While the discussion about the difficulty developers choose to implement into their games seems like a relatively new concept, games programmed to be obscenely difficult have been present for decades. A quick look back on the era of arcade gaming, a generation of games built to seem impossible in order to make the player pay multiple times over to attempt to beat it makes some of today’s games look effortless by comparison. However, one developers games seem to always lead to this discussion reopening. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest release from FromSoftware, a company known for releasing games based around difficulty, such as the Souls series and Bloodbourne. Many people insist that such difficulty is unnecessary and can turn away potential players who may feel disheartened or disinterested after their first couple of deaths. So, should these types of games offer an easier difficulty mode, or should they remain a daunting challenge?
One possible positive about introducing an easier mode would be the new found accessibility to the games’ stories. If the game has a wider reach, more people would be able to invest in the fantastic lore and backstories seen in games like Dark Souls. Opening the game to a fresh audience would also lead to a presumed spike in sales, as more people begin exploring a world previously deemed too intimidating for them. This could be incentive enough for companies to at least consider it. Some may also argue that playing games is a hobby for them, something for them to do after a long day at work or school. Sometimes, you do just want to unwind and play whatever game you want without worrying about a steep learning curve. Someone could love the world and atmosphere of the Souls games, but not be interested in the ‘Git Gud’ mentality, instead picking something else to play for him to relax. Coupling this with the fact that the game is approximately €70 on release, plus the couple hundred euro needed for the console or PC setup, suddenly the idea of an easy mode sounds like it should be a necessity.
However, I personally believe that the ludicrous difficulty seen in these games is an essential part of the niche. Many would argue that an easier Dark Souls experience isn’t an authentic one. Being annihilated by a boss on your first attempt, only to revisit the area more strategically and better prepared, and finally being prepared enough to beat that previously impossible segment is part of the magic these games provide. For those players that ventured out further into the world of God of War, and finally laid waste to all the Valkyrie bosses after numerous attempts can attest that conquering the final boss would not have felt nearly as satisfying had it been made easier for them. Sure, easier Valkyries would have meant a much quicker completion time, but the visceral reaction a player would have after finally completing the challenge makes all the effort worthwhile.
Some games rely on their difficulty to sell their premise, too. For example, games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV are made memorable by how stupidly difficult they present themselves to be. Outside of their renowned difficulty, these games are another two indie platformers being released with little to separate them from every other game from that genre being released. Relying on its difficulty as a gimmick, though, Super Meat Boy was a commercial success, hitting the one million copies mark by 2012.
The option to lower a game’s difficulty can be a great convenience for those struggling at a certain portion of a game or if they’re going for 100% completion and simply want to get it finished quickly, but with games where the difficulty is a central aspect, easier difficulties shouldn’t be required. They’re built to be difficult in order to force the player to reconsider how they approach certain parts. There are plenty of games that offer a more relaxed gameplay experience for those that would prefer it. And if you find that the game is too difficult, keep playing, and once you eventually overcome the obstacles in your way, it will feel like a genuine achievement.