Mass Effect 3 has recently reinforced the stereotype of role-playing games being too simple by introducing a casual mode option, all but guaranteeing the player could not fail a mission. Even difficult RPGs can be made simpler with enough level-grinding. But not always…
Mass Effect 2: While not inherently hard on most difficulty settings, Mass Effect 2’s Insanity setting certainly lives up to its name. For some classes and skilled players, it’s doable. For me and my plucky engineer, it was not. Most enemies will be able to kill you as soon as you raise your head above cover. Boss fights will take several long minutes of perfect running and gunning to whittle away shields and barriers and armor. Late in the game, you face enemies that can kill you in one hit, through cover, and there are literally dozens of them. Surviving the story-based suicide mission is a cakewalk compared to a typical firefight.
Too Human: In contrast to the white-knuckled frustration of Mass Effect 2, Too Human is a game that seems to hate the player’s guts. Because of the game’s exceptionally awkward controls, you will probably find that amid wave after wave of dangerous mechanized enemies, your character will flail his weapon around like he’s trying to fend off a swarm of giant invisible bees. There is an interesting story going on here and once you master the controls and wake up the narcoleptic camera, you genuinely do feel like a Norse techno-god. A Norse techno-god on acid, but still…
.hack: Few RPGs are really that hard when you’ve got an internet connection to fall back on. If you happen to get stuck on a certain puzzle or quest, there plenty of sites and forums offering guidance. Unless you’re playing a game from the .hack series, where all of the dungeons are randomly generated. If you need help finding something, the best advice you’ll get is “good luck”. Completionists beware: there are four games in the .hack series and each one is a long and grueling exercise in item collection and nigh-impossible boss battles.
Nuzlocke Challenge: Also known as Pokemon: Hard Mode among other names, Nuzlocke Challenge is simple: pick up any Pokemon game from the main series and impose on yourself a few extra rules. The original Nuzlocke Challenge was simple: “release a Pokemon if it faints” and “you can only catch the first Pokemon in each area and nothing else.” The third, sometimes unspoken, rule is that each Pokemon must be given a nickname. Of course, everyone has a their own favorite variation, but the core of the challenge remains the same.
Pokemon normally gives players as many opportunities to complete the game with an endless supply of powerful pets. There is a safety net a mile wide and no way to slip through it. For jaded gamers, the experience can be a bit hollow and impersonal. Pouring over stats and move lists to try to maximize the potential of a few carefully selected monsters while only collecting the others to fill a Pokedex. Nuzlocke Challenge forces the player to settle on determination and luck. The overall experience is much more rich and rewarding than the core game. A normally useless Bidoof becomes an invaluable companion named Chuck, and if he faints you will be devastated in a way that few game character deaths can match.
Unlike the other games listed here, you can pretty easily lose Nuzlocke Challenge. As in completely lose. There is no reloading the game; if all your Pokemon faint, you cannot continue. This challenge requires discipline from the player. The urge to press the restart button and say “that last battle didn’t count” is overwhelming. But if you’re up for it, you would be hard pressed to find a harder RPG or a more rewarding one.