"I like to stomp through everything."
In the opening moments of Final Fantasy XV, your car breaks down. The second (and super important) quest in the game is to fix it; it's the only way to quickly travel around the world. Most people probably did the quest. But Billy, who goes by Soushin on the Internet, decided this was the perfect time to grind until hitting level 99, the game's level cap.
60 hours later, Billy had made it to level 99.
"This is something that I've done in every Final Fantasy game that I've played," he told me recently. "It's something that I started with Final Fantasy IV."
In the early hours of Final Fantasy IV, the main character, Cecil, undergoes a transformation from a dark knight into a paladin. Running back and forth through the game's pixelated mountains, Billy slowly grinded (ground?) his characters to level 99. It took him 80 hours, and afterwards, he was able to bash through the entire game, as though he'd popped in a cheat code. He was hooked.
"I like to stomp through everything," he said, "but it's also to be able to do things that the developers did not intend you to do. That's actually my major point—they didn't want you to do that, but I did it anyway, because I can. [laughs] That's why I do it."
(To pull this off in Final Fantasy XV, he'd craft debased coins into a spell, which grants a massive experience boost. After spamming the spell in battle, he'd collect a bunch of experience and sleep at the Quayside Cradle hotel, a location that's in the corner of the map and would take a long ass time to make your way to, for a 2X leveling boost. Rinse and repeat for dozens of hours!)
Watching him methodically jump from level 80 to 99 is almost hypnotic.
Billy could have made his life easier by repairing his car in Final Fantasy XV, but he enjoys the challenge. Often, he'll place additional constraints on his play, to make things more interesting. This was one of those cases.
In one tiny corner of the Internet, the subreddit for the YouTube Let's Play channel Super Best Friends Play, Billy's hardcore grinding is well-known. It's nearly a meme, spawning threads where players share moments when they did something equally as ridiculous in another game.
"So you know how Rune Factory 4 has absurdly huge level/stat caps on everything?" wrote one user in response. "I took them as a challenge. I beat the final boss at around lvl 75. I am currently level 12,875. Over 30 in-game years have passed on my save file. I think I'm almost 1/4 of the way toward the level cap."
"I maxed out my character in Oblivion before I finished any quests outside of the tutorial," said another.
Billy, a self-described introvert, claims he doesn't actually enjoy grinding. It's about subversion, and there are limits to even his remarkable patience. In Final Fantasy IV, the game where he developed this approach, he tried grinding to level 99 at the very start of the game, prior to Cecil becoming a paladin. After more than 80 hours, though, he'd only made it to level 50.
"I gave up," he laughed.
"Honestly, it's not difficult to do what I do. It's just spending time doing it. It's just having the patience to do it. It's not a game of skills."
And yet, he did this knowing, hours later, as Cecil becomes a dark knight, his rank goes resets to level one.
"It takes a special type of insane person to grind pre-paladin Cecil up like crazy, knowing full well he gets reset," said one reddit user, after Billy shared his story online. "I like it."
Though it took 60 hours to go from level one to level 99, it wasn't all grinding. Billy estimates that took up 40 hours, while another 20 was legitimately playing the game—exploring dungeons, fighting monsters. And during the hours of monotony, he'd watch a lot of Netflix, including Thor, Hardcore Henry, Kickboxer: Vengeance, and "two old Jet Li movies."
Even if games offered a way to grind faster, Billy's not sure he'd actually do it.
"There is a feeling of accomplishment for the hard work that you put in," he said. "If it's something simple, like you press a button and you're level 99 right away, it doesn't feel like I earned it. That's why I would spend those hours."
While spending nearly two full days grinding might seem strange to some, Billy finds value in it. He'll only invest that time into a game he's enjoying. Unsurprisingly, he loves Final Fantasy XV. But as you might expect, the reactions to Billy's accomplishments are sometimes mixed.
"I think people are overreacting," he said. "Honestly, it's not difficult to do what I do. It's just spending time doing it. It's just having the patience to do it. It's not a game of skills. It's not really incredible, especially when I'm doing it while watching a movie. [laughs] It's not boring all the time! I see some comments like 'What you do is nothing,' and I agree with these comments! It's still flattering to get some recognition for what I do. I'm happy about it. When people are encouraging me, it makes me, in future games, want to do things like that again."