The Save Problem

This morning, when I loaded up Animal Crossing for the first time in a month or so, I found myself nose to nose with the infamously angry Mr. Resetti.

Resetti, a subterranean animal who gets off on yelling at people who reset their video games without saving, was there to yell at me for just that. I'm guilty, it's true. I neglected my town. I deserved to be scolded by an irate mole.

But it's the type of thing that makes you wonder... why the hell doesn't Animal Crossing have some sort of auto-save system? Why not ensure that our progress is stored every time we turn off the system or quit the game? Wouldn't that make more sense than, uh, reminders from an angry animal?

Resetti squabbles aside, this is not a new conversation. For as long as there have been video games, there have been people arguing about how our progress should be saved. Should the game automatically track and record everything we do? Should we be able to save anywhere? Only at inns? Should there be predetermined save points? Quick-saves?

The debate is particularly relevant in the world of JRPGs, where it has become tradition for level designers to place save points just before boss fights, just in case you die. The logic: boss fights are more difficult than the rest of the dungeon, and it would be frustrating for players to have to struggle all the way back through chunks of game that they've already played.

Some JRPGs also let you save wherever, and one, the wonderful Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, might be the first game in history that allows you to save anywhere, yet also has save points for some reason.

Indeed, today that whole "you've gotta go all the way back to the start of the dungeon if you die, neener neener" thing seems like a relic, an antiquated method of game design that will probably only come back in the hardcorest of hardcore dungeon crawlers, like Etrian Odyssey (and, in some ways, Dark Souls).

Yet this evokes an entirely different problem: if there's a save point just before a boss fight, and if the player can restart from that save point any time he or she loses that boss fight, what is the player's incentive to not die?

In other words, if you're playing a game like Ni no Kuni or Dragon Quest IX or Lost Odyssey, and you make a few bad decisions mid-boss battle, there's zero reason not to hit reset and start over. (Please don't tell Mr. Resetti I said that.)

Therein we have the dilemma. On one hand, bosses sure feel more threatening when you'll lose two hours of progress if they kill you—anyone who has played through the last dungeon of Final Fantasy III will surely agree. On the other hand, there's a reason I've never beaten the last dungeon of Final Fantasy III.

I'm torn. Really. Life is too short for any of us to spend precious time replaying sections of video games because we got killed by a boss, yet there's something really special about that feeling of simultaneous relief and satisfaction when we get past a tough fight that would otherwise set us back an hour. It's like skydiving—or at least what I imagine skydiving would be like if I ever had the stones to go skydiving.

Maybe there's no ideal solution to this save dilemma. Maybe there doesn't need to be. As long as Resetti is around to make us feel bad if we cheat.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET. You can reach Jason at jason@kotaku.com or on Twitter at @jasonschreier.