Most video games have adjustable Difficulty Levels so as to provide more of a challenge to good players while allowing poor players the satisfaction of finishing and finding out how the story ends. Traditionally, they would just be called Easy, Medium, and Hard (and possibly Expert). However, a recurring clever idea is to name them in a way reflecting of your game's style or plot. Another widespread trend is to Title Drop one of the difficulty settings, typically the hardest one.
Of course, if you use more than one word, everyone will call them "Easy", "Medium" and "Hard", but it does help establish continuity and mis-en-scene.
For idiosyncratic "Very Easy" and "Very Hard" levels only, see Easier Than Easy and Harder Than Hard.
Only unusual examples should be added to this article.
See also Easy-Mode Mockery, where the idiosyncracy extends to your treatment in the gameplay. For comments on your gameplay, see Idiosyncratic Combo Levels.
Examples (listed in order from easiest to hardest):
Has two different level systems (one for barbarian activity, and one for AI intelligence and game speed). The former ranges up to "Raging Hordes", and the latter runs from "Chieftain" to "Deity".
Regent (replaced Prince)
Monarch (replaced King)
Demigod (in the Play The World expansion pack, available only in Conquests mode)
Sid (in the Play The World expansion pack, available only in Conquests mode.) The "Sid" level difficulty was marked as more or less "For you nutjobs who seem to be beating Deity difficulty, we've made a mode that aims to make all but the best players cry like a little girl." The AI blatantly cheats, all the difficulty settings are turned up to 9011, and so on.
And matching descriptions for each difficulty level, telling you what you can expect while playing it. The highest, "Deity", simply reads "Muuahahaha! Good luck, sucker!"
Civ V is the same with Noble removed and Monarch changed to King.
Titan Quest features the same difficulty mechanism, with levels names Heroic, Epic and Legendary.
Supreme Commander has the original few "easy, normal, hard", but then gets certain ones such as "swarm, tech, and cheater" which describe how the AI acts.
The original PlayStation version of Resident Evil allows the players to choose between two main characters, a female (Jill) and a male (Chris). In the Japanese version, the difficulty between the two character are actually labeled on the character select screen as "Easy" and "Hard" respectively.
When the player starts a new game in the GameCube version of Resident Evil, the difficulty settings are not so clearly defined at first. Instead, the player will be asked whether they prefer to "hike" or "climb" a mountain.
Picking a character for the mercenaries mode in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis affected your difficulty: Mikhail was easy (has a sub-machine gun), Carlos is normal (a customizable handgun and a shotgun), and Nicholai is hard (standard handgun and knife)
Scorched Earth has AI skill and tactics levels, although there was no clear hierarchy of easiest to hardest beyond that Morons played like, well, morons, and the Cyborg had better aiming skills and virtually always hit whatever he aimed at.
Moron (Shoots at random; randomly changes its aim following a miss.)
Tosser (Shoots at random; adjusts aim following a miss, but not very well)
Lobber (Tends to high, lobbing shots)
Chooser (Picks a target, stays on it, corrects aim fairly effectively)
Shooter (Picks a target, corrects aim very well)
Poolshark (Tends to make bank, bounce and wrap shots)
Spoiler (Takes out damaged opponents, steals kills, ruins your shot)
Cyborg (Very good aiming, virtually always hits what it aimed at, always corrects effectively in the rare case of a miss)
Unknown (One of the first eight types was chosen at random and clicking on the tank did not reveal which one it was.)
Scorched 3D AI opponents scale is Random, Target, Moron, Shooter, Tosser, Chooser, Shark, Cyborg.
Legend of Mana gives you the Forbidden Tome after beating the Mana Goddess for the first time, which lets you increase the game's difficulty.
Normal (first playthrough)
Nightmare (enemies are 20 levels higher than normal)
Ouendan's difficulty levels are commonly known to English-speakers as Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard/Insane. They are actually called
Kigaru (Light-heartedly Cheer)
Kakan (Boldly Cheer)
Gekiretsu (Fervently Cheer)
Karei (Gracefully Cheer)
The Ouendan / EBA clone osu! takes this to another level. Each beatmap has a difficulty name specified by the beatmap's author. For example, one set of beatmaps could have difficulty names "Easy", "Normal", "Hard", and "Very Hard", while another set by a completely different author could have the names "Normal", "Advanced", "Extreme", and "Insane".
Postal 2 took this to a ridiculous level. There are about 10 named difficulty levels, starting at "Leibermode" and ending at "Hestonworld", that actually changed the way the game was played. "Liebermode" had everyone armed with shovels instead of guns, "Hestonworld" had EVERYONE (including all civilians) armed with guns, "Insane-o" armed people with random weapons including scissors and grenades, and "They Hate Me" made everyone with a weapon attack the player on sight. The officially-recognized "A Week in Paradise" mod takes this even further, with a "Nightmare" difficulty that gives everybody guns and makes them all hate you, and further than that is "Really Fucking Hard" difficulty, which is the same as Nightmare but with the extra weapons from Insane-o mode - which now includes even more grenade types and high explosives, up to miniature nukes.
Strikers 1945 for the PlayStation, had, below "Easy" in decreasing level of difficulty: "Very Easy", "Child", and "Monkey".
The Curse of Monkey Island has Normal and Mega Monkey. The latter is the real full game, while the former has some of the puzzles removed and is described as being for game-reviewing journalists.
In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge you could choose between "Monkey Island 2" ("I want it all! All the puzzles! All the work!") and "Monkey 2 Lite" ("I've never played an adventure game before. I'm scared."). This is also described as being the "optional easy mode for children and magazine reviewers" on the back cover of the game.
A computerised version of Monopoly rated computer opponents as Calculator, XT Clone and 386/33MHz. This was early in the PC's lifetime, when the 386/33MHz was the most powerful computer around. Of course, as it transpires, the three difficulties all turn out to be synonymous to "stupid", even if the game had a remake that replaced the "386 MHz" with "Core i7".
In the Japanese and PAL versions of Metal Gear Solid 2, the player is asked whether they played the first Metal Gear Solid or not and if they want a lot of action or not. The first three answers will start the game on the Tanker chapter, while the last two choices will skip to the Plant chapter.
"I've cleared the previous game multiple times, so bring on the action!"
"I managed to clear the previous game, but action isn't my strong point!"
"I didn't clear the previous game myself, but I watched everything!"
"I didn't clear the previous game, but bring on the action!"
"I didn't clear the previous game, and action isn't my strong point!".
Space Megaforce has Normal, Hard, Hyper, Tricky, and Wild. Tricky and Wild, which cause enemies to fire back when destroyed, are selected by pressing left (as if selecting an easier difficulty).
Beginner, Light, Standard, Heavy, Challengenote Challenge was also known as "Oni" (Japanese for "demon", also the kanji used in the difficulty icon) in the DDR Extreme options menu, most likely done to make all the difficulties fit in one line on the screen. (DDRMAX to DDR Extreme, with Challenge added in DDRMAX2 and Beginner added in DDR Extreme)
Averted in DDR SuperNOVA onwards, which use the more traditional-sounding Beginner, Basic, Difficult, Expert, and Challenge.
And prior to Dance Dance Revolution 4th Mix, each difficulty rating had its own name: Simple (1), Moderate (2), Ordinary (3), Superior (4), Marvelous (5), Genuine (6), Paramount (7), Exorbitant (8), Catastrophic (9). The remake of 2nd Mix in Dance Dance Revolution X3 vs. 2nd Mix features a boss song with a difficulty rating of 10, named Revolutionary.
beatmania IIDX: Light 7, 7 Keys, Another (up to IIDX 11); Normal, Hyper, Another (IIDX 12 onwards)
In Troopers CS, they introduced Kuro (Black) Another, which make the original another charts look like Light 7s by comparison.
Drum Mania, Guitar Freaks, and jubeat all currently use the names Basic, Advanced, Extreme. The former two games used to call them Normal, Real, and Expert Real in early installments.
Keyboardmania had Light, Normal, and Real. Normal was renamed Light+ in 2nd Mix.
Beginning on Fiesta however, it is completely averted, as rgw difficulty levels are no longer given names, and are instead referred to in-game by their level number.
Lite Pattern (LP)
Popular Pattern (PP)
Technical Pattern (TP)
Special Pattern (SP) However, Technika 2 switches out to slightly more traditional naming conventions: Star, Normal, Hard, and Maximum. The latter three are taken from older DJMAX games.
The Touhou games have the standard Easy, Normal, and Hard, but above Hard is Lunatic. In addition, there's the Extra Stage, and Perfect Cherry Blossom had two difficulties for it: Extra and Phantasm, Phantasm being the harder of the two.
Most of the games also have alternative level names to go with the standard ones — Phantasmagoria of Flower View, for example, has difficulties named for different types of plants/flowers (Extra being the demonic cherry tree from PCB).
The difficulty levels in Imperishable Night, whose plot centers around a stolen full moon (don't think about it too much), are, fittingly enough, named after specific phases of the moon in Japanese:
Easy: "Shingetsu", New Moon
Normal: "Mikazuki", Third Day Moon (waxing crescent)
Lunatic: "Matsuyoi", Waiting Evening (waxing gibbous, specifically the day just before a full moon)
And then the Extra Stage has one final moon phase: Full Moon. note Fitting, as it takes place in the wee hours of the morning after you restore the true full moon to Gensokyo
Subterranen Animism also has its own naming scheme:
Easy: Fairy Class
Normal: Kappa Class
Hard: Tengu Class
Lunatic: Oni God Class
Ten Desires has prayers for stuff that supposedly ranges from easy to impossible to achieve:
Easy: Pray for health and long life
Normal: Pray for traffic safety
Hard: Pray for business prosperity
Lunatic: Pray for IT data security
In addition, in all games the difficulty level comes with a subtitle, with Easy usually being toted as "for Sunday gamers" and Lunatic generally being titled "for weird people" or "not suited for anyone".
Even some of the fangames get in on it. Gensou Shoujo Taisen has difficulties named after SRW games.
Bungie's post-Marathon pre-Halo RTSes Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II : Soulblighter:
Additionally, the game had flavour text describing the difficulty levels.
Legendary: "You will brave the army of a Commander who has never known defeat, and the piled dead will reach the heavens; but should you succeed, in an age not yet dawned you will be spoken of as a god!"
Timid: "You will grow tired blunting your weapons on a poorly-led horde of mindless corpse-men; and once you have reduced them to so much sausage filler, the sweet taste of success will turn to ashes in your mouth"
In later games, a collectible skull exists that doubles enemy health called Mythic.
"Mythic difficulty" is a fan-made difficulty setting which requires turning on all of the various skulls that increase the difficulty of the game in addition to the normal hardships of the legendary setting. The skulls effects are: level restarts if you die, your shields can only renerate when you melee an enemy, enemies evade/throw grenades like crazy, no motion tracker, reduced ammo, enemy resistances increased, and of course enemy health doubled.
Overboard, for the Playstation 1, had levels that sounded like "Oohh!", "Ooohhh!", and "OOOHHH!".
City of Heroes and City of Villains used to take this a step further. You can change your difficulty at special NPCs who, for a fee, will spread word about you, affecting your Reputation (heroes) / Notoriety (villains). This affects the missions you will receive.
Tenacious/Malicious (more enemies)
Rugged/Vicious (harder enemies)
Invincible/Relentless (standard sized spawns of even harder enemies).
The difficulty system was altered for Going Rogue. Now you can separately set what level the foes should be compared to you (from -1 to +4), how many foes should spawn in missions (from x1 to x8), whether you want to fight Bosses as Lieutenants, and whether you want to fight Archvillains as Elite Bosses.
Furthermore, bots in multiplayer mode have various difficulty levels, ranging from Meatsims that almost always miss to Darksims that almost always hit, spawn near weapon spawn points, and can teleport when the player isn't looking. Oddly, Meatsims are the second most dangerous sims when explosive weapons are available, thanks to their tendency to only just barely miss.
This also carries this over to the achievements. Depending on which difficulty you play, you get "Octopussy", "Tomorrow Never Dies", "You Only Live Twice", or "The Name Is Bond, James Bond." No points for guessing which achievement goes with which difficulty.
The Jedi Knight series of Star Wars games uses various Jedi ranks in different methods in different games, ranging from Padawan up to Master.
Ratchet:Deadlocked has difficulty names based around it's "gladiator battle television show" theme. Each difficulty also has an amusing description.
Couch Potatonote So you want to be on DreadZone? Can you wield a blaster as well as you can handle your remote? Don't worry, we'll give you plenty of ammo and health. And we'll tell those big mean DreadZone exterminators to go easy on you. Have fun!
Contestant note Welcome to DreadZone, contestant. We'll make sure your weapons are hitting hard and have plenty of ammo. But don't expect any favours. Our Exterminators play for keeps.
Gladiator note You're one of DreadZone's finest gladiators. You don't know the meaning of the word "capitulation". Well, DreadZone is going to make you wish you stayed in school. The warriors you'll be facing would turn an average contestant into Blargian fungus-toast. You'll need cunning strategy and lightning reflexes to survive.
Hero note Bad guys shake at the sound of your name and kids wallpaper their rooms with your face. Welcome to the big time! You'll be up against the meanest, deadliest, DreadZone combatants we've got and they'll all have Carbonox armour. You're not afraid, are you hero?
Exterminatornote DreadZone fans want to see carnage, and we're gonna give it to them by the truckload. You have no chance for survival, no hope of mercy and no dental plan. This difficulty level is flat out impossible. Turn back now. We're serious. You don't need this kind of pain.
The Conduit, in keeping with its conspiracy/terror theme, uses the five levels of the Homeland Security Advisory System:
Battle for Wesnoth has difficulty settings named marked by units of different levels and mostly named after them, customized per campaign:
"Horseman (Beginner), Knight (Challenging)", "Fighter (Easy), Commander (Normal), Lord (Challenging)", "Spearman (Easy), Swordsman (Normal), Royal Guard (Challenging)" or "Peasant (Easy), Outlaw (Normal), Fugitive (Difficult)" - Human; also "Civilian (Beginner), Recruit (Easy), Soldier (Normal)"
"Fighter (Beginner), Hero (Normal), Champion (Challenging)", "Fighter (Beginner), Lord (Normal), High Lord (Challenging)" "Soldier (Easy), Lord (Normal), High Lord (Hard)" - Elvish.
"Fighter (Easy), Steelclad (Normal), Lord (Challenging)" - Dwarvish.
While they do have a few differences in special moves, the teams in Sonic Heroes are basically difficulty levels, with Team Rose being easy, Team Sonic being normal, Team Dark being hard, and Team Chaotix being "other" (usually having some sort of odd mission).
The original San Francisco Rush had audio Idiosyncratic Difficulties based on which car you picked. Each car handling class was accompanied by a car alarm which got gradually more intense the more a class traded handling for speed, topping off with Extreme's "It's dangerous!" followed by screaming. The N64 port added a few special cars that had difficulty levels of "Oooooh!" and "Yeah!"
Greenhorn* changed to "Recruit" in Call of Duty 4 and beyond - "You will crush the enemy without effort."
Regular - "Your abilities in combat will be tested."
Hardened - "Your skills will be strained."
Veteran - "You will not survive."
50 Cent Bulletproof:
Playa - Very Easy
Hustla - Easy
Thug - Normal
Gangsta - Hard
G Unit Soldier - Very hard.
Wip Eout 3 Special Edition. Not just difficulty levels, but it counts.
Phantom (hidden difficulty, unlocked by cheat)
Speed Makes me Dizzy
I Live to Ride
I Got Petrol in my Veins
The World Ends with You only has a different name for its hardest difficulty, but each setting has a little one-liner to go along with it.
"Easy: Face the Noise"
"Normal: Erase the Noise"
"Hard: Hush the Noise"
"Ultimate: Crush the Noise"
Paperboy was one of the earliest video games to use this trope - your delivery routes are:
The NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge have fancily-named difficulty levels that affected not only the strength of the enemies and the movement of traps, but also the length of the overall game.
Practice (which lasts only three stages)
Warrior (which has all the stages except the final one)
Supreme Master (the only difficulty where the final stage, and the ending, can be seen)
Mass Effect 3 removes Veteran and adds Narrative below Casual. The multiplayer mode offers its own difficulty scale:
The Combat Simulator in the Citadel DLC has its own difficulty settings. While some additional modifiers can be turned on and off freely, the difficulty of the enemies goes as follows (except for the Mirror Match):
Strong Style The different Styles, save for Strong Style, do not equate to difficulty in version 1.5, but in Black Label, the upper two styles do due to varying gimmicks (forced Ura midbosses in Power, 2nd-loop-class patterns in Strong).
Rock Band 3 has a three-dimensional matrix of difficulties. Two of those dimensions are simply named: modes available (on guitar, bass, keys, and drums anyway) are Basic and Pro, chart difficulties available are Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert, but the third dimension, the difficulty for a given song on a given instrument, follows this scale:
These levels are present in the other games of the series as well, except the first game has two more song difficulty levels: Skilled and Blistering, with Challenging sandwiched between them.
The original Guitar Hero games, made by Harmonix before Activision took the license from them, also had idiosyncratic song difficulty levels:
Axe Grinders (first game only)
Amp Warmers (second game only; replaces the previous one)
String Snappers (also second game only)
Thrash and Burn (absent from the Rocks the 80s version)
Return of the Shred
Fret Burners (first game only)
Relentless Riffs (second game only; replaces the previous one)
Furious Fretwork (also second game only)
Face Melters (absent from the Rocks the 80s version)
Galactic Civilizations: the individual races can be set to any of Fool, Dunce, Beginner, Sub-Normal, Normal, Bright, Intelligent, Gifted, Genius, Incredible, Godlike or Ultimate; Intelligent is the only one that's fair, with the earlier ones cheating in your favour and the later ones simply cheating. The game as a whole has the following difficulties:
Veteran Modenote Only found in Corruption and the Trilogy release, this is equivalent to Normal in the GameCube releases of the first two games, making the new Normal actually more of an Easy mode to those who played said releases
Hard Modenote GameCube releases of first two games/Hyper Modenote Corruption and the Trilogy release of first two games