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In gaming, there are those who like their experiences to be easy, casual, and enjoyable games that they can jump into at any time. Everyone has their niche and while that one exists, there also exists another kind of gamer on the exact opposite side of the spectrum.
The challenge seeker, the masochist who wants their games to challenge them to every fiber of their bones. They want their games to chew them up and spit them out and make them want to return to the game begging for more. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle and I often lean towards the more challenging games. With RPGs, there are games for both of these kinds of gamers out there and when it comes to RPGs, that means you’re going to be getting hours and hours of punishing gameplay, so you better strap yourselves in because it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.
- Multiple tries to defeat bosses
- Unforgiving enemy AI
- Little to no handholding done by Game Developer
- Challenges your mind and reflexes
Spawned from the minds behind the legendary Dark Souls, Bloodborne is a spiritual successor of sorts to From Software’s flagship franchise and although it shares things in common mechanically, this is a whole other kind of dangerous beast we’re dealing with here.
The combat in Bloodborne is sublime and it’s a blazing fast mix of dodging, slashing, and shooting that feels like as much of an action game as it is an RPG. There is an art to this though and that comes in the form of the parry and regain system. Parrying in Bloodborne isn’t done like it is in traditional games and instead, you’re able to parry by shooting your gun at the exact right moment during an enemy’s attack to trigger a staggering effect. From here, you can perform one-hit kills and this is so crucial to beating so many enemies in the game. The regain system lets you recover any health you’ve lost as long as you hit the enemy who damaged you immediately after.
As is tradition with From Software games, the bosses are the most dangerous beings in the game and Bloodborne has some of the most fierce and terrifying bosses in gaming history.
While you can summon in friends or strangers for help, it’s the cheap way out and Bloodborne was meant to be finished on your own the first time through. To go along with all this challenge is one of the creepiest and most bizarre stories that gaming has offered and people are still trying to figure out the meanings of its various endings six years later.
For those who don’t mind venturing back into more old-school roots, Darkest Dungeon is an epic, 2D journey that throws some of the harshest challenges that you can imagine. The task is simple, assemble a party and defeat bosses in dungeons in an attempt to save the world.
It starts getting more complex when you realize that in order to do this, you have to manage your party’s stress levels, health, sanity, and other bizarre stats that all govern whether or not your combat encounters will go off without a hitch. In Darkest Dungeon, characters will die and when they do, they’re gone for good, so each encounter becomes that much more crucial and intense.
All of the stats I’ve mentioned play into combat in some wild ways like stress-causing characters to die of heart attacks and other stats causing players to become gluttons for damage and others refusing to attack at all. All of this has to be considered while also realizing that the bosses and enemies in this game are absolutely brutal and can destroy you in a few hits if you aren’t careful.
The boss encounters, in particular, are a major challenge and each one has specific attacks and special abilities you need to look out for. You’ll quickly start to realize that you won’t be able to see everybody and you’ll start sacrificing players to get the job done. The combat focuses on player position, so when attacking, you will usually only be able to hit certain characters and if the enemies are too far back, your character in the back won’t be able to hit them unless they have a long-range weapon. This causes you to bring along a mix of character classes to make sure you have all your bases covered and this is crucial because if you’re caught without a healer in this game, it’s likely going to be a short dungeon run for you.
If you do lose some characters, you can always find more in town, but they won’t be as high level, so it’s a whole rebuilding process from there and if you lose all your characters in one run, everything you gained from that dungeon is lost including loot and money, both of which are exceedingly valuable in this world.
Darkest Dungeon is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I’ll admit I haven’t beaten it and have been stuck on a boss for about 4 years now. I go back to it every now and then, but I still can’t beat this damn boss. I love it none the less and maybe one day I’ll actually beat the damn thing.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I thought after I beat Bloodborne that From Software had done all they could to me. I beat that final boss without much difficulty and I thought I had conquered whatever this company could throw at me. Then came Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and it showed me hadn’t even glimpsed the surface of the pain they can cause.
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 if not totally insane story that throws some of the toughest enemies you’ve ever wished for at you in bulk.
Combat in Sekiro is very unique from its Bloodborne and Dark Souls brethren. The key mechanic here is that you have two lives. Two lives? You must be thinking that this results in a far easier experience than the other games then right? WRONG. In order to make up for giving you multiple chances, Sekiro demands you have ninja-like reflexes and expert inventory management to survive even the earliest of bosses. Combat is timing based and while you can block, it’s more productive to parry any attacks coming your way as that’s how you lessen an enemy’s poise meter to open them up for a finishing strike.
This system plays into the bosses as well and while you’ll be facing some monstrous creatures, other fights will be against human enemies and those are often the hardest bosses in the game.
Admission time again, I haven’t beaten Sekiro. It is the only From Software game in the last 10 years that I have not completed. To me, it is 1000 times harder than Bloodborne and Dark Souls combined, and anything you’ve learned from those games you have to completely forget in order to be good at Sekiro. I’m done doubting From Software and I’m fully expecting Elden Ring to kick my ass into the next dimension.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
While the above games are challenging, they are pretty light in the story department. What if there was a game that was insanely challenging and also had a gripping narrative? Is that something you’d be interested in? Then Kingdom Come: Deliverance is for you. I’ll be honest, I HATED this game at first. The opening hours are slow without any action at all and when you finally get a hold of a weapon, you are the most useless thing on earth. I’m serious, you are not the chosen one here, you’re a useless peasant who gets his village invaded and found a sword and that’s exactly how this game makes you feel at first.
Combat is done in the first person which is an odd choice for a melee combat game, but here it really works. At the start, you will have pretty much no moves available to you and you’ll swing and stab your weapon and be pretty much useless doing so. A 2 on 1 scenario will have you fighting for dear life and honestly, it’s usually better to run away. As you progress throughout the story, you’ll start to learn some combat techniques that are all incredibly useful. I may have started out as a useless peasant, but a few hours in and I became a warrior able to hold my own against anyone.
It’s all very realistic feeling and you can’t really survive more than a few direct strikes in this game without the best armor you can find, so from start to finish, it’s a gritty and tough experience that is among the more unique RPGs I’ve played. Graphically it’s pretty incredible as well, so expect to find yourself spending plenty of time in this world.
The most unique game on this list, Kenshi is a truly bizarre creation. There is no set storyline, there are no scripted events to take part in, you simply live in this brutal, virtual world. In this world, there is slavery, robberies, massive battles, wars, an economic system, roaming AI’s, the ability to create a civilization and so much more that I don’t believe people have even seen all this magnificent game is capable of.
No matter what activities you take part in while playing Kenshi, just know they will be difficult and completely unrelenting. You will lose party members, entire armies you’ve built up will permanently die, you might lose access to one of your limbs, become a paraplegic, get enslaved, the random things that can happen while playing Kenshi are just part of what makes it an enthralling experience.
If you can get around the old-school jank here, you’ll be able to experience a fully functioning virtual world where your imagination is the only thing holding you back from where you can go or what you can do next.
Born from the formula of Dark Souls, Ninja Theory’s Nioh is certainly no walk in the park either and Nioh 2 upped that challenge considerably.
You start out a nameless soldier stuck in an endless war filled with demons and warring Japanese families and the result is a brutal experience that will have you begging for mercy more times than not.
You’ve got a ton of weapons to play with here, but that added arsenal means that your enemies will come at you just as hard and whether it’s the brutal bosses that come at you with absurdly damaging attacks or the mobs of normal enemies that can overwhelm you in a second, Nioh 2 demands the highest amount of concentration possible in order to overcome it’s multiple obstacles.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
One of the original RPGs was the isometric RPG and in the late 90s, these games were known for being brutal, unforgiving and refusing to hold your hand no matter what the circumstance. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a tribute to those kind of games while also carving out a niche of all its own.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is already one of the most praised RPGs of all time and that’s impressive considering how difficult this game can be. First off, reviving your party members is a chore in itself and sometimes they might just have to stay dead for a while if you’re out of the proper resources.
The combat is turn-based, but your enemies are often just as equipped as you are to deal damage and they’ll often take advantage of the environment to destroy you, so if you start out a fight near an oil barrel, get away from that as fast as possible as you can be sure that an enemy is about to hit it with fire and burn you and your party to the ground.
Scenarios like this are common in the 80+ hours you’ll be spending here and between the tough combat and shocking consequences that come from your decisions in conversations and quests, this is one really hard experience.
Outward is one of the more unique RPGs out there right now and not only is it brutally difficult and pretty much devoid of telling you where to go, but it’s also very old school in its approach to storytelling as well.
Outward’s story starts slow and as a character, you are pretty weak to start off and even the most mundane combat encounters will absolutely wreck you. As you get better equipment, you’ll start to be a more formidable presence, but the difficulty there comes in how hard it is to actually get money in this game.
You’re required at the start of the game to collect a hefty sum of money to get going and being the weakling you are, it’s not an easy path at all.
The combat feels like Dark Souls mixed with Skyrim and there’s a rhythm to it that you need to be in tune with to have any chance of succeeding. You have tons of options for how you want your character to play, but a lot of those require in-depth exploration to fully unlock.
Outward is not your typical medieval fantasy RPG. It shares more in common with Kingdom Come: Deliverance than it does Skyrim, so if you’ve experienced that kind of hardship, you know what to expect when jumping in here.
Everyone knows about how tough Dark Souls games are, but did you ever play Demon’s Souls? Demon’s Souls is the predecessor to Dark Souls that only recently got its flowers in the form of a brilliant remake for the PS5. Demon’s Souls takes the challenging combat from Dark Souls and adds in some truly torturous systems that make it a significantly tougher trek than Dark Souls ever was.
First off, when you die in Demon’s Souls, the game gets harder. Say you die multiple times in one spot, then that one spot will get tougher each time. It punishes you for being bad at the game and the moments of respite here are far fewer than they are in Dark Souls games.
The combat is sharp as can be in the remake and that’s much needed because man, do these enemies and environments ever want you dead. Between the boulders falling on your head at random times or the mobs of enemies tearing you to bits before you can even raise your shield, you’re in for one brutal experience that is only for the most hardcore of gamers.
Created by one man Undertale is one of the most brilliant games I’ve ever played. Its old-school graphics might put you at ease at the start, but soon you’ll see how this supplements the creepy story on hand and the tough combat that awaits you.
Combat in Undertale is the most unique combat system I’ve ever seen. Each encounter is pretty much completely different in how its mechanics work, so to explain how it works is almost impossible as it’s a constantly shifting rule set that will require you to be as fast with your reflexes as you are thinking on your feet.
There are multiple endings, optional bosses you can fight and so much more that will deliver challenge after challenge to you on your way to achieving one of the game’s multiple endings. It’s not the longest experience, but its easily one of the toughest games out there.
God of War
God of War has always been among the more hardcore experiences out there. The early games lent themselves to more action, hack, and slash type of gameplay and that requires insanely fast reflexes and weapon and item management to complete its various challenges. The new God of War is a more methodical approach to Kratos, but still, one that is every bit as challenging.
God of War has always been known for its bosses and while that was a bit of criticism on the newest iteration, the bosses still remain as tough as ever. Whether you’re facing off against Baldur or trying to defeat one of the many trolls you’ll encounter, even Kratos’s god-level strength isn’t enough to beat many of these bosses and you’ll be relying on his son Atreus’s abilities to help bail you out a ton there as well.
The true challenge in God of War comes from the journey to take down the Valkyries. These optional bosses come in multiple different iterations and while taking down each one is incredibly tough on its own, taking down the Valkyrie Queen is one of the toughest tasks in gaming history.
God of War is a tough experience that only gets harder as you grow in power, and it’s fitting when you see the harsh world that the game takes place in.
Nier is already a niche franchise and part of that is because of how brutally difficult the gameplay is. Nier: Automata in particular has some of the most challenging encounters that I can remember and beating them made this amazingly weird and imaginative journey worth it that much more.
The gameplay in Nier: Automata has you controlling the android 2B who is a combat specialist capable of dealing out the damage in bunches. She’s got swords, spears, and most importantly, a sentient floating gun that can be upgraded alongside her throughout the game.
The challenge in this game comes from how your enemies fight. The variety here is astounding and while some enemies might be rushing you up close, others will unleash a bullet hell’s amount of projectiles at you and require you to summon your dormant Nintendo skills to defeat them.
Nier: Automata is one of those unforgettable gaming experiences that will stick with you for years to come and it makes you earn every second of those memories.
You just can’t talk about the most difficult RPGs ever without mentioning this JRPG classic. Valkyrie Profile has an identity all of its own and it’s one of Enix’s greatest achievements in a long line of them.
You star as Lenneth, a Valkyrie sent from Asgard to collect fallen warriors to fight for you when Ragnarok arrives. This has you visiting each of the warriors before their death happens and from there, recruiting them to your cause. It’s dark stuff and incredibly well written and animated with some sophisticated 2D art that fits the tone of the game perfectly.
The enemies are tough on their own, but where things really get difficult is with the gamut of bosses you need to take down. These fights are lengthy and difficult because they often require your entire party to be leveled and equipped to the best of their ability and even one weak link could cause your downfall.
Games like Darkest Dungeon clearly take inspiration from Valkryie Profile’s unforgiving take on difficult dungeon crawling and to this day, I have yet to see a game that hits harder emotionally combat-wise.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter has always been for the hardcore gamers out there and it wasn’t until Monster Hunter World that the rest of the world got clued in to what made this game series so special.
Monster Hunter World is all about hunting and defeating giant monsters. While this is often the goal of many games, few do it as in-depth as Monster Hunter World. You don’t just have to fight these monsters, you first have to lure them out and that can be as tough to pull off as the encounters themselves.
The monsters fight like actual creatures and their AI is incredibly sophisticated and hard to take advantage of. Depending on what you’re facing, you might need to take on a flying creature, a monstrous dinosaur, a speedy lizard, and everything in between. Each monster requires you to study up on their moves and habits before even taking a real stab at them and resource management is beyond crucial when it comes to defeating one of these beasts.
The best part about the game is that there are always more monsters for you to take on. It’s an incredibly long experience that only gets longer and more challenging with the DLC that’s been added and if you think you’re ready to take on a different breed of RPG, there are none with more challenges or innovation than Monster Hunter World
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is only not even 6 years old and it’s already one of the most praised games of all time. That praise is well warranted and part of what makes this game so great is the challenge that comes with it. While there are multiple difficulties you can choose from at any time, most know that the only real way to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is on Death March. The reason for this is how it emphasizes you to prepare and really think like a Witcher.
This is where The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt really separates itself from the competition. You’re not just fighting monsters here, you’re learning to hunt them, studying their weaknesses, and preparing before fights even start. This includes making potions, crafting bombs, using traps, and any other way you can get the upper hand on these terrifying creatures that cause chaos in your world.
Often, some of the toughest fights in the game take place in the completely optional Witcher hunts, which have you tracking down a creature that’s been ailing a town or city. ell.
There aren’t a ton of bosses in the main storyline, but towards the end of the game, you’ll run up against 3 bosses in a short period of time that are so tough that it wouldn’t be hard to see them appear in a Dark Souls game.
If you’ve never tried the game before, please, just start it on Death March. This is not a soft and friendly world and there is no reason to fool yourself into it by not playing this game on the true difficulty it was meant to have.
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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