As compensation, an unlockable extra has been revealed in the Bonuses section. You can go look at David's notes on the Elemental Crystal System that their Shadowlands arms and armor seem to obey.
"Hyper cut!" Kevin yelled.
"Nothing," David said, kicking the one remaining shadowling away from his leg. "Again!"
"Um ... Leap slash!"
"Uh. Er." Kevin went for broke. "Raging shadow blade death strike!"
"Meh," David said, setting the shadowling on fire. "No good."
"Maybe I don't have any special moves," Kevin said glumly. "Most games don't even give MP bars to the fighter."
"No!" David protested, picking up the shards. "You're getting the gem to flash. You've got the focusing thing down. It wouldn't even do that if you didn't have something to unlock."
Kevin sighed and sat down against the wall. "Then I probably need to be higher than first level, or something."
"What are you talking about? You can't possibly still be level 1. We've already killed a boss!"
"That Quinotauros thing, you mean?"
"Yeah," David said, sitting down next to Kevin and pointing to a circular indentation on the crossguard. The hole had three golden prongs spaced evenly around the edges. "Beating it unlocked one of your crystal slots."
Kevin did a double-take. "Whoah! I hadn't even noticed. What does that do?"
"At this point, adding a crystal probably just boosts your magic power," David said. "Don't worry about it."
"What do you mean, 'probably'? How do you know?"
"Joix gave Emile and I some information on elemental crystals," David explained. "He only has the tools to craft the most basic fire crystals right now. He said fire is associated with spiritual strength -- probably meaning that in an attribute slot like the one on your sword, it raises your magic stat. I figured you'd rather have me use our shards to have him smith crystals into armor for all three of us."
"Whoah, whoah, wait," Kevin said, increasingly lost. "Crystals? Joy? Attribute slots? Shards? Run that all by me again, more slowly."
"Joix is the merchant Emile and I ran into in the basement," David said. "The shards the shadowlings drop are both currency and raw material. Once he's got the right tools, he can craft them into different elemental crystals -- fire, air, earth, water, shadow, and presumably light -- and we can mount those into our weapons or infuse them into armor. Weapon mounts have various effects based on the nature of the slot." He took a deep breath. "Look, let's take a break and compare notes."
David told Kevin of the adventures he and Emile had had over the course of the day, and what he'd learned from talking with Joix. In turn, Kevin described his experiences with Diune. They both leaned back and digested the new information.
"Well," David said, "that does put some of the game plot in context."
"I wish you'd stop calling it that," Kevin said, staring out into space.
"Don't take it the wrong way," David said placatingly. "Game or not, that doesn't mean it's meaningless. Maybe it's some sort of test for something bigger. Maybe the game world really is real."
Kevin's eyes caught on something odd near the top of the room. "Hey," he said, relieved to change the subject. "Is that a ... tree?"
David followed Kevin's extended finger and squinted. On one of the landings high above them, there was a carefully trimmed, oval-shaped four-foot shrub in a red pot.
"Huh?" David said. "That wasn't there when I left. Let's go check it out."
Kevin followed David up the ramps to the shrub, watching as David casually dispatched the shadowlings along the way with mass fire spells and then scooped up their obsidian shards. Up close, the shrub was exactly what it appeared to be from down below: a random piece of greenery set down on the edge of the landing.
Kevin poked it with his sword. "What's this doing here?"
"I have no idea."
"What should we do with it?"
David shrugged. "Well, it doesn't seem to be a flesh-eating tree or anything, so let's do what RPG heroes always do when confronted with strange greenery." He handed his staff to Kevin and started prying branches apart, searching the interior of the shrub.
"You don't ..." Kevin said, looking around uncertainly. "You don't really think that's going to work, do you?"
"Found it," David said with a smirk, pulling out what looked to be a postcard with a note clipped to the front.
"Ugh," Kevin sighed. "Goddammit."
"'Note to self,'" David read. "'Hide postcard for later. Send to Gavin c/o the Shadow Palace after becoming hero. (He collects them.)' It's signed with the letter C." He flipped over the card and stared at the front, which was a photo of their surroundings with "Hello from the Hall of Heroes!" in bold movie letters across the top and several grinning human-sized shadows posing with an assortment of weaponry over their shoulders.
"No, seriously, I give up," Kevin said, throwing up his hands. "You and Trent are right. It's all just a game. Maybe if it was only physics behaving differently, it would be one thing, but hiding items in scenery? And letter collection sidequests?" He kicked a stone at the pot; it glanced off and soared out into space, bouncing down the ramps to the floor far below.
David shrugged. "The rules are different here. Remember what I said. That doesn't mean what we're doing is meaningless."
"No, David. There's a line between game and gamelike. Postcards in shrubbery crosses the line. It would take someone absolutely insane to do that! This is too retarded to be real."