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As far as the leveling system goes, it just feels... well, it feels equal parts exploitable and obnoxious, I guess? Like, don't get me wrong, it's a creative idea to use items as a resource for leveling up, but I feel like giving Vacdes "trinkets" shouldn't be the ONLY means of leveling up.

Basically, I feel like the system is exploitable in the sense that someone with enough patience could just stick to the first few areas to collect trinkets (flowers, sea shells, etc.) to trade Vacdes and end up at a crazy-high level before they even complete the first real quest. On the other hand, I feel like the leveling system is obnoxious in the sense that combat has no real benefit to the player outside of getting sex scenes and grinding for a few types of trinkets to trade Vacdes; essentially, there isn't any huge incentive for the player to really pursue combat.

I think incorporating an experience points system into the mix could really improve these aspects. That isn't to say that I feel the current leveling system needs to be removed or anything; far from it! I think there's a way to combine these systems into something very unique and innovative!

Like, what if, to level up, a character needed to trade Vacdes enough "material" to reach the next level and a "catalyst" to actually execute the process? "Material" could be made up of experience points (earned by defeating enemies, completing quests, etc.) and/or trinkets, where a trinket with a trade value of 1 is equivalent to having an additional 10 experience points, and the "catalyst" could be any trinket(s) with a trade value of 1 or maybe even a trade value equal to the character's current level or something. For example, lets say a level 1 character needs to provide at least 150 experience points worth of material to reach level 2, not including the catalyst; in this example, the character needs to provide any combination of experience points and trinkets with a total value of at least 150 experience points (15 trade value) as material, so they could just defeat enemies and complete quests to collect the needed 150 experience points, collect trinkets with a total trade value of 15 or more, or some combination of the two to collect enough material to level up.

This is all just an example, by the way; I'm not saying that this is the only way to do this. All I'm really saying is that the leveling system should, in my opinion, be modified so that there's some incentive for the player to defeat enemies and complete quests, outside of hoarding trinkets and getting sex scenes.

Just food for thought; you do you with this game and take it where you want it to go. If you like this idea, feel free to nab it for the game, I don't mind; if you don't, well, there are plenty of other options for fine-tuning the leveling system, so just keep my critique in mind, I guess. This is your game, after all, and only you really know what your vision is for it's completion; all I want is to see this project reach the maximum potential I know it has! If you want clarification on anything I said here, all you gotta do is ask and I'll explain it as best I can!

(Don't worry about the late reply! I know as well as anyone that life just gets in the way sometimes. Not like you can spend all your time waiting for and replying to comments on itch.io, right?)

So my only counter argument to the exploitation issue is that pretty much any RPG is exploitable in the same way. You can spend 5 hours in Palette Town grinding pidgeys until your level 40 and continue on. There isn't going to be much I can do to prevent people from grinding in some way. Whether it's scavenging, combat or some other thing. Unless I do the Witcher III thing and have quests be the only way to gain XP but that seems harsh for a game that I'm intending to be a little casual.

I think the system probably feels a lot more problematic right now because things aren't balanced yet. The systems are really bare bones and I haven't balanced item values or the required cost to level up. It's all very theoretical at this point.

The main thing I'm trying to emulate with this system is Dark Souls 'souls' systems, because I love how they handled character progression. I could get really deep into why I love that system but the TL;DR version is that having all of your character progression hinge on a single resource (souls) instead of two (xp and gold) is something that I find brilliant. (I'm admittedly making it a little less clean because of the aesthetic and narrative choices.)

The reason I'm going for that is because I want to let people have options about how they play. If someone just doesn't like fighting things and wants to just forage and do fetch quests here and there then they can play like that. If someone wants to be really aggressive and fight everything that's okay too. And if someone wants to just be horny and flirt with every monster they see, then that's how they can play. I don't want any one play style to be exploitable and I don't want to encourage endless grinding, but I do want people to have options. That said in the future builds as I flesh out content I'll be readjusting item values to better reflect the challenge/reward relationship. Items gained through combat will generally have a higher value then items found through foraging. Stronger monsters will drop higher valued items, and items foraged from more challenging areas will have a slighter higher value then items foraged in easier areas. With that the required 'xp' will increase with each level in a exponential growth rate to force you to go to higher level areas lest you spend 30 hours grinding.

I do also intend to add a unique item(s) either missing pages or golden apples or something that have a base value of 0 but when traded with Vacdes specifically will have a much higher value. These will be used as rewards for beating bosses and completing major quests. This like most things at the moment having been added because I'm slow.

With that said I'm also going to be adding shops which you can also trade your items at for new weapons, armor and skills. To go back to the Dark Souls thing. In the same way you can improve your character by spending souls to level up your stats, buy and improve armor and weapons. You'll be able to do the same thing here only using 'loot' to trade for new weapons, armor or selling to Vacdes for stats.

I hope I understood what you were suggesting correctly and I hope this explained my thoughts and plans properly. It has been a long week and I'm running on fumes at this point. So if I just rambled incoherently I apologize. But I really do appreciate here your thoughts and I love having the opportunity to just ramble about my design choices and ideas!