The difficulty of RPGs.....
June 11, 2007

I remember a ways back (like a couple years) when the community was still at GFaqs, someone was talking about Chrono Trigger and mentioned that game's main flaw was its lack of difficulty — something I'd kind of agree with. I was killed a few times by Giga Gaia (due to being underleveled), had a few problems with Son of Sun (until figuring out that he couldn't touch me with fire-absorbing armor on) and struggled a bit with the end-game Lavos bosses (big robotic thing inside and the alien w/pods) and a couple other optional bosses like Mother Brain. Still, I cruised through much of the game and after replaying it with a bit more level-building, most of those tough battles became far easier.

Still, that seems to pale compared to how easy many RPGs of today's generation are. Yeah, there are a few tough ones. The Final Fantasy ones tend to always deliver a few brutal fights (although many seem to be in optional battles) and SMT: Nocturne's very unforgiving of tactical errors. But the two I've played the most in recent weeks seem more representative of the genre as a whole.

1. Tales of Legendia: In chapter 5.....haven't been killed off once. A couple bosses (Stingle, one of the Megant ones) made me scramble to resurrect a fallen character or two.....but I've not seen the game over screen yet.

2. Atelier Iris 3: In chapter 5.....only killed off once by the Magus mini-boss in Chapter 3, mainly because Edge's weapon build wasn't the right one for the job, as he was in the quick-but-weak attack mode, and I really needed him to be delivering more damage. I've been a good step or two ahead of every other boss and/or mini-boss in the game.

3. And when I think about it.....even though I loved it, Dragon Quest VIII only had a handful of truly tough battles. Star Ocean:TtEoT's a lot tougher because that game follows the SO:Second Story tradition of drastically boosting enemy difficulty when you enter a major new section of the game. Then again, one FAQ I saw on the game mentioned that you really aren't expected to fight most of the enemies on Levels 1-5 of the Sphere Corporation (or on the Styx region you're at beforehand) and the truth is that the RoboGunner enemies (big spider mechs) are tougher than the L1 boss and my pretty powerful party gets owned by battles against two of them. As for the actual storyline bosses, well, I got through about 7-10 of 'em before I didn't get a trophy for beating one in under "x" amount of time. Wild Arms 3 is kind of difficult until you realize most powerhouse enemies/bosses has a weakness and if you exploit that with the proper spells.....they're a piece of cake.

So, is it just me, or does it seem that, on average, the difficulty of these games is on the downslide? Some are still very difficult to master, but most of them seem easier than those old-school ones.

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honestgamer honestgamer - June 11, 2007 (10:49 AM)
You're not imagining things, and there's a simple reason: people who play RPGs now don't like the game getting in the way of their story. That's true of a lot of games, but it's especially true of RPGs. They were raised playing Final Fantasy VII and other games that came out from that point onward, games that have a lot of cinema and very little gameplay. So if someone tries to make a difficult RPG now, they're dooming it to niche status (something they can't really afford to do given the cost of games). It's disappointing, but it's not gonna change. All we can do is support the tougher games with our wallets and hope that leads to more being made.
Genj Genj - June 11, 2007 (11:01 AM)
Well it's really difficult to gauged an RPG's difficulty due to the many factors such as levels, equipment, abilities, and knowledge of weak points that go into these things. For me, RPG generally fall into 3 categories of difficulty:

1) Completely wipe everything out - These are the kind where you seem to be killing baddies left and right within one or two attacks and when boss fights seem to be over shortly after they started. Final Fantasy X would fit here thanks to giving you a variety of characters that can be switched on whim and can kill most enemies in a single attack.

2) Balanced but not difficult - This is when it's taking multiple attacks to dispatch foes and boss fights take awhile to finish. However, you never really feel like you're in immediate danger. Dragon Quest VIII and many popoular SNES era RPGs would probably fall here.

3) Difficult to Impossible - These are RPGs where you feel like you're struggling to get by. These are usually retro RPGs from the NES era.

I think definitely more games today are falling between the 1 to 2 categories to appeal to the bigger audience of RPG gamers of today. The thing is many gamers probably don't want to mess around with a complex system to optimize their party or try a variety of strategies on bosses before they find one that'll land them a win. The problem with is games like Final Fantasy VII are designed so that you can beat them while sucking at its customization. I know how to optimize my materia, equipment, and party members to completely cream everything in my path in FF7, while someone who's using few materia and not getting high level limit breaks may find a more balanced challenge.

Though definitely experimentation isn't solely to blame. Final Fantasy II & III (JP NES) allowed you to experiment with your party, but was still tough because you needed to keep your levels up as enemies would hit hard and fast. Similarly FFX had linear character development, but was still a piece of cake. But I'm partially glad that RPGs don't fall in the 3rd category today. It seemed like the only real challenge from them was from having to do a lot of level grinding, and that was just boring. I'd much rather play a balanced game of Final Fantasy IV than the original.

So basically, yes RPGs are getting easier. They'll stay easy as long as casual RPG gamers want two things:
1) Lots of options.
2) Insurance that they'll beat the game.
joseph_valencia joseph_valencia - June 11, 2007 (12:24 PM)
Final Fantasy XII was pretty hard.

One thing I don't get is why JRPG developers don't include an adjustable difficulty level, like the Tales games. That'd be a nice way of satisfying both types of gamers.
Genj Genj - June 11, 2007 (02:10 PM)
Final Fantasy XII was pretty hard.

I didn't really think so. My party pretty much raped everything with magic & physical attacks (only pussies use Quickenings - shit, I did more damage without them in the time it takes to use one). Zodiark was the only boss that took me several tries to take down and he's completely optional. Even Hellwyrm or whatever wasn't that bad really (just a trial of patience to take down all its HP in one sitting).
EmP EmP - June 11, 2007 (02:43 PM)
The only thing hard about FFXII was trying to convince myself to keep playing.

I failed.
pup pup - June 11, 2007 (05:56 PM)
We also have to ask the question - are we becoming more skilled players? Even when playing old-school RPGs, I tend to find that I die a lot less than I did 10-15 years ago, because I know the conventions and take more time to prepare and level my characters.

As a whole though, I think you're right in saying that RPGs are getting easier and focusing more on story than difficulty. Is this such a bad thing? By and far, RPGs are the one genre in which I loathe and dread death, because I know that it may mean anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of repeating the same scenario I just played through.

RPGs are expected to provide epic storylines, so as long as the story keeps progressing I usually don't even notice the difficulty level. I certainly don't want a cakewalk though. I remember playing through the first three hours of Illusion of Gaia (SNES) by constantly pressing one button. I finally just shut the game off. On the inverse, I also shut off Lunar: Silver Star Story after clearing the same dungeon three consecutive times only to find that I still wasn't strong enough for the boss.

Taking a cue from Genj's list, I think that most RPGs should shoot for something akin to #2. Instead of being simplistic interactive stories, or willing you to beat your head against the wall, RPGs should provide just enough challenge to make skilled players feel proud, and unskilled players work harder for their rewards.

Where to set the level of difficulty is a question that we're seeing in reference to everything but kids games. With video games reaching such a wide audience, this is a tough problem to tackle. You don't want to bore seasoned gamers to tears, but you also don't want to abandon the newcomers. RPGs are one of the only genres that don't typically feature difficulty settings. Perhaps it's past time they did.

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