God Hand and difficulty

30 Jan 2012

In one of those weird urges, last week I decided to play through God Hand for the third time. I’m normally not one for difficult games but God Hand’s mix of beat-em-up combat amongst ludicrous characters and setting managed to get me hooked before.

The game is just as hard as I remembered, though I managed to finish a few hours earlier than precious attempts thanks to having a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t. But it was still as satisfying as ever, and upon reflection I’m not sure there is much else to the game other than the combat and the innate satisfaction that comes from it.

The graphics are lackluster, especially the environments. The cutscenes are sometimes absurdly funny but usually just odd. I loved the music, but everything is just icing on the cake against the combat. I think the humour in the game is just putting you in a better mood so when the inevitable many-repeated-deaths occur you’ll be more likely to pick up the controller and click ‘Continue.’

The majority of games certainly have become easier since the eighties or even nineties, and for the most part I consider this an acceptable side effect of increased accessibility. But part of me misses that thrill of overcoming some big challenge in a game, of defeating a boss that was previously thought undefeatable. Frequently in God Hand I encountered a new boss, pulled out all the stops and only took down a quarter of his health before he easily defeated me with a laugh, and I would think, ‘how on earth can I defeat this guy? This is way too hard, there is no way!’ This makes the eventual victory oh so much more satisfying, after spending a fair few rounds trying different strategies, examining his moves, (maybe looking up tips online?), and - again - pull out all the stops to barely defeat him with a sliver of life left.

That said, there is a fine line between satisfyingly difficult and frustratingly so, and I believe that line is fairness. A difficult game always must ensure the player never feels cheated, or put in a position where they were unable to avoid failure. Optimally, neither enemies nor the playerwithal have cheap tactics available to them, as it’s all to easy once an easy tactic is found to abuse it, like sniping peoples feet or using some juggling combo, which will lessen the satisfaction.

In God Hand with few exceptions, whenever I was defeated I felt like it was my fault. If I had blocked a little early, or dodged out of the way, I wouldn’t be staring bitterly at the continue screen. I think Demon Souls operates on a similar level, though I’ve only played an hour or so of it. Bayonetta is definitely in this vein. I imagine it’s pretty hard matching the right difficulty to fit everyone but when it does happen in a fair game it feels great.

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