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Whatever Happened to the Impossible Game?
Written By: J. Michael Neal

Remember the days when beating a game meant something? The days when a game didnít have a complete final level because they figured no one would ever get that far? Remember when youíd work for years at a game and never come close to finishing it? Whatever happened to those? Sometime around the 16-bit generation games got easier. Games were made so that they could be beaten in a dedicated sitting, or came with passwords or other built in save features that let you record your progress and pick up where you left off at a later date. Nowadays you are expected to beat a game. Unlike before where you were a god if you could complete a game like Defender or Asteroids or Pac-Man, now you are made to feel somewhat less of a gamer if you canít see games through until the end.

Nowadays the only way game developers can make a game "unbeatable" is by making it long. Developers have quit hindering in game progress with sheer difficulty and have begun doing it with length. If you canít beat Final Fantasy X itís not because youíve run out of continues or quarters or you just canít get past that bastard of a boss, itís because you donít have the time or the patients to play a game for 90 hours. I have a huge pile of games that fall into this category. Games like Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, that are so long and tedious and require such a time commitment to complete that few players will be able to do so.

Now, donít get me wrong: all of these games I mentioned are great. They really are. What Iím getting at is whatever happened to difficulty? Have gamers become so use to beating games that itís almost required of developers to make it easier for them to do so? Take Japan for instance, where developers are quite vocal about the fact that Japanese gamers donít like to be challenged, and the difficulty of games like Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2, or Devil May Cry have to be "toned down" to appeal to a wider audience. You can see it happen whenever a game is released: if players canít beat it easily, it must be a problem with the gameís design. It is seen as a flaw that should be corrected in the sequel. Look at the clamor caused by difficultly of games like The Stuntman, Gunvalkyrie, and Hitman: Codename 47. All of these games require massive amounts of skill, patients, and dedication to beat, and reviewers blasted them for it. Gamers were put off by their difficulty and filled Internet message boards with complaints. Developers hear these comments and seek to "correct the issue" in later releases. Youíll be able to see it when Hitman 2: Stealth Assassin is released in October. Mark my words: this game wonít be one tenth as difficult as the first.

Wasnít it the difficulty of Hitman part of its charm though? Didnít completing it give you a sense of accomplishment not felt in games since the 8-bit days? Isnít it satisfying to finish a level in the Stuntman, or get to the end of Gunvalkyrie? The truth is, games that were difficult to play, and actually required a level of skill to complete, were one of the things that made games charming and addictive way back when. Those moments where five or six people would stand around an arcade machine in awe at a person who was about to get the high score, or defeat the final boss will be remember by all who where there.

I can still remember the feeling I got when I completed Tomb Raider. After a solid 13 months of daily play I was finally able to complete that difficult, difficult game without any help from a strategy guide. About the only feat that made me feel more satisfied than that was the moment I beat Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII. I honestly dedicated two hours a day for about six months trying to put him under. I finally realized that I couldnít beat him at the state I was in (around level sixty at the time with very few of the really good materia), so I started the game over and spent the next six months playing the game all over again, eventually maxing out my characters and finding every hidden secret and item in the game. It was twelve months in the making, but when I took Emerald on for the final time, it was all worth it. I tore into him like a hurricane, and although the battle lasted over an hour and a half, I emerged victorious. I can still remember the feeling I got when the screen began to flash and Emerald began to turn all red and transparent. I would have thought my heart was going to stop I was so excited. For the most part though, those days are long gone. Now, only the rare puzzle game has that level of difficulty, and the only games that go undefeated are ones too long to hold someoneís attention span all the way through. Take, for example, Omega Weapon from Final Fantasy VIII, who was supposed to be the mother of all "Weapons". I was able to beat him the first time around without even trying, and I wasnít even near maxed out!

Iíd really like to see the return of the impossible game, or at least impossible challenges hidden in games. With all these classic remakes coming out it wouldnít be too much to ask that Contra: Shattered Solider or Shinobi are just as difficult to beat as the originals were. I think Sega might be out to bring that old school, arcade difficulty back to the consoles, as it has been seen in games like Rez, Gunvalkyrie, Jet Set Radio Future, and Virtua Fighter 4, but Iíd really like to see more of it. I would really love to see a game come out that challenges everyone. I would love to see a game that taunts you with its difficulty; that mocks you for not being worthy enough to beat it. Iím talking about a game so impossible to beat that those that do so are honored and revered, are given fame and riches and monuments in their honor. That would be a very welcomed return to the "Golden Age of Gaming".
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