley really tells you a lot about their personality”.

That’s an interesting thing to think about on the argument for or against min-maxing in games like these. Personally, I enjoy these three games and have figured out a good balance for me, but I find I still feel some peer pressure to have a “good” island or farm or character build.

2 thoughts on “A Discussion On Playing Games “Efficiently” (Min-Maxing)

  1. Interesting post! Personally I try to avoid min-maxing, especially on first playthroughs. I want to just enjoy the game and feel free to make my own mistakes. But I think you’re absolutely right about finding a balance you are comfortable with.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m torn because whilst I do love roleplaying which is where I like to play with builds thinking how it would shape those characters, I do also like to min max to get through the more strategic and tougher challenges. I was min maxing in Pillars of Eternity for this reason to complete some of the tougher DLC challenges. I also found min maxing to be essential in the older RPGs.
    It must be an immense challenge to games developers to get the balance between those who play just for story and those who relish the challenge, this is one of the prime arguments for difficulty options in games, though I’ve yet to try one of those ironman modes where you get only one life.

    Liked by 1 person

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