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Nintendo Hard / Video Game Publishers

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Some video game companies are known for most of their games having punishing difficulty.

  • Any game made by the Sega Technical Institute tends to be like this.
    • Kid Chameleon for the Sega Genesis has been called I Wanna Be the Guy Lite, and for good reason; between the multiple drill-blocks, spiked pits, numerous enemies, crushing spiked walls and platforms, blocks that shoot spikes when touched, hailstones that fall like rain during certain levels, mazes during the aforementioned crushing spiked wall chase levels made out of rubber blocks, and the sheer amount of levels you have to go through in a single sitting due to the game's utter lack of any sort of save feature, it's a wonder no one has gone insane (that we know of) from playing it.
      • Then there's the dozens upon dozens of "elsewhere" levels in the game. If you take an alternate exit, you end up "elsewhere". Early in the game, this wasn't bad because finishing elsewhere usually took you a few levels forward. Later, who knows? Backwards, forwards, sideways... you'll have no idea until you see another level (maybe an "Elsewhere" level) that you already played a while ago... a long while ago. It's enough to make the "TOO BAD" level (in which taking the wrong path out of two = die and start the level again) seem downright friendly. Indeed, in the final section of the game, you get a bonus for finding the actual flag that ends a level - most of the time you end up wandering between the levels via various inter-level teleporters. And just to really rub it in, there's a secret to skip right to the final boss from the second level of the game, and get the same (crappy) ending you'd otherwise need to spend a gazillion hours to see.
      • There are also a few levels, in particular Bloody Swamp, which are incredibly difficult. It is possible to avoid playing some of these levels, particularly Bloody Swamp, but oftentimes the path of least resistance leads you to these levels. It is not uncommon for players to have accumulated a very large number of extra lives and continues, end up in Bloody Swamp, and lose every single one of them because of the Advancing Wall of Doom, the very precise timing and platforming required as a result, and the fact that if you die once, you have no access to helmets which would help you complete the level. The level is about 3/4ths of the way through the game as well, meaning that if you want to practice it, you have to beat over half the game to get back there.
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    • Comix Zone. 6 stages, 2 lives (only accessible after finishing the first two stages), ridiculously hard 4th stage boss, time-based ending for the final battle, very few healing items, no save system, and the amazing idea that someone had to make you take damage every time your character punched a non-enemy object, and you were more or less forced to destroy several of them over the course of the game to proceed, sacrificing a good chunk of your health in process. Oh, and the first stage ends with a jump that must be spot on. Still considered an enjoyable game, mostly for the aesthetic and great soundtrack.
      • And because the save state feature has made it, at last, accessible to a normal player.
      • To be fair, most if not all obstacles can be destroyed using items found in-game, it's a matter of knowing exactly where they are or using your rat to find an item on the page that was not listed nor hinted to exist. which still makes it a little silly
      • Also, some versions of the game (assuming that there hasn't been a mistake in the original post) give you a life at the start of the third section (Level 5) as well as the second section (Level 3). This doesn't necessarily make the game that much easier (you still lose all your items if you die, which can make level 4 in particular much more difficult than if you hadn't died, and falling to your death off panel after losing all your health takes out two lives), but it certainly makes it more manageable.
  • Many games released by Atlus. This includes the Shin Megami Tensei games. In particular, the infamously difficult Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. This game was famous for having possibly the most frustrating bosses in the history of JRPG games. Of all the bosses, Matador in particular stands out as being That One Boss among a game FULL of them. As a bonus, We Cannot Go On Without You is in full trumpets-blaring force through almost the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Translation: should the Main Character fall, oh, hello again, Game Over!
    • Nocturne famously introduced the "Press Turn" battle system, which was later used in spinoff Digital Devil Saga. This meant getting extra turns for exploiting an opponent's elemental weakness. And also giving the OPPONENT extra turns for exploiting your own elemental (and in one case, status ailment) weaknesses. Since each party member is weak against a different element (or status ailments) chances are any enemy who can cast hit-all elemental spells (that is, 90% of them) will get extra turns. Which will likely be used to cast same elemental spell again. Given that enemies often appear in groups of 5 (each of which capable of casting an elemental hit-all spell, usually different elements) and you start to get the idea.
      • What's more is that if you or your opponent dodge (there's a difference between attacks missing and being dodged) or hit a resistance, they lose turns. Dodged/voided means 2 turns lost; if the attack is reflected or, even worse, absorbed, all of your turns are gone. This also happens if you are interrupted while recruiting a demon or fail to escape a battle.
      • The Hard mode cranks this Up to Eleven. On top of all that, enemies do double damage and have a higher evasion rate, One-Hit KO spells have higher chance of working, poison and traps deal triple damage, items cost triple their buying price (including Magatamas, which are already pretty expensive), it's impossible to flee without using a skill or item for that, and there's an item limit. When the game says this difficulty is "for those seeking the thrill of death", it surely isn't joking.
      • Speaking of Digital Devil Saga, that particular duology is infamous for a different reason: Bonus Bosses. In both games, the penultimate ones (Huang Long in the first, Seth in the second) are considered to be at least stronger than the Final Bosses. Then there are the final ones. The Demi-fiend and Satan are several magnitudes of difficulty higher than even Huang Long and Seth, and are widely considered the two strongest bosses in JRPG history.
      • Persona 3, 4 and 5 use a slightly different system, which only has the extra turns for exploiting elementals. For 3, it's not too bad, since all targets have to be weak to get the 1 More (except in Portable), but in 4, as long as one target is weak, they get the 1 More. If it wasn't for A.I. Roulette, you'd see a lot of death from casters spamming Ma- spells. As it is, approximately 90% of deaths are due to this system.
      • Persona 3 FES also introduced The Answer, which upped the ante even higher. The mode is permanently stuck on hard mode, which meaning tougher encounters, the player is locked out of using the Compendium, and instead of putting teleporters just before floor bosses, they're instead directly behind them, forcing the player to trek through the dungeon and still have enough resources at the end to handle the boss (and the game doesn't even allow the player to access the mall to buy items until after the first dungeon.)
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    • Shin Megami Tensei I was no slouch either - your ability to get through dungeons is largely based on how many levels you've ground times your ability to talk your way out of certain enemy battles (especially the sort that hit you with multi-target status effects). Combine that with some absolutely MASSIVE dungeons (good luck remembering where that one location was that you needed to go to because it's not marked on the map) with a long, long walk to every save point (and forget saving before bosses - there's NEVER a save point before a boss) and a limited item list and you'll be spamming save states on an emulator just to maintain your sanity. Oh, and sometimes the map likes to warp you to random locations, and then upon going back you'll be somewhere else. Or you'll fall through the floor. Which will be a damage floor. And you will never, ever have enough MP, and most of your demons will suck, especially if you're not Neutral and are therefore locked out of recruiting demons of the opposite alignment (and for some reason the hordes of Chaos don't seem to like healing spells).
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV combines Press Turn with not having a defense stat. "Rocket-Tag Gameplay" doesn't even begin to cover it; even enemies much weaker than you can potentially do serious damage to your team if they manage to back-attack you.
    • Etrian Odyssey was made Nintendo Hard on purpose. In interviews with the lead designer, he claimed being greatly inspired by old madness-inducingly hard first-person dungeon crawlers such as Dungeon Master, and specifically wanted to recapture that element. For example, he liked the sensation of having to break out graph paper and draw maps as you're playing, and the strange pride you feel about said maps when they're done, so now Etrian Odyssey gives you a blank grid and some placeable icons and makes you draw a map instead of doing anything for you. And as any Etrian Odyssey player can tell you, having to make your own map is the least of the game's hard elements.
      • The best part is when you get cornered by an F.O.E., and every turn, as you battle it, the surrounding F.O.E.s approach to gang up on you all at once - when any single one of them is a brutally hard boss all on its own. And then there's the floors that are almost entirely damage floors for a whole level - and there's no way to ward that off, by the way.
      • And then there's the invisible F.O.E.
      • IOSYS managed to beautifully capture the state of mind you will descend to if you dare to play.
      • The Point Build System for your characters offers incredible flexibility in how you build up your characters, allowing you to create the JRPG party of your dreams...if you plan and build your characters correctly. Do it wrong and later battles become near-impossible, forcing you to reset your characters' skill builds at the cost of some of their levels and possibly undergo extensive re-grinding.
    • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is an unholy fusion of the previous two franchises; the only thing preventing it from being unplayably hard is that the elements it takes from each are a bit less brutal than the originals (the equivalent of F.O.E.s are mostly optional, you have an automap, and the equivalent of Press Turn never benefits your opponents). On the other hand, it also has several bosses that are cheap even by Atlus standards.
    • Trauma Center more than deserves a mention here. Under the Knife, Second Opinion, and New Blood have always been known for their intense learning curve and mission difficulty. Under the Knife 2 takes the difficulty from the previous games, tears it to pieces, stomps on them for a bit, then incinerates the remains in the fires of Hades. One particular example is the first Pempti mission; in Under the Knife and Second Opinion, Pempti was stupidly luck-based and difficult on its own. In Under the Knife 2, you have two Pemptis to deal with at the same time (though with the right strategy, you'll kill both within moments of each other and save you some trouble). The final mission can take hours of practice to even get to the last stage (every single GUILT you've fought before appears in the mission, and are able to cause at least ten more damage to vitals than usual), which, in all likelihood, you can lose in a second, due to the game's nature of important things happening when your patient is a second away from death. There's also three major points during that battle that you need to cut certain things while dodging a red line, which deals insane damage and even instant death on the last major point. Your stylus hand is most likely shaking. And this is on Normal mode.
      • Heck, at least Second Opinion, UTK 2, and New Blood had difficulty levels. Easy mode is relatively painless, save for the last few missions. However, Under the Knife is a completely different story. It HAD no difficulty setting. If you completed the main storyline, chances are you've played every single mission 20 times over.
      • The game is so cruel that if you mess up the timing during the Moment of Awesome at the end of the game, it's game over, no questions asked.
      • Then there's the X levels, the insidious, demon-possessed bonus levels that come at the end of the game and belong to their own difficulty level. For months after a new game is released, you can bet any walkthroughs will stop dead at the first one.
    • Trauma Team has the Specialist difficulty. To put this in perspective, a spokesperson stated that it is equivalent to Extreme (the X missions) - and you can make every operation like this.
    • And what of Snowboard Kids, that obscure Atlus racing series for the N64 (and later, the DS)? The original raised The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard to a near art form, with AI that performed perfect turns and got to the coins and items before you could, leaving you with nothing unless the game took pity on you and gave you a half-decent item. Using any character beyond Tommy, Slash, or Shinobin was basically asking to have your ass kicked. Amazingly, this only applied to human players! Computer-controlled characters actually get better stats than they would if you played them!
      • The sequel, Snowboard Kids 2, reduced the AI's omniscience, but included boss battles. In a racing game. Where, you not only had to beat the boss to the finish line (and they were faster than you could ever hope to be), you also had to collect items on the course and hit the boss enough times with bombs so they would collapse. Damien's robot still haunts many an N64.
      • As an added bonus, anyone who missed the AI from the first game now had Expert Mode, which gave the computer-controlled characters back their ridiculous advantage over any human player.
    • Catherine's Nightmare Segments were so difficult, even on Easy mode, that the company was forced to create a patch to balance the difficulty.
    • Basically, you know it's an Atlus game if in your first encounter in a new area, you get ambushed by a group of enemies who go first and eliminate your entire party before you get your first turn.
      • If Atlus were as famous as Nintendo, this trope would probably be called "Atlus Hard" instead. That said, the statement one of their spokesman said about their games is scarily true: "We get off on your tears."
  • Namco deserves a mention here for some absolutely brutal games.
    • Pole Position and Pole Position 2. Basic gameplay: Accelerate. Sprint. Barely touch a sign or other car and watch your car explode. Lose several seconds. Repeat until you run out of time.
    • Dragon Spirit. Vertical scrolling shooter. Not bullet hell, but it hardly matters when 1. you're a big, easy-to-hit target, 2. the whole environment is trying to kill you, and 3. You have no recovery time, which means you can lose an entire health bar in one hit. Oh yeah, checkpoints. Also.
    • Rolling Thunder combines lots of aggressive, fast-attacking enemies with distant checkpoints and a hero that's as brittle as glass and has the agility of a three-legged hippo. And believe it or not, Rolling Thunder 2 is even worse.
    • On the PSX, Time Crisis (the arcade version was tough but not impossible) gives you three life boxes, no crisis sights, and the joy of restarting the level at the beginning every time you continue.
    • Prop Cycle required the player to operate a pedal plane. No, not the hero, the player, cranking actual pedals and moving actual handlebars (which were incredibly sensitive). The object was to pop balloons scattered at various locations and elevations. With an unforgiving time limit. And obstacles scattered everywhere. Needless to say, not for the faint of heart.
    • It's debatable which version of Cyber Sled has the more insane 1-player mode, arcade (clock constantly ticking, one loss usually spells doom, taking too long to take down Hans Baird the same, no continuing) or PSX (12 increasingly tough matches, no continuing). Call it a split?
    • How about a Pac-Man game? Look no further than Pac-Mania, featuring 4 increasingly complicated boards (of which you can only see a small portion at any time) and up to eight ghosts in play. Sure, you can jump, but some of them can too. You can continue as often as you like, but that doesn't make it easier to reach the remote corners of the board, especially in the expansive Jungly Steps.
    • If you thought Battle City was easy, try Tank Force for a change. The pace is much faster, the enemies come from more directions and the level designs themselves are harder.
    • The Famicom version of Star Wars which was released only in Japan. In this game, Luke Skywalker dies in one hit and has to start all the way back if he gets a game over.
  • Capcom! Ghosts 'n Goblins is just the beginning, folks:
    • Gun.Smoke, i.e. Battletoads with six-shooters. Die with one hit, check. Checkpoints, check. Constant swarms of aggressive foes, check. You are a world-class legend master god if you make it HALFWAY through this.
    • Legendary Wings. This one has it all: fast-moving enemies, hard-to-hit enemies, obstructions, and absolute thread-the-needle precision needed to avoid numerous routine hazards. Even better, if you continue, you get sent back to the start of the level.
    • The Speed Rumbler, where you drive a not very sturdy car through a confusing course with hordes of enemies constantly assailing you and instant death traps scattered everywhere. Every bit as fun as it sounds.
    • 1943: The Battle of Midway. Starts out fairly simple. Then ramps up. And ramps up some more, until near the end you're spending almost as much time watching the continue counter run down as you are playing the game.
    • Bionic Commando (original arcade version). Combine One-Hit-Point Wonder and Everything Trying to Kill You with a protagonist who cannot jump, slide, or climb.
    • F1 Dream, a.k.a. Why Capcom Does Not Do Racing Games. Horribly broken game with ALL the headaches associated with the genre. Finishing 5th is a major achievement.
    • Forgotten Worlds, U.N. Squadron, and Carrier Air Wing. 1943's spiritual brothers, all every bit as murderous.
    • Strider, one of the most intense and merciless platformers ever; this makes Contra look like a nature walk. Of particular note is the final area before the last boss, a lengthy sequence with tons of hazards that you have to complete while upside-down.
    • Three Wonders's games-within-a-game Midnight Wanderer can get rather difficult in the final stages, when platforming action gets intense and enemies come from every side of the screen at once. Chariot as well.
    • This is also a staple of the Mega Man franchise. See the entries listed under Platform Games for details.
    • Monster Hunter, especially Freedom Unite. Although the game eases you into the comfort of hunting initially, the massive difficulty spike come High and later G-Rank throws a lot of players off guard. The game requires constant focus on the monster, an attention to carefully managing several items in your supply, and demands lots of practice. Every other monster is That One Boss, and as a Boss Game, this isn't comforting. It reaches the point where some late-game quests, such as some of the Elder Dragons, are considered nigh impossible without more than one player. This is all disregarding the constant grinding you'll be doing; without a good armor set or weapon and will to devote several hours to the game, you may as well give up.
  • LJN. The Problem with Licensed Games was just as prevalent back then as it is now. They didn't actually make games, but the ones they published were almost always punishingly difficult, and savvy players knew to avoid any game with LJN's rainbow of death on it. Fake Difficulty and Classic Video Game "Screw You"s are rife in these rather execrable games. Notably (and frequently bad) games by LJN include: Friday the 13th, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Terminator, Wolverine, X-Men, Jaws, Back to the Future, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Karate Kid. UK developer Software Creations, creator of many LJN games qualifies as well.
    • Friday the 13th managed to gather some fans and can startle well. Horror was a bit hard for 8-bit games to convey. It still featured a frantic, difficult hunt for weapons capable of wounding Jason, who could kill a character in seconds. He would also murder the camp children while you were trying to navigate the many mazes in the game. Oh, and Jason must be killed thrice, growing stronger and carrying weapons as the game goes on.
      • He gets so fast and powerful on the third day, that if you fight him in a cabin he's nearly Unwinnable (the lousy dodging controls don't help matters). Jason moves around the lake just like you do (Read: No teleporting), which means if you encounter him once, it's easy to encounter him another two or three times in rapid succession. Combined with Jason's Implacable Man status, and it actually captures the feel of the movies pretty well since it's difficult just to escape. On the other hand, if you get a powerful weapon like the torch or pitchfork, it's entirely possible to chase him around the lake and beat the crap out of him within a couple minutes.
  • Toaplan made some pretty bitchin' hard shmups in their prime. What they lack in Bullet Hell, they make up for with brutal cheap shots and checkpoints meaning if you don't have the skill, you won't see much of the game even if you abuse continues.
  • Treasure has occasionally been labelled as this, particularly in regard to their Sin and Punishment games. At one point, apparently, their boss tried playing Sin and Punishment and complained that the difficulty was too high, and they needed to tone it down. Treasure staff responded with such comments as "Our director doesn't suit us." and "Those who can't play our games don't deserve to be on our staff."
  • The majority (if not all) of the adventure games published by Sierra have a habit of being this. Almost every single one had Unwinnable situations out the ears. If you didn't pick up an item you may not have noticed and can't return to the room that houses that item, don't even bother to keep playing. And if you saved in an Unwinnable situation, then God help you. The hintbooks were effectively a necessity when playing Sierra adventure games. Another thing that most of their games had were ways to die. If you did something wrong, poor Roger, Graham, Valanice, Rosella, Alexander or Sonny could bite the dust and you'd have to restart the game over, reload a previous save, or quit (not the case in some later titles, thankfully). These deaths can sometimes even come right out of nowhere. For instance, in the VGA of Space Quest I, if you attempt to operate the throttle in the escape pod without bucking up, the game kills you instantly for no reason whatsoever. Note that you can save at any time, so if you haven't saved after making a great deal of progress and then dying, tough shit. Also, some of the object puzzles can be can be outright ridiculous. Oh, sorry Leisure Suit Larry 6, how was I supposed to know to use a key on soap to leave an imprint for making a copy of it with a file and other key?! In fact, their games were so hard, that Sierra's mantra is "Save early, save often and don't overwrite saves". Speaks for itself, really.
  • CAVE has a well-deserved reputation for this, generally in a "tough but fair" way. The designer for DoDonPachi Saidaioujou said of the game, "I hope it takes at least 7 years to beat." Their games also usually have a True Final Boss which makes the entire rest of the game combined look like a piece of cake.
  • Nicalis is beginning to get a reputation for this, with Cave Story's infamous Sacred Grounds / Blood Stained Sanctuary, or the entirety of 1001 Spikes.
  • FromSoftware is notorious for making some of the most punishingly difficult games out there. Examples include the Souls Series, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
  • Kaneko is an obscure and forgotten company that even manages with brutal and punishing difficulty.
    • 1000 Miglia: Great 1000 Miles Rally and it's sequel have harsh time limits, each one having only 60 seconds to complete. Don't expect to win a race, even if you crash just once.
    • Air Buster doesn't go to harsh on the three levels. That is, until you reach the anti-gravity section.
    • Cyvern The Dragon Weapons is a Battle Garegga like game with dragons, but with similar difficulty.
    • DJ Boy and B.Rap Boys. The first one having floaty controls that makes it's harder to fight enemies (not bad, but not entirely responsive). It's sequel, is no better, with enemies that can deplete you health in an instant. It's update, makes things better, thankfully.
    • Jackie Chan: The Kung-Fu Master, one of the harder fighting games. The opponents can do massive damage to your health. There's one move that can take 25% out of your health! And, there's three version of Jackie Chans, good luck with that.
    • Samurai Nihon-Ichhi, A solid Kung-Fu clone, but with more aggressive enemies and projectiles. If you managed to make to the final level, you deserve a medal.


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