Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Game Over Screen - Do you choose to abandon the way of the ninja?

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Difficulty in a video game is a tough thing. Make it too easy, and there’s no challenge to it. Make it too hard, and if the player gives up on the game, it’s failed them. You pretty much want to make a game as hard as possible, so long as the player likes the game enough to push through and triumph, ultimately feeling satisfied for their win. This list is about games that, for better or for worse, are just too damned hard. There’s always a certain amount of shame associated with admitting that you find a game too hard, but I have no shame in saying that I am not able to beat any of the games on this list, and if you’ve been able to conquer any of them yourself I’d love to hear about it.

I’m sure you’ve all got your own games which make you so angry you could whip a gamepad at the wall, so feel free to leave a comment with your own list. With that, here are my 5 most difficult video games.

5: Sailor Moon: Another Story

Sailor Moon: Another Story - Title screen

As Sailor Moon games go, this one is certainly the best. Many games are side scrolling beat ’em ups, a few are puzzle games and there’s even a Street Fighter style fighter but Sailor Moon: Another Story for the Super Famicom is a really great JRPG with an elaborate story involving all our favourite characters, Crystal Tokyo and tons of great stuff. The look and controls of the game aren’t unlike Final Fantasy VI, a wildly popular game on it’s own. The fight mechanics are a bit more simplified. You have a set number of crystals which are consumed when you do attacks, but they are replenished when you’re done a fight. For the most part, the game isn’t terribly challenging. When you get into a new area, you might have a bit of trouble, but as you level up you’ll find yourself able to make quick work of any bad guy.

Sailor Moon: Another Story - Sailor Uranus easily defeating an enemy

As the game progresses, the difficulty level is anything but consistent. In a good RPG, things really should work in one of a few ways. In more modern games, there isn’t a ton of grind, so you can just go through the game and level and improve as you go, without really needing to stop to level up. This wasn’t really how things worked back in the day, as any fan of Dragon Warrior knows. When you need to grind, which is all the time, you just waste a ton of time levelling up your character to be able to fight the next set of monsters and bosses just to get by. Where such a system fails is in games like Sailor Moon: Another Story. The first time this is encountered is when your characters all split up to do their own thing. I’ll be playing Sailor Mercury, able to beat any enemy I fight with a single blow, but then when I get to the boss, I just can’t seem to make any progress. Since my level is so high, I’m not getting any significant exp from the low level mobs in the area anymore so significant advancement in the area is nearly impossible. A good grinding RPG should be giving me the ability to fight something more challenging, but to give me decent exp as a tradeoff. Right now on my current playthrough of the game, on an imported Super Famicom version, this is where I’m stuck.

Sailor Moon: Another Story - Sailor Mercury getting killed

Somehow, I got past this point when I played this game years earlier. How I did this I couldn’t tell you, I was emulating on translated ROM so maybe I did some save/load state magic or speed up time levelling. Regardless, I got to the point where I was headed to the D Point in the North Pole. As I did so, each fight became increasingly long, taking minutes more in line with what you would expect for a neverending boss fight, which is acceptable given it’s infrequency, but giving only a modest amount of exp as a reward. Since my own characters’ damage increased only slightly with the infrequent levels I was getting, the thought of continuing with each fight being this long became daunting, especially in a game which had previously given me nothing but fights where enemies would after a short amount of time be able to be defeated in a quick round or two.

Sailor Moon: Another Story - Minako loves Ami

Sailor Moon: Another Story really is a great game, and I know a lot of Sailor Moon fans have had a lot of fun with it, and I would really like to be able to take in the full story for what it’s worth. I just wish it wasn’t plagued with a few minor difficulty balance issues that make it more of a chore than it needs to be.

4: Mega Man 9

Mega Man 9 - Title screen

Mega Man 9 for the XBox 360, PS3 and Wii, is a remarkable milestone in gaming in that it does something new by doing something so very old. This game is so perfectly similar to games from another era that it’s hard to tell it’s new. Hard, but not impossible, like the game itself. Games used to be much harder, we tell ourselves, but were they really? I love the Mega Man series, and go back and play the older games quite often. I do appreciate the difficulty which the old games hold, but this difficulty is not on par with Mega Man 9. The original Mega Man is a hell of a hard game, and I had quite a challenge playing through Mega Man Powered Up, but Mega Man 9 is much harder. The standard answer to those complaining about the difficulty of this title is that we just don’t recall how hard games used to be, but to that I say no, I am not some ignorant aging gamer with dulled reflexes looking at my youth through rose coloured glasses. I know this game to be hard as balls.

Mega Man 9 - Hitting some spikes

My total experience with the title lasted a little over 90 minutes, as the data on my save state indicates, and in that time I managed to defeat a total on one robot master. How discouraging it was to play through level after level of this game only to die again and again and often not even make it to a boss, which ended up being harder than the level itself! The only real consolation here is the game’s ability to buy certain upgrades such as Energy Tanks, and use them when having some trouble. This adds and unwelcome grinding element to the game which would surely make defeating most bosses easy enough with some effort, but it doesn’t seem right that doing so should be necessary.

Mega Man 9 - Getting hit and falling into a hole

I have not even attempted to play Mega Man 10. I really like what this series stands for, but I just can’t stand the difficulty level. In 10 the game introduces an “Easy” mode. Well I refuse to play easy modes! I have no problem playing a game at a “Normal” difficulty when there is a harder way to play, but there’s just something demeaning about having to submit an easy mode that I am unwilling to accept, and so Mega Man 10 will have to remain unplayed by this gamer. I’d rather go back and play the older games which I never had a chance to finish, but I at least know I’ve got a chance of succeeding at, or play similar but different newish old style games like the Bionic Commando Rearmed games..

3: Battletoads

Battletoads - Title screen

Battletoads for the NES is some fun. That first level where you punch and kick those guys is awesome. Seems like a great Double Dragon type game! Then you start getting into it, and the game gets really, really hard. Not just kind of hard, but like… impossible hard. All of a sudden the Toads are riding these high speed bike things that just ram into walls. The level seems like it’s not too bad but the walls come faster, and faster, and then you need to be jumping over the kind of walls you were trying to avoid completely like 20 seconds ago.

Battletoads - Punching an enemy in level 1 isn't bad

The game doesn’t let up. In the later levels, enemies seems almost unavoidable, as you just get hit by attacks that I somehow feel I would be hurt by even with the magic of emulation save and load states. In fact, I’ve gone as far as calling out anyone I’ve met who’s claimed to finish this game as being a liar. Is it possible? Maybe. Theoretically in a weird Japanese super good at games in a way humans don’t really understand it way, but not on an level I could ever hope to comprehend.

Battletoads - Stupid bike thing hits a wall

Like I said, Battletoads is a pretty cool game, with a lot of potential, but it gets too hard too quick and is far beyond the level of frustratingly unplayable for this gamer.

2: Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Title screen

The original NES Ninja Gaiden was a pretty hard game, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Ninja Gaiden and it’s even more difficult version Ninja Gaiden Black for the XBox and Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PS3. I played Black only briefly, spending a great deal of time on Ninja Gaiden Sigma, which I’m told is even more difficult, and that is something I certainly believe.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Bloody ninja fight

This game is hard, but it really is the best kind of hard. While things are extremely difficult, they can always be overcome with skill. Practicing your techniques on certain enemies will always improve your ability to defeat them. The game includes a lot of loot, like healing items, so even if you pass a difficult portion of the game, you can’t really just play through on the next part if you used up too many items, because you’ll eventually run out and grinding for money is still so difficult that it’s not as easy as just using a bunch of times, beating up easy enemies and buying more, as the game has few areas where you can reliably grind for cash without losing more health than you can buy back with it. What this creates is a situation where you’re constantly saving the game and replaying difficult parts (they’re all difficult parts) over and over until you’ve done them losing an optimal amount of health, using the least amount of items. Later in the game as there are parts where it’s easier to accumulate cash this becomes less of a concern, but the crushing difficulty of bosses makes defeating them with any amount of items a real chore. Beyond that, the game sports a bunch of difficulty levels, and a new one was added with Ninja Gaiden Black. I can’t really imagine playing this at anything beyond the default difficulty level, but my brother and one of the friends of Powet Richard who are better at the game than I am seem to prove that it’s possible. I made some pretty good progress into this game before finally moving on to something else. For a hard game I truly appreciated how this game rewarded practice and effort, it was just a bit too hard to me.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Ninja dog mode wearing Ayane's band of strength

The game has a solution for bad players though! If you die enough times in the row, the game will ask if you want to abandon the way of the ninja. If you accept this you will be downgraded to “Ninja Dog Mode”. Basically Ayane will show up and make fun of you for sucking, then she’ll give you this totally lame looking pink ribbon to wear on your arm. This is the “Band of Strength” and it allows you to do a ton more damage. As hard as the game got, I just couldn’t allow myself to play on this mode, even if it meant I never completed the game. It just seemed too much like cheating.

1: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Title screen

My most difficult game of all time is one a lot of people have probably not played, it’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” for the NES. To start off, I want to give this game some praise. When almost all movie based games are horrible, this was was unique in many ways and did some great things. It’s hard to explain in terms of games of the time, there was truly nothing like it, but it’s actually a lot like some games today. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is very much a Grand Theft Auto style games, from nearly a decade before the first title in that series was released. You go around a massive city, 1947 LA, and you do pretty much whatever you want. You can steal, you can punch people, shoot them, smash into cars, you do anything you would do in your modern sandbox type of game. Granted the game’s landscape is pretty repetitive as it was 1989, but it does a good job of creating a world which feels large, at least it did to an 11 year old gamer who was quite into the game, despite not even having seen the movie at the time.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Punching a woman

Now, the bad. The game had some difficult parts. The sandbox style meant that you didn’t really know where to go, which wasn’t so bad, but along the way some parts got real annoying. When traveling the overworld map you would randomly be chased by the Toon Patrol. They could usually be evaded, but if they caught you, you had to guess the answer to a joke or they would kill Roger. The problem is you had 10 seconds to select the punchline to a joke which gives you just about enough time to read the questions and start scrolling through the list of predefined answers. Even if you’d memorized every punchline and had good reflexes, it was still hard not to end up with a dead rabbit, let alone trying to actually play the mini game as was intended. This mini game could have benefited from a timer that was 2 or 3 times longer, if not unlimited given a bad guess at the punchline caused Roger to be killed anyway. There was also a difficult part in getting to Toon Town. You need to blow up a wall with dynamite and a detonator, but it wasn’t totally clear how to do that as no items are usually used on the overhead map. I recall a great level of frustration trying to do this back in the day. All things told, these were minor annoyances when the final boss is considered.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Car chase

Judge Doom. This game’s end boss is one I will always consider to be the most difficult of any game. To this day I have never been able to defeat him. Few weapons are effective against Judge Doom. Basically you can damage him with your bombs, your exploding cigars and then once those are done you need to start punching. Judge Doom is hard to fight hand to hand, as he can just shoot at you with a gun or punch you himself. You need to spend a lot of time powering up your punches and he does no such thing, doing more damage to you with a simple jab than you do with a fully charged up punch. In my many attempts at defeating him only once did I ever manage to knock him down, something which is done after an excruciatingly long and lucky streak of punches. It was not obvious what I should do, and Doom then killed Roger and Jessica with Dip. What I needed to do was grab the dip sprayer and really quick cycle through my items to select it and shoot Judge Doom with it. This final boss would have been much better with any number of minor changes, from him requiring less hits to take down to dishing out less damage per attack. The balance just isn’t there. As it is, the final boss is unreasonably difficult in contrast to the rest of the games, and video games in general both in the day and in all time. Like most of the game he represents a lot of potential that’s lost in a few minor details.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Getting punched by Judge Doom

I hope you enjoyed this instalment of The Powet Top 5. Please leave us your own list of your top 5 most difficult video games in the comments!