That’s the first time I heard about exp share – a mechanic where all party members gain experience points regardless of where they are in combat – pokemon, Many RPGs have some level of this. Sometimes, this is only for members of your current party. Sometimes, it’s for the entire roster. Its absence or limited implementation especially stands out when reviewing older games. persona 4 and compare them like new pokemon scarlet and violet, Despite seeming like a minor quality of life at first, its presence – or lack thereof – can have a big impact on a game, causing you to play very differently than you might otherwise.
I’m calling it Exp Share because it’s called in Pokémon, and it doesn’t seem to have any other widely recognized name. In the case of Pokémon, Exp Shares began as an actual item that you could give to an individual Pokémon so that it could gain experience without even having to engage in battle. This was especially convenient for turning low-level monsters into regular party members. Exp Share eventually turned into an item that distributed experience points to your entire team. Starting with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee, this was made as a default mechanic in the game, not an item you needed to obtain.
However, it was not an addition that remained unique to Pokémon. Just last year, both Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and One Piece Odyssey offered their own versions of exp share. These games feature multiple characters with varying abilities, which is enough to encourage players to experiment with them. In Xenoblade 3 especially, it felt almost criminal to ignore your heroes (members of the seventh side) when there were so many character classes to try. All of your main party members are there to be there, but giving each hero individual levels would be a daunting task for even the most diligent player. By allowing heroes to accumulate experience points even when not in combat, this opens up opportunities for experimentation and variety that would otherwise be untenable.
Even One Piece Odyssey, Bandai Namco’s first time making a One Piece RPG, had a much more seamless feel to this mechanic. Instead of worrying about grinding all your characters to the same level, you can advance through the story using whatever characters you want.
The exp share seems such a natural, welcome element in any RPG that it makes it all the more noticeable when it’s absent. Which is why it was so jarring when I picked up Persona 4 and there was no exp share to be found. Persona 4 Golden was ported to the Nintendo Switch earlier this year, but it’s essentially identical to the 2012 version that came out for the PlayStation. I didn’t start craving exp share until I recruited my fifth party member, at which point I was forced to start benching characters. Then investing in a new character seemed counterproductive because their social links (another part of Persona 4’s complex ecosystem) were far less developed than the characters I already had. Even if later recruits gained Social Links more quickly, adding them to the party still felt like a temporary loss because I lacked the combat bonus with veteran members.
At first, the lack of exp share made me less inclined to experiment because it would mean leaving other party members behind for the rest. However, I realized that you could technically revisit the dungeon to grind all the characters’ levels if you wanted to. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but a way out.
Exp Share makes it so that grinding time is not required for characters that aren’t in your main party. In Persona 4, I learned to drop into dungeons more often so that I could play with other characters instead of solely relying on that time to advance the story. You’ll have to dive back in to level up party members even when there’s no new plot-related content available. Otherwise, you risk falling behind less-used party members. It looks like Altus finally decided that its old system was out of date, given the exp share included in Persona 5. At least for now, Persona 4 is the last mainline Persona installment that doesn’t have this feature.
Fire Emblem is one of the few series that still does not use Exp Share (with a few exceptions, such as Path of Radiance). Fire Emblem Fates, which works similarly to the franchise’s latest entry, Fire Emblem Engage, also convinced me to choose carefully how to level up my most prized characters. You can’t spend time endlessly leveling up characters. Instead, you have to plan which characters to take on main missions and which ones to level up in side quests so that they keep up with the group. Fate had a limited number of side quests available per chapter, so you only had a few chances to level up characters before moving on to the next chapter.
It never felt like the game was suggesting that you only use a handful of characters and ignore the rest because of their weaknesses, though. Fire Emblem games emphasize strategy, so you should use the units that work best for a specific battle. It’s a more conscious decision than in Persona 4, which doesn’t prevent you from leveling up other characters, but forces you to grind in order to do so. Meanwhile, Fates (and Fire Emblem in general) prompts the player to pick and choose what to invest in due to limited combat. It also allowed players to experiment without the exp share as you can control multiple units per battle instead of only four at a time like in Persona.
“Grind” is the key word here. If you’re fighting enemies or repeating dungeons for no other reason then it’s grinding. Luck manages to avoid grinding because the quests don’t overlap. Even if you’re fighting the same types of enemies, they appear on new maps in different scenarios. You don’t replay maps to gain XP, and you don’t have a choice. In short, it sacrifices the amount of experimentation you can do with the full cast for a more streamlined experience.
I still enjoy Persona 4. I ended up revisiting dungeons and unlocking social links because I liked the new characters and wanted to use them. However, the exp share would have minimized that need to grind and kept its focus on driving the story forward. It makes me wish that games without exp share would have at least one more optimal option or setup – like in Fire Emblem, where it’s a deliberate, strategy-based decision.
Exp share has become increasingly common in RPGs as time goes on, and I can’t blame developers for leaning towards making it easier for players to experiment with different characters without feeling like they’re repeating content. have been I still feel some nostalgia whenever a game forces me into old school resource management without it. However, it’s a mechanic that has freed up hours of my time by reducing the monotonous grinding that turn-based RPGs were once notorious for, and it’s definitely something to be thankful for.
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