Last time, I talked about Tutorials and the trope coming with them that ‘games today hold your hand too much’, and expressed my opinion on how tutorials are becoming more and more important in the modern gaming community. Today, however, I’m gonna talk about another trope. That games today are ‘too easy’.
No particular reason why. I just saw the headline on Twitter someone did on how he thought difficulty settings in games were bad game design. It kinda stuck, and I figured that, since I’m preparing other stuff right now, I might as well put in my own thoughts.
Once again, keep in mind that this is just my opinion. You’re free to share your own, just, once again, it’d be appreciated if you weren’t an asshat.
To start off, I will indeed say that old games are HARD. Practically every game I ever owned, mostly on the Sega Mega Drive (Or Genesis, if you will), I never beat. However, no one considers WHY old games are hard, or even seem to remember the exceptions of these games. Nor do they tend to think about games today that are hard. I’m about to lay about a rather sad truth.
Old games such as Super Mario Brothers or Mega Man, or even Sonic The Hedgehog, HAD to be hard. I mentioned before, that old games didn’t have tutorials because of their lack of space on the cartridges that would hold them. So, if the difficulty of these games were equal what’d be expected of today’s games, you’d actually finish them in maybe a half an hour for most. This is with the exception of RPGs, however. The advent of making games hard wasn’t so much to challenge the player sneaky tactic of game developers. Increased difficulty was normally a result of the following reasons:
- Money: Titles that originated in arcades, such as Golden Axe or Street Fighter, where made hard for one sole purpose. To take your money. This is such a thing that these games were given the name of quarter-muncher. It’s hard so you would spend more money or tokens to keep playing and eventually beat it. The home console versions of these games became hard merely as a result of this tactic. However, these games are made even harder for the next reason.
- Time: As I mentioned before, games in the older era, if they were given the types of difficulty levels expected of today, would only be roughly 30 minutes to an hour. Games on the SNES and the Mega Drive could be longer because those systems are more powerful, but would still be rather short compared to games today. So, to extend the time the player would spend playing the game, they were made harder. This often results in players finding cheap ways to improve their ability complete the game. This isn’t always a bad thing though, at least for the most part. It, at least, pales in comparison to the next reason on the list.
- Technical Issues: No game is perfect, yes, but issues that wouldn’t fly in today’s world were grossly uncommon in the older set of games. This can be due to bad design choices, controls that fight against you, or, the worst reason of all, GLITCHES. Glitches could be as harmless as being a faulty screen or something that just lead to being a fun little aid for the player, to things that would turn the game against you and make it a living nightmare. Half of Final Fantasy 1, the game that was so good it saved a dying company, didn’t work because of glitches, which in effect, made the game even harder.
Nowadays, however, games can last anywhere from 6-10 hours, even longer. That said, the game doesn’t NEED to be hard in order to get the most out of it. That’s not to say though, that some of the same tactics aren’t being used. Most RPGs will still use difficulty spikes in order to force you to grind, a subject matter I will tackle sometime in the future.
On the other hand though, we tend to forget that there are still hard games today. Hell, the Souls/ Borne games are practically famous for it. Capcom’s Godhand for the PS2 was so hard that it advertised itself at e3 as being ‘ballbustingly hard’ and even had footage of the main character getting his ass kicked. I mentioned before in a review that AeternoBlade was hard. Fate/ Extra, your first time through, is so brutal that even the first enemy of the game can kill you in a single turn if you screw up too much.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, there are older games that are easy, either because they’re aimed at younger audiences or their challenge lies elsewhere. Super Bonk and Kirby, but Super Bonk’s strength lies in its creativity while Kirby’s lies in the challenge of completing it.
Though, once more, we have to ask ourselves WHY the game is hard or easy. Is it hard for the right reasons? This is something I’ll cover a bit later, but now I’ll talk about the second part of this article, Difficulty Settings.
The reason I bring this up, was the aforementioned post on Twitter to an article on how the author believed difficulty settings was bad game design. An article that he apparently got flack for considering there was a follow-up article called ‘The Fallout’. I didn’t read the article myself, but one bit that previewed in the link post was ‘not everyone has the same skill level’. As I didn’t read the article, I won’t go into detail on it as I don’t particularly know where this statement was going.
That said, I will say this. I don’t believe difficulty settings are bad game design. Difficulty settings, to me, are a way for the player to challenge themselves or set up the game to how they would like to play. For myself, I like to ease myself into the game by playing on the easiest or somewhat easiest, difficulty first. Take time to learn the game and get used to it. Once that’s done, since I’ll normally be on a binge of playing the game for a long time, I’ll work my way up the difficulty ranks. That said, though, I don’t normally tend to tackle games on the hardest difficulties, mostly because I believe that’s going beyond my actually skills. As an example, I’m probably the only person to beat every known God of War game around 5 times, yet never actually manage to beat them on their hardest difficulties. I just barely beat Devil May Cry 3 on Dante Must Die mode, and only because of a cheap tactic, and I’m STILL trying to beat Momohime’s story on Muramasa Rebirth on Fury Mode.
With this in mind, I have no problems with difficulty levels as a form of game design, even if it’s a source of fury for me at times. What DOES bother me, when beating the game on said difficulty is manditory. Usually this is for achievements, but sometimes you have to face the hardest challenges for unlockables. Remember how I said each I never beat any of the God of War games on their hardest difficulty? That’s not for lack of trying. God of War 2 has an unlockable costume allowing you to play as Athena. As someone who likes playing as female characters in games, I naturally wanted it. To get this costume, you need to beat the game on Titan Mode, the hardest difficulty in the game. Guess how far I got. I’m unable to beat Theseus, so I’m not only unable to unlock the costume I wanted so badly, but I’m unable to complete the game due to my own lack of abilities.
Don’t get me wrong. It would also suck to have played through an a gauntlet of fury and aggrevation and not even get anything for it. For people like me, though, an alternate method of unlocking everything, without using cheats, would be greatly appreciated. Though that would come with it’s own problems, as not everyone will be like me and opt for the path that’s just within my abilities rather than just going through the easier route.
So, with all this, I will take us back to my earlier question: When is a game hard for the right reasons? In today’s climate, a game is hard for the right reasons by providing a significant challenge to the player without resorting to cheap tactics to accomplish this goal. It has to be hard, but fair, and most of all, the challenge has to be their without the presence of technical faults such as bad controls, glitches, or lack of polish. It has to be hard, but fair. The Souls/ Borne games have notorious difficulty, but they’re far from impossible. They’re games that require you to be patient and persist. To use tactics rather than just outright hack and slashing your way through. On it’s hardest difficulty, Muramasa Rebirth makes it that you only have 1HP the entire game, but suppliments this by making it so bosses have significantly less health to keep it from being an unfair mess. Pocky and Rocky is one of the hardest games on the SNES, but requires you to be fully aware of your surroundings and react quickly. Godhand demands that you pick your fights carefully and use power ups wisely. Fate/ Extra even requires you to learn the behaviour patterns of your enemies rather than just flat out attacking all the time and to carefully plan your actions in kind.
A game is hard for the wrong reasons, when it uses cheap tricks or bad game design to make itself an unplayable mess. Stuff that is used in Rage Games. Kid Klown in Crazy Chase is one of the WORST offenders for having horrible controls, and having cheap tricks where you never know what’s good or bad for you and requiring you to perfect it all in one go for the good ending. King’s Knight, the game Square had made before the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy, has stages that work completely against the player and power ups that make no sense, and above all that, a final level that’s set up in a way that you need to perfect the game in order to complete it. Modern games don’t get a pass on this either. No game is safe from these sorts of issues. It’s incredibly easy for a game to be hard for all the wrong reasons.
I was rather late in getting into the gaming community. I had a couple of games on the NES then moved to the Mega Drive, where my library was significantly bigger. My experience with PC games was mostly point and clicks. A had a couple of games for Game Boy and Game Boy Colour and a few for the Game Gear. I have a Game Boy Advance, but literally NO GBA titles outside of those emulated. I only became more of a hardcore gamer during once the PS1 came about. This is where I started to grow a truly significant amount of of a game library. So, with that in mind, I probably have a very different perception of the difficulty of games than most of the gaming community. I’m more a gamer who enjoys games for their story, even fighting games. Yes, I’m serious.
So, games nowadays don’t have to be hard because there’s no need to drag the game out. There’s not many games anymore that you can finish in just a couple of hours. Now, the only reason a game made to be hard is to provide a challenge for the player, and that’s something I can respect… within reason. The same rules still apply. If a game’s to provide a challenge, it needs to be because of clever design and layouts that give the player a fair chance regardless of the difficulty they face. On the same note, a game that’s easy, for whatever reason, shouldn’t treat you like you’re a toddler who still wets their pants.
In closing, whether or not games today are too easy has little to do with the era of the game. Developers have gotten better. Games have gotten more advanced. There’s no need to make it difficult just to pad out game time. So, if the game’s too easy for you, it’s either due to a flaw of the game, or because you’re too skilled to play it that way. Once again, perspective plays a major role, just like it does with the presence of tutorials in games.
There’s much more I’d like to share with these Opinion Pieces, so I will make this a reoccuring thing. However, this doesn’t mean I’ll be doing none of the other stuff even while I’m saving up for a PS4. I still have an expansive library of games I haven’t finished that are still available to me. I’ll be getting to those in time. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I’ll get back to another one soon.