Three the Hard Way is a popular RPG Maker 2000 game made by iishenron. Released in 2003, it was very well-received by most gaming communities across the Internet, and had since been considered an RPG Maker classic.
The game is set in the fictional Kingdom of Durham, where a mysterious group of monsters known as "Kaibutsu" had appeared and ravaged the land. The power of the Kaibutsu was overwhelming, and it seemed that all hope was lost for mankind, until a hero named Carolus defeated the leader of Kaibutsu (who happened to be his sister), saved the nation, and became king. Flash forward 65 years - the king, now weakened by age, had since delegated his political powers to three of his vassal dukes, who unfortunately had vastly different ideas on how to run the kingdom.
In the midst of this political turmoil, the player is introduced to Vance, a bartender from the secluded town of Somerset. Bored of his life, Vance left his hometown to seek new excitement and fortune, and soon found himself getting mixed up in the conflict. As he delves deeper into the intrigue, Vance eventually becomes the nation's hope to stop the wicked Duke Greene from using the Kaibutsu, who now serve him, to eradicate all those he deems evil.
From there, the plot becomes increasingly more complex. While the storyline itself, for the most part, is quite linear, the player's choices and actions would unlock varying plot information about the universe and different dialogue branches, giving plenty of replay bonuses.
A non-direct sequel, called The Queen's Court, was announced in 2007, though it seemed to be on hiatus. According to the creator, the sequel will be a simulation, rather than a role-playing game.
Also, not to be confused with the film with the same title.
Three the Hard Way contains examples of:
- Accidental Truth: Zigzagged. When the party encounter Raleigh and his henchmen in Teachy's lair, Vance tells Raleigh that the pirates' plan to plunder Teachy's treasure is doomed to fail because Teachy is already among the group, which Raleigh dismisses as a bluff. Thing is, Vance wasn't intending to bluff, since he genuinely believes that Anderson is Teachy, but even though Vance's theory about Anderson being Teachy is proven wrong, the real Teachy is present, pretending to be a hostage. He is Alex, the wanna-be hero NPC that appears early in the game.
- Aerith and Bob: To an extent. We have people with names like Vance, North and Lucama, as well as Lauren, Holly and Anderson. Though in Anderson's case, it's probably not his real name.
- After Boss Recovery: The active team members' HP/MP are fully recovered before and after a Boss fight. This also negates any ailments, status effects and even death (although if the character is not revived before defeating the boss, they will not gain any battle bonuses).
- Alchemy Is Magic: Alchemy is definitely treated as magic, to the extent that Kanna's alchemical items is actually referred as "spells". Also, having the knowledge of alchemy allowed Duke Greene to build a giant Power Crystal that can annihilate entire cities at will.
- Anatomically Impossible Sex: Not in the game itself of course, but if Vance chooses to give a romance novel for Fayette's 21st birthday present, Duke Winston will mention that it is an erotica novel. When Vance finally examines it, he pretty much exclaims, "Is that even physically possible?!"
- Anti-Grinding: The chance of characters gaining stat increases increases the tougher the enemy is. Monsters stop giving out stat increases entirely if the player is too far above them.
- Bittersweet Ending: Duke Greene is finally defeated, but not before he destroyed Branchville, Severn (if the player took the Ferry Route to Dillon in Act 2), and Beaufort. The war had also led to the deaths of both Duke Salem and Duke Winston.
- Bounty Hunter: Several: Vance and Clifton, who works under Lauren, and Benson and Mauldin, who works under Duke Greene.
- Boyish Short Hair: Both Roper and Gastonia have short hair, and both are highly-ranked army officers.
- Can't Drop the Hero: The Party Management option in the Menu Prism can de-activate any of the party characters except for Vance.
- Cataclysm Backstory: The Kaibutsu War that occurred 65 years prior to the main story serves as an important backdrop that indirectly leads into the current major conflicts. In the past, a group of Kaibutsu invaded human kingdoms and wiped out a large number of civilizations. The Kaibutsu were eventually defeated by the hero Carolus, who was crowned King over the remnants, and his homeland Durham became the presiding kingdom that rose from humanity's ashes. However, it is implied that Carolus was not a particularly good ruler, so he delegated his authority to three vassal Dukes, one of whom becomes the Big Bad of the present story.
- Character Level: Averted. No experience points and levels are involved in this game. The active party members gains a random stat increase whenever they win a particularly challenging battle. The harder the challenge, the higher chance it is for the character to obtain a stat increase.
- Cult: There exists an anarchist group called the Cult of Zebulun, who serves the Kaibutsu lord, Teachy the Discordian. Anderson seem to be affiliated with some of its members, despite claiming not to be a part of the group himself.
- Cutscene Power to the Max:
- Kanna is a justified example. During her first appearance, she was able to conjure an explosion that could annihilate an entire battlefield, but when she becomes playable, she is practically useless in battle (she has low HP/MP, poor attack points that uses up MP even though it's not a magical attack and has little practical skills). When Vance lampshades this, she explains that her "powers" are derived from Alchemy, and the one she demonstrated in the cutscene was her most powerful spell, which would be very difficult to recreate because of the rare ingredients it requires.
- Anderson is a milder case. Several (optional) cutscenes showed him vanquishing a large group of enemies with a single strike. While he's still a good fighter — the strongest members of the party, in fact — he is unable to perform such feats in the gameplay. Also justified since he is intentionally holding back.
- Then there is also Clifton, who managed to One-Hit Kill four Dillon soldiers when confronting Orrum in Somerset. In the actual gameplay, he's one of the weaker party members, having lower damage output than Vance, North, Anderson and Roper.
- Dreadful Musician: Zigzagged with Sardinia. She's one of the most famous singers in the kingdom, but Vance thinks her voice is dreadful, and several people agree with him when he pointed this out during her performance. However, his mother, North, and the Baron love her singing, even though her songs could scare away a dragon due to how terrible it is.
- Dynamic Difficulty: The game has an "Easy" and "Hard" mode, with the "Hard" mode giving you less gold and more difficult puzzles, though you can switch between the two any time during the game's playthrough.
- Exposition: Given the intricate nature of the story line, this is inevitable. Exposition about the background of the story are scattered among various cutscenes in the game.
- When Vance was tasked to escort MacDonald to Elloree, the latter would describe the political situation of Durham, particularly of Duke Greene's reign and policies.
- Manteo informs Vance of the Govan's origin story while he was in the dream world. Kanna later assures him that the tale Manteo relayed was all but a myth, but the epilogue implies otherwise.
- If the party confronts Teachy the Discordian during the Kaibutsu Hunt arc, the latter will describe Ramseur and Marion's involvement in the First Kaibutsu War, and how their machinations have led to the founding of Durham.
- Defied near the end of the game. After the Final Battle, a dying Duke Winston informs the party that Anderson would know the truth behind the conflict, and that they should confront him for the information. He refuses to tell them anything useful and leaves the party for good.
- Force and Finesse: The Kita and Minami martial art schools represent finesse and force respectively. The Kita arts, which North practices, focuses on "technique" (finesse), and requires a clear mind and control over emotions to master. This is best demonstrated during North's training arc, in which his master makes him solve several puzzles before he is allowed to fight the monster to complete his "final exam". Meanwhile, the Minami arts, which Anderson practices, focuses more on raw strength (force), and requires the use of one's on HP to manifest their "skills". Gameplay-wise, Anderson deals better damage and is much more durable than North, but most of his techniques are so useless in combat that many players won't bother using them. North is not as strong, but his skills has much better application during fights. Ironically, their personalities would fit their opposing fighting style better: North is idealistic, passionate and emotionally conflicted, while Anderson is mysterious and stoic.
- Gladiator Subquest: The fighting pit in Orangeburg, and the climax of the Beauty Pageant sidequest, requires you to duel NPCs.
- Great Offscreen War: The First Kaibutsu War which took place 65 years before the main story began plays a central part in the ongoing conflict, but the player only see a brief portion of it in the prologue, namely when the war actually ends.
- Heel–Face Turn: If Roper is present in the party when the heroes confronts Orrum, she will convince General Dunn to defect (or at least stay neutral while they fight). Although he'd never leave the army, he'd promise to use his promotion to free Dillon from Duke Greene's evil influence.
- Identical Stranger: Vance meets an NPC who looks exactly like North in Severn.
- In-Universe Game Clock: The game has a day/night system, each phase lasting for about three minutes. The clock stands still when the characters are indoors, however.
- Mini-Game: This game has plenty of these.
- Betting Mini-Game: Available in the casino in Pittsboro Desert, Myrtle's game in Corelain, and a treasure chest game in Dillon.
- Mutually Exclusive Party Members: Clifton and Roper cannot both be in your party at the same time.
- Mystical White Hair: Marion, the 500-year old hermit who taught Fayette her healing magic, and Iva, an apparent member of the Govan has bluish-white hair. Both of them overlaps with White Hair, Black Heart as Iva is revealed to be a Kaibutsu Lord, and Marion is The Man Behind the Man who orchestrated the First Kaibutstu War.
- Not So Similar: Kanna and Anderson. They both are mysterious characters who are very knowledgeable about the state of the game's verse and wields tremendous powers and, at first glance, they might as well be Distaff Counterpart to each other. However, as time goes by, Kanna becomes more open to the rest of the party, as it was revealed that she's more naive than actually secretive and Vance could easily read her thoughts by the end of the story. Anderson, on the other hand, is revealed to have been hiding more and more secrets which he never discloses, and the more of his past is revealed, the less people seem to know about who or what he actually is.
- Numerical Hard: The "Hard" mode of the game decreases the amount of treasure the party can get, increases the health of some monsters, and requires the player to complete more rounds in the puzzle mini games. Otherwise, the gameplay remains exactly the same.
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Govan Order, an ancient order of immortal Alchemists whose purpose is to "bring balance to the world", and has sent a couple of their members, such as Kanna, Lucama and Iva to guide the heroes to the right direction. The true purpose of the order has yet to be known: Kanna asserts the heroes that she's been sent to help defeat Duke Greene and stop his tyranny, but Anderson is adamant that the group are full of lying bastards. Although Kanna is speaking the truth about her personal intentions, it seems that Anderson is right about the Order's purpose as a whole. Their current leader, Marion, is a Greater-Scope Villain who has manipulated the events of the plot, both in the present storyline and the war that took place 65 years earlier. She intends to control the kingdom behind the shadows by placing puppet rulers and uses the Kaibutsu and/or her subordinates to pull the strings of her machinations.
- One-Gender Race: Not an actual race, but the members of the Govan Order are exclusively female.
- Optional Party Member: Depending on the playthrough, the game can be completed without Tatum and/or Roper in the party.
- Power Crystal: According to legends, the Govan Order was first created by Candor who built a crystal made of Alchemy that apparently allowed her to control the balance of the world. But the crystal built by Candor was too strong, that the rest of the world, fearing her vast powers, banded up together and defeated Candor. Following the footsteps of this legend, Duke Greene built his own crystal that allows him to destroy cities at will.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The main party is mostly made up of untrained (or, at least, non-professional) fighters with vastly different backgrounds and motives. Vance is a selfish and greedy Bounty Hunter who used to work as a bartender before leaving his hometown to find excitement; his best friend, North, is a martial artist in training who follows Vance around to find out more about the ongoing political conflict in their kingdom. They are later joined by Fayette — the Duchess of Burlington set out to protect her duchy, Anderson — a wandering monk who claims to seek for new challenges, Kanna — a Really 700 Years Old alchemist who claims to have been sent by an ancient organization she belonged to to aid the party, Clifton — another bounty hunter who frequently headbutts with Vance and is mostly seeking revenge over the destruction of Branchville, and Holly — Clifton's niece and a self-proclaimed thief who tags along the team just because. The Optional Party Members include Tatum — a bandit queen who wants to deliver retribution to the people who killed her men, and Roper — a former captain of the Duke Greene's army who defected to the team after the duke killed her sister. Duke Salem and Duke Winston seem to trust them more than they trust their own soldiers.
- Real After All: The origin story of the Govan Order — which is said to have been founded by an alchemist named Candor, who built a giant Power Crystal in order to control the balance of the world — is treated as a myth by almost every character in the game, including the Govan members themselves. But in the epilogue, some of the heroes found the Power Crystal in question, hinting that the story of Candor was true after all.
- Really 700 Years Old: Most of The Govan members, such as Kanna and Marion, are centuries old and are implied to be immortal. The Kaibutsu Lords does not appear age either. Anderson is also implied to be one, since he appears to personally know Candor, the Govan founder.
- Red Herring: Two prominent examples -
- It was pretty much taken for granted that Duke Greene was the one who assassinated King Carolus. But as it turns out, the king's death is not even an assassination plot - King Carolus himself had asked Anderson to Mercy Kill him when he failed to unite the three dukes after the conference.
- When the existence of the Kaibutsu Lords were revealed, we are given numerous hints that Anderson is actually Teachy the Discordian. When we actually meet him, his identity turned out to be a completely different (and unexpected) character, Alex.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Vance (Red) is rude, crass and easily ticked-off, while his best friend North (Blue) is more polite and level-headed. However, Vance's pragmatism means that he's less deeply impacted by the turmoils that afflict the party, while North's compassion cause him to become more susceptible to the grievances caused by their enemies. When the push comes to shove, it's Vance who has to talk some sense into North, who was on the brink of despair due to everything he's been through.
- Sequel Hook: The game ends with not much closure. North and Kanna discovers the seal of Candor, which throughout the whole game was treated as just a myth. This changes pretty much everything we have come to know of the game's universe. Fayette agreed to become queen against Anderson's warning, then Vance got himself into trouble while investigating a bounty, leaving Fayette alone with the apparently evil noble they were visiting.
- Story Branching: The game lets you choose three different paths to reach Dillon: the ferry route (lets you recruit Roper), the Arcadia route (lets you get North, Clifton and Fayette, among other things), and the mountain pass route (the shortest route, but also the least rewarding). None of them really affect the ending, though.
- Title Drop: Played almost literally when the party confronts Manteo - who, in his Hannibal Lecture, shows a shot to actual title screen to remark on it.
- Throw the Book at Them: Kanna uses tomes as her basic weapon (when her alchemical items are not in use). The game also provide a Joke Item, a romance novel, that Kanna, Fayette and Roper can equip.
- Tsundere: Fayette towards Vance. She frequently berates him for being lazy, selfish and greedy, and would beat him up if he starts making rude/offensive remarks. She is also visibly annoyed if Vance starts flirting with other girls (or the other way round).
- The Unreveal: After the Final Battle, a dying Duke Winston tells the party to ask Anderson if they want to know the whole truth behind the Kaibutsu Wars and the various conflicts between the Govan, the Kaibutsu Lords and other human forces that drove the plot of Three The Hard Way. When the heroes did exactly that, Anderson simply tells Fayette that she should not take the position as the new Queen of Durham, lest she becomes an Unwitting Pawn to the higher forces, and leaves without explaining anything.
- Vague Age: Aside from Holly, who explicitly mentions that she's 23, and Fayette, whose 21st birthday celebration was a plot point, none of the player characters' exact age is revealed.
- Villain Forgot to Level Grind: Lampshaded when the party faces off against Benson and Mauldin in the Arcadia Route. After Benson managed to curb-stomp Vance during their first two encounters, he was shocked to see Vance turn the tables on him during their third fight.
- What's Up, King Dude?: Averted. While the party were able to enter the palace seemingly at will, they were only allowed to do so because Duchess Fayette is among them, and even then, she was only able to have an audience with him because there was an ongoing conference between the dukes.
- White Hair, Black Heart: The Big Bad, Duke Greene, and an unrelated villainess, Baroness Hasselle, have white hair. They may also qualify as Mystical White Hair as they also possess magical powers..
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Lockhart, a minor character who appeared in the Beauty Pageant sidequest, was introduced as a contestantant and actually passed the preliminary rounds, managing to fool the MC who happened to be Manteo the Trickster, until he was disqualified when Anderson ousted him as a guy.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: North's parents worked under Duke Greene as an underground arms dealer, but when the Duke had completed his secret weapon, he sent Orrum to kill them.