Well, the title’s the question. What’s so good about hard games then? Specifically though, it’s about what I like about hard games. Not all hard games mind, not all of them are made equal.
At this point the comparison is a complete meme but the games I’m talking about are like Dark Souls. Dark Souls is the epitome of difficult games, and there is no end to the amount of games that try to emulate them.
I’ll probably be bringing up the Souls series a lot, so if you don’t like them, then this article may not be of interest to you.
This will be my first “think piece” so bare with me here, it may end up slightly jumbled. My bad. So without further ado, let’s get into this.
What do I mean?
Games can be hard for many reasons, high difficulty, tough mechanics, or bad programming to name but a few. When games fall into these categories they can also fall into “good” or “bad” games. I will obviously be discussing the good games here.
Difficulty is never really a point of contention. Pretty much everyone is fine overall with the idea of different difficulties in games. Then, if you want a challenge you can just choose that. I think however for certain games, with specific gameplay mechanics, adding alternate difficulties would actually lessen their impact.
Games that are built specifically to be difficult, take more care with their combat and deaths. Dark Souls for example, makes dying an essential mechanic. It’s built in a way that accepts the fact that you will die during the and builds other mechanics around this. A prime example being, enemies respawning after you die, plenty of bonfires to act as checkpoints, and the ability to recover your Souls.
It takes all of these to mitigate the natural instinct that dying in a game is a negative. This is what sets Dark Souls apart, when you die in a lot of games the game state is recent to before you died. It’s as if everything you did since your last checkpoint never happened. The game then says “Try again”.
Dark Souls on the other hand, acknowledges that you made this attempt. While it takes you back to your last checkpoint still, this time it says to you “keep going”. It’s a small difference but it makes you think differently whilst you’re playing. That, in my opinion, is their key to success.
Challenging. Games that are challenging are nothing new. There have been plenty of games that were difficult, or had high difficulty settings. The important thing is always that you are presented with genuine obstacles. Be they mechanics, boss fights, or just combat in general.
What’s good hardness?
I think it boils down to intention. If the intention is to put together a difficult game, then there’s a real chance that will happen. Issues arise when that isn’t the intention and things are basically broken.
It’s hard not to bring this up but the Souls-Borne series is the perfect example of the former. The Souls games are made purposely difficult, the key is that the mechanics and balancing in the game is perfected to keep the game fair.
The word fair is key, Dark Souls is fair. You might get killed in one hit, or you might fall off a ledge, but you will know why. Either you’re not strong enough or you made a mistake. Those are the generally the 2 main reasons you’ve died.
Overcomable challenges. There should always be challenges when playing a game. They need to be beatable though, with a clear way to win. In some games they just add more enemies that attack all the time and say “this is hard”. This isn’t a good kind of difficulty. It’s artificial.
Whereas with the Soulsborne series every enemy and boss is easily beatable. You just need the right equipment, be strong enough, and learn their patterns. It just takes time, patience, and tries. With those you can beat everything. A perfect example of this, is that some people can beat whole games of Dark Souls without taking a single hit.
It’s a fair game, where if you understand and learn all of the patterns, you can become unbeatable. It’s a real testament to how well made all parts of these games are made, that this is even possible.
What do I like specifically?
This is a really easy one. The sense of achievement. The best part of playing a difficult game is progressing, getting through a tough section, or beating a hard boss. Either of these gives an immense feeling of satisfaction.
Dark Souls 3 is my absolute favourite game of all time, I’ve mentioned it here or there. It brings with it one of the best examples of this feeling. The Nameless King. If you know, then you know. I consider him the hardest boss in all 3 Dark Souls games.
It took a great many tries to beat him, over and over, he would trash me. I dodged at the wrong time, dodged in the wrong direction, or tried to heal at the wrong time. Every time I tried I made a mistake and was punished for it. Until I didn’t make a mistake. Never have I been so thrilled playing any game before. I literally screamed in joy!
That’s exactly what I mean, pure elation and finally overcoming such a tough obstacle is exactly the appeal of difficult games.
There’s a touchy subject with some in the Dark Souls community, “Git Gud”. It’s a phrase that basically means: “Don’t complain about the game, just get better at the game”. It brings up some contention because it’s often used in a condescending manner towards players that aren’t as good.
I think however it is apt, when used correctly. Improving your skills through grinding your way through the game. Making progress, gaining levels, and fighting over and over again. Through trial and error actually getting better at a game is a marvelous feeling.
A good example for me is, as always, with Dark Souls. The first time that I played Dark Souls I was barely able to make it to or past the first proper boss. I died a few dozen times just getting past the starting area. It’s pretty embarrassing how bad I was.
Now however, after sinking hundreds of hours into the series, I find the whole experience cathartic. Other than the odd boss fight that I still find difficult, the majority of the experience is so enjoyable. By getting better, the game became more and more enjoyable.
What is the controversy?
I’ll just get this out of the way right off the bat. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a game being hard. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with games being made that not everyone will play. Not all games need to be played by every gamer.
If a game is too hard for some people that is fine, it isn’t designed for them. It has a specific audience that it is catering too and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
This leads me into my next point. I also don’t think that reviewers should tackle genres they don’t like or that they can’t play. For example, I don’t like sports games, so it would be useless for me to review the latest Fifa game. Our Zack isn’t a fan of JRPGs or Anime so we agreed that he shouldn’t really handle reviews for these styles of games.
Just as an added point I think this for all mediums, I don’t think anyone should review a genre that they don’t like.
This is epitomised by the infamous Cuphead review where the reviewer couldn’t really play the game. Having trouble in the tutorial, leading into even more trouble when they made it to the first level.
Now I don’t think that this makes them any less of a gamer, or a laughing stock. Let’s be clear there. I do however think that they either shouldn’t have played the game like this, or uploaded a review.
There are 2 camps as I brought up earlier, the good ones and the bad ones. The good ones are more important, obviously! So what are some of these good games? Well there are plenty that follow a similar theme, they even move into other gaming genres. Of the ones that I’ve played, I would say the better ones are:
- Nioh (the sequel has since been released as well);
- Surge and Surge 2 (this is basically Dark Souls with exosuits);
- Hollow Knight (this is a metroidvania style game);
- Code Vein (literally just Anime Souls. That is a good thing.);
There are still some bad games, or at least “less gud” ones. I recently watched a couple videos from a guy playing some of these kinds of games.
Do any of you like difficult games or not? Are there any games in particular? Or are there any games you think are actually too hard, let us know in the comments!
Written by Kyle Munn.