Simple answer: Not very durable at all.
I love my Japanese RPGs quite a lot, despite all their issues there is something about them that is nice. However, they’ve typically always had one issue, magic was rarely powerful enough to feel like it’s worth using in most encounters. In fact magic is almost always worth using in JRPGs, but the issue here is MP until recent games was always a limited, hard to recover, resource, and attacking isn’t. Attacking costs nothing, and in many games still deals quite a lot. So magic usually gets saved for harder bosses, weaknesses, or healing.
One of the possible solutions to this issue is that of having your weapons degrade as you use them. What this does is change up that dynamic, attacking is now a limited resource. This means that every round is much more of a decision than before. The choice goes from attack for free or spend MP on spells to using up an item on attacking, or spending MP on something assuming the game kept traditional magic. However most games that use such a system usually don’t succeed for many reasons. But here are the main two:
They make the system so irrelevant you can ignore it.
Take Diablo 2. Your weapons and armor degrade as you use them. The amount of times that will happen outside of a few self imposed challenges is approximately 0 times. Repairing costs are trivial from the start of the game, so all it really does is add a click to your routine, and force you to ditch some weapons because they can’t be repaired at all.
It gives you so many items it never matters that some will break.
Riviera is a classic example of this. You are given a limited inventory of 16 items, it gets filled up within an hour of playing and from then on you are constantly throwing out items, many of the copies of older ones that simply replace the slightly used ones. This along side the fact that not only Riviera’s planned battles give you items, but that the infinitely available ‘practice battles’ that do not consume your items but let you level up also give you items means that you are never in any danger of breaking all but the rarer weapons.
These are by far the most common of the issues with these systems. Both these issues are usually result of one common idea: The player is stupid and might get themselves stuck. While it’s important to prevent the player getting into a loose condition they can’t get out of, most games with these kinds of systems fall prey to it, most games if you ever see your item break it’s almost like saying you lost, despite the difficulty in that happening often. Fire Emblem is possibly one of the best examples of an item degradation system working. You’ll always be able to get more of the basic iron or steel weapons, but the more unique ones with special powers must be used carefully, and since you never have the option not to retaliate, if you don’t plan carefully you might be forced to waste your axe of armor breaking on 20 foot soldiers.
And it’s this reason Fire Emblem succeeds as opposed to Diablo 2 and Riviera. Item degradation is a looming threat you are always playing around, but you are given more than enough resources to succeed. You just aren’t given enough resources to always choose what might be the best option at all times. For a system to have be worth using, it must factor into your choices. Durability isn’t an issue in Diablo 2 or Riveria, and so as a system is practically not there. The Fire Emblem series manages to keep the issue in your mind, but also prevent it from being stressful.
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