Once upon a time, video games were hard, and I mean really hard. Not only did gamers of the ‘80s and early ‘90s not have the luxury of looking up FAQs and walk-throughs online, titles were simply designed with the idea that not everyone would be able to beat them.
Eventually, studios saw the inefficiencies in this. Why go to the trouble of designing a great game and saving the most technologically impressive bits for the finale, when only a fraction of your paying customers would be able to see it? So games got easier, and as people outside the then-small circle of hard-core gamers got to experience all of the content each title had to offer, the market grew, and designers never looked back.
Well, most of them didn’t. It turns out there’s still a small band of players who find anything less than an unforgiving game to be completely unforgivable. Recently, borderline masochistic Japanese gamers shared some of their picks for the toughest yet most rewarding games they’d played.
A good example of the relaxed difficulty of A-list games is the fourth installment in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid franchise, subtitled Guns of the Patriots. Like its predecessors before it, MGS4 has a story to tell. Director Hideo Kojima has said time and time again that his style of game design is heavily influenced by movies. A filmmaker wouldn’t force his audience to take a test halfway through the picture, with only those who pass allowed to stick around for the third act. Likewise, MGS4 is an inclusive title, according to one Japanese gamer:
“I’d never played any stealth of first-person shooters before, but even I could beat this game. You can continue on the boss fights, and even if you just charge straight in, you can usually survive.”
▼ MGS4’s mustachioed hero, Snake
Similar praise was given to Sacred 2, an action role-playing game from now-defunct German developer Ascaron Entertainment. Whereas Japanese-made RPGs have typically made their primary plotline the clear driving force behind the game, Sacred 2 gameplay largely consists of a number of bite-sized sub-quests for the player to embark on.
“It’s a simple game, and not so flashy, but it’s fun. You can play it at a laid-back pace, polishing off one quest a day.”
▼ Another day, another giant stone gollum to slay.
But what about gamers looking for a challenge? One suggestion is Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. The Ninja Gaiden franchise has been tempting gamers to hurl either their controllers or obscenities at the TV screen since its first NES outing in 1988. It’s a tradition Sigma 2 proudly carries on.
“The amount of tension the game builds, by not giving you a chance to let your focus slip for a second, is unbelievable…Recently, a lot of action games mix puzzles into their gameplay, but this one is all action, all the time, just like I like it.”
“I recommend this for people who just really want to go all out and attack a game. Especially if you’re tired of just mashing buttons, the type of skill necessary here is a whole new different level of enjoyment.”
▼ Hmm…we thought ninjas were supposed to be stealthy. Not that we’re in any mood to argue semantics with the guy swinging a giant scythe around, mind you.
One of the most challenging games of the past several years is Dark Souls, the cult hit from From Software (great developer, weird name). Death is so common in the morbidly-styled action RPG that ads for it featured the tagline “Prepare to die.” Even seeking help through the title’s online co-op mode opens up the door for less-philanthropic players to murder you.
“I’ll be blunt, you’re going to die right away…But when you think about it, this is the same as the old Mario games. When you die, you learn how to do better next time.”
“The first time you encounter a new enemy, it’ll bury you. If you try to fight it one-on-one, other enemies will come out of hiding and kill you. You can get killed at any time, but that’s why it feels like such a huge accomplishment when you clear an area of the game.”
▼ Playing Dark Souls? Get used to this screen.
It’s no surprise that gamers had similar things to say about Demon’s Souls, the precursor to Dark Souls that From Software released two years prior.
“The sense of accomplishment is great. At First you think, ‘There’s no way I can beat these enemies!’ But by the time you finish the game, you can take them down without even getting hit, and it’s all just because you’ve gotten better as a player.”
▼ Any game where the bosses’ weapons are bigger than your character probably isn’t going to be easy.
Finally, Japanese developers don’t have a monopoly on tough games, nor does the difficulty always have to come from the enemy-controlling AI. Japanese gamers took time getting used to both the controls and levels of realism of EA’s mega-hit first-person shooter Battlefield 3, particularly during multiplayer mode.
“The game does so much to make you feel like you’re in a war zone that the first time I played it, it was hard to stay calm.”
“The helicopter is so hard to control. I wish there was a single player practice mode for it. But when you can coordinate your attacks and strategy with the other players on your team, this game is really fun. Recently I’ve been wondering if they’ll let me fly some of the planes in our next missions.”
▼ Deep down inside, there’s a little part of every man that sometimes wishes he were an F-18 pilot.
Of course, we’re not sure our Japanese friends are experiencing the full challenge of on-line play as long as they can’t understand the half-dozen swearing junior high school kids that seem to show up in every multiplayer match, but that’s a handicap even the most hard-core gamer would be jealous of.