For gamers, difficulty is one of the many factors that can make or break a game, and it’s one that can make gamers praise or curse a title. This was true, at least, in late 1980s, with such games as Ghost n’ Goblin, Battle Toad, Ninja Gaiden, and more, where the level of difficulty could be said to be ridiculously hard. For what its worth, and after much trial and error, games like this forced the players to use their memory to remember what to do next after each failure. Maybe that’s what makes past games more memorable than current gen games.
Contra, for example, one of the hardest shooters (and still is to this day), offered a “backdoor” to players by giving them the infamous Konami code that gave players an extra life to overcome the mission. Despite the code, the game still demanded that the players demonstrated skill in avoiding obstacles all while dodging the rain of bullets coming down across the screen.
While hard games seem uncommon to consoles, they are certainly not a rare sight in the arcades, especially if the game came from Japan. The games from Japan are known for requiring players to exhibit fast reflexes, have a good memory, and demonstrate precision in their moves. An example of a recent hard game for the consoles is the horror/puzzle/dating sim hybrid Catherine. With limits on both lives and time, puzzles needed to be solved before you suffered some horrible death. Adding to this was pressure from an end-stage boss which relentlessly pursued the players. This was predominantly found in the Japanese version of the game, as when the game came to the States and Europe, a patch was added, giving players the option to choose a very easy difficulty so they could experience Vincent’s adventure.
In another example, the NA version of the third installment of Devil May Cry the normal difficulty mode was actually the Japanese Hard mode. Capcom decided on this for the original releases in North America and Europe, but that decision drew heavy criticism from gamers and reviewers alike, and is often considered as one of the hardest games. Capcom backpedaled a bit and corrected this in the special edition of Devil May Cry 3.
Thanks to the decrease in difficulty, games can be completed faster, with a minimum of hard-work and frustration. This was probably a business decision, in a desire for the industry to attract both new and “casual” gamers rather than cater to the more “hardcore” crowd. In turn, games that came from great series noted for their level of difficulty came under increasing criticism from hardcore fans for “dumbing down the games”.
Achievement systems were first introduced on the X-Box 360 as a reward for gamers who completed rather difficult(or easy) tasks that eventually led to a 100% completion rate by giving online currency/points that later can be spent. Players can show off what they achieved to their friends around the world. PlayStation 3 followed suit later but without the points, simply having their trophies differentiated by colors (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum).
The Trophy/Achievement system measured a gamer’s ability in terms of the level of their skill, but bearing that in mind, most of the current games seem to be much easier than their counterparts in the late 1980’s up until the early 2000’s. With that being said, the interest in developing hard games is emerging slowly again, as evidenced by the popularity of such releases as Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, the upcoming Dark Souls 2 and Capcom’s own Dragon Dogma.
For some gamers, going straight to the hardest difficulty setting available is the only way to go. To them, they need that extra challenge to complete a campaign or perhaps they just love taking punishment from a game’s AI. But in the end, does the difficulty prove to be the defining factor in a game? For many that means yes, and those in that camp say making a game difficult just makes players try harder. For others, though, it can make them completely give up on a game. Difficulty for the sake of being hard doesn’t really work, and it may not be viable in today’s market, especially with the increasing cost to develop games. There will always be those niche markets for hardcore gamers, but developers and publishers need to make games that appeal to a wide audience so they have a better chance at recouping the money they’ve put out. The easy fix to appeal to all? Multiple levels of difficulty in the games. That would seem to make the most sense.
Readers, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.
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