Created By: krimsh on July 3, 2011

Frustration Puzzle

The designers force you to complete an annoying puzzle with absolutely no consequence for failure.

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There's no surer way to kill the tension in gaming - Suspicious Video Game Generosity combined with That One Level. Cue controllers being thrown through television screens or out windows. Frustration Puzzles are agonizingly difficult puzzles (sometimes involving an unexpected Genre Shift) with absolutely no consequence of failure outside the time - and potentially sanity - that the player loses. And the catch? They're mandatory. These aren't Side Quests we're talking about here, where the obvious solution to an impossible situation is just to get on with things. No good Frustration Puzzle can be anything less than absolutely required in order to advance the plot. They come in two main varieties, although other variations on these themes exist: 1) A tough puzzle immediately after a save point or checkpoint. Here, failure does equal death, but who cares? You simply reload or respawn right before the troubles. Only to have to do it again. And again. And again. 2) A tough puzzle where the penalty for failure is to be sent back to the beginning of the puzzle. Doubly agonizing if this sort of puzzle is a long way away from a save point or checkpoint, because you can't simply turn off the game and walk away until your blood pressure returns to a normal level.

The end result is an artificial inflation of gameplay time combined with sucking every last drop of fun out of the event. Elements of the trope are: 1) A puzzle that is basically a required action 2) No real consequence to your failure 3) Annoying difficulty, sometimes combined with Unexpected Gameplay Change 4) All of this, usually in a game that's not designed around solving this sort of puzzle.

Examples to be considered:

  • Valkyrie Profile has three on Hard Mode - Solerno Academy (not too bad), where you deal with timed colour puzzles; the Clockwork Mansion (a little worse), with a massive set of rooms that rotate; and the Tomb of Amen-ti (Nooooooooo!), with a large enemy-free section with floating monsters that hunt and chase you - and when they touch you, you don't fight, you just go back to the beginning of the section. None of these missions (no missions, in fact) are necessary for game completion, but by the time you reach them, you've already come through most of the individual level, and if you want to get any sort of decent rating, you have to do them.
  • Digital Devil Saga II has the Khumbanda Chase scene near the beginning - you're thrown in jail, you break out, your invulnerable jailer chases you around the cell block. If he catches you, you're thrown in jail, you break out, your invulnerable jailer chases you around the cell block. Over and over and over again. Complete with unneccessary Unexpected Gameplay Change.
  • The race across Lab 32 in Chrono Trigger can count as this; Unexpected Gameplay Change, difficult mini game, and basically required for advancement. Fortunately, it's only mostly required.
  • The card game tournament in Final Fantasy IX can qualify.
  • In any game where Save Scumming is possible, any hard section of the game can become this.
Community Feedback Replies: 10
  • July 3, 2011
    Sounds like Solve The Soup Cans.
  • July 4, 2011
    Thanks for the link; I can see the similarity, however, despite the suggested name, a Frustration Puzzle doesn't have to be a puzzle. The two can be related, but a frustration puzzle doesn't have to be a solve the soup cans scenario. A bad Solve The Soup Cans puzzle could definitely be a Frustration Puzzle - especially if it's required to continue - but the overlap is incomplete. In some Frustration Puzzles (all the above-mentioned ones, in fact) what you have to do is quite plain, it's just unexpectedly challenging and there's no shortcut or sidestep available.
  • July 4, 2011
    If that's what you intend the trope to be about, then it definitely needs a rewrite, and "Puzzle" in the name makes it sound like it has to be a puzzle. Perhaps if you go for a better word, like "Challenge", "Test", or "Trial", it'll make more sense. I'd recommend Test, because Trial sounds like when you get a practice run, while Challenge sounds like when you face off against another character.

    How about Troublesome Test?
  • July 4, 2011
  • July 4, 2011
    Stratadrake - that's the way it reads, but it's not what is intended.

    Let me give you an example. Suppose there's a level in a game where you have to manage to shoot an arrow through a very, very small hole. It just turns up, without any real chance to practice it, and you have to keep trying until you succeed. Nothing like Solve The Soup Cans, since it's entirely possible that the task is very much exactly what is called for by the plot, and not at all arbitrary.

    Suppose, for instance, that it's a Legend Of Zelda puzzle, and the task is to, say, use a bombchu to blow up a weak surface high up on the wall, upon which the chest with a key will drop from the resulting hole. The game makes it clear that it's what you need to do, and it's very much in keeping with the theme and feel of the game... but those bombchus are damn hard to use, and it takes you half an hour to do it. It's not a Solve The Soup Cans at all, but it is a (fake) example of this trope.
  • July 4, 2011
  • July 4, 2011
    It's That One Anything, combined with absolutely zero consequences for failure. Bonus points for Unexpected Gameplay Change or forced use of a Scrappy Mechanic. Aielyn's got the idea. Where the Tomb of Amenti example from Valkyrie Profile can be expanded: the reason that the whole dungeon (which would be That One Level in some cases, especially walking in unprepared) isn't a frustration puzzle is because the majority of it is exactly what you would expect - dungeon platforming, navigating traps, some basic puzzle-solving, and a modified RPG-style combat system. At the end, you reach a segment of several screens where you have to navigate around traps, you have little flying B*@#&rds hunting you that, when they touch you, send you back to the beginning of the section with no consequences, and no cost other than time and frustration (even in universe) - and while you can leave any time you like, you can't complete the dungeon without going through that nonsense. Frustration puzzles deliberately screw with the player and generally have no impact whatsoever on the characters. It's the latter part that's key - the character(s) suffer no consequences for failure (failure tends to result in some form of Reset Button), while you sit there fuming and trying to break your controller in pieces.
  • July 4, 2011
    Well, I think I definitely see the kind of puzzle you mean, though I'm not sure about the definition. Is the "no consequence for failing" part very important? Since if you take saving into consideration, that could mean "any annoying puzzle ever". I'd leave the Save Scumming part out.

    Does "you have unlimited number of tries to take on that puzzle" sound better?

    I think this trope most often manifests as dexterity/luck based sequences that seem to be designed so that you could fail a few times to get a hang of it. I'd rather emphasize the repetitiveness rather then frustration (since the latter pushes the trope right into YMMV) in the trope's name. I can't think of any right now, though.

    What I'm trying to do is to nail down the definition of the trope, because I think current description is a bit vague. Of course, I'm not sure if I understood correctly what you mean here.

    I don't think it has anything to do with Suspicious Videogame Generosity, that trope is about getting recovery items.
  • July 5, 2011
    What I have in mind is a "no-real-consequences" type puzzle, hence the passing reference to SVG - this is often a no-consequence situation in the middle of an otherwise-dire situation, like the Valkyrie Profile example, the Generosity coming in to play in that the game doesn't punish you for failure, not in that it necessarily gives you random rewards (so that trope might not actually apply).

    The basic elements are:

    - required content (so not, say, trying to dodge 200 bolts of lightning on the Thunder Plains in Final Fantasy X, although that would meet the other requirements)

    - challenging in some way, often involving a complete genre shift or enforced use of a Scrappy Mechanic

    - no penalty (loss of resources, damage or game over) for failure; generally using a looped condition:

    10 attempt test

    20 if fail, goto 10 (and nothing else), otherwise continue game.

    And beyond just "infinitely looping conundrum," there's the added element of annoyance, but I suppose that does slide in to a YMMV trope. To me, the key is "no consequence for failure," which makes it seem an admission by the programmers that it's just there to waste the player's time.
  • July 5, 2011
    Scrappy Mechanic is by itself a YMMV trope.

    Just because there's no consequence/punishment for goofing up on a puzzle doesn't mean it was there to "waste the player's time" -- take many a Block Puzzle. If you shoved the wrong block into the wrong position (thus making the puzzle unsolvable in the current state), for what reason should this logically kill off your party (or otherwise issue a Game Over) and force you to reload your save?

    Not every puzzle mandates a lethal penalty (or even any penalty whatsoever) for failing to solve it on your first try. Indeed, some puzzles are meant for the player to figure out on their own efforts; "it's not a bug it's a feature".