The soul still burns: Difficulty in gaming
Games being difficult was previously a given. Arcade games in particular tended to ramp up the difficulty as they progressed in order to keep gamers coming back for more. For Arcade games, however, the target audience was those who had both the time and the money to keep coming back for more. As games made the transition to home based platforms, concessions were made to make them appeal to a broader audience, and difficulty began to decrease rapidly.
With increased revenue, came increased standards and as a result, games started to become more and more sophisticated, and cost far more to produce. To break even or make a profit, these games needed to reach an even broader audience again, and once more, difficulty was one of the key areas that suffered for profit.
Today, we have rushed movie tie-in games that rely entirely on their license and possibly, in my opinion anyway, the greatest gaming epidemic of the moment, countless generic FPSs that seek to exploit the Michael Bay mentality that explosions every 30 seconds can compensate for faceless characters, shallow gameplay and a throwaway plot.
Because of the astronomical cost of making a competitive game these days, it was thought to be a huge risk the make a difficult game that could potentially alienate much of the current gaming market. Demon’s Souls took that risk. And it paid off.
With the advertising budgets of the likes of Activision and EA, it’s rare that a game garners a reputation almost entirely through word of mouth. Demon’s Souls managed this and more, becoming a cult phenomenon. A massive success in Japan but rejected by Japanese publisher Sony for international release, Atlas took up the gauntlet of releasing the game in the US, and it paid dividends.The game still found itself struggling to find a European publisher despite its almost entirely positive reception, once again proving how risk-taking is a rarity in todays gaming industry.
When Demon’s Souls finally did make its way to Europe, I finally got my hands on a copy, having feverishly read all the previews and reviews months before. As a member of a generation that’s never had a quality, truly difficult game, I was, of course, intrigued. After only a couple hours of play, my intrigue was rewarded. Never before have I played a game where I’ve been truly cautious for fear of dying. That fear is the truly great thing about Demon’s Souls, it makes you care about your actions.
You can’t save seconds before launching headlong into battle, then reload when it all goes pear-shaped. When you die, the souls you earn from battle are dropped in your bloodstain, available for collection the next time you play through the level. If you die en-route to your bloodstain, the souls you dropped the 1st time are gone forever. Harsh? Maybe. Fair? Definitely.
There is no bank for your souls, you either have them, or you spend them, and if you take the risk of saving up for that big stat boost, you run the risk of losing everything. There’s no mollycoddling here. You’re dumped into a grim, uncompromising world and told to ‘Work away’. When you die, there are no condolences, no hints, and no tips. Just a matter of fact ‘You Died’. I can honestly say, I’ve never had a more liberating gaming experience.
‘From Software’, the company behind Demon’s Souls took a risk by making a possibly prohibitive title. 2 Years on from it’s Japanese release, the sales speak for themselves, with Demon’s Souls soon to be a Platinum PS3 title. On the back of Demon’s Souls success, ‘From Software’ is already working on a spiritual sequel called Dark Souls, due for release on both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. It’s said to be “As hard, or even harder” than Demon’s Souls.
With enough sales to reach Platinum status and ‘Game of the Year’ awards from both Gamespot and IGN, the cycle of increasingly easy games may not have been broken, but at the very least, Demon’s Souls is an indication that pandering to the casual demographic isn’t the only way to succeed in today’s gaming market.