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From Software, Difficulty, and Accessibility

If you’ve ever encountered a hardcore FromSoft fan, you’ll know that the one thing they’re almost certain to defend is the difficulty in those games. The catchphrase “Git Gud” stemmed from players not being good enough to progress in Dark Souls, and hardcore players wanting new players to go through the same difficulty that they have gone through. However, while it’s fair to assume that a healthy gamer with a good amount of time, motivation, and understanding of games should be able to get through it, is it fair to ask that of just about anyone? What if a player is disabled, lack the motivation to suffer through difficulty, or simply want to join the other aspects of these games? In this post, I’ll explore some ways that FromSoft could implement tools for players that want to play these games, but can’t for some reason.

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Let me first establish what level I’m personally at in these games. I am a huge fan of Dark Souls and Sekiro’s style of gameplay that require you to acquire a certain skill set to defeat a difficult enemy. I love the Metroidvania style to the games with branching paths and exploration being in the centre. I have played parts of Dark Souls, Dark Souls III, and Sekiro, having so far faced one incredibly difficult boss in Sekiro. I love this type of game myself, but if I could, I’d use some of the suggestions I’ll come with below because I get frustrated at certain things about these games that I don’t think making a change to would drastically alter the game for me, just make it more fun.

I’d like the game to present the changes under an assist menu (similarly to Celeste) where a user can clearly see that it’s not what FromSoft originally intended. Some of these modes will obviously have to disable PvP, and some will have to make you unable to get certain achievements, especially one that says “beat the game without using assists”. I want each option to be clearly labelled as to how much it changes the experience, and I want it to not just benefit disabled players, but also hardcore ones. We’ll get into why later.

The Hidden Lessons Of Trust And Transparency From Celeste ...

Broadly, the things I’ll be getting into are a guided mode, a map, rebalancing tools, speed changes, timing windows, and a boss training mode.

Guided Mode

This is a very simple mode. All it does is, before a mini-boss or a boss, presents a player with what the player is intended to learn from the battle. In Sekiro, there is a battle against a guy with a spear that a lot of players struggle with. Before engaging with that battle, a popup should show that says (in a more creative way) “remember to use the forward-dodge which stomps the spear.” They already do this to a certain degree, but this mode would extend it further and keep reminding you about your toolbox so that you know your options. 

If they’d want to go further and a less obtrusive way, having an in-game wiki could do the same thing. Instead of showing it before the fight, after being defeated once, you’d unlock an entry in the wiki that shows you each move the enemy has and tells you how to deal with it. A lot of players will be able to beat the game, but just doesn’t understand what they’re not doing correctly, and this could help with that.

This mode should be simple to implement, and not hamper much with the intended experience, and enabling it shouldn’t remove the ability to get all achievements. It should also be toggleable so that once the player feels like they are ready to go out on their own and don’t need help, they can do that.

A Map

This one should be quite simple to implement. Let the user explore the map in a similar way to strategy games. Give a map button that allows you to see any place you’ve been to already, with the rest fogged out. This is quite useful for players with poor memory, or that struggles with special awareness. You could also hide this away in an assist menu, and I don’t think this should take away the ability to earn all achievements either.

Personal Rebalancing of the Game

One of the things I found the most frustrating with both Dark Souls (& DS3) and Sekiro is that it punishes you a lot. There are a lot of incredibly frustrating moves that might instantly kill you if you have a tiny bit less than full health, or sometimes even if you are at full health. What I’d suggest are multiple sliders that adjust various aspects of the game. This would obviously disable PvP and remove the ability to unlock certain achievements in the game.

What I’d suggest is having sliders for:

Resistance to attacks in general. This is for players that find the game perfectly fine, but might be prone to errors and want to make it a little less punishing. You could also do the reverse and make the game more punishing for hardcore players (perhaps maxing it could give you another achievement if you beat the game like that?)

Reduce/increase how punishing “punish attacks” are. Simple as that, there are certain moves that deal a huge amount of damage. This slider would make this less or more so.

More/less bonfires/save points. Give players the option to have more or fewer bonfires. For more bonfires, put one just outside each boss-room. This could also serve as a place to immediately go back to when you’re done with the boss. It should also put traps and such closer to save points so that dying to a trap is less frustrating. For fewer, you get the gist. Only keep the most important ones. I do think that later games (Dark Souls 3 and Sekiro) have managed to do this better than OG Dark Souls at least.

Speed changes

Fights in games like this can be really difficult. A lot of it has to do with the pace of fights, especially for those that struggle with reading the opponent. Allowing the player to reduce the speed of the game during fights (down to at least 50% of original speed) could help ease this a lot and make it easier for them to read and learn what to do. This would obviously remove the ability to get all achievements.

Timing Windows

Some players struggle with being on time. Sekiro is a very much a rhythm-based game, and for some, especially disabled players, timing this can be incredibly hard. Allowing the player to adjust the timing windows themselves can help alleviate this. This could also work to the benefit of hardcore players, as they could inverse it and make the timing windows more difficult.

Boss Practice Mode

Lastly, I want to include a mode that allows players to train against bosses in a safe environment that allows them to gradually remove assist tools until they are ready to face them without them in the game itself. Put the player against the boss where death just puts you back at the beginning of it and you’re allowed to use any assist tool as much as you want without it affecting your ability to earn achievements in the game itself. This mode is just there to prepare you for the boss fight itself, and each boss can only be played against here if you’ve died to it or beaten it at least once in the main game. It would also be a fun way for experienced players to be able to re-experience their favourite bosses whenever they want.

To summarise, I hope this post has shown some ways that FromSoft could make their games more inclusive without changing the core experience for those that want to play it as intended. As long as all of the above (except Boss Practice Mode which could be its own menu item) is clearly marked as to what it is and who it is for, and that the assist functions have to be activated at the start of the save, this should not hamper with anyone’s experience if they want to play it like they want to.

I also want to say that I completely understand and respect FromSoft for wanting to make games a certain way and sticking to that. However, I do also believe that it is in their best interest, from a business perspective, to include “an easy mode” as hardcore players like to call it. Allowing more people to play the game should be a good thing, as there are many reasons to like these games that doesn’t have anything to do with difficulty, and excluding that audience isn’t a smart move in my opinion.

Once a game is out, let the player decide if they care more about the artistic intention or the way they want to play the game themselves. And to you hardcore players, please stop bullying disabled players that are interested in the games but literally can’t play it even if they wanted to. 

3 thoughts on “From Software, Difficulty, and Accessibility

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  1. I think one of the benefits of difficult games like these is that there is no easy mode. If someone gets frustrated in a single moment, they can’t just turn on easy mode and continue, depriving themselves of the challenge. Not every game has to be beaten overnight, and there are already plenty of games that offer that sort of easy mode experience anyways.

    And then, there already is an easy mode with the summon system, as most bosses are only designed to focus on a single player. Having a summon trivializes most if not all boss fights, and that’s in the base game, even if its just an NPC summon. Idk about Sekiro but this is definitely the case in Dark Souls.

    That’s my opinion on this at least. People can do the research before-hand for these things to determine if it’s a game they’d like to play, and if not, then they can just pass on it. There are plenty more out there that offer that sort of experience, I don’t think we should be asking one of the only franchises built upon being difficult to abandon what made it so special in the first place.

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    1. “I think one of the benefits of difficult games like these is that there is no easy mode. If someone gets frustrated in a single moment, they can’t just turn on easy mode and continue”

      I think you can’t turn on the assist functions after starting a save in Celeste either. Iirc, you have to do it at the beginning of the save. Making it difficult to change this after you’ve started a save makes that hard to do. And tbh, if you truly want that challenge, you won’t turn it down. Seriously, when I fought the final boss in Resident Evil 2, I was asked if I wanted to turn on some kinda easy mode, and I just said, nope.

      “And then, there already is an easy mode with the summon system”

      Fair point. In Dark Souls you do have that (not in Sekiro tho. There’s no online in that at all), however, that doesn’t help all kinds of disabilities and is incredibly poorly explained. Honestly, I would’ve never figured out how to use that if it weren’t for a friend telling me to not talk to those things before a boss fight after we did some stuffs as it would make it too easy.

      When it comes to your last paragraph, I have to ask. Is difficulty the only reason to play FromSoft games? Do you seriously think that there is no other reason to enjoy those games? And if you think about it like this, what if I’m at a very low skill level. Perhaps I’ve not played that many games. I pick this up and I get my ass kicked, even if it’s the kind of game I like. Would you expect me, as someone at a very low skill level in gaming in general, to spend days on just one boss to get past it? I think most people would give up instead.

      So should we appease the small number of people that think “oh no, normies will play my difficult vidya game and struggle similarly at a lower difficulty level!” or should we appease the people that are looking for games of this type but is simply not skilled enough to deal with it?

      One of those options exclude a lot of potential customers that could be interested in the game and could have its own team working on that part, and the other, hmmm, makes some people go “normies reee”? Like, does it really matter if someone decides that playing it at a lower difficulty? Does it affect you if you’d like to play it normally? Just don’t enable assist mode when you boot up the game, and it should be good. You won’t be affected at all.

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      1. You say it’s a small number of people but I’d love to see the numbers behind that. Dark Souls didn’t become popular because it was easy, or accessible, or forgiving. It’s a game that intentionally throws you into a world with no information whatsoever, and you are forced to struggle and figure it out on your own, with unlimited lives.

        You’re proposing changes to a successful game franchise that somehow managed to do well, despite not appealing to everyone. Not everything has to appeal to everyone, often it’s better to target a specific audience, and that’s what FromSoft often does. You’re proposing they change that, but I fail to see why.

        You can pick apart any game ever made and say that it has issues that you don’t like, but that’s fine. Not every game is for everyone. Dark Souls became viral and popular because of those “git gud” memes, I don’t think it exactly hurt the franchise. People were curious about playing a difficult game, and so they played it.

        Unlike back in the NES days where every game was near impossible, we live in a time where almost every single game out there has easy modes and accessibility. Why pick on the one franchise that doesn’t?

        Anyways, I respect your opinion, but I can tell that this is just an agree to disagree discussion. We both have very different ideas of what we like to see and experience in FromSoft games.

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