Editorial: Difficulty in Gaming

When we were younger we had all the time in the world to play games. The problem was, we did not get that many to play. This was not because everyone had to wait for the next big game, we just had to wait for… well, anything really. A smaller market meant that there was often large gaps between releases, so by necessity, what we had to play with needed to last us for longer than games today do. This often meant making games difficult, sometimes almost impossible. We complained, but we became better players through our struggles.

Think you can make it back to your corpse? Think again!
Dark Souls offers a high level of challenge.

As the video games market has grown over the years, the difficulty has gone down. The mobile market has had a large role to play in this as well. It is not uncommon to spend an hour or two completing a free app, only to move on to the next one. Many new casual gamers have joined the market through Facebook, mobile phones, or buying a Wii. Adults can be found playing and enjoying games primarily aimed at children. Hand these same people anything more difficult and they will soon walk away in frustration, yet these people are now a significant portion of the consumer base. We are in an era where games are being developed for people who have no love of challenge.

This fact is highlighted in the recent Ni no Kuni. Over the course of the game the protagonist, Oliver, picks up new spells to solve the problems and puzzles that are spread across the world. Each spell has a very useful description that explains what it does, often making the solution to a puzzle obvious. This does not mean Oliver can walk up and just cast the right spell, oh no. Oliver has to interact with an object, then his companion, Mr. Drippy, will explain that Oliver has a spell that he could use in this situation before automatically bringing up the spell book. A game should not have to hold the players hand as much as this.

Some games have an average level of difficulty, but have paid DLC that can make the experience easier. Both Mugen Souls and Rainbow Moon are guilty of this. Both games have the option to power up characters for a price, or in the case or Mugen Souls, completely for free. The removal of any sort of challenge from a game leads to people moving from fight to fight in an effort to catch the next piece of story. Very little actual gameplay is left in this situation, leading me to wonder why they would pay for the game in the first place.

There are some games out there that still offer the challenge many of us desire. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls both offer a challenging game to those that still desire it. Death is not the end of the game, but can be punishing if the player cannot get back to where they died before they die again. And die the player shall, often. There is no shame in failing to spot traps, because it teaches us be wary. Harsh lessons taught in games like these force players to adapt quickly and learn new skills.

Next time remember to raise the shields!
Gambling everything on skill makes for addictive gameplay.

Taking the challenge one step further, there are games that force the player to start over when they die once. The rogue-like Faster Than Light offers different situations each time it is played. As each choice could reward or punish the player there is some luck involved, but the ship combat is mostly about skill as a player need to make decisions about how best to control their ship. There is no time to hang around either, as an alien army is chasing the player across multiple maps.

Lastly, I have to mention my Diablo 3 hardcore character that I wrote about last week. After reaching the level cap (no paragon levels though) and making it to inferno difficulty, he was killed by a champion pack of creatures. Despite putting in thirty-seven and a half hours of play into the character, he is now gone forever. This is the challenge that I seek though, and while there are a couple of games with this level of difficulty released each year, it is still not enough to satisfy the hardcore gamer. Challenge need to make a comeback.

Readers, what challenging games have you played recently? Would you enjoy harder games? Let me know in the comments!


  1. ZombiU took the Dark Souls approach and applied it to a survival horror FPS. You can make your way through as a war of attrition but overall the design was shockingly punishing for a game made by UbiSoft.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t screencap the YOU HAVE DIED (Your deeds of valour will be remembered.) screen from your latest Hardcore failure! You should have waited for me!

    Some points:

    Ni no Kuni does a LOT of hand-holding. I’m glad I’m not the only person who noticed this. I do understand that it is aimed at young people, but seriously, little kids aren’t going to get very far in NNK on the whole. It’s going to be played by late teen and young adult JRPG fans. At least give us the OPTION to disable or skip tutorials.

    I’d be interested to see what you make of the difficulty in Antechamber. Maybe you should check that out. It’s an entirely different approach.

  3. @Lusi: I have noticed it as well, and there’s just so much of it! Unpleasant filler.

  4. Ni no Kuni’s overexplanation really undoes any of the potential good of having these extremely basic puzzle elements in the first place.

  5. Add a third to that Ni No Kuni criticism. Especially considering that the game is pretty challenging for certain boss battles. I did dig that dual-analogue section in the Trial of Friendship. Hopefully there’s more of that. Because like Julian says, the other puzzles unfortunately have the explanation spelled out.

  6. I agree that Ni No Kuni has far too much explanation. At least Drippy is entertaining and not like Navi. In particular, his jumping in during boss fights and advising the player is very jarring. In regards to the Trial of Friendship, when they cross onto the opposite side it rather hurt my brain.

  7. I just watched the Ni No Kuni opening. Beautiful! I am not looking forward to over explanations on the puzzles and boss fights because I love to figure those things out on my own. Maybe I’ll just hammer the button without reading it.

    Thanks for the great article, Mr. Mundy. I definitely prefer hard games in general. That said, I hate retreading ground so the kind of difficulty that Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls had were actually not my type. I stuck it out until I platinumized both of them but I would be in favor of making that game’s bosses twice as hard in exchange for checkpoints right at each boss’s lair.

    A game that I am playing that has a really solid difficulty curve is Resonance of Fate. It is balanced just the way I like it. It is possible to beat without grinding but difficult and requires some strategy. Grinding can help a lot but even if you do plenty of it, there is still some challenge. The battles are long and the story is somewhat minimal so it may not appeal to everyone. I also enjoyed the difficulties of FFXIII, Soldner X, and Valkyrie Profile 2.

    Regarding difficulty in puzzles, where do I start? It’s unfortunate that the kind of puzzle difficulty I like is so rare. Basically, if I am not sitting there for at least thirty minutes in deep thought, it wasn’t hard enough for me. I absolutely love the contemplation process. That is where all the fun in puzzles is supposed to be after all. I recently got a friend to play Alundra and he got stuck on this one puzzle for about two hours. I took about that long, myself. I said that puzzle was epic but he said that he felt like he just wasted a whole bunch of time. To be honest, I don’t know of any other games with puzzles and difficult or as plentiful as Alundra. I welcome recommendations.

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