In Defense of Easy Mode

Metal-Gear-Rising-Revengeance

I felt a little uneasy upon slipping Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance into my 360 for the first time. I’m a diehard Metal Gear fan, and my studies of the series’ complicated, nonsensical lore border on an obsession, but this wasn’t the plodding, predictably rhythmic stealth gameplay I was used to; Revengeance is a game for the hair-trigger crowd, a game where the best defense (or only defense, due to the lack of a dedicated “block” button) is an unrelenting offense. I hadn’t played any of Platinum’s previous games, nor any of Revengeance‘s spiritual predecessors like Ninja Gaiden or Heavenly Sword, so I began to feel like I was a little bit out of my depth, this being my first lightning-quick melee action game and all. I had heard prerelease rumours about the game’s difficulty being comparable to Platinum’s previous super-hardcore hit Bayonetta, and a friend of mine (who is much, much more skilled at these kinds of games than I am) confirmed the rumours upon release. I became worried whether I’d even be able to beat the damn thing, and I hadn’t even played it yet.

As I began adjusting my menu options upon starting a new game, I paused at the difficulty select screen. I knew that if I picked “normal,” I would undoubtedly kick the bucket more than a few times, and I really, really wasn’t looking forward to trying to take down those infamous Platinum Games bosses. So I struggled with some shame for a few minutes, then decided I really didn’t give a damn whether anyone knew I played Metal Gear Rising on easy mode, and just went ahead and dialed down the difficulty.  It proved to be the right decision; although the game is laughably easy (not once have I ever been in danger of dying), easy mode has allowed me to just power through the repetitive combat and quickly get from cutscene to cutscene, which is admittedly what I’m really playing the game for. In all honesty, I think I’m also enjoying the combat far more than I would’ve playing on a higher difficulty; the absence of any imminent danger has allowed me to get really creative with my combos, allowing me to go for style pointz rather than fall back on the frantic button-mashing that characterized my early acclimation period.

It’s not often that I play through a game on easy mode (in fact, Metal Gear Rising is the first one I can recall), and it’s possible that’s due to that ugly Internet stigma against games these days being too easy (a thinly veiled “uphill both ways in the snow” argument if there ever was one). If there’s anything that a hardcore gamer is more insecure about (other than fake gamer girls), it’s being perceived as a casual. I’ve never considered a punishing level of difficulty to be  a selling point for me, mainly because I get absolutely no pleasure from a masochistic, frustrating gameplay experience. I don’t find replaying a section of a game over and over again very fun; I enjoy quickly making progress and moving on to see the next piece of new content. There becomes a point where the “challenge” quickly boils over into “apathy,” and I can no longer bring myself to keep banging my head against a wall.

Part of my decision to play MGR on easy mode also had to do with what I personally wanted out of the game. Like all Metal Gear games, I was really just in it for the story, for the melodramatic monologues to the poetic treatises on the nature of war. The story itself , with major conceits centering around the war economy, electrolytes, and orphan brains, is just the kind of psychotic, nonsensical mess I was hoping for. So by allowing myself to just waltz through the combat, I don’t feel like I was sacrificing a major part of the experience; someone who played Ninja Gaiden for the super-difficult combat sequences might, but I didn’t. There are certain difficult games that I’ve indeed mastered in the past (Fire Emblem and Super Meat Boy come to mind), so it’s not like I can’t handle challenging games, but I ain’t always up for it. I play games for pleasure, not to work myself up into a rage.

Having tried easy mode and actually enjoyed it, I think it’s entirely possible that I might make the switch for other games in the future. When I began playing Fire Emblem: Awakening last month, a game in a series that I’ve always played using self-imposed limitations to artificially make the game harder (why I continue to do so is beyond me, but it’s like tradition now, I guess), I considered turning permadeath off and enabling mid-battle saving, which many diehards would claim is blasphemy. I ended up leaving it on, and I suffered many character deaths and forced restarts over the course of the game.  Awakening is one of those rare games that is so damn good I don’t care if I have to replay an hour of gameplay, but I still wonder if I could have saved myself some time by just disabling permadeath and enabling saving. Let the trolls have my supposed “dignity”; in the future, I’ll just enjoy my games on whatever terms I please, thank you very much.

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8 thoughts on “In Defense of Easy Mode

  1. I’m totally with you on this. I play most games on normal or easy — rarely do I venture into more difficult levels these days. Sorry to say, I just don’t have the time for the challenge any more. When I only have an hour or two a week to play, I want them to be very enjoyable, progression-filled hours, not rage-enducing, curse-filled hours. I think the last game I played on high difficulty was Mass Effect — I knew the game so well by that point that “difficult” didn’t seem so bad.

    • Yeah, Mass Effect 2 was one of the few games I played on Hard. I did it solely because it was the only way to get that geth assault rifle on Haestrom, but afterward, I forgot to shift the difficulty back down to Normal. Left it on Hard for the rest of the game and was able to complete it just fine. Having played through the game three times now, it really is one of those games I can beat in my sleep solely due to having memorized the enemy positions and attack patterns.

  2. Great post. I’m with you! Being an RPG fan, I play a lot of games for the story first, so I’m happy to breeze through them on easy or normal to enjoy the cutscenes. If I love the game, I might replay it on a higher difficulty, just because I’m more used to the combat at that point.

    Other games I play for the gameplay and challenge — and this might be one of them. Even so, if the difficulty is adjustable I prefer to start out on an easy or normal difficulty and crank it up as I feel fit enough for it. Few things feel worse than having to lower the difficulty for a tedious boss battle after dying a hundred times. But it feels great to increase difficulty and think, “This is too easy, I must be getting good at this!” A challenge can be good sometimes, but I like to think games should be fun all the time!

    • Adjustable difficulty is a must. It’s impossible to judge how difficult a game is going to be based on the first few hours because those levels are generally easy by design. There’s nothing worse than starting a game on Hard, breezing through the first half and thinking it’s not so bad, then getting your ass kicked by the second half once “Hard Mode” truly kicks in, and then having to restart from the beginning because you can’t simply turn down the difficulty on the fly. Frustrating, and ultimately a waste of time.

  3. As it has been said in the previous comments, I’m the same way. I either play on easy or normal. I haven’t ventured to try out the harder modes. The main thing being I’m fairly newish to the gaming scene, and as Cary has mentioned, I don’t have as much free time to challenge my skills in a game. If I play, I want to enjoy the game for the story and to have fun. I still curse on normal mode, but at least I can eventually figure out how to get to the next part of the game. I hate to be stuck on a game when I can’t figure out how to beat something. Trust me, it has happened to me on more than one occasion. This is why certain games are left unfinished because I don’t know how to get to the next part. Very frustrating!

  4. Great read! Lately I’ve been doing the opposite, whereas I used to play on easy or normal I am now playing on hard and above. Though I wholeheartedly support all difficult because there are some games, like Revengeance, that are just darn difficult. I played it through on normal, though I wish I picked easy because at times it felt way to hard for me, resulting in my calling upon my boyfriend for a little help.

    I think that for some reason this stigma that games are too easy has lead certain gamers to brag about how talented they are for completing games on hard and put others down for completing it on easy – which is just awful and separates the gamers into individual groups instead of the one group of “gamers”. Games are meant to be fun and if fun is not being had due to the game being too much of a challenge there should be no shame whatsoever in lowering the difficulty. I guess the competitive nature of online gaming caught up to single player gaming, causing some individuals to use their ability to beat games on the hardest setting against others.

  5. I absolutely agree with you that it’s all about having fun with the game, so it really shouldn’t matter whether you play it on normal, hard or easy. It’s all about what you want to get out of the game and how comfortable you feel about the difficulty level. It seems totally pointless to me to try to force yourself to play at a level that’s just too difficult for you, because then as you said, it just ceases to become fun anymore and just becomes repetitive chore.
    Personally, I love a good challenge, so I like turning up the difficulty if I feel comfortable with the controls. I must admit that I don’t think I’ve ever played a game on easy before, but not because I turn my nose up at it or anything. From my perspective, there’s absolutely no shame in it. I just enjoy that feeling of personal accomplishment I get by getting through a difficult fight. If there’s a boss I can’t beat, I won’t let it go until I’ve bloody well done it, no matter how much cursing and frustration I go through and I love it! Maybe I am just a masochist. :P I don’t do that with all gamest though and if I’m playing a game mainly for the story I’ll always play on normal before I move onto hard, if I do that at all. I think it’s all about what appeals to you personally. The people who say games ‘should’ be played in a certain way are the ones missing out to be honest.

  6. No shame at all. I tend to play a game through on Easy for the enjoyment and experience first time, and then if I’ve enjoyed it enough and reckon it’s worth another go, then I’ll put it on Hard. When you write about lots of games, you don’t really have time to be dying and retrying tonnes and tonnes and trudging through games (though retro games do it to me anyway lol). :)

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