Should hard games have an option to play on ‘easy’, to help those of us without countless hours to commit to learning demanding systems or overcoming challenging bosses reach the end credits? It’s a debate that raged, pretty intensely, earlier this year, around the release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
FromSoftware’s supernatural samurai adventure, which came out in March, followed in the tradition of the studio’s previous releases like Dark Souls and Bloodborne by being, basically, bastard hard. And many a fan of FromSoft’s repertoire would have it no other way.
But such was the buzz around Sekiro, and the somewhat more clear and streamlined story it told compared to the Souls series, that some players wondered why they couldn’t have an easy mode. Or an assistance-enabled mode, at least, in order to see the tale of Wolf reach its climax. After all, when you spend your money, it’s a shame to not get what you want out of a game, to not get a feeling of closure.
FromSoftware itself hasn’t conceded an inch – but mods have stepped in to offer PC players the option to tackle Sekiro with a whole bunch of buffs activated, essentially giving it an ‘easy’ mode. Other games have made a point of letting players choose the level of ease, or assistance, that best fits their time and experience. Celeste for example can be incredibly tough played with no help active; or, it can be a failure-free story of someone trying to manage their mental health. You pay your money, you take your choice.
Some will argue that to add an official easy mode to Sekiro would be compromising its makers’ vision. Others, like God of War director Cory Barlog, have said otherwise: “accessibility has never and will never be a compromise to my vision,” he tweeted in April.
Released only a few weeks ago, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes a flexible approach to its challenge. Players can elect to take the game on at Grandmaster difficulty, where any and every enemy encountered can take down protagonist Cal Kestis. This gives the game the feeling (ish) of a FromSoft Soulsborne title.
But it also has a ‘Story’ setting that massively turns down the aggression of opponents, weakens their attacks and adds a very generous parry window. This means that even the most basic of button-mashers should be able to see the game through to its (so-so) conclusion, and even take on some powerful optional enemies. And given this is a Star Wars story that fits into the canon of the wider series, you can bet most fans will want to see those credits roll.
Well, if you thought the debate over whether or not tough games should have easy modes had died down, think again. Japanese designer Highma Fuyuno has waded in to declare that “it’s important for us to implement easy game modes that people can enjoy right away”.
Who he? Okay, it’s a fair question. Fuyuno works at M2, a studio that’s produced several amazing new versions of classic old games in recent years. It’s behind the SEGA Ages series, covering titles like Virtua Racing, Outrun and Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s worked on the Contra and Castlevania anniversary collections for Konami, and Collection of Mana for Square Enix. And it was responsible for making all 42 games on the Mega Drive Mini shine as brilliantly as they did.
They’re a big deal, is what I’m saying – or, I guess, a very big deal within their niche. And right now, M2 is in the process of making a new game in the Aleste series of hardcore shooters, Aleste Branch. US Gamer has picked up a quote from Fuyuno, who explains that making things more accessible for players always results in good feedback.
“I have worked on shooting games before and there have been some very difficult games among them. From my experience, games with easier difficulty levels are enjoyed easily by more people; they have much more positive feedback. Especially in events where we could communicate with fans directly, there were many occasions where fans thanked us for making easier modes.”
“Many people seem to feel isolated and estranged by too difficult games, and sometimes they feel apologetic about buying games that they can’t really play. So I feel it’s important for us to implement easy game modes that people can enjoy right away, and they can become better and enjoy more difficult game modes.”
Many a retro game revival release of late has come with rewind features, and the function to save anywhere – options that don’t compromise the original experiences, but that are awesome for players who aren’t quite as twitch-reactive as they once were. The infinite continues of the Capcom Home Arcade made its coins-crunching games a whole lot more enjoyable for me, as I could share them with my young kids and we could all get a kick out of them. And even newer games are better for their concessions to less-skilled (or easily distracted) players – who doesn’t ever use Forza’s rewind function?
Making what seems impenetrable accessible for more is never a bad thing. And yes, this is also a cry for help because I’d like to play more Sekiro, but I’m not very good at it, thanks.