I recently purchased Final Fantasy I&II for the Game Boy Advance. It is, of course, a sort of re-release of the original Nintendo games, with a few extra things such as new bosses and dungeons, as well as slightly updated graphics. They're basically the same games I played so many years ago...but there is one glaring difference between them: difficulty.
Throughout both games I remember arduously leveling up my characters every time a new dungeon appeared on the horizon. I can remember spending a lot of time simply fighting baddies for experience. Yet, here I was playing a version that made each game defeatable in about 15 to 20 hours. Why the blatant change in difficulty level?
It has been done before. Game companies would change aspects of a game depending on the crowd they were trying to reach. Difficulty is most often the first thing that is changed. A great example is Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in the U.S.). When it was first ported to America, the difficulty was lessened. In fact, the true Japanese Final Fantasy IV got nicknamed 'Final Fantasy IV Hard Version.' Later on this version was released along with Chrono Trigger on the Playstation. But when Americans first received it, the difficulty had been toned down in order to accommodate the preferences of the typical American RPG gamer at the time.
Generally, however, Japanese RPGs in the 8-bit and 16-bit era were directly ported to the U.S., and so back then we were as "hard-core" as ever. But as many have probably noticed, RPG games are definitely not as difficult as they were 10 or so years ago. My theory is that as RPG gaming became more mainstream, game companies have had to cater to a different crowd. Mainstream gamers are less likely to be willing to spend hours leveling up, and thus a drop in difficulty is required. Final Fantasy I&II is an obvious example of this. The crowd SquareEnix is aiming at probably isn't interested in spending hours leveling up; thus the change was basically necessary.
But as sensible as this all sounds, a large group of people get shafted: those that enjoyed simply wasting away the day building experience. The 'Hardcore' gamers! When the difficulty in games is made to fit the mainstream crowd, many RPG gamers that have grown up playing games like Dragon Warrior I may get upset. Luckily, there have been some recent examples in which we can see Game Companies catering to both the 'play once and move on' gamer and the 'beat it, then beat it again with 4 white mages' gamer. Going back yet again to Final Fantasy I&II, we can see where the added bosses and dungeons were made especially difficult, just for the 'hardcore'.
Other games include even Final Fantasy X-2. There are many differing opinions on this game, but, say what you will, the game does a great job in terms of difficulty. Given its linear structure, in order to beat it without doing everything SquareEnix set it up so that those who only played the bare minimum amount of missions could complete the game. Those that wanted to fight everything there was to fight could complete the game also...with more difficulty involved. Each was rewarded differently, with alternate endings and such. This is a great example of how game companies can balance a game out so that the hardcore gamer AND the mainstream gamer can both enjoy a game.
Basically, this editorial is meant to show support for the RPGs described above that make sure to cater to all kinds of gamers. Often times companies will make games catering to only one crowd, and as a result it will often alienate itself. I hate when this happens because sometimes I would like my game to be a little harder, and then other times I will just want to play a game because of the story... so of course I wouldn't be as concerned with the difficulty. When RPG creators create a playing field that welcomes everyone, they should be applauded. We, as gamers, should applaud them.
I guess you can call me Goldilocks, because I don't like my games too cold and I don't like them too hot. I simply want them 'just right.'