What is it with video games as of late? It feels like gaming is becoming too easy. Could it be that we as gamers are getting older and becoming more skilled, therefore knowing what to look for in games to progress? Or is it the developers making their games simpler and linear to appeal to the more casual crowd? Final Fantasy XIII, I am staring right at you right now. On the other hand, you get games that are harshly difficult. Early Diablo III and Fire Emblem: Awakening on Lunatic+ difficulty may come to mind here. Where is the proper balance?
First off, let's start with the games becoming easier. I reference the above image as a perfect example. I do not like the game developers babying us into taking such shortcuts. It removes the rewarding feeling of completion that comes with overcoming a difficult task. In the image above, Mario is in a white Tanooki suit that glows with star power. How is this activated? When the player is deemed "struggling," they have the option to equip a Tanooki suit for that level only, and completely rush through it because the player cannot be killed. In other Nintendo games, you can view guide videos to clear up difficult spots.
I personally disagree with this method. It makes things too linear, and not rewarding. Games are starting to become a bit simplistic, with a few colorful exceptions, but I actually like those games. It makes the experience more thrilling, and gives me incentive and reason to finish. Sure, I might want to throw my remote at the TV a couple times... or a thousand times, but even so, when I finish a game like that, it feels great. It is one of the reasons why I felt waded out by the newer Mario games. It seems like more of the same old thing, but with shortcuts. Back then, we never really had shortcuts appear in game to help us. You can play a game like Contra and often it feels like a do or die experience. Play a game like the early Ninja Gaiden games (or, more recently, Ninja Gaiden II for the XBOX 360) and they're punishing but completely doable. Play Ninja Gaiden II, and then grab Ninja Gaiden III, and it becomes disappointing. A once brutally hard franchise becomes more of a button mash, and reviewers left scathing reviews about that aspect. Is this where the gaming industry is heading? Are we doomed to see more of these "Quick Time Event" type battles that basically do all the work for us?
Now, on the other hand, let's talk about the brutally hard games. Some games that can come to mind are early versions of Diablo III, which were almost insane to tackle in later acts. For those of you who are not familiar, Diablo III back when it launched consisted of four difficulties. The first two were absolute snooze fests, requiring absolutely no skill to proceed. The third tier of difficulty was passable, with enemies becoming more difficult and making players learn to use their skills. It was definitely harder to play that third difficulty, because some affixes early on were completely ridiculous. The fourth difficulty was absolutely nuts, with the first act of the game being passable, but the second act becoming a grind fest back in act I due to terrible gear. Early on, it was almost impossible to proceed, unless a player had a lucky day and got a top tier item that could plow through anything. Blizzard later had to revise the game a little bit to make Inferno difficulty a bit more doable.
This was from a popular Let's Play! Youtube video stream.
We can also look at Fire Emblem: Awakening, more specifically into the Lunatic+ mode, which is the highest difficulty in the game. Enemies in the first chapters now have the capability to one shot you and counter your attacks with brutalizing damage. Guides for this difficulty even made mentions such as "If My Unit is not getting X stat in a level up, you are recommended to restart." In the early chapters of Lunatic+, there was no specific strategy to proceed. The only way to "proceed" was to constantly soft reset to make sure that enemies had the right abilities to make the stage doable, and on top of that you needed to roll the right stat boosts when you leveled, making the game difficulty practically double. The previous difficulty was entirely doable with a bit of careful strategy, but the jump to the next one was almost absurd. I think I spent 500-800 soft resets making it through the first five chapters. I ended up completing Lunatic+ but it took a freakishly long time to get the exact stats and rolls that I needed. There was no more strategy in Lunatic+ Fire Emblem. It became a game of luck and rolls for the right stats.
Where do I stand in terms of video gaming difficulty and what would I like to see in future? I feel that games nowadays are moving into easier territory, to grab a hold of the more casual audiences and forgetting some of their more hardcore audiences. I have not encountered a doable, "difficult yet rewarding" game in quite some time, if you know what I mean. It's more of a subjective definition at this point as I am sure we all have different definitions of what hard can be considered. I would love to see more games that can get me going. I would like to see more complex games that challenge the user to actually think a little bit more. I need more of the Ninja Gaiden II type games.
And to speak more broadly, with the casual and grass root gamers in mind, where do the lines need to be drawn in order to satisfy both crowds? Does the gaming industry need to draw the line to draw in more casual audiences at the price of their hardcore audience? Or does it only need to cater to its hard core gamers and slowly ignore their casual audience? What kind of mechanisms can be implemented in order to cater to both at the same time? Do you think that games are becoming a bit too easy for you? Or, on the other hand, are they too difficult and would you like the difficulty lowered? Where do you stand as a user? Feel free to chime off in the comments, and again, keep it civil!