Underneath my yellow skin

WWDTAOL: The thin line between hard and unfair (video games edition, part three)

I think I need to uninstall Repentance because I can’t stop playing. This is part three of hard/unfair games and you can read part two here. I have now unlocked 9 of the 17 Tainted Characters and here’s something funny. I was trying to remember all the characters when I wasn’t playing it and always came up one short. I looked up the characters’ names and came across Apollyon. Oh, right. They’re a thing. I never remember them even though I’ve done their whole Post-it Note. They are just so boring. It made me wonder if maybe they were my least-favorite character, but, no, that’s still The Keeper. Well, maybe *spoilers will abound* Jacob and Esau (one character, technically, but two moveable bunches of pixels) will end up being my least favorite, but I haven’t taken them out for more than a short spin.

Of the Tainted Characters, I’ve unlocked Tainted Isaac, Tainted Maggie, Tainted Cain, Tainted Judas, Tainted Samson, Tainted Lost, Tainted Forgotten, Tainted Azazel, and Tainted Eden. Having to do more of The Keeper is going to make me very sad. I’ve taken each of the tainted characters out for a spin and they range from fun to confusing as fuck. Tainted Forgotten is tons of fun as you play as the secondary character, (flying blue baby), while tossing a dead The Forgotten around. Tainted Cain is confusing as fuck because every item you get is tossed in the Bag of Crafting and….profit? Supposedly, if you follow the recipes, something is supposed to come out of it, but I don’t know what. Oh, wait. I’ve been doing it wrong? Simply trying to pick up the items breaks them down into consumables. I have to swipe with the Bag of Crafting to put them in the bag. Same with pickups on the floor. Anyway, too much for me, though I will try it out again.

ETA: Ok. You cannot swipe items at all. They have to be broken down, I guess. This is just weird.

ETA II: I am completely on board now that the first time I did it properly, I crafted The Book of the Dead, one of my favorite items. Granted, it got nerfed in Repentance, but it’s still amazing. I thought it would be harder to craft something, but it’s not. I didn’t even look up the recipes–I just threw stuff in my Bag of Crafting. Will have to play with it more, I guess.

In general, though, I’m not sure I want to learn seventeen new characters and do all the achievements again.

The thing is, one reason I quit playing was that the game was starting to move out of my ability range. This is the point to this series of posts–that there is such a thin line between hard-but-fair and just flat-out unfair. To make things even worse, it’s a different line for everyone so it’s not as if it’s quantifiable. People can agree on some generalities such as Ornstein and Smough being the hard check of the first Dark Souls. They were the reason for many people giving up on the game and some would consider them unfair. In general, though, they were considered the upper end of tough-but-fair.

Then came Sekiro and all that was blown to hell. Personally, I consider the game on the unfair side, but many people would disagree with me. You just have to learn the mechanic of deflection, they insist. No can do, says I. Which is another factor in the ‘too hard’ discussion that gets glossed over a lot–what if something is simply beyond your ken? It’s human nature to think that if you can do something, so can anyone else. It’s the flip side to the better-known Dunning-Kruger effect: smart people underestimate how difficult something is if they can do it well.

I am afraid that there will be a FromSoft game soon that I won’t be able to play. They’ve been edging in that direction and fighting the last boss of Sekiro made me realize I was almost at that point. Which brings me to accessibility. As with many things, I don’t know exactly where I stand on this issue. It’s strange because I didn’t realize that some of the reasons I can’t play games could fall under this category. I cannot play first-person games for the most part because I get nauseated. There are ways to mitigate this with some games, but not in others. What Remains of Edith Finch caused such a violent reaction in me, I immediately shut it off, uninstalled it, and returned it. Then there’s Paradise Killer, a game I adored. I could play it in twenty-minutes increments with just a slight headache the whole time, but that grew worse and worse each time I played. I had to give up as much as I loved the game, sadly.

These are both indie games and I just shrugged my shoulder and was sad I couldn’t play them. I didn’t demand that they made the games more accessible to people like me because that would have changed the entire feel of the game. I just accepted that I couldn’t play the games and regretfully put them aside. Should I have made a fuss about it? I don’t think so. Then there are games like Hollow Knight which I knew early on that I would not be able to play because I am horrid with platforming. My spatial awareness is awful and so are my twitch reactions. Should there be an option that makes the platforming easier? I know that Celeste has it, but I haven’t tried that game yet. Hades has God Mode that can take away up to 80% of the damage.  I was tempted to use it, severely tempted, more than once, but I never did.

There have always been discussions about whether FromSoft games need an easy mode and I go back and forth. With Dark Souls games, there are ways to make them easier. Grinding, leveling up, summoning, etc. In the original, getting the Zwei from the graveyard right away and building specifically for it will make the game much easier. As would a good shield. Summoning or running with a friend makes certain parts of the game almost trivial. It’s not as if you have to do a onebro run, naked, with your bare fists. You can, but I wouldn’t advise it for your first playthrough.

I don’t know if I’d call it gatekeeping that the games are so hard. From my perspective, not every game has to be for every person. I’m not saying this as a badass, either. I struggled through every FromSoft game I played, most specifically Sekiro. I’m pretty sure there will come a FromSoft game soon that I cannot finish. I wouldn’t have finished Sekiro if it weren’t for sheer stubbornness. Still. There were things in Sekiro that were thrown in to make it easier for newbs, probably at the behest of Activision. An actual tutorial, a better UI, a red kanji over the boss’s head when they do an unblockable attack, to name a few. I thought these were all good additions, but I don’t know how I’d feel about further accommodations.

I adored Dead Cells by Motion Twin. I loved the fact that Motion Twin is an egalitarian, humane indie company. I had to quit it before beating the final (at the time) boss because it was simply too hard for me. I remembered writing at the time that if they nerfed the final boss, I would happily play more of the game. Well, when I returned to the game much later, I found they had nerfed the final boss and I beat him without even really trying. Then I felt hollow inside because it was too easy. It know, I’m ungrateful, but I didn’t feel compelled to play any more of the game even though there is so much after content (after beating the so-called final boss).

In the end, I still don’t know. I want devs, especially indie devs, to make the games they want to make so I don’t know where to draw that line.

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