Monday, 27 July 2009

Return Of The Difficulty Curve

It's back. It has returned and in a place I should have expected it. It hit me hard in a place that I have experienced highs, lows and frustration. The Final Fantasy series has had me gripped since I played Final Fantasy VII way back in the 90s, once I had experienced my first taste of gripping story telling and a traditional turn based RPG I've been hooked on the genre and the Final Fantasy series. I've played the majority of the series but was always concerned about the junctioning and Guardian Force system of Final Fantasy VIII and subsequently gave the game a wide berth despite enthusiastic comments from the gaming community and even nagging from my own brother to give it a go. Finally I caved, re-bought myself and old PlayStation (I don't trust the backwards compatibility of PS3 since having troubles with a handful of games) and started to play. For the first 3 of 4 discs I was enthralled. The story was compelling, the visual style breathtaking and the junctioning system proved to be very enjoyable once I got the hang of it, the only Final Fantasy staple I missed was a genuine job system, but that's a minor complaint. I loved the characters, even the caricatured loner behaviour of the games protagonist couldn't put me off, I actually wanted him to get the girl, despite being the kind of guy you would happily glass in a pub.

The problems began around the end of disc 3 and spilled into disc 4. The difficulty curve went through the roof. The game had been steady up until now and only required the odd bit of levelling up every now and then to progress. Basically the game felt balanced. As I hit the metaphorical wall I had no other choice than to put some time in and level up my party to continue the game. I've spent hours and I'm still stuck. The same thing happened to me in Final Fantasy VII but I got over that and moved on, this just seems to be insane.

Why do game developers, in particular the Final Fantasy developers, have this need to put in this crippling feature. It almost seems to be some odd ploy to make you buy the game guide so you know early on all the tricks and secrets. It's really pissing me off because I've got to the point where I'm split between the need to put the game down and walk away (which I have almost done) and put some hours of grinding in to see the ending. I really want to know what happens to Squall and Rhinoa, in fact I'm desperate to know, but it seems an unfair price to pay to see the end.

Perhaps this is the reason that so few gamers see games through to the end. A crippling difficulty curve really is unnecessary, I understand that there needs to be something a bit more challenging towards the end of a game to allow a sense of achievement in the player, but I just want to see an ending. I've played this game for hours, I need closure.

Here's my open plea to game developers everywhere: Please keep the difficulty curve consistent, I'll except a boost to the difficulty at the end, but please stop pushing it so hard that the game stops being fun. It's unfair when you've invested so many hours to have the ending you deserve to see place on such a high plateau. In return I vow that more of my money will make its way to your pockets, that reviews will be more favourable and that I'll put you back on the Christmas card list. Deal?

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