"There were sequences really near the beginning that kicked my ass until I was wearing my buttocks like a hat, while the closest thing to a final boss fight is basically you versus a wheelchair-bound cross-eyed hobbit, and you're armed with the BFG 9000."This happens when a game has a difficulty curve that makes no sense. The game isn't always hard. It isn't always easy. It just can't seem to make up its mind. There are even portions that seem to be the perfect difficulty, but you never know when one will turn up. Maybe there's an element of the game design that does not work particularly well. Maybe the developers were trying to make the game feel realistic. Maybe they just had no clue what they were doing. Whatever the case, you've run into Schizophrenic Difficulty. Often occurs when major elements of gameplay are left to the Random Number God. Random dungeon layouts can put important equipment on the bottom floor. Random stat growth can rob your tank of vital Hit Points. A Crutch Character or Exclusive Enemy Equipment that is only available on a few scattered levels can also make portions of the game much easier than others. And sometimes, it is the level design itself that makes things too difficult. Compare Difficulty Spike or That One Level, when a single level is much harder than its preceding levels, and Breather Level which is its inverse. Also see Early-Bird Boss, which can cause this in the early parts of RPGs and games with RPG elements. Non-Indicative Difficulty is an extreme case where, for example, playing on "Normal" is harder than playing on "Hard", at least in some way.
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- The Wonderful End of the World (basically a PC indie version of Katamari Damacy) suffers from this. In some levels you'll collect enough stuff to get an A+ rank with a third of the timer remaining, while in others you'll scramble up to the last second and still only earn a B rank. The very first level is an example of the former, but one of the two levels it unlocks falls into the latter.
- Battle City and somewhat its sequel Tank Force has this syndrome too. For an example, stages 20 and 34 in Battle City are the hardest ones in the game while stage 35 is a breather level.
- Cannon Fodder is an example of this once you get past the first Difficulty Spike in Mission Eight. After this the average difficulty stays more or less the same until the end of the game, but with occasional shockingly hard phases dropped in at random.
- Devil May Cry 3 is a fairly classic example using Difficulty Spikes. Cerberus and the Twins are incredibly difficult bosses, and yet Cerberus is the second boss you face and the twins are not much further along. While the game itself doesn't get easier per se after that point, the difficulty of those bosses is so ridiculously high that once you develop the skill to beat the bosses (likely by dying on them a dozen times each), you have become good enough at the game that nothing ends up challenging you nearly as much - they aren't the hardest bosses in the game, but they're the hardest bosses for the skill level you're at when you first face them, so nothing else seems nearly as bad.
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link also gets criticised often on this aspect, with Death Mountain (an early-game area) is seen as ludicrously difficult, even by the game's standard.
- Ni GHTS Journey Of Dreams has Fluffy Catch, the third stage in the game, as a stopping point for people because the player has to keep Nightopians from drifting upwards into a vortex, requiring the player to scramble back and forth and keep a sharp eye at a point when the game's unusual mechanics are not yet clear (especially if the player has never played the first game). After that, the stages themselves vary a bunch, with the mid-game Crystal Castle levels being pretty hard overall because of the high obstacle density, cramped space, branching paths, and mirror puzzles; and its follow-up, Memory Forest, being relatively empty, open, and straightforward, allowing you to see any enemies and other setbacks far in advance.
- In Batman: Arkham Series, the Riddler challenges of finding his trophies/extortion files can range anywhere from simply walking over and picking one up to doing some insanely difficult and perfectly timed trick with your various gadgets.
- Crimes in Progress in Batman: Arkham Origins can be anything from half a dozen guys with sticks, a fight that Bats could probably win in his sleep, to a massive brawl involving heavily armoured goons, corrupt cops, assault rifles and - if the area is open and the fight sufficiently free-range - a number of thugs from a completely different mob that get pulled into the fight.
Beat Em Up
- Most of the levels of Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms are a breeze (in contrast to the bosses) except for a few scattered levels that are intensely and inexplicably difficult (the hardest probably being the fifth). Difficult levels don't seem to get any more (or less) frequent as you near the end, either.
- All the levels in Battletoads are hard, but not sequentially so. Level 3 has the racers, which are virtually impossible, while level 5 has the surfboards, which, while difficult, aren't as bad. In some levels, every obstacle is instant death, while in some other, later levels, all obstacles take one or two units of health.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World combines this trope with Boss Dissonance. The first level is both fairly simple and ends with Matthew Patel, who is an utter clown in all versions of the story. The second level is slightly harder... and caps with Lucas Lee, who's shockingly hard (especially if he gets hold of a skateboard). The third level doesn't change any, difficulty-wise, but ends with a tough mid-boss fight, followed by the demonically hard Todd Ingram. Then there's the fourth level, notorious for being one of the most frustrating levels in the game, ending with Roxie Richter... who's actually slightly easier than Todd. The fifth level splits in two; you can skip most of the first half, which ends with a fairly simple mid-boss, but you have to slog through a grueling platforming sequence (with no chance to heal) in the second half. And the boss? The Katanayagi Twins, the easiest boss in the game. Finally, the difficulty stabilizes.
- A lot of fighting games in general have random characters whose AI seems to vacillate between brilliant and stupid for no discernible reason. Some SNK Bosses even throw in an entire "stupid round" where attacks just seem to work and a "smart round" where they play a Perfect-Play A.I..
- In Mortal Kombat II, Jade was a secret boss, with the cheap AI that you might expect from a boss. In MK3, Jade was a selectable character, but the programmers never fixed her AI. Considering that it was almost entirely random when, or even if, you fought Jade in single player mode, she was a single-handed example of this trope.
- Soul Blade's Edge Master Mode has several points where the challenge you have to accomplish is much harder than the one after it. Examples being those that require you to use a certain move (especially hit your opponent in the air), those that require you to defeat your opponent against a time limit or with limited health, and the Colosseum matches.
- Tekken 2 has a point around Stage 5 where the difficult level suddenly hikes, especially if you are fighting against Law. Afer this, it usually isn't too difficult. This is because the fifth level forms the mid-boss, even though at this stage it wasn't mentioned.
- Guilty Gear XX's Story Mode is all over the place, ranging from "Beat me, please" to "I AM COMPUTERIZED FIGHTING PERFECTION AND WILL SHOW ALL PUNY HUMANS WHAT TORMENT AND SUFFERING IS" depending on which story arc you take.
First Person Shooter
- Serious Sam - The First Encounter, most notably in harder difficulties. The last room in the third level raises the difficulty, then it goes down again. While Dunes is a harder level, the following Suburbs and Sewers are Breather Levels. Metropolis, on the other hand, raises the difficulty again a lot, which won't let down until the end of Karnak and afterwards the difficulty starts to jump up and down very frequently.
- Star Trek: Elite Force II. The difficulty yo-yos up and down the whole game, with a plague of Demonic Spiders near the beginning followed by a single, supposedly more fearsome specimen — built up as a major Boss Fight — who goes down almost instantly. Or compare the warp core level, where you have to shoot dozens of targets (without hitting the Destroyable Items) within a merciless time limit, with the endgame, where there's a single monster you need to kill, a gun that can do so in a handful of shots, no time limit, and infinite health and ammo rechargers.
- The final mission of Call of Duty 2, Crossing the Rhine, is much easier than the previous two brutally difficult missions (D-Day and Hill 400). The difficulty also drops from Stalingrad to Africa, then shoots back up for Caen and the aforementioned two missions.
- The Halo games tend to be schizophrenic with their difficulty.
- Halo 2: very hard->hard->medium->easy->hard->medium->hard->medium->easy->ultra-hard->hard->medium->easy
- Halo 3 starts with two very difficult levels back to back, then segues into several moderately difficult ones, than an easy one, and then the difficulty spikes into the stratosphere with Cortana before the easy final levels.
- The first two maps of the original game's fourth episode are considered to be insanely difficult in comparison to the ones that follow, while the last two are generally regarded as the easiest in the episode. Then again megawads, that aren't Platform Hell in the first place, can have wildly varying levels when it comes to difficulty. The Community Chest mapsets are big examples of this.
- The Playstation version of Final Doom is a mash up of parts of The Master Levels, TNT Evilution, and The Plutonia Experiment; Crescendos towards the end of each, then nosedives as you enter the next chapter.
- The Alpha Labs are probably the hardest area in Doom 3, mostly because you don't have many good weapons and it's filled with hitscanning zombie soldiers. The game gets much easier from thereon until it spikes again in Hell, and then the difficulty starts jumping all over the place.
- E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy's difficultly bounces up and down to a hilarious degree, mostly due to the randomly generated missions and enemy types encountered. One mission in New Eden may have the player's party just fighting against low-level Looters and Federal Police, while the next city level may throw Interceptors and Special Forces Infiltrators at the party. The only level which is almost always difficult is the Noctis Labyrinth, which sics copious amounts of Deus Exs and Interceptors at the party — though by this point, someone will probably have the .444 Bear Killer anti-vehicle revolver to deal with both enemies.
- Left 4 Dead:
- The first two games are designed to have each campaign be an enjoyable standalone experience, but it's likely that players will play them in order from start to finish at least the first time they play. Both games' second campaigns were DLC not available at launch, and as such have slightly more gimmicky, and difficult play than the base game ones in order to give a fresh challenge for veterans, as well as containing less but longer maps to provide short but challenging game options for versus players.
- Left 4 Dead 2's Campaign 3, Dark Carnival, has the longest maps, with 3 of them having punishing crescendo events at the very end that are easy to fail on more than once if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Campaigns 4 and 5 - Swamp Fever and Hard Rain - settle the difficulty briefly, but the former has one of the toughest finales with a long trek from the safe room to try again, and the latter has the polar opposite - a short finale that takes place right next to the safe room. After all these ups and downs, the final campaign, The Parish, re-settles back on being a very fair and balanced difficulty despite a gimmicky moment here and there. At least until you hit the final stretch to reach the escape helo, then all hell breaks loose.
- In Civilization III, random map generation can make victory practically unattainable. Having no Iron or Copper means you're stuck using archers and longbowmen until gunpowder is invented. This, coupled with an aggressive enemy AI, can cause all sorts of pain for the player. On the other hand, you can get a "double gold riverside corn copper" start and then receive free technologies from huts, which makes the game a cakewalk.
- You'll need extra luck if you don't have a source of oil in the late game; Riflemen seem to have a greater difficulty dealing with Tanks than Spearmen.
- It's not much improved in Civilization IV although some units were added, like Mechanized Infantry, to help smooth out the differences between Iron/no Iron and especially Oil/no Oil. It's a lot easier to win a non-military victory in IV, though.
- Playing one-city-challenge can be entirely dependent on what resources are near wherever you build your one single city.
- Crusader Kings gets outright chaotic quite often, especially the second game. In general, a lord's effective power is usually dependent on their vassals' loyalty, and the moment a king dies, his successor will usually have to deal with several magnate lords pushing their own agendas; the likelihood of this goes up as the king's realm grows bigger and more powerful. On the other hand, a long-ruling king can more-or-less expect full obedience as he expands his realm into infidel lands. The difficulty rankings on starting characters do not take this into account, meaning that some of the best starting characters for newbies, minor Irish nobles with no large organized enemies or complex internal politics, are labeled "hard".
Hack And Slash
- Diablo II: You sequentially pass through the three difficulty levels with your character as you level up (Normal for levels 1 to ~40, Nightmare until ~70, and Hell from then on). However, the actual difficulty of each is kinda messed up.
- Normal can be tedious or very difficult depending on your build. Many characters are stuck with a pathetically weak attack as they wait for the higher level ones they actually want to put points into to open up.
- Nightmare is a complete joke — by now you have your strongest attacks maxed out, while enemies are only slightly stronger than in Normal.
- Hell is true to its name. All enemies are completely invulnerable to at least one element, randomly spawned unique monsters gain 3 boss-modifiers (which can give them more elemental immunities), and your own elemental resistances are all dropped by one hundred.
- There's another layer of Schizophrenic Difficulty inside Hell difficulty. While in Normal difficulty the enemies have their stats completely fixed, in Nightmare and Hell each zone has an "area level" and enemies scale their stats based on that area level. Hell difficulty makes some strange leaps in area levels, and sometimes zones have a much higher level than the previous area, meaning the enemies there are much stronger. This usually happens with optional areas, but there are a few cases with mandatory areas: the Blood Moor has a level of 67 while the Den of Evil there (a Noob Cave in previous difficulties) has a level of 79 (enjoy monsters who are suddenly 12 levels higher!), and the Far Oasis has a level of 76 while the Maggot Lair has levels 84-85.
- A similar thing can be said about act bosses. The first boss, Andariel, has quite an adequate low difficulty considering she's the first boss, but the second boss, Duriel, is one of the toughest enemies of the game. The third boss, Mephisto, is very easy, especially compared to his bodyguards, the High Council, who are AT LEAST as hard as Mephisto himself. Then, the fourth boss, Diablo, is clearly the toughest enemy of the game (which makes sense, considering he was originally the Final Boss prior to the expansion). By contrast, the added Final Boss in Lord of Destruction (Baal) is similar to Mephisto in being disappointingly easy compared to prior bosses and his "Minions of Destruction" that you are forced to defeat right before.
- Diablo III had this in spades before the 2.0 patch added auto-leveled enemies and the ability to change the overall difficulty level on the fly.
- World of Warcraft also falls prey to this trope - especially on PvP servers. Certain zones can be unplayable due to ganking and quest difficulty can frequently fluctuate depending on how enemies differ between areas.
- Low-level players first encountering Gnomeregan may notice a surprising leap in difficulty compared to earlier dungeons.
- Zones made before any of the expansions (Levels 1-60) are somewhat more difficult than higher-level zones introduced in the expansions (Levels 60-80). Quests are also usually more time consuming as well, requiring 20 Bear Asses rather than eight.
- The Cataclysm revamp made it even worse. Now, the level 1-60 zones were revamped and are a very pleasant experience. 60-70 content is now the oldest and as such is missing a lot of new development ideas and is much more tedious than 1-60. 70-80 content ups the quality almost back to the new Cataclysm content. 80-85 levels have all the newest developments, but have vastly increased amount of experience needed per level and highest-level mobs are much tougher than previously. Tol Barad quests, accessible at 85. feature another jump up in difficulty.
- Even once you finish leveling and start playing heroics, there's a significant difference across the different dungeons. Some people will jokingly call a free run while others will see people immediately quit in disgust.
- During the open beta, Star Trek Online suffered from this, with the episodes and missions immediately following the tutorial being unreasonably (to the point of unplayable) difficult at times. By the time you got to level 11 where the difficulty was supposed to pick up, it actually dropped off some.
- Guild Wars Factions has this, with several earlier missions being a pain, yet around the middle of the game, they ease off on difficulty, then it spikes again. The final boss himself is all over the place. If you go in with whatever build you normally have, he can be essentially unbeatable. On the other hand, there are builds that almost instantly defeat him, with almost no middle ground due to the nature of his abilities.
- Guild Wars 2 tends to run into this problem with the Personal Story missions when run solo, though this is largely dependent on the player character's build. Two characters running through identical stories may have vastly different outcomes: a high-defense low-damage warrior may be able to wade handily through a succession of strong single enemies, but be stymied by the following mission's gigantic waves of enemies that whittle that huge HP bar down to nothing; conversely, a high-damage AOE-based Elementalist will watch their coffers drain repairing damaged armor from trying to take down the mini-bosses, only to laugh maniacally as they slaughter the following Zerg Rush before they can even attack.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic had a similar issue with class missions, especially the Jedi Knight plotline, which is built around the assumption that the player character is a Guardian tank and is inordinately difficult with a Sentinel or a DPS Guardian.
- Kingdom of Loathing is interesting in that it has this every time you do a run through it due to how the game works. The first three quests are laughable, but then you reach the Goblin King, who's far harder than the Boss Bat - and harder than some of the enemies several quests down. Level Six (and its optional second quest) is back to normal, but the boss of the Level Seven quest, the Bonerdagon, is another amp in difficulty (especially if you're a Mysticality class; most of their damage is through skills, which the Bonerdagon has a good chance of blocking). From there things remain somewhat stable.
- The Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games are somewhat schizophrenic in their difficulty curves. In Sonic 1, Star Light Zone, the fifth zone, is easier than the previous three zones. Chemical Plant Zone, despite only being the second zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, has a second act that's more difficult than anything you face until Mystic Cave, the sixth zone. Sonic 3's Ice Cap Zone, as with the first game's Star Light Zone, is easier than the three before it. For obvious reasons, combining Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles creates a two-hump difficulty curve. Sonic & Knuckles alone does, however, have a sensible difficulty curve.
- The reason for Chemical Plant's difficulty is that it was originally intended as the tenth zone, back when the game was to include several scrapped levels. Conversely, the difficulty of Labyrinth Zone in Sonic 1 is ameliorated somewhat (it still precedes the noticeably easier Star Light Zone), as it was originally the second level in the game, but was moved to the fourth because it was too difficult.
- Marble Zone is much harder than Green Hill Zone with its horrible amounts of lava, falling spikes, and instant-kill squish hazards. Conversely, Spring Yard Zone is relatively easier, apart from the BallHog enemy.
- The 8-bit versions have this problem to a lesser extent. Jungle Zone Act 2 in the Sega Master System version is one of the hardest in the game due to Ratchet Scrolling, while Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 1 are surprisingly easy in comparison to the 16-bit equivalents.
- Sonic 2 for the Game Gear and Sega Master System is horrible about this. Underground Zone, the game's first, is modestly challenging up until the boss, and even that is beatable with some practice (although still surprisingly difficult considering it's the first boss). The next zone, Sky High, is more difficult than anything up until Scrambled Egg and Crystal Egg, the final two levels, due to unintuitive hang glider controls. Aqua Lake is back to being relatively easy, then bounces back to being Nintendo Hard with the second act. Green Hills (note the "s") isn't very hard at all until the third act, which is one of the hardest in the game. The game seems to make up its mind about its difficulty level starting with Gimmick Mountain.
- Sonic Rush also does this. Especially as Blaze, since her level order is different than Sonic's.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) had difficulty all over the place in each of the main 3 campaigns.
- Sonic Colors will open up Sweet Mountain and Starlight Carnival at the same time. Upon the player finishing both, Planet Wisp, Aquarium Park, and Asteroid Coaster will unlock all at once. The game's stages are supposed to scale in difficulty on an ordinary curve in the order listed above. Hence, anyone who chooses Starlight Carnival before Sweet Mountain will be in for a surprisingly tough time, and even more so if they select Asteroid Coaster before Planet Wisp or Aquarium Park.
- Mickey Mania has 6 levels. The first, Steamboat Willy, is very easy. #2, The Mad Doctor, is likely the second most difficult level in the game (the difficulty jump between the first two levels is ridiculous). #3, Moose Hunters, is medium-hard, but quite short. #4, Lonesome Ghosts, is pretty hard. #5, Mickey & The Beanstalk, is about medium. And the final stage, The Prince & The Pauper, is quite merciless. It has five incredibly difficult segments to it (though the first isn't too bad), plus the final boss (who takes forever to kill and can mess you up if not careful).
- Super Mario Sunshine has 10 difficult sub-levels peppered across the game where Mario loses FLUDD. After playing one or two of them, players will know that the cutscene of Mario losing FLUDD means a tough Shine ahead. A tough mandatory Shine in all 10 cases.
- Scaler, a 3D platformer whose main draw was being relatively inexpensive, frequently alternated between being mind-numbingly easy and controller-crushingly hard. There is no lives system or penalty for death, and there are frequent unmarked/invisible check points that will respawn the player close to wherever he or she screws up, making it child's play to advance through the game. On top of that, most of the enemies, including the bosses, are extremely easy to kill. Most. Every so often the game will throw a Boss in Mook Clothing at you, and then there are the racing levels that are insanely hard to beat and are required to both progress through the game as well as for 100% Completion.
- The Lion King was of average difficulty, which equated to being relatively hard for a Disney game. Apart from certain levels, the most infamous being the second. How many people just stopped playing through the rest of the game just because of the ostrich ride? The gorilla sub-boss caused a lot of angst as well, yet there were full bosses who collapsed after one hit.
- Since all 20 levels in a world are unlocked and ready to play once you get to that world, Super Meat Boy either has a steady difficulty curve or this trope depending on whether you play the levels in order or not.
- The difficulty can become even more uneven depending on when the player decides to do the Dark World levels, which are on par in difficulty with levels 2-3 worlds ahead of the current one. Players who tackle the Dark World immediately after their Light World counterpart will alternate between breezing through Light World stages and struggling through Dark World ones.
- One of the building blocks of Super Monkey Ball is this Trope. Let's talk about Deluxe: A Stereotype afflicting ALL NON-EXTRA MODES except Expert whereas the second-to-last level is really hard, and the last level's a Breather Level. Expert's case doesn't use the last two stages (Air Hockey and Asterisk), it uses Exam-C and Skeleton (Experts 6 and 7, respectively). Other unforgiving levels are also allowed to appear (e.g. Tracks and Launchers), but both can be remedied. The former involves going to the edge of the 5.0 "text square" and hitting the ledge separating the 1.0 and 2.0 "text squares". The latter involves use of your trusty minimap. No way to remedy Stamina Master...)
- Frogger IS this trope. At least the Atari 2600 version anyway. Early on, the difficulty levels change gradually from warmup level 1, slightly less easy warmup level 2, easy but noticably harder level 3, and then a sudden difficulty spike with moderately hard level 4. Then level 5 is easier. Then level 6 is legitimately hard. Then level 7 is a piece of cake, easier than level 3, only thing that makes it harder than rather than equal to level 2 is the fast-moving snake on the log (which can be fairly easily avoided), then level 8 takes Nintendo Hard Up to Eleven with the close but slow moving traffic and fast moving water hazards. Then level 9 is a bit easier but still not cake. It goes on like this all game long.
- Psychonauts. The first couple levels are more or less just tutorials meant to teach you various game mechanics. Then, once you reach the abandoned insane asylum, you're suddenly thrust into a considerably more difficult group of levels filled with tougher enemies, more death traps, and really confusing level designs. Then, as a final level, there's the Meat Circus, which is the hardest level in the game.
- Due to having more than its share of That One Levels, Megaman X 6 has this if you try to follow the order of the bosses' elemental weaknesses. You're likely to start with the relatively easy Amazon Area and Central Museum, then go into the blistering hard Magma Area, followed by the not-quite-as-hard Northpole Area. You'll a bit of a breather at the Inami Temple, then go into the hell that is the Recycle Lab, followed by the short and simple puzzles of the Laser Institute and tricky, but straightforward and also short Weapon Center. You're much better off defeating the bosses with the buster or saber, taking the levels in order of difficulty, and using alternate means to unlock the endgame instead of trying to finish all the maverick stages.
- Super Mario Maker's 100 Mario Challenge in Expert mode is Sturgeon's Law in full effect, due to the game's reliance on user-generated content. You frequently run into courses filled with Fake Difficulty, tight reaction times, haphazard enemy placement, etc. You can skip these courses, but you need to actually clear a course in order to truly progress. Fortunately for those striving for 100% Completion, the majority of the 30 Mystery Mushroom costumes randomly rewarded for beating this mode can be alternatively unlocked through amiibospecifics , so at best you need three mandatory playthoughs to get the Sidestepper, Shellcreeper, and Mario costumes.
- Bionic Commando Rearmed's Challenge Rooms are all over the place in terms of difficulty; some are a cakewalk to get an Eagle ranking on, while others are extremely difficult to just pass.
- Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. Oh, boy, Puzzle Quest Galactrix. Specifically, the whole "fixing jumpgates" thing, which is not just schizophrenic, but positively hebephrenic (really obscure psychology joke).
- Lemmings is all over the place, simply because when you know the solution to a level, it's hard to predict how difficult others will find it to discover. A perfect example is "Flow Control" from Oh No More Lemmings, midway through the last and supposedly hardest difficulty rating on the game. Depending on whom you ask, it's either worthy of that position or should have been in Tame. Likewise, late Taxing level "Take a running jump..." is ridiculously easy to solve (saving 100%) once one sees that the level design is a Red Herring; one can simply ignore the tiny gap which is supposed to be plugged, and just build a landing ramp under the ledge.
- Professor Layton had an amazingly twisted difficulty curve, which of course varies from person to person, seeing as it's a puzzle game (and people might have done some before). But some levels *coughchocolatecodecough* are consistently frustrating.
- In Candy Crush Saga, you can often find easy levels followed by hard levels, and the other way round. If you visit the Candy Crush Saga wiki and read the page of almost any episode, you can see how much the difficulty jumps up and down.
- The Castles of Doctor Creep is supposed to have the castles arranged in order from easiest to hardest, but (among other things) the long and difficult castle Callanwolde is listed second (not counting the tutorial), the very short and easy castle Freedonia is listed fifth, and the extremely tough castle Rittenhouse is listed ninth (of thirteen).
Real Time Strategy
- The single-player campaign of Dawn of War: Soulstorm. The difficulty levels of each of the nine stronghold levels vary wildly with no way of knowing which ones are the hardest until you've already played through the game. The Ork and Dark Eldar strongholds are cakewalks (assuming you have enough Honor Guard to get past the initial zerg-rush/maze), the Space Marine, Eldar, and Necron strongholds are about average difficulty, the Sisters, Tau, and Chaos strongholds are hard, but doable, and the Imperial Guard stronghold is nigh-impossible for anyone who lacks a lightning-quick clicking finger.
- This has a lot to do with the gimmicks the game employs at the strongholds and the schizophrenic rock paper scissors relationship that the different factions have to one another.
- The campaign of Dawn of War II fluctuates up and down for its entirety, along with a huge spike with the Argus Gate mission, a huge drop after acquiring the Dreadnought and a sufficiently levelled Cyrus, a spike into the stratosphere with the two Bonus Bosses, and another drop with the relatively easy final mission complete with Anticlimax Boss. Chaos Rising, however, is far more consistent in its difficulty curve.
- In American Conquest the historical campaigns set during the initial phase of conquista are insanely hard. You start with what would be an inadequate army in any kind of situation (often their historical numbers), during said campaigns you have no means to replenish your troops and going against enemies few times stronger and more numerous than you. On top of that, you usually can't gather resources either, so you will eventually run out of ammo (rendering your only asset - firearms - useless) or, what is much worse, food - after which your army will simply starve to death. Your units are also without any upgrades, so they aren't even half as mediocre as they could be.// On the other hand, the exactly same campaings played as natives are laughtably easy to beat. The sole fact that you can heal your units would be enough, but you can always produce more and upgrade them all without much fuss. Combine this with ability to freely gather resources and to build new fortifications and suddenly stopping Europeans is just a matter of time.
- The online Tower Defense game Easter Island TD goes beyond this to chaotic difficulty. The same layout on the same level in different games can give wildly varying results. So much for keeping notes.
- The levels in the original Populous were generated with an algorithm. A side effect was that there were some hard levels quite early in the game, a bunch of easy levels near the end, and the hardest level in the game was around the middle
- UFO Aftershock borders on this trope and multiple difficulty spikes. First mutant mission is a cakewalk, but as soon as on third mission you can encounter very tough shotgun-wielding humanoid mutants (by that time you have only Alien laser weapons, which have pathetic range and damage) and fast sniper-ranged star like mutants, both of them can kill any of your unskilled soldiers with single critical hit. After you acquire shotguns for yourself it gets a bit easier. Another spike comes when Cultists come into play. On first mission against them you have to catch "real" cultists off guard on close range with your whole squad to bring them down without losses, mid range engagement is just a suicide. Second cultist mission is back to just difficult, because of captured equipment (especially weapon mods). When you get sniper rifles, scopes and trained Snipers, game goes from whatever difficulty it was to easy again. Then the Wargot show up, with their Mecha-Mooks, powerful energy and kinetic weapons, and a love for incendiary explosives; all of which laugh at your armour at that point... on top of very good resistance to all non-armour piercing munitions. Fortunately that's offset by their humanoid nature (allowing snipers to make called shots). Later, the Starghost enemies raise difficulty again because they are either highly resistant (more resistant armour than anything before) nonhumanoid (preventing called shots) robots or actual ghosts (called Psionic projections) immune to your standard issue fully modded AP loaded XM 8, MSG 90 and dual MP5 forcing at least one of your (now Super)Soldiers to waste backpack space to carry an UltraSonicGun or other energy weaponry.
- The first Age of Empires game suffered from this. The Yamato campaign was the worst by far (the first two levels were extremely frustrating nomadic levels, pitting a laughably small force against an army), but the Babylonian campaign had shades of this as well (The first level where you start with only a priest, the fifth level which is the toughest of the campaign and the last one where you must assault on Nineveh, a city with 1001 defenses).
- Flash TD game Cursed Treasure - Don't Touch My Gems has a fairly balanced difficulty ramp. That is, until ninjas appear. With their first hit, they turn invisible, being unable to be targeted and making mid-air shots heading to them disappear. Then the ninja champions come out to play: More health (enough that the direct damage spell won't save you), twice as fast and still turning invisible, so by the time they become targetable again, they're often inside your base and you can only hope that your towers will activate the chance to cause fear. It's not uncommon for the last boss of the wave to be killed in seconds, but the entire level leading up to that to be laid out solely to deal with the ninja waves.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: Uprising's Commander's Challenge mode has this in spades. Many levels — though not all of them — have one or more "gimmicks" associated with them: one mission is Tanks Only, one features enemies that attack only with ninja, one gives you a set of powerful but immobile towers, etc. Depending on how well a given player's favored, practiced tactics work on a particular level, they can go from trivial to maddening and back again. Worse, the game unlocks new units with each mission, and the missions are largely nonlinear; two runs of the same mission can be wildly different in difficulty if you unlocked a particularly effective unit in the meantime.
- The Imperial campaign of the original Red Alert 3 is an even worse example. Some of the Imperial levels are so easy, they might as well be playable cutscenes (most prominently, both levels with the Shogun Executioner), while others are ridiculously difficult ("Barbarians at the Bay", for example, is a timed mission where you are forced to fight both the Allies and the Soviets, who will both throw everything they have at you).
- The original Command & Conquer played with this in the GDI campaign. A commonly missed part of the plot has to do with the GDI being seriously under-funded. This leads to mid-game missions that are far more difficult than later ones due to the lack of starting money and adequate sources of tiberium to harvest. The lack of funding for most of the campaign actually forces GDI players to use subversive tactics—such as sneaking into bases to capture & sell expensive buildings—instead of the staple GDI tactics such as tank force steam-rolling.
- Guitar Hero World Tour. The setlists are made so that, instead of a linear progression like in previous games, you have a handful of setlists you can choose at any time. Fair enough, but that's not where the crazy difficulty comes in. The setlists themselves seem to have been spastically arranged. A fairly easy setlist with Spiderwebs and Eye of the Tiger has a fairly crazy Zakk Wylde Battle which ends with Stillborn (which is fairly challenging, but not as hard as the aformentioned battle), and another setlist has Sweet Home Alabama (Live), which has a ridiculously hard solo, sandwiched between the far easier Are You Gonna Go My Way and Assassin. Also, most band games are unavoidably like this when playing in a group. Even if the songs are ordered properly by band difficulty, one is probably going to be harder on guitar and another harder on drums, etc.
- This as a common criticism of The Beatles: Rock Band, whose Story Mode tracklist is organized by release date instead of difficulty, meaning the difficulty varies wildly between songs: For example, some of the game's easiest guitar songs (Hello Goodbye and Getting Better) are just one or two tiers away from some of the hardest (Revolution, Birthday and Back In The USSR), while I Saw Her Standing There, quite possibly the hardest bass song in the game, is in the first chapter in the story mode. At least the game tells you the song difficulty before you play and you can change between Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert.
- Green Day: Rock Band. Some songs that lead into each other are put together as a single song. But this means the hilariously easy Brain Stew finishes with the 1-minute hell that is Jaded.
- In Dance Dance Revolution X2 on the PS2, boss songs are unlocked in this manner. The first song is Dance Dance Revolution, which isn't hard outside of its jumps, then right afterward comes Dead End (Groove Radar Special), which is absolutely loaded with Fake Difficulty, and has only one chart, which is an 18. After that comes Pluto The First, which is notorious for being one of the worst charts of all time and having even more Fake Difficulty than DEGRS. Once you've gotten past that, you'll find the remaining two bosses, Kimono Princess and Roppongi Evolved, to be very easy by comparison.
- Rhythm Heaven on the DS. Two levels in the second set (Moai Doo-Wop and Rhythm Rally) are considered some of the hardest in the whole game. Sometimes you get a very hard level between two easy ones (Big Rock Finish), and some of the easiest ones are right before the end. YMMW on which levels are hard and which are easy, but most people agree that the difficulty is anything but gradually increasing.
- Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure prioritizes what's going on in the story over the difficulty of the stage you're about to play. This is most noticeable any time Charlie becomes the player character, whose gameplay is about precise (rhythmic, in other words) shooting of soccer balls at multiple targets and thus signals a Difficulty Spike; Fondue, on the other hand, gets mostly stages with one-button commands for cues displayed long in advance with an oddly lenient timing window, making his stages easy in comparison with surrounding stages.
Role Playing Game
- This seems to happen a lot in both traditional RPGs and MMORPGs, in general. Earlier levels can actually be harder because your characters don't yet have many items or skills. Then, middle content can become a breeze once you've got your hands on some decent equipment and spells, only to find yourself butting heads with an enemy that forces you to get serious again. Finally, end-game content can either be disappointingly easy, again as a result of having now acquired the best weapons and spells in the game, or mind-numbingly impossible, when all the awesome loot and cool powers in the game world mean nothing to your even more powerful enemies. Double this for any Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards situation.
- Several reviews that describe The Last Remnant as painfully erratic in its difficulty, which leads to a lot of disappointing boss fights and cheap deaths. There's nothing quite like walking into an area and starting a normal fight with really high morale (suggesting you're a lot stronger than them and should have visited 'properly' when you were weaker) and then getting whipped by the boss.
- The first Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games begin quite easy, then you face the three legendary birds when you aren't even Lv. 20. Afterwards, it becomes absurdly easy until you finish the story. Then you meet a Difficulty Spike in the next three dungeons (first one with much tougher enemies, the second goes heavy on traps and the third has Pokémon that seem random). Then the difficulty plummets down for a while until you get to the ultimate dungeons. Note that this is all assuming your starters aren't Grass types.
- Pokémon Black and White jumps all over the place through most of the game. The frist two Gym Leaders, the Striaton Triplets and Lenora, are generally considered among the hardest in the game. The next, Burgh, is much easier due to his team's major Fire and Flying weaknesses, two types that can be found in the areas around his city. The next two Gym Leaders, Elesa and Clay, spike the difficulty right back up again, while Skyla, Brycen and Drayden/Iris are a lot easier. And then you get to the tough Elite Four, followed by the fights against N and Ghetsis, which are brutal.
- Might and Magic IX had this, mainly because it was only half-finished as shipped and the resulting gameplay had some rather noticeable flaws. The first part of the game seemed more neglected than anything else, resulting in a "tutorial" stage that was punishingly difficult due mostly to a lack of any sort of preparation. Trying to follow the "main path" of the game past that point led through a somewhat stable difficulty curve, but any sort of deviation from where the game automatically expected you to go quickly led to the discovery of numerous side quests which could be completed without placing your team in any form of danger whatsoever, making the rest of the first half of the game ludicrously easy. The difficulty eventually spikes back up out of nowhere before bottoming out again, and varies depending largely on which promotion quests you decide to do.
- From Jahara to Giruvegan storywise, Final Fantasy XII is all over the place. Ozmone Plain is typically used as a Peninsula of Power Leveling, and with good reason-while the enemies are strong, few have area attacks, and the ones that do are weaker. Then Golmore Jungle starts throwing lots of status ailments at you, and you can't get Esuna til you reach Eruyt Village. Henne Mines settles for cranking enemy combat strength up. Then it's back to Golmore where the game will force you to use everything you've learned about status ailments. The difficulty then plummets for Paramina Rift, then spikes again for the Stilshrine of Miriam. After that, you have to fight through the Mosphoran Highwaste (fairly easy), the Salikawood (upgraded Golmore, meaning loads of status effects), the Phon Coast (easy again), the Tchita Highlands (also easy), the Sochen Palace (difficulty spike) before ever reaching Arcadia. The Draklor Laboratory features lots of Imperials, and a difficult boss fight. Difficulty remains at a very high level until the end game-Giruvegan is particularly unfair with loads of gimmick bosses. Then comes the even harder Pharos, a dungeon that would qualify for Very Definitely Final Dungeon status in any other FF game. Sky Fortress Bahamut comes after Pharos and is probably far easier-the enemies are just high level Imperials and there are no gimmick bosses to deal with.
- In Rolans Curse 2, this happens with the bosses. The first boss can easily be beaten without taking a hit, but the next two are so ungodly difficult that they are completely impossible to beat without getting hit, then a couple more easy bosses, then one last hard one, then the final boss, a completely stationary pile of bones who fires impossible-to-dodge fireballs that can kill you in two hits.
- Persona 4 starts with 2 extremely easy dungeons, then a Wake Up Call Dungeon followed by one of the hardest bosses in the game. The next dungeon is a good step harder than that and has possibly the HARDEST story boss (almost the only other boss you will actually need to grind against), then the next dungeon is easier, with a challenging but not hair pulling boss, the next dungeon is a little harder, with a boss nearly as hard as the 2 very hard early game bosses, then the next dungeon is easier, and the next dungeon... but the boss difficulty finally spikes.
- The first boss in Persona 5 isn't that bad. His successor is MUCH harder, due to the unique ailment he can inflict on you which makes the target weak to every single affinity. The boss after that isn't quite as bad, but he's followed by one with a ludicrous amount of health. She's followed by a boss consisting of a wave of mooks, who in turn is followed by a boss that can be very dangerous if you don't figure out her gimmick fast enough... and then there's Masayoshi Samael Shido, who has five forms. Most bosses in this series get two, including final bosses. The Final Boss spikes it even higher, as he has an attack consisting of a Sadistic Choice and can deal multiple special ailments which can't be healed by normal means... including the one that the second boss had. Needless to say, it can get a bit frustrating.
- Devil Survivor has this a little bit as well. Day 1 has a tutorial, followed by a nasty Wake-Up Call Boss ten levels higher than you right after the tutorial, and you can't fuse demons until you beat him... and once you do beat him, your fusion makes short work of the demons for the rest of the day. Day 2 is only a little harder, till the end mission, which is an Escort Mission, and therefore automatically a big pain. Day 3 is pretty easy, except for the boss at the end who is That One Boss. Day 4 is a little harder, Day 5 is Breather Levels, Day 6 is mostly pretty easy, and unless you choose Yuzu's route, Day 7 is an exercise in forced grinding.
- The World Ends with You can be like this, thanks to its very complicated battle system. A hard boss battle might force you to learn how to use a gameplay mechanic you had been ignoring beforehand, and suddenly the rest of the game becomes easy until you run into another Difficulty Spike. Repeat until you get to the post-storyline content, which requires jumping back and forth between a bunch of Bonus Bosses while constantly switching your difficulty setting and HP around.
- Final Fantasy IV for the DS had this in its dungeons. You expect, as you go through the levels of a dungeon, that as you progress the monsters will get harder the farther you get from the entrance. In many dungeons, though, this is reversed. The nastiest monster in the Tower of Zot, the Frostbeast, likes to hang around the entrance—and its Palette Swap upgrade, the Flamehound, is only found in the lowest levels of the Tower of Babil despite being a right nightmare. In the Sealed Cave, while the doors are everywhere, the Chimera Brain with its awful Blaze attack is most often found in the first half of the dungeon. The Very Definitely Final Dungeon appears to have a more standard difficulty curve, with Demonic Spiders of increasing levels of meanness populating the first several floors, then floors with only Boss in Mook Clothing (or Degraded Boss, depending on your perspective) encounters, and then, right before the Final Boss...ridiculously weak enemies. What the hell?
- MOTHER has a bad case of this, mostly due to the high random encounter rate. At least, until Mt. Itoi, where it spikes to an insane level and stays there. The creator admitted that they didn't playtest it or try for any sort of balance; they just wanted to finish making the game.
- EarthBound also has difficulty issues. It starts out fairly challenging, gets extremely easy after Happy Happy, gets hard when you reach the mines and stays hard all the way through Moonside, drops insanely low all the way through Scaraba, gets a bit more challenging in Deep Darkness, and finally gets pretty nasty once you reach Fire Spring through the end.
- The GBA fan translation of MOTHER includes an "easy ring" that balances out the difficulty a little better.
- Dragon Quest VI has a pretty strange difficulty curve. The game's difficulty increases steadily until it gets Nintendo Hard at the Disc-One Final Dungeon, after which you get access to the game's Character Class System. The game's difficulty then drops a bit after that, and once you start mastering the classes and then some secondary classes, the game becomes really easy. Then, all of a sudden, the enemies and bosses get all sorts of cheap attacks, and the game becomes even more Nintendo Hard than it was before.
- Dragon Quest VII also does this with its own Dharma Temple event. The mini-dungeon and encounters surrounding the area are stupidly hard. This, however is a trick: If you are (and most likely will be) low level for this area, you can use the area for a Peninsula of Power Leveling once you actually get your Job Classes. But if you decide to grind out your levels before going to the temple, then you can't use the encounters there to gain job points.
- While The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age mostly avoids this on the regular storyline, the Evil Mode is a massive case of this. Some early chapters are easy while others are ungodly hard. Chapter 6 is particular is horrible, as you're facing The Fellowship itself, which are Purposely Overpowered when in your control and still remain overpowered, making it a nightmare. Meanwhile, Chapter 9 (the last one) is a joke, though it's justified as you use an Oliphaunt first, then the Witch-King, and for the last match... Sauron (Or rather, The Eye of Sauron on his tower), so of course you're having it easy.
- Microprose's Magic: The Gathering game does this somewhat: If you don't have an easy way to kill the lower-life opponents, their aggro decks will walk all over you.
- In Undertale, Boss Battles in a Genocide Run fall into one of two categories: bosses that will automatically die from ludicrous damage in one hit and bosses that will put you through hell.
Shoot Em Up
- Mushihime Sama Futari Black Label brings us God mode, which replaces version 1.5's Ultra. Stage 1 starts off already difficult, but Stage 2 somehow manages to be easier, thanks to the immense slowdown and the many, MANY opportunities to cancel bullets and rack up hundreds of millions of points. Then the game goes back to being very Nintendo Hard with the Stage 2 boss. 1.5's Ultra, meanwhile, is hideously difficult on Stage 1 due to rocks that release suicide bullets upon death. Stage 2 is easier because of the absence of such hazards, as well as having many bullet-canceling opportunities, just like in God mode.
- The Touhou photography games, Shoot The Bullet and Double Spoiler. The games are broken into level, which are themselves broken into scenes. You unlock levels by either clearing a certain number of scenes from the preceding level or a certain number of scenes total. Anyway, the difficulty of both the scenes within a level and between the levels themselves can be fairly random. For instance, the first level of Shoot The Bullet is mostly trivial, except for the very last scene, which is probably worse than anything in level 2. And Double Spoiler has level 11, which is markedly easier than the previous three levels.
- Space Invaders Infinity Gene has a Challenge mode that basically randomly generates levels. This leads to randomness in the difficulty. Also, one of the bosses has an intro that lasts minutes before it can be attacked, and this boss may appear randomly at the end of any Challenge level.
- Descent 2 had Schizophrenic Difficulty, with many spikes and troughs along the gently rising slope. In some sections the robots could be picked off with ease, yet just around the corner one false move would see a phalanx of murderous mechs erupt from the floors and walls, firing blinding flares and flooding your lines of retreat with bouncing shots... It didn't seem to make for a bad game, though, since it was enjoyably unpredictable, but only rarely Nintendo Hard.
- Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming has this; mainly either when your opponent was the Witch Princess or a team battle near level 6 or 7. The former was a tough, but fair battle no matter which level you fought her on. The latter achieves it's difficulty spike due to your CPU partner suddenly becoming near-useless, leaving you in a virtual handicap match against the CPU team.
- In the Idle Dating Sim Crush Crush, the girls are generally unlocked in order of increasing difficulty with Cassie (the first girl you unlock) as the easiest and Karma and Sutra (the last girls you unlock at this time of typing) as the hardest to get up to Lover status. However, several girls' relationship levels are surprisingly easy or difficult to complete compared to others': Ayano's earliest relationship levels are fairly straightforward but her post-Friendzoned requirements hit a huge Difficulty Spike and her Lover requirements are obscenely high, and Eva's requirements are significantly easier to complete than Luna's far more expensive ones in spite of her being unlocked after Luna.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! video games frequently drop right into this, as CCG Importance Dissonance or flat-out bad game design means that the skill level of characters zigzags up and down frequently. Stardust Accelerator in particular is notorious for featuring a Marathon Boss against a group of players using tournament-quality decks that can vomit out banned monsters with frightening consistency, and then following it up by making you fight Jack Atlas, whose absolute best first-turn play is summoning a single mediocre Level 8 Synchro.
Third Person Shooter
- Red Faction: Guerrilla. Some main missions are laughably easy, some are hair-tearing hard. And normally the game is damn hard too, but not always.
- Red Dead Revolver had some levels that were too easy, some that were just right and incredibly fun and some that caused many a player to throw the controller across the room in frustration.
- Several missions in the "Rise of the Empire" campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II. In general, the campaign isn't very difficult, but some missions (A Line in the Sand, Knightfall, Tying Up Loose Ends, etc.) are unusually difficult, others are fairly easy, and in short, no two levels have the same diffiulty.
- The first half of survival horror game Cold Fear has lots of tight corridors, a dash of Camera Screw, and takes place on a small whaling ship rocking back and forth in a storm, making it impossible to walk in a straight line, much less shoot with any accuracy. The second half has much more powerful enemies, but disposes with all the things that made the first half so challenging.
- Splatoon: The Squid amiibo challenges. They feature a number of "limited ink" challengesnote that are often hair-pullingly difficult, mixed randomly with the timed missions, which are some of the easiest challengesnote .
- If you don't hate Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark for trying to merge the universe of the Cybertron games with the universe of the Michael Bay films, or for not being developed by High Moon, then you probably hate it for tossing a surprise brick wall of insane difficulty in your path every couple of levels or so, before going back down to an appropriate difficulty until the next one comes along.
Turn Based Strategy
- Most of the Advance Wars games suffer from this with the difficulty peaking anywhere but the final boss fight and lots of late levels being total cakewalks. It depends on strategy.
- While otherwise a very good game, Final Fantasy Tactics suffered from this. The first few battles are easy (though the second battle can be hard if you opt for the more difficult win condition), the 4th battle is extremely hard, the 5th battle is easy, the 6th and 7th battles are somewhat challenging, the 8th battle is easy, the end chapter battle is hard if you don't figure out a specific strategy, then the first half of chapter 2 is easy, mixed with a few randomly hard battles. Chapter 3 throws out battles of varying difficulties though easier than the hardest battles in chapter 2, then suddenly has a sequence of 4 battles, 2 easy, 2 of some of the most obnoxious levels in any videogame ever (a 1 on 1 fight against That One Boss and an Escort Misson, with the weakest, stupidest, most suicidal escort EVER). Chapter 4 starts likes Chapter 3 but a bit easier, then gives you a really good character who kills the remaining difficulty of the game.
- Of course, if you grind for high level jobs, say, the Ninja, the Dancer, or if you really wanna take the fun out the game, the Calculator, this game difficult curve becomes flat as a pancake. Granted, the escort missions are still going to be a pain in the butt, but that's nothing a crack team of Blade Grasping, Move+3 ninjas can't solve.
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has an abnormally difficult early game, due to a combination of mediocre starting units and a lack of chances for Level Grinding. Once the Random Encounters start showing up on the map, though, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from scooping up the best stuff available, until the final boss's ridiculously powerful magic is the only thing that can actually stop you.
- The level/powers systems in most of the Tactics games create this in general. The game can be unforgiving at the beginning when you lack ressurection, movement, reaction, and tactical powers. Once you start unlocking powerful and even game-breaking combinations the game becomes much easier, even as the enemy becomes stronger and the AI becomes smarter.
- Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn (10) starts with a particularly Ragtag Bunch of Misfits trying to sneak their way past the forces of the most powerful army in the game, making it significantly harder than later parts where the threats are still great, but the player is controlling stronger armies. This is more jarring for players who didn't play the preceding game, Path Of Radiance, which, unlike Dawn, has a learning curve. Also, the end of most Fire Emblem games (especially Dawn) can range from "not too bad" to "basically impossible" based on how well the best fighters and items were managed leading up to it.
- The end of Radiant Dawn is only as hard as you want it, which is what makes it so jarring. You've spent the game raising up almost 70 different characters, and you're only allowed...what, 18 or so? What's more, you're given a crapton of extremely good units that could solo the ENTIRE Endgame by themselves, plus two units that can, in exchange for extreme efficiency sacrifice and LOTS of Level Grinding and patience, make the 3rd part of the Endgame, considered by many to be pretty much the hardest chapter of the endgame, into an ABSOLUTE joke. Oh, if you trained and used Micaiah, you'll find she can attack the Final Boss without retaliation, but you probably won't know this because you'll be afraid your "Lord" character will die from the Boss's ridiculous magic, even if Micaiah is a mage. The same goes if you did That One Sidequest to unlock Lehran, who comes with the most powerful staff in the game (which heals every single one of your units in the field), but only joins for the LAST level, but can use ALL staves, Light and Dark Magic, can double attack the final boss (something which is very hard to achieve), and ALSO won't face retaliation.
- In short, the difficulty of Radiant Dawn is, in order from hardest to easiest (by Part): Part I > Part IV > Part III > Part II > Part IV Endgame. Yep.
- Also, depending on how you've been playing, any sequence that involves a good number of the characters from Part I can become this. They are so experience deprived and fragile to begin with that they can be stuck like that for the reminder of the game. Part IV especially seems out to get them because most players keep them together on the Silver Team with Micaiah. Of course, her team just had to be the first chapter in Part IV so you are stuck trying to rout the much more powerful and spawning enemies with Micaiah's old Dawn Brigade members that can fall from 1 or 2 battles. Luckily, you are given Naesala but can also down in one shot by a Crossbow. Then, players move to Ike's team which consists of himself and a stage that generally makes protecting more fragile units easy.
- The next chapter starring Micaiah's team takes place on a desert that hinders the movement of units who aren't magic-users or flying units. This could mean half of your team could be crippled to only moving 2 or 3 spaces at a time! This is particularly annoying because it leaves them wide open for enemy flying units and Silence and Sleep staves! Don't forget, you also have to go treasure hunting in the sand because Fire Emblem loves to put incredibly rare valuables in the dirt. The next chapter (with Ike of course) does have the same status effects, and the castle is somewhat frustrating, but you're less likely to Rage Quit after finding out you JUST missed out a character from the previous chapter.
- The Binding Blade is quite famous for its erratic difficulty. the first 8 chapters, especially Chapter 7 are immensely difficult to the point they have to give you a replacement crutch character due to your first one waning in usefulness. After that is the Western Isle arc that gives you pathetically inaccurate enemies and by the end of it you'll receive a bard/dancer to your team, the best dark magic user Ray, and Milady, who some debate as the best unit in the game at your disposal. if you think its all down hill from here than prepare for some devastating whiplash as the first real chapter of the Etruia arc, chapter 14 is one of the hardest and most cruel levels in the series. Arcadia, the ironically named chapter is a Desert fog of war level with a 25 turn time limit where you have to keep Sophia (one of the worst units in the game statistically) alive in order to get one of the legendary weapons needed to get the true ending to the game and is flooded with Wyvern Lords and Manaketes. after this torturous ordeal the difficulty mellows out, nothing difficult to the point of hair pulling, but still a challenge that requires skill and planning. After Roy obtains the Binding Blade the game becomes a cake walk after that, regardless if you even use the sword. By this point the enemies will either be mooks you've leveled up enough to handle no problem, or Manaketes at a point in the game where your gonna use the legendary weapons 24/7 and thus ORKO'ing them. Even the final boss can be one shot by Roy or Fae.
- Thanks to the fact that it is possible to select which map to take on first and the maps themselves have rather different optimal strategies, Genjuu Ryodan has a rather unstable difficulty, especially when players stick to only one strategy.
Wide Open Sandbox
- In Dead Rising, the combination of the mall layout and the time constraints can make one mission incredibly hard and the next incredibly easy. Rescue from the hardware store? Piece of Cake. Rescuing people from the toy store? Not so much. In addition, whether or not you've fought various optional psychopaths will also influence your difficulty, particularly if you've killed Adam and looted his miniature chainsaws.
- The sequel is better about this (mostly because your escortees are markedly less retarded), but the psychopath fights are still all over the shop.
- Anything Grand Theft Auto - some missions are so easy they could be accomplished by a five-year-old (not that they ''should'', mind you), while others are so frustratingly hard that you'll probably want to either break your TV, your controller, or both.
- Randomly generated missions in X3: Terran Conflict are assigned a "Difficulty" ranking. The difficulty just seems to indicate how likely you'll get wrecked by a M8 class bomber. At high combat ranks (gained slowly by killing enemies), an "Easy" mission will spawn multiple battleships in patrol missions — regardless of what sort of ships you own. Good luck killing those battleships in your piddly little corvette.
- In-Sector versus Out-Of-Sector combat. To save on processing power, OOS reduces combat to ships taking turns firing a single, point-blanknote volley from all guns at once at a single target. All other variables (area-of-effect, weapons recharge, and so on) are taken out of the equation. This skews combat in favor of Wave Motion Guns to the point where recommended loadouts are often drastically different for IS and OOS.
- OOS is also skewed in favor of weight of numbers, to the point where a mob of Jaguar scoutships can kill a Python destroyer with about 20% casualties, something that Artificial Stupidity makes impossible IS.
- Because most pinball tables with a series of missions can have the missions playable in any order (either randomized or chosen by the players), more often than not the difficulty will be all over the place as one plays. One example is Ripley's Believe It or Not!, where each of the seven continents has an objective, and accomplishing it nets the same reward (a letter in R-I-P-L-E-Y-S). Australia's objective is to hit the Vari-Target, an easy-to-hit target, 2 to 4 times depending on how hard you hit it. Africa's objective is to get the ball up the center ramp and right ramp, hit the Idol, get the ball up the center ramp and right ramp again, hit the Idol again, then get the ball up either the center ramp or the right ramp one more time. This can also happen when one part of the playfield is harder to reach than the others but does not reward accordingly. South Park has one such case; whereas all other characters have either gaping holes to shoot into (Cartman, Kenny) or wide ramps (Kyle, Chef), Stan gets assigned to the left orbit, which requires shooting the ball between some rather closely spaced bumpers—if you're barely off, the ball will ricochet in unpredictable directions with a good chance of a drain.