15 Extremely Difficult RPGS To Play In 2023


For most people out there who play games, gaming sessions tend to be a time when you can escape from the daily stresses of life and the hardships we all have to endure, offering a means of escape in a fantasy realm where all our stresses and worries melt away.

However, for a sub-section of gamers, these sessions are spent being crushed, bludgeoned, burned, stabbed, shot, and maimed, only for them to pick themselves up and take on the challenge before them all over again.

This sub-section of gamers seek difficulty above all else. Games that offer complex, deep, intricate systems that will test their cunning, reactions, and mastery of in-game mechanics to their very limit.

It’s a pretty sadistic way to engage with the world of gaming, but I respect it, and one genre that really offers up a wealth of difficult challenges to conquer is the RPG genre.

There are loads of frustrating, demanding, and complicated RPGs on the market that will even see veteran gamers break a sweat, and if you’re looking for your next trial of fire, you’ve come to the right place.

We have a list of truly taxing RPGs to share with you, and we won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here is RPG Informer’s list of The Most Difficult RPGs of All Time.

Selection Criteria

Before we jump into the gauntlet run of demanding titles, we want to share our selection criteria with you so you know what we define as a truly difficult RPG. Check it out below:

  • All games listed must be brutal, unforgiving games 
  • We will consider games based on specific game modes, and specific playthrough types
  • All games listed will need to offer a decent gaming experience, not just a game that is hard with no other notable qualities
  • All games must have an aggregate Metacritic score of 65% or higher
  • Only one game per franchise, but we will allow multiple from closely-tied sub-genres such as Soulsbornes
  • We may play it a little fast and loose with the term ‘RPG’ with action RPGS sneaking in there now and again

Alright, pick up a weapon, adorn your hardiest armor, and let’s get to it, shall we?

Most Difficult RPGs of All Time

#1 – Dark Souls

Dark Souls on Nintendo Switch: Best Switch release yet?

Developer: From Software

Released: 22nd September 2011

Metacritic Score: 89%

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. First up, we have the game that created its own difficult game sub-genre, unearthed a band of gamers that told those who couldn’t beat this game to ‘Git Gud,’ and, most importantly, offers a rich and challenging RPG fantasy adventure. 

Dark Souls, upon its initial release, was heralded as the resurgence of hard games, in a period where map markers and pop-up tutorials were a staple of the RPG genre. It didn’t offer a difficulty setting, dropped folks in at the deep end from the very second they encountered the Asylum Demon, and kept this cadence throughout with a slew of fearsome bosses, frustrating environments like Blighttown, and cruel tricks like Mimic chests. 

Today, even with a Remastered version available, I would say that Dark Souls now retains its difficult status due to the dated and cumbersome controls in comparison to more modern Soulslikes. However, even today, I would recommend Souls fans who haven’t played the original get acquainted with this harsh, unforgiving world. 

#2 – Bloodborne


Developer: From Software

Released: 24th March 2015

Metacritic Score: 91%

If we are going for obvious choices at the top of this list, then let me include my personal favorite Soulslike of all time, Bloodborne. A game that allows you to stop hiding behind a shield and play on the offensive. Through a risk-and-reward health replenishment system, a blunderbuss parrying system that works wonderfully, and the gothic and gritty world of Yharnam to explore, Bloodborne stands out from the pack and is still regarded by many as the ultimate Soulslike. 

The game also includes some of the most iconic Souls bosses of all time, with Rom The Vacuous Spider being a personal favorite of mine. Plus, if you manage to make it through the night and want more Bloodborne content, the Old Hunters DLC is some of the best-added content you’ll ever come across in gaming. 

Sadly for all non-PlayStation players, Bloodborne remains tethered to the PS4/PS5, but if you can get your hands on one, Bloodborne should be one of the first games you try out. 

#3 – Pathologic 2

Pathologic 2 Review - Driving You To Madness

Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge

Released:  23rd May 2019

Metacritic Score: 70%

If you are looking for a game that is about as mentally taxing as it gets, then you’ll get a kick out of Pathologic 2.

As a long-time champion of this game ever since it was released in 2012, simply as Pathologic, I often find myself fighting this game’s corner, and the best way to sell this game to someone is that it’s not a fun game. That makes me sound like a terrible salesman, and perhaps I am, but the cruel, punishing nature of this game is what makes it so special. 

The objective of this game is to return to your hometown and save the townsfolk from a plague set to wipe the town off the map.

It sounds simple, but due to an everchanging economy and world from day to day, you’ll be faced with impossible decisions such as feeding and arming yourself, or going without to potentially help a citizen in need. 

It’s quite similar to This War of Mine in this regard, and unless you are pinpoint perfect throughout, things will go wrong, and blood will be on your hands. It’s a game where suffering is part of the experience, and while it’s a hard sell to some gamers, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

#4 – Darkest Dungeon (Stygian Difficulty)

Darkest Dungeon® | Nintendo Switch download software | Games | Nintendo

Developer: Red Hook Studios

Released: 19th January 2016

Metacritic Score: 84%

For those that are familiar with the Roguelike meets RPG smash hit, Darkest Dungeon. You will know that even on the standard ‘Darkest’ difficulty, this game is a long, arduous, and RNG-fuelled experience that can be grueling, tense, and frustrating. However, nothing can prepare you for the devastatingly brutal experience that is Stygian Difficulty. 

This mode requires the player to get through the main campaign with a maximum of 12 deaths, and within a time limit of 86 weeks. Not to mention, Hero costs double, light meters go down, and if you do fail, the game will ruthlessly delete your save file, ensuring you can’t get a do-over. 

It’s a mode that forces you to unlearn lessons taught on the lower difficulties, plan meticulously to ensure your heroes are as strong as they can be, pick your quests and battles carefully, and generally play with a lot more caution throughout. 

Each grueling run will be filled with heart-racing near-misses and lofty hurdles to clear, but it’s these high stakes that make Stygian difficulty an amazing test for Darkest Dungeon’s most elite players. 

Further Reading: Our Interview With Darkest Dungeon Creator Chris Bourassa

#5 – Fire Emblem: Awakening (Lunatic+)

Fire Emblem: Awakening | Nintendo 3DS games | Games | Nintendo

Developer: Intelligent Systems 

Released: 19th April 2012

Metacritic Score: 92%

Fire Emblem Awakening, like a lot of Western gamers, was my introduction to the series, and it’s, to this day, probably still the most accessible and challenging game in the franchise. If you are playing the game in easy mode, you’ll muddle your way through just fine. Bosses are still tough, weapons still degrade, and heroes still permanently die if killed in battle, but it’s manageable. 

However, for veterans looking to really lean into the sadistic side of Fire Emblem, Lunatic+ Mode will have you ripping your hair out and launching controllers at the nearest wall or screen. 

In this mode, enemies appear more frequently and call for reinforcements more often. They have better stats and carry better gear, and enemies will also have unique enemy-only abilities that make them a nightmare to take down.  Plus, in Lunatic+, these abilities are doled out to fodder enemies too, meaning there are no easy battles from start to end. 

It’s a massive step up from the standard hard mode, but if you feel you’re a Fire Emblem pro who can bear the brunt of this task, then I wish you luck, my friend! 

#6 – The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Game of the Year Edition [v1.6.1820 + All  DLCs] for PC [1.4 GB] Repack

Developer: Bethesda Softworks 

Released: 1st May 2002

Metacritic Score: 87%

I know a few of you older RPG heads out there are going to roll your eyes, but due to the way that Morrowind is built, for the modern-day gamer, this timeless open-world RPG can be a tough nut to crack. For those unaware, Bethesda made Elder Scrolls games before the likes of Skyrim and Oblivion, and Morrowind is still regarded by many as the best there ever was. 

The game itself isn’t all that difficult in truth, but the barriers of entry are pretty tough to break through, and in that lies the difficulty for modern gamers. Right from when the game kicks off, your character build matters a lot, and some poor decisions may make your playthrough an uphill battle from there on in.

Then you have the combat system, which in the early game will practically ensure you never land a hit on any high-level opponent as your skills will be too low, which will feel really alien for modern RPG fans. 

However, perhaps the toughest nut to crack about Morrowind is the quests within, as players will not be able to rely on quest markers to lead them where they need to go. Instead, they will need to read notes, acquire info through conversations and natural discovery, and may even need to use an actual sign on a road to get directions. 

Basically, to boil it down, the learning curve to get into this game is very steep. But I would urge you to clamber up it anyway, because it’s worth the hardship, believe me. 

#7 – Pokemon Radical Red

Pokemon Radical Red Custom Label by yosoo5000 on DeviantArt

Developer: Soupercell and koala4

Released: 8th August 2020

Metacritic Score: N/A

Anyone who is even acutely aware of a certain Electric mouse Pokemon will also be aware of the debut games in the series Red, Blue, and Yellow, which came a little later.

These were the foundations from which Pokemon has grown into a globally recognized gaming empire. However, I would argue the best way to enjoy the debut story is via the GBA remakes Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green, and if you’re looking for a stern test, the Pokemon ROM Hack, Radical Red is probably an even bigger step up in quality. 

This fan-made, free-to-play Pokemon title offers lots of incredible quality-of-life changes to the GBA base game, adding modern Pokemon battle systems, built-in Nuzlocke modes, and, most importantly, a vastly more strenuous set of difficulty modes. 

Radical Red’s easy mode offers a pretty sizable, but manageable spike in difficulty if you just want to wet the whistle. However, if you want to brave this game’s Radical difficulty you’ll need to understand IVs and EVs, and memorize pretty much every Pokemon’s typings, abilities, synergies, and movesets.

Oh, and if you opt to do a Nuzlocke on top of all this. Well, then, you are braver than I ever will be. If you consider yourself a Pokemon master, I say prove it by taking on Radical Red. 

#8 – Lies of P

Lies of P | PlayStation Games (UK)

Developer: Round8

Released: 19th September 2023

Metacritic Score: 80%

If I’m being honest, I’m basing this difficulty on the game’s difficulty before the recent patch that made this title much more manageable, so if you can somehow revert the game back to its 1.00 patch, then you’ll get what I’m saying here. That being said, though, this game as it is now is still no walk in the park. 

I don’t think any of us could have expected a Soulslike featuring Pinocchio as the protagonist that would be quite so gritty, dark, and unyielding as Lies of P is.

Yet, despite first impressions, this game offers some of the best-designed Souls bosses in recent memory, and asks the player to become an absolute master of its parry system if they want to see all this game has to offer. 

This title is as close to a Bloodborne remaster as we will likely ever get, as it offers fast-paced, reactive combat where you can stay on the offensive at all times if you have the skills to pay the bills, and even though the game gives you lots of tools to take down enemies like Specter Summons, Legion Arms, P-Organ buffs and more. You’ll still end up questioning your sanity when pitted against bosses like The Eldest of the Rabbit Brotherhood or The King of Puppets. 

It’s a non-FromSoft souls game that stands head and shoulders above the rest, outdoing serviceable titles like Mortal Shell, Nioh, Steel Rising, and many more. Which makes this a 2023 Soulslike you need to try out!

#9 – Beyond and Beyond

Beyond The Beyond (PLAYSTATION) Part 3 Samson - YouTube

Developer: Camelot Software Planning 

Released: 3rd November 1995

Metacritic Score: N/A

We now dig deep into the vault to unearth this JRPG gem from back in the early days of the PS1 era. This was a period where JRPGS like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Tales of Phantasia, were offering much more accessible experiences for players, which is perhaps why Beyond and Beyond has been somewhat forgotten many years later. 

This game offers a turn-based adventure not unlike those listed, but the key difference here is that progression requires a lot of planning, routing, and understanding of in-game tactics, and many will see this one as needlessly hard. 

The game mainly garners this reputation due to its LP system, essentially making this title a Roguelike of sorts where dying is part of the process, but with each death, you start with an HP penalty, increasing in severity until you run out of LP completely.

Essentially making, this game a war of attrition where you scrape by through the skin of your teeth on most occasions. Not to mention your party is quite frankly underpowered for over half the game. 

It’s a shame, as the game is otherwise a strong retro RPG with a great soundtrack, smooth battle systems, and a fun story. So if you feel JRPGS have gone soft in recent years, Beyond and Beyond may be the challenge you seek. 

#10 – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Review] 'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice' is a Beautiful, Brutal Ballet of  Butchery - Bloody Disgusting

Developer: From Software

Released: 22nd March 2019

Metacritic Score: 90%

We now move on to the 2019 Game of the Year winner, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game that divides opinion with Souls fans, mainly because it’s a From Software game that offers an experience that essentially requires the player to cast aside all the lessons learned in past Souls games if they want to even make it through the early hours of this game. 

Sekiro explores a feudal Japan fantasy story while putting you in the role of the eponymous Sekiro. Having a voiced protagonist is a first for From Software, and the result is a more focused story that throws some of the toughest enemies you’ve ever wished for at you in bulk.

It’s a game that focuses on finesse above all else, and actually gives you two lives for each encounter, which would make you think that this would be a breeze compared to other Souls outings, but this concession actually goes some way to showing just how hard the gameplay actually is. 

Sekiro demands that players master the art of parrying and counter-attacking to succeed. Biding your time and striking at opportune moments is key, and timing is everything. This means a big sword and a strength build just aren’t going to cut it this time around. 

While the jury is out on whether Sekiro is the hardest Souls game ever, it is the one Souls game that absolutely flips the script on fans, and if you have become accustomed to the traditional Souls gameplay of old, Sekiro will prove a tougher challenge than most, I assure you. 

#11 – Kenshi

28 Best Games Like Kenshi To Binge: Survival RPG, 56% OFF

Developer: Miro Havernien

Released: 6th December 2018

Metacritic Score: 75%

I include Kenshi with a little asterisk alongside, because, in truth, Kenshi is only as hard as you want it to be, with sliders present to make the game pretty mellow by all accounts. However, if you leave those alone, you’ll learn pretty much immediately that this game has no respect for you, and wants you to suffer. But the good news is that through suffering, you become stronger and smarter. 

Kenshi is an open-world Sandbox CRPG that doesn’t offer any overarching goals, story, or gameplay loop. Instead, it allows players to forge their own path and purpose in this unforgiving world by building squads and settlements and becoming powerful enough to weather any storm the game sends their way. 

The difficulty comes from the fact that the game doesn’t tutorialize anything and immediately sends that storm your way. Which can lead to your squad being killed on routine outings, your character being beaten, or losing a limb. Or you might even end up being enslaved if you’re particularly unlucky. 

It’s a unique experience that never tells you how to play, for better or worse. So if you like the process of growing in prowess from a lowly beginner to a master of all you survey, then Kenshi is the ultimate RPG sandbox for you. 

#12 – Dead Space 2 

Dissecting Dead Space 2's most memorable level | Eurogamer.net

Developer: Vicarious Visions

Released: 21st December 2010

Metacritic Score: 90% 

This one is easily the least RPG inclusion on this list, but I feel there are just enough Action RPG elements here for me to awkwardly wedge this one in here. If you feel otherwise, apologies in advance. 

Dead Space 2 is the follow-up to the successful original Survival Horror epic featuring Issac Clarke and has you deal with Issac’s psychotic breakdown caused by The Marker in the first game. In standard mode, this game is a fair test, but nothing to write home about. However, when you turn the difficulty up to Hardcore mode, you’ll be in for a truly grueling playthrough. 

This difficulty mode maintains all the trappings of the game’s Zealot difficulty, which essentially makes Necromorphs complete bullet sponges, lowers the number of items you’ll encounter through each section, and generally gives you next to no room for error. However, Hardcore Mode adds one more devastating caveat that will only allow you to save three times across the entire twelve-chapter campaign. 

With an opportunity to save at the beginning of each chapter, this essentially means that you’ll need to get through multi-chapter portions of the game without a single mistake, or you’ll end up having to play hours of content all over again to get to where you messed up. The Necromorphs are a concern for sure, but when you add in the pinpoint set pieces like the needle in the eye scene, for example, and you will soon realize you have so many run-ending moments to navigate. 

It’s a challenge run that I have steered clear of despite my undying love for this series, but if you feel up to the challenge, then I salute you. 

#13 – The Last of Us Remastered (Grounded Mode)

The Last of Us Part 1: all performance modes tested, which should you use?  | Eurogamer.net

Developer: Naughty Dog

Released: 19 July 2014

Metacritic Score: 95%

From a very tenuous Action RPG entry to a certified Action RPG hall of famer. The Last of Us is a game so good that pretty much every form of mainstream media stopped and took notice, putting narrative-driven video games in the same discussion with prominent movies and TV shows of the era. We always knew they were great, but thanks to TLOU, everyone else has caught on. 

The recent remake of this game is not all that challenging, even on grounded mode, but if you go back and play the OG version of this game, you’ll have to endure a vastly superior Grounded mode that will ask players to plan their routes through areas with precision, rarely waste a bullet, and become masters of stealth to avoid becoming Clicker chow. 

In this mode, you need to scour each room for any item you can find, preserve bullets for moments where nothing else will do, and ensure that about 90% of the game needs to be approached with cunning and stealth. Oh, and remember the sewer section? Well, in Grounded, it’s going to be a living hell to navigate; trust me on that. 

The difficulty can be a little unfair at times, as Joel’s melee attacks are often unfairly intercepted, and you can end up in save-file soft locks where you realistically don’t have enough resources to make it out alive. But all in all, it’s a very immersive experience, and one TLOU fans should try at least once. 

#14 – Baldur’s Gate 3 (Tactician Mode)

Baldur's Gate 3 to Receive a Performance Update, Photo Mode, and More

Developer: Larian Studios

Released: 3rd August 2023

Metacritic Score: 97%

I have come to know by playing through Baldur’s Gate 3 in co-op with my wife, who is a complete CRPG novice. If you play on a lower difficulty you can pretty much muddle your way through every encounter with some lucky dice rolls and a healthy dose of save-scumming. However, when you take on the challenge of playing Baldur’s Gate 3 in Tactician mode, you soon see how relentlessly unforgiving this game can be. 

This mode gives enemies much larger health pools, makes dice rolls much less likely to go your way, and the enemy AI is much smarter in this mode, not to mention they get a +2 chance to hit as standard. This essentially means that you’ll need to ensure your party is strong and balanced, that you plan carefully for each encounter and manage resources carefully, and of course, you’ll need a little bit of luck, as is custom in DND campaigns. 

I wouldn’t recommend you play in Tactican in your first run of this game, but if you want to go for another lap when you complete this gargantuan campaign, then Tactician mode is the best way to prove your mastery of Faerûn.  

#15 – Elden Ring

Elden Ring Review - Absolutely Astonishing Adventure - Game Informer

Developer: From Software 

Released: 25th February 2022

Metacritic Score: 96%

Then finally, I feel it would be doing a disservice to the sub-genre of Souls games if I didn’t mention the latest and arguably greatest title on the roster, Elden Ring. This title offers a quintessential Dark Souls experience, but with an open-world twist that actually makes the early game much more accessible for newcomers to the genre. However, don’t be fooled; this game still wants to beat you to a pulp and will do so without remorse. 

The game will routinely throw roadblocks at you in the form of the Legacy Dungeons in the game, housing some of the hardest bosses Elden Ring has to offer, and while you don’t have to beat your head against the wall until you break through in most Souls games, and you can run off to do other stuff and come back later. The key takeaway here is that you will still have to face these titans at some point. 

Then as the game enters its final stages in Leyndell, the game essentially becomes a brutal gauntlet run of end-game bosses, each offering a tougher challenge than the last. So, to sum up, Elden Ring may be a great starting point for Souls novices, but if you want the bragging rights of saying to other gamers that you finished a souls game, you’ll still have to really work for it. 

Honorable Mentions

  • Divinity 2: The Original Sin
  • Baldur’s Gate 3
  • Gothic
  • Nioh 2
  • Underrail
  • Lords of the Fallen
  • Monster Hunter World
  • Code Vein
  • Remnant: From The Ashes
  • Fear and Hunger
  • Final Fantasy Tactics

Are You Up To The Challenge?

So there you have it, folks, fifteen absolutely brutally challenging RPG adventures sure to make you consider your decisions and scream violently at your TV Screen. We hope that this list has inspired you to take on a new challenge, and if we left out any nailed-on tough RPGS, then be sure to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading RPG Informer. 


Question: I really want to play these games, but I don’t like difficult games, can I still play them?

Answer: It depends on the game. Some games have multiple difficulty options like Divinity: Original Sin 2 that can make playing the game a far easier and more casual experience. Other games like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice have no difficulty option and you’re forced to experience the game as the developers intended it to be.

Question: I’m not good at games, how can I get better so that I can play these and enjoy myself?

Answer: This all depends on the game. Certain games require you to use reflexes to get better. Games like Bloodborne allow you to improve via leveling up and improving your gear, but the main way to get good at a game like that is to practice. Learn the mechanics of the combat system and figure out where your comfort zone is with the moves you want to use.

Question: Is it easier to play these games with a controller or a mouse and keyboard?

Answer: Ah, the great debate. Mouse and keyboard or controller is a conversation as old as time. For me, the majority of games are far easier to play with a controller whether you’re on a PC or consoles. Some games utilize the keyboard better than others, but when it comes to RPGs, you’re generally going to want a compact set of controls so you know where everything is at all times and this will make you a better player at these particularly tough RPGs. Plus, controllers have haptic feedback which is something a mouse and keyboard just don’t have on offer.


A lot of RPGs have the option to increase the difficulty, but very few have the in-depth mechanics that can create challenges just from the game itself. The games above are not about damage sponge enemies, but rather incredibly smart AI that will challenge your every move, and because of that, they demand the highest amount of concentration to overcome. If you’re looking for a true test of your gaming ability, check out any of the games in this list and get ready for quite the bumpy ride.

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