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(To Mods: You can move this to Theory and Development if you want)


 

Hard Mode

 

     Hard Mode is the highest difficulty given to a game (there are many exceptions where the difficulties will have custom names that exceed "Hard Mode", but the highest difficulty of a game is what we will consider "Hard Mode"). I will specifically only mention games that are Role Playing Games, or at least considered a Role Playing Game. Traditionally, RPGs are all about numbers; so upping the ante commonly pertains to increasing the number of an opposing forces' (Enemy's) parameters. This change is received differently based on the mechanics of the game itself. For example, the tactic of wearing the best items for a Turn-Based RPG will probably not work as effectively for an Action-Based RPG. But for sake of the RPG Maker, we will mainly consider the Turn-Based mechanic. (Because to be honest, the ABSs of RM are rarely as good as actual Action RPG Games, with the limitations of movement and flow with the RM Engine).

 


 

Hard Mode: In Popular Media

 

    Since I mentioned that we will mainly be talking about Turn-Based RPGs, games like The Witcher 2, Dark Souls, Dragon's Dogma, Phantasy Star Online, Skyrim, Fallout, you get the idea, will not be given too much spotlight. This is because (as mentioned before) mechanics and design will not work as effectively in Turn-Based as they do in Action-Based, and vice-versa. However, we can include Turn-Based Strategy Games (such as Fire Emblem and XCOM: Enemy Unknown) since they are still Turn-Based. I'll mention examples of games, their difficulties and differences, and what it means to the player. All mentions are debatable and suggestions are always welcome.

 

 

 

  • Pokemon: Black 2 & White 2
    • Challenge Mode
    • Raises Levels of opposing Pokemon, Increases AI of Trainers, Modifies Move Sets of Pokemon
    • Pokemon is quite a rigid game, being tightly balanced by how damage is calculated and it's plethora of battlers (in terms of stats, Type-Matching is debatable) and definitely gives Player's a run for their money in the later parts of the game. The game goes a step further by augmenting Trainer AI to react to conditions like Types and Setups along with improving their Pokemon's Moveset to maximize their potential to attain victory. If you say that this is easy, you should definitely try the Battle Institute in it's sequel, X & Y.
  • Bravely Default: For the Sequel
    • Hard Mode
    • Raises Stats of Enemies, Along with Reward Yield
    • Despite having the common description, "Raises Stats of Enemies", Bravely Default has a more in-depth battle system from the get go. Taking these mechanics into consideration, the difficulty of the game is more than just the stats, as it's mentioned that making little mistakes with the games custom "Bravely" and "Default" mechanics can mean an inevitable sweep for your Party. Having not personally played the game myself, I believe Hard Mode only really drastically reduces the amount of mistakes the game will tolerate until it harshly punishes you.
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening
    • ​Lunatic (and Hard) Mode
    • Enemies' Stats (and Effectiveness) increased, More Enemies (in number and variety),  Enemies' Ability improved
    • As with all of the previous mentions, difficulty doesn't do much by itself. The "Pair Up" Mechanic, "Rescue" Mechanic, Weapon Levels, and Abilities have increased priority and are basically mandatory to manage when playing the game on higher difficulties. Being a Strategy RPG, there are more aspects of maneuverability in the game, but this is one of the many parts of the game's mechanics.

 

 

Development of Hard Mode

 

    Now we get into our own personal discussions about Hard Mode. The way we perceive and create Hard Mode in our own work is reflected by our experience with difficulty modes in the games we played personally. Some of us may just increase the enemies' stats, some of us may give enemies' new abilities, some of us may allow the reward to be increased, it all varies with how we have experienced these difficulty modes. Along with it's accessibility, such as changing the mode in-game, unlocking the mode after finishing the game, or allowing it as a feature to increase stakes in specific areas (think WoW's Heroic Mode). Usually we want to create our own mechanics, original or not, and then decide how difficulty changes that.

     Above Difficulty (in terms of priority), is Mechanics and Balance. A sum of par games published using the RPG Maker Engine seem to suffer a loose perception of Balance. Balance can go much, much further than "Enemy takes 4 hits to kill, Actor takes 6 hits to die", because if that is how you view balance in your game - it will honestly be criticized as bland and stale. It's very possible to make a difficult boss that doesn't deal Â¾ of the Party's Maximum Health, it's very possible to make a difficult boss that doesn't practice common gimmicks, it all varies with your game's mechanics, and limited by your creativity.

    Playtest your game, fiddle with it in various ways, how many strategies does this increased Difficulty allow? How many would you allow? Balance compensation with punishment, that is what makes difficulty fun. Compensation doesn't have to be an Item, it can be a simple mechanic - such as FE: Awakening's "Rescue" mechanic (as mentioned before). Another thing is to also test the balance of how long it would take the Player to accomplish this one objective? Are you willing to have them grind 2 hours for a boss? Or are you going to allow the difficulty to raise experience gain? Or are you going to create an average threshold of experience that allows you to level up at a fair pace? These are all things at your discretion as a creator and developer.

 


 

Your Thoughts of Hard Mode

 

    After reading all this, what is your opinion of this topic? What would you like to add personally to the concept of Hard Mode (and difficulty in general)? What's your advise to others about it? What are some ideas that you feel could benefit others? You're free to debate about what I've said, to add your personal thoughts about difficulty, to insert your ideas and why you chose them, your examples from games that you have played, and all that jazz.

     Things you could consider about development of ideas for Hard Modes could address things like: Is Level the main factor of success in higher difficulties? Would you allow to lower level characters to maintain efficiency? Does your game allow access to Hard Mode as New Game+? Does you think that grinding is a prerequisite for success? Do items have totally changed effects in higher difficulties?

Edited by AJNR

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For the difficulty mode what I would like to see personally is different found Items like for example

say you are going though a fire dungeon,

Easy mode = you find a water sword, fire armor and a high potion.

Normal mode = you find a fire sword, fire armor and a potion

Hard mode = you find the same basic sword sold in town, a potion and get attacked by a Mimic.

 

you could even make statuses work differently, for example

Easy Mode = Poison deals you 3% damage and enemies 6% damage and ends at the end of battle

Normal Mode = Poison deals you 5% damage and foes 5% damage and ends at the end of battle

Hard Mode = Poison deals you 7% damage and foes 3% damage and does not end at the end of battle

or

Easy Mode = Enemies elemental weaknesses are at 200% damage, Resists are at 75% damage

Normal Mode = Enemies elemental weaknesses are at 175% damage, Resists are at 50% damage

Hard Mode = Enemies elemental weaknesses are at 150% damage, Resists are at 25% damage

 

I also like the Idea of being able to self impose hard mode though choices in the game, some examples

>You are breaking into a castle do you sneak in though the sewers fighting the weaker enemies or do you charge though the front gate fighting half castle guards

>Many old games you choose a party of classes that stay the same though the entire game and then that changes the entire difficulty of the game (ever try a party of four thieves without upgrading in Final Fantasy 1?, brutal)

>Star Ocean the second Story was a game that though certain choices you could remove the limiter from the final boss making him much Much MUCH harder. (I can't say I have ever beaten him with the limiter off)

 

anyway the one thing I have always hated for hard mode is enemy stat changes, all it usually does is only make me grind more and add to the (what I like to call) annoyance factor in the game.

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Two cents from someone who's worked on a couple of games before.

 

If you ask me, the biggest determinant of Hard Mode relies on the enemy's AI.

Sure, a boss that knocks off 3/4 of your party's health is downright infuriating, but it can be countered with high defences and good timing of blocks or guards. Yes, manipulation of parameters can make a game hard, but a line must be drawn between the boss being a mere bullet sponge that takes hours to kill, or a one-shot wonder whose sole existence serves to piss people off.

 

Now consider this: a boss that deals fairly average damage, but reacts to your players' actions.

Got a healer in your party? Nope. Anti-heal debuffs.

Glass cannons? Those guys die first.

Fire sword? Sorry. I've got Fire Guard for that.

 

Often when I hear of a game's "Hard Mode", I'll attribute it to smarter enemy AIs, or mobs that react less sluggishly than mere "all out attacks". The game evolves less from a simple hack-and-slash, or conquest for the best items, to timing and considering the optimum time to use your skills.

 

Consider also the following factors:

 

1. Debuffs

A boss doesn't need to be immune to many different status effects, it just needs to learn how to adapt and/or mitigate them hastily. There's a reason why poison daggers become useless late game; all bosses are immune to it. Why not make it viable, but only momentarily/with diminished effects?

 

2: Obvious Weakpoints

A lot of childhood nostalgia stems from finding the big glowy red spot on the boss and pummelling the living daylight out of it. That being said, feel free to remove those altogether. It's not uncommon for RPG players nowadays to exploit gimmicks to amp their DPS to absurd levels. There's no need for further vulnerabilities.

 

3: Combo Breakers

As mentioned before with the amping of DPS output, your boss should be able to detect such gimmicks and take actions to counteract them. If most of your party members are buffing the dps carry, simply shut that guy down with a stun, paralyze or even turn him against his own team.

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Two cents from someone who's worked on a couple of games before.

 

If you ask me, the biggest determinant of Hard Mode relies on the enemy's AI.

Sure, a boss that knocks off 3/4 of your party's health is downright infuriating, but it can be countered with high defences and good timing of blocks or guards. Yes, manipulation of parameters can make a game hard, but a line must be drawn between the boss being a mere bullet sponge that takes hours to kill, or a one-shot wonder whose sole existence serves to piss people off.

 

Now consider this: a boss that deals fairly average damage, but reacts to your players' actions.

Got a healer in your party? Nope. Anti-heal debuffs.

Glass cannons? Those guys die first.

Fire sword? Sorry. I've got Fire Guard for that.

 

Often when I hear of a game's "Hard Mode", I'll attribute it to smarter enemy AIs, or mobs that react less sluggishly than mere "all out attacks". The game evolves less from a simple hack-and-slash, or conquest for the best items, to timing and considering the optimum time to use your skills.

 

Consider also the following factors:

 

1. Debuffs

A boss doesn't need to be immune to many different status effects, it just needs to learn how to adapt and/or mitigate them hastily. There's a reason why poison daggers become useless late game; all bosses are immune to it. Why not make it viable, but only momentarily/with diminished effects?

 

2: Obvious Weakpoints

A lot of childhood nostalgia stems from finding the big glowy red spot on the boss and pummelling the living daylight out of it. That being said, feel free to remove those altogether. It's not uncommon for RPG players nowadays to exploit gimmicks to amp their DPS to absurd levels. There's no need for further vulnerabilities.

 

3: Combo Breakers

As mentioned before with the amping of DPS output, your boss should be able to detect such gimmicks and take actions to counteract them. If most of your party members are buffing the dps carry, simply shut that guy down with a stun, paralyze or even turn him against his own team.

My two cents on your two cents :) :

I agree that enemy's AI is a key to adjust difficulty, but sometimes manipulating parameters alone can matter a lot already(and it's probably much easier in general).

I'm not saying manipulating parameters alone is always enough, but depending on the games, manipulating parameters alone can also affect enemy's available actions and player's responses directly or indirectly.

 

The first thing I can come up with is enemy resource management(usually MP and TP). Let's say an enemy's MMP is 3000 in easy mode and 6000 in hard mode, and his/her/its MRG is 10% in both modes.

Maybe one of his/her/its spells costs 1000 MP and it can cause players lots of trouble and one counter to this is to empty his/her/its MP.

Maybe that MP damaging move the player can use damages 2000 MP.

It's clear that the enemy is much harder to cast that spell as his MP is much more limited, plus players can empty his MP much more easily.

Besides, maybe players will probably lose in hard mode but not so much in easy mode if they counter that spell by emptying enemies' MP only(maybe casting that spell twice in a short time almost always kill all party members).

This forces players to use other counters(and it may cost more and harder to use, maybe even forcing them to rethink the whole strategy due to this) to that spell in hard mode, thus increasing the difficulty.

That's one example of affecting enemy's available actions and player's responses(emptying his/her/its MP alone works in easy mode but not in hard mode).

 

Another example is enemies' MHP. Maybe in easy mode his/her/its MHP is low enough for players to just mash attack and finish him/her/it off but in hard mode his HRG will always exceed the damage done by mashing attack alone.

Same goes for enemy's damage. Maybe in easy mode players can just heal to prevent dying, while in hard mode they need prayers or buffs on their parties or even curse or debuff on enemies to survive their damaging moves.

 

If the game uses ATB, AGI(as it usually governs the speed of charging ATB bars) affects the number of actions enemies can make under a given amount of time. In easy mode enemies act less frequently and response to players more slowly, reducing the threat posed by him/her/it and his/her/its ability to defend him/her/itself. Even if his/her/its AI remains the same, its effectiveness is decreased due to the reduced ability to act. This can also affect the difficulty a lot.

 

Manipulating parameters alone reduces the tolerance of error made by players(the executions) and the number of feasible tactics and strategies they've. A simple strategy like mashing attack may work in easy mode but not in hard mode.

 

All in all, manipulating parameters alone can already change the difficulty a lot(not just more intimidating MHP and damage) in some games if there're sufficient reasons behind them. Of course we can always do more, such as altering AI.

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