Self-made difficulty

Of course, any RPG has to deal with difficulty levels.  A programmer might, for example, give attacks a randomizer.  That would allow you to do variable amounts of damage and you would also be able to fight a difficult enemy due to getting some lucky weaker hits.  As the game goes on, some games add complexity to make it more difficult.  A good example of this is Final Fantasy V’s enemy groups.  Later in the game, you might have enemies that absorb ice with enemies weak to ice.  Other groups may have an enemy that summons dragons when alone.

Some players prefer to create their own difficulty.  There’s a couple of ways that this is done, and these ways have various benefits and problems. In my opinion, a well done game should be designed to take this into account in some manner, since that shows awareness and care in the design.

One way to create difficulty is to avoid grinding or doing a low-level run through a game.  This can also include sequence breaking and defeating a boss out of order.  There is a unique summon that’s given in Legend of the Ghost Lion.  If you break the sequence and defeat a difficult boss early, you get a huge slug.  Since you can’t level up in the game via grinding, this rewards players who are willing to try a difficult area first.  How should a programmer think about this?  One thing would be to make sure that regular players don’t accidentally explore in a dangerous area without warning.  If they can’t get anywhere, let them know quickly that they’re blocked off so they can’t be trapped deep into dangerous territory.  If they can get somewhere, don’t have the reward be so great that the only “best” path is to deal with the hard area.  If you do this, why not make the hard area easier and part of the original planned route / routes?

Completionist gameplay is another way to add difficulty.  By gathering all the items, all the weapons and armor, and all the monsters, a player will be forced to search out secret dungeons, search all areas in town, and work to get extra money to purchase the extra items.  Obviously, this can also be problematic if you intend them to buy weapons in the town later in the game.  Monster list completion can also be a problem.  In the Wild ARMs series, you actually cannot finish one of the monster books, due to a rabbit being removed from the translated game.  Other games limit specific monsters to small areas for small amounts of time.  Designing the game to give a lot of things to gather can make the player simply decide to not deal with looking for items due to the time investment required to find them.

Sub-optimal gameplay is another way to add difficulty.  This may include, for example, not taking a healer in a party, and requiring healing by items.  If one type of gameplay is far better than others or if one character class is variable in power, then you can also add difficulty.  In my opinion, games that are practically impossible without a specific sequence are poorly designed.  If you can fix a poor decision fairly easily, it is less annoying.  Etrian Odyssey is a good example of a series where one specific build is “best” for late game, or post-game areas.  If you, for example, fully level up your Protector’s skills, your Protector cannot help you win a specific fight.  To fix the problem, you have to send your Protector to level 1 and level the character all the way back to a usable level.  At that point in the game, it’s purely rote grinding and not really that dangerous, but it’s tedious to be forced to do it.

A subset of sub-optimal gameplay is delaying certain upgrades in favor of a more powerful improvement.  This, for me, is  actually kind of fun.  Carefully venturing into difficult areas to gain just enough money for the best sword, for example, can be nail bitingly tense.  A game that assumes you’ll do this, however, can have sudden difficulty jumps (since they assume you have better gear) and it can be tedious to grind for money.  A good game provides enough money that after finishing an area you can buy the weapon, and you could grind during the area to get the weapon a little early.

  1. yukie’s avatar

    There was an LPer on youtube doing a ‘streaker Alucard’ run of SotN once – basically no weapons no armour. Subweapons were allowed but in a limited amount. The guy did pretty well, all things considered.

  2. Rav’s avatar

    SOTN is a really weird difficulty curve. There’s about three places the casual player could die (maybe four.) You are weak at the start of the game, post losing your weapons. You’re weak in the Colosseum. You’re likely to have trouble with the caverns (either upside down, or right side up) and trouble with that Osirus guy (Galamoth?) Other than that, the game is pretty easy to find ways to cheese or outlevel the challenge. So I can see why people try hard to make the game more difficult.

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