Why Doesn’t Social Status Affect How You Get Money In RPGs? Whether you’re a prince or a pauper, you’ll still end up rich.

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In the typical RPG, your relationship with money tends to follow a certain trajectory. Regardless of social status, you usually start out broke. By the end of the game, you will probably end up with more money than you can spend. For the most part, you barely need to put much effort in amassing money, and you will likely become rich simply by killing every hapless monster that shambles into your path.

This is because, when it comes to the question of income, developers long ago found their default catch-all method for gaining in-game riches: corpse robbery.

Let’s put aside the riddle of why a random slime beast would even be carrying a thousand yen in the first place, and instead take a closer look at this issue in the context of two recently released RPGs: Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5.

The questionable relationship between social status and money.

In Final Fantasy XV, you play as the prince of the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. Yet at the onset of your journey, you and your retinue are inexplicably broke, so much so that your crew resorts to monster hunting in order to pay off the repair bills for your luxury car.

I am far from the first person to point out the sheer strangeness of this development. After all, at this point in the story, Prince Noctis’ kingdom is still thriving. In the opening cutscene, his own father, the King, personally sends him off. Why does the crown prince have no money? Why are monster hunts his only source of income?

persona 5 spending money in shibuya

The protagonist of Persona 5 dropping money left and right in the Shibuya district.

Let’s contrast this with Persona 5, a game told from the perspective of a teenaged boy whose story begins much less glamorously than that of a prince. In the first few hours of the game, he arrives in Tokyo virtually penniless. He has a criminal record looming over him, which the adults in his life are quick to remind him of. His temporary caretaker places him in the shoddy attic of a small restaurant and initially provides him with little assistance.

Yet despite these apparent setbacks, his criminal record in no way impedes him from getting any part-time job he wants. Regarding in-game resource management, finances prove no real obstacle after a certain point, largely because killing shadows nets the protagonist all the money he could ever need This is especially jarring when contrasted to the dialogue of his teammates, who often complain about how little money they have. One team member is so poor that he can barely even afford his train fare. Meanwhile, the protagonist is rolling in cash.

Throughout my playthrough of Persona 5, moments like these inevitably created a sense of dissonance. It felt as though the game mechanics created a sort of contradiction: the story required me to be poor but the gameplay allowed me to make money faster than I could spend it.

Social status should affect how you play the game.

If your character is a one-percenter, then you should feel the impact of your financial and social privileges. Even if your pockets aren’t overflowing with cash at the very beginning, it should be easy for you to obtain it. Your wealth, status, and how you choose to present yourself should color all of your interactions, especially among common citizens. You should be encouraged to spend lavishly throughout the game, and accepting or rejecting that temptation should have some bearing on your playthrough.

If your character is someone of more humble origins, then your financial burden should manifest itself in some way. Saving money, and managing resources in general, should continue to be at least a moderate struggle throughout the game’s entire length. Instead of buying goods outright, you might be forced to regularly haggle with merchants or to offer your monster-slaying services in exchange for free or heavily discounted items.

To be clear: I am not so unreasonable as to demand that every single RPG developer take social status into account when crafting their reward system. For instance, if a game takes place in an alien setting that lacks any recognizable social hierarchy, then of course the developers shouldn’t feel beholden to the norms of our world.

Moreover, I fully agree with the sentiment that video games are a form of escapism. Games are not meant to faithfully recreate every single aspect of our real life world. Ultimately, I am more than willing to accept a certain lack of plausibility regarding the ease with which we obtain and spend money in games; after all, I doubt anyone is clamoring for more protagonists who are constantly stressing out over their loan debts.

persona 5 social status

Persona 5: The guy on the right is barely scraping by. He needs every yen he can get.

But in the context of Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5, as well as any other games like them, a stronger acknowledgment of social status would greatly benefit the story. After all, in Final Fantasy XV, Prince Noctis’ occasional bouts of immaturity—seemingly a result of his sheltered upbringing—is a common point of contention between him and his friends. If the game allowed players to truly experience the benefits of his social standing, such as through tangible wealth or reverence from the general populace, then his friends’ frequent scolding of him might have felt more deserved.

Likewise, the heroes of Persona 5 constantly rail against corrupt, largely privileged members of society who abuse their power for their own selfish gain. If the game mechanics forced players to feel the weight of the protagonist’s own lack of privilege, and the financial struggles that naturally accompany it, then this commentary might resonate more.

It’s better storytelling.

As much as I enjoyed both games, flaws and all, it seems a bit obtuse that the storylines should be so eager to tackle weighty themes of power and responsibility, when the game mechanics ignore something that is equally vital in the exploration of those themes: the attainment of money and how one decides to use that money.

I see this as an opportunity to improve the storytelling potential of a genre that is already brimming with it. The best stories of any medium make their settings feel real and lived-in. They demonstrate the protagonist’s unique relationship to the world around them. Accounting for social status in a way that feels thoughtful and true to life will only make games more immersive, more realistic, and potentially more interesting.

At the very least, it should not be the case that a juvenile delinquent who works at a convenience store has the exact same relationship with money as a freaking prince.


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Helen Liutongco is a fledgling writer who contemplates games and cartoons from her perch in Chicago. Like a true millenial, she inadvertently wastes a lot of time on YouTube. Her work is on Overlooked and NerdyPOC. You are also permitted to stalk her on Twitter, but only in a non-creepy way.

  • justaperson

    Let’s start with XV.

    “In Final Fantasy XV, you play as the prince of the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. Yet at the onset of your journey, you and your retinue are inexplicably broke, so much so that your crew resorts to monster hunting in order to pay off the repair bills for your luxury car.”

    Wrong. The empire is more advanced, so that’s one problem. You’re not quite broke, but the money you have isn’t used outside of the capital: another mistake. The car is something of a risk, as such a model should be recognizable, but you can excuse it for the protection it affords the party; outside of that, Noctis is supposed to be keeping a low profile, and flashing around wads of cash wouldn’t make sense.

    • Helen L.

      Good point about Niflheim. Still, I got the impression that Insomnia seemed to be the most overall prosperous city in Eos (even compared to Altissia), despite its weaker military/tech capabilities.

      “Noctis is supposed to be keeping a low profile”

      This is an aspect of FFXV that I find questionable. It didn’t make sense to me that Lucis citizens wouldn’t recognize their own prince and future king (particularly considering that the team’s default outfits are Crownsguard attire). After all, Luna is seemingly well recognized wherever she goes, and yet Noctis somehow blends into the crowd in Altissia?

      Frankly, to me his lack of fame/recognition seemed arbitrary, as though he needed to be treated as an everyday guy for the convenience of the plot, as well as to appear more “relatable” and normal to the average player. (And this is coming from someone who otherwise rather likes Noctis!)

  • justaperson

    Now for Persona.

    “Yet despite these apparent setbacks, his criminal record in no way impedes him from getting any part-time job he wants. Regarding in-game resource management, finances prove no real obstacle after a certain point, largely because killing shadows nets the protagonist all the money he could ever need This is especially jarring when contrasted to the dialogue of his teammates, who often complain about how little money they have. One team member is so poor that he can barely even afford his train fare. Meanwhile, the protagonist is rolling in cash.”

    This is where knowing a bit about the different society you’re experiencing comes into play, and prevents you from misinterpreting things. The nature of part-time jobs in Japan means you don’t typically have to do background checks. In that regard, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, so long as the people around you don’t know anything about that. One of the things that happens- not very often, but it does- is that some big exec that gets wrapped up in a scandal gets shipped to a distant outpost of the company, where the locals won’t know the trouble he’s caused.

    “after a certain point” is rather subjective. It’ll depend on your level of difficulty and how much you grind; on my first playthrough of ANY Persona game, I barely have enough money to fully outfit my group with adequate gear(I don’t have enough right now, and what I DO have, I save for buying medicine), and a few hundred thousand yen can go REALLY quickly. In fact, one of the primary complaints was that things cost too much in the game.

    90+ hours in, working on the last palace, I’ve heard very few complaints about how little money they have. Yusuke, for his part, is no longer well-off because of story reasons, but don’t forget that he used to go to a private art school by chauffeured car. There are instances where he shows himself to be bad with money, too. Certainly, these things would be worth considering if you’re using him as an example.

    • odinsgrandson

      I’m like Justaperson- I find myself with only enough cash to buy the ‘necessities’ of armor and weaponry even fairly late in Persona games. Man, in Persona 4 I could never even afford the services of that greedy fox.

      Persona 5 makes a point about how little your part time employers want to know about you (sometimes pointedly refusing to ask you even your name, much less perform a background check). The game doesn’t present part time jobs that you can never have (which might have been interesting, but it focuses on other problems that you have due to your background).

      However, it is true that your real financial fluidity comes from the magic system- killing shadows nets you a lot more yen than working at a flower shop, so it is pretty easy for players to ignore the part time jobs (you gain other benefits from them, but those soon become the only real benefits).

      I’ve played a few games that handed out cash in different ways. Two examples that I can think of:

      Shenmue- you get an allowance at the start, and live in a payed off house, but later you get a job and eventually have to find work in order to support your adventuring efforts (oh, you can also gamble it all away). It is one of the few games where I think the financial burden of being an orphaned hero is really present.

      Fable 2 and 3. In both games, adventuring doesn’t pay, so you need to find other means of gaining income. The financial mobility you have here is pretty amazing- you just have to work as a busker long enough to buy property, then you collect rent at such a rate that you will be able to be the world’s only landlord by the end.

      Fable might be irresponsible even, in its presentation of social mobility -it is really easy to go from being an outcast living in a wagon to owning the world.

      • Helen L.

        Very true about Shenmue, and I’m really excited to see the options for gaining/spending money in the third game. And yeah, I feel like the depiction of social mobility tends to be fairly simplistic in most games I’ve encountered. Of course, I doubt most gamers are asking for a sobering portrayal of the cycle of poverty, but I think at least some acknowledgment of financial struggle and difficulty could certainly make for a compelling experience.

    • Helen L.

      Thanks for the info on part time jobs in Japan. I’ll keep that in mind! I had heard that in Japan a personal scandal (or even a scandal within one’s family) can greatly harm one’s employability, but perhaps such occurrences are less common than I thought.

      In my own playthrough of P5, I had an excessive amount of money throughout the entire second half of the game, which persisted even once I began buying higher level personas. Though it sounds like others had a more balanced playthrough in that regard.

  • justaperson

    Overall, I disagree. There are often plot reasons for why social status is not felt; Noctis-like characters usually lose it all(Noctis himself loses nearly everything through the course of the game) early on. In Persona, it’s not privilege they’re fighting against at all, just abuse of power and a self-serving attitude serious enough to ACTUALLY abuse those around them; your lack of privilege, if anything, is felt through your inability to do anything except resort to near-supernatural means to change the behavior of such people. You have a finite amount of time to use those means before your being just a kid leaves you with no choice but to acquiesce to the whims of the corrupt: that deadline is the weight you seek.

    It doesn’t necessarily make for better storytelling. In the case of XV, it would completely change Noctis’ character: yes, he’s a little spoiled, but he’s not some arrogant elitist who thinks he can do whatever he wants. Affording him the ability to get whatever funds or resources he wants on his name recognition also alters those parts where the Empire’s forces are looking for him and the general populace is unaware. Him banking on his nature as royalty destroys his opportunity to grow through connecting with people. If he doesn’t have to hunt monsters for the money, he never gets acquainted with the Hunters, so he never learns about the dog tags and appreciates that people are giving their lives to keep others safe in that way; there’s no better way to learn that than to have him BE a Hunter.

    For Persona, remaining near-penniless would hamstring you and fundamentally change most of the mechanics in the game: you’d never be able to upgrade your gear because you wouldn’t be able to amass any money, so you’d have to change the difficulty of the game to compensate; certain Confidants can only be or are further cultivated through the part-time jobs, so those would have to be rewritten to accommodate that change; raising your 5 stats would require something else to be implemented as well. Furthermore, if your criminal record followed you in that way, it would completely defeat the purpose of you moving to begin with: if everybody in Tokyo knows, why not just stay wherever you were beforehand?

    A comment on N4G mentions a very good point, too: many such games have people who KNOW the main character is the hero destined to save the world… but they’ll still charge him for supplies. If YOU were in their shoes, wouldn’t you be giving every bit you could spare, ensuring said hero wanted for nothing, so he or she would be better able to save your butt? The point is that if you start pushing and questioning things like that, you could unravel the entire point of most games. For instance, I would never have forgotten the face of the guy who lied and ruined my life, but P5’s protagonist does just that. If he doesn’t forget, vast amounts of the plot would need to be reworked, and the tension in certain parts wouldn’t be nearly as strong. (By the way, I left out that it wouldn’t be much for Yusuke, as a student, to have a rail pass like the others have, and thus eliminate most of his worries about taking the train. But, as you should know if you’ve played the game, he’s also an eccentric who probably never even thought of that.)

    Sometimes, you just shouldn’t think so hard about a game.

    • “There are often plot reasons for why social status is not felt; Noctis-like characters usually lose it all”

      If anything, stories like this are a great opportunity to showcase social status and the impact it has on the protagonist’s lifestyle. As another commenter mentioned, it could be really interesting to actually feel the effects of gaining or losing immense wealth in a game. True, FFXV and P5 might not be the best vehicles for it, but some iteration of this is far from impossible to implement. (For instance, because Insomnia is attacked so early in FFXV’s story, there could have been more finances available to him in the very beginning which are suddenly cut off after the attack.)

      “For Persona, remaining near-penniless would hamstring you and fundamentally change most of the mechanics in the game”

      Not necessarily. In a game like P5, there are plenty of ways around it; as I mentioned in the article, you might be forced to haggle or do favors in exchange for goods instead of paying outright. (They already sort of do this with Iwai and Takemi.) Some of the barriers you’re mentioning are ultimately pretty arbitrary and certainly not “game-breaking” if one were to edit them (e.g. Part time jobs as a roadblock for starting confidants. This can be easily edited or even switched; perhaps you need to start a confidant relationship in order to get a part time job that would be otherwise unattainable to you.)

      But I think we’re getting a bit too deep into the weeds here. The point of my article was not to argue that part time jobs should definitely be harder to obtain in P5 or that all RPG shop owners absolutely must treat the protagonist in a 100% realistic way in regards to real world social dynamics. The point was to simply question the default way of handling money in RPGs. Certainly there are other, potentially more interesting ways of depicting wealth in an interactive medium such as this, some of which we’ve already seen. (e.g. Shenmue’s more realistic portrayal of money.)

      Criticism, analysis, and inquisitiveness can lead to new ways of thinking or approaching something. We might not agree on this issue, but I still find thought exercises such as this very worthwhile, even if it’s just for its own sake. And thanks for your two cents. I do appreciate the different perspective!

    • I was thinking about this some more and wanted to add one last thing: “If YOU were in their shoes, wouldn’t you be giving every bit you could spare, ensuring said hero wanted for nothing, so he or she would be better able to save your butt?”

      That’s a really good point, and I think it would be cool to see a game that actually did that. For example, the protagonist might not have much money at all, but the shopkeepers give items to him at a huge discount because they acknowledge him as a hero. That would be a small but potentially effective way of depicting social status (and everyday human kindness) within the context of a game’s world.

  • odinsgrandson

    In a sort of general sense, I think that I’d really love it if games were better able to portray economic status to the players.

    In the Persona games, the mechanics do a great job of making me deal with high school life -managing social life and school duties along with all of the extra things that people expect you to do, and all with a limited amount of time in the day.

    Probably not Persona, but I’d really love for a game to give me those sorts of feelings about my character’s economic class. Like, maybe my hero is needing to scrape together rend in order to fund his adventures or he’ll need to sleep in the homeless shelter (Shenmue had you sleeping in a homeless shelter).

    I think it would be pretty cool to play as a rich kid who halfway through the game loses his wealth- and I could immediately feel the difference. Like, for the beginning of the game, I can essentially buy anything I want- you could even make a lot of activities cost money and then suddenly I have to start saving pennies.

    • Helen L.

      “I think it would be pretty cool to play as a rich kid who halfway through the game loses his wealth”

      Agreed! While writing this, I kept thinking of how interesting it would be to play a game that did this, where the fluctuating social status or wealth of your character does actually affect how you play the game.