Visual novels, walking simulators and Lego games aside, most video games feature at least some sort of failure, or death, state.
"You died" says Dark Souls and Bloodborne, laughing maniacally as you make your 100th attempt at only the second boss of the game. Still, they know you'll be back—ready to throw yourself again and again at that brick wall in the hopes of inching ever close to the next bonfire.
These games treat death as a learning device, and they plan on teaching you the same lesson over and over: that nothing easy is worth having. You'll die countless times but, with enough perseverance, you might just make it. And that's exactly what they're counting on: that nagging, competitive voice in your head that says, "just one more try and I can beat this thing."
Will you rise to the challenge?
Here are 10 sadistically hard games to test your metal…
Devil May Cry 3
Compared to the rest of the series, Devil May Cry 3 is harder and more unforgiving than any of its predecessors.
In fact, the hardest setting – Dante Must Die – increases all enemy health by 300% compared to normal difficulty. This makes the game technically twice as hard as its predecessor, DMC2.
What happened? Why the sudden spike in difficulty?
Well, if you're old enough to remember, Devil May Cry 2 was panned upon release for being too watered down compared to the original. It was also much easier, requiring players to focus less on strategy and combos in favour of repetitive button-mashing. Trust me, it's really bad.
In response, Capcom wanted the sequel to set things right and, in most people's opinion, that's exactly what it did. The end result is a merciless, gruelling experience that punishes anything short of total perfection.
Slay the Spire
Released in 2017, Slay the Spire is a rouge-like, deck building game in which players collect, purchase and transform cards in the hopes of creating a powerful enough deck to—well, slay the spire. It's in the name, really.
What's really challenging about the game is that, every time you die, you start over completely from scratch. Completing a run contributes points towards unlocking new cards and relics which, in theory, make the game easier. Trouble is, events are entirely randomised so, no matter how many times you play, and no matter what cards you encounter, you're never guaranteed to even make it past the first stage.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
This won't be the last FromSoftware game to feature on this list. Let's be real.
From Demon's Souls to Elden Ring, the company has built its reputation around wonderfully detailed, painstakingly crafted games that just so happen to be insanely difficult. I mean, they're masterpieces – don't get me wrong – but they're also completely unforgiving and downright sadistic.
Like Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice requires complete dedication and a huge amount of patience. However, the combat is much faster paced, requiring split-second reflexes and a more aggressive style of play.
Unlike the Souls games, it's less about stamina management – or hiding behind your shield – and much more about taking chances and really bringing the fight to your foes. Master the combat and you'll have a much easier time but, even then, the game likes to throw you curveballs. Take the Guardian Ape for example, which resurrects itself after death into a second, even more powerful form.
Yeah, thanks for that FromSoftware.
Released originally in 2004, Mushihimesama is a vertical, bullet hell shooter in which players are tasked with mowing down hordes of insects, called Koju.
Even on easy, the gameplay moves at lightning speed with players expected to juggle multiple on-screen enemies at once. Timing is also very important, especially on "Maniac" and "Ultra" – the hardest difficulty settings.
Ultra, in particular, is downright demented. The final boss – who's become a bit of a meme at this point – envelops the whole screen in projectiles and gives you almost no wiggle room to dodge out of the way. This, coupled with the fact that you're expected to beat the whole thing in one go, makes Mushihimesama a mad, psychedelic nightmare of a time.
If someone put a gun to your head and gave you two seconds to name the hardest game ever made, you'd probably say Dark Souls.
Released in 2011, the game was marketed with the slogan "prepare to die" which, to be fair, is 100% accurate. Like Sekiro, Bloodborne and Elden Ring, Dark Souls treats death as a learning device. You're expected to die, and die a lot, so you better get used to it.
If you challenge a boss without adequate preparation, you're dead. If you don't parry at the right moment before an attack, you're dead. In fact, take the wrong path or open the wrong chest and guess what? You're dead. Even the first boss – the Asylum Demon – if you don't know what you're doing, can dispatch you without a second thought. And that's just the tutorial.
Released in 2015, Bloodborne is no slouch in the difficulty department. In fact, the mixture of guns and swords, combined with a more versatile combat system, makes Bloodborne a lot more challenging than Dark Souls.
For one thing, hiding behind a shield and tip-toeing your way to the next bonfire just isn't so much of an option anymore. Instead, the game necessitates a more aggressive style of combat, rewarding players who make the first move and take the fight to their enemies.
This can be pretty daunting, especially if you're accustomed to the methodical, stamina-based gameplay of Dark Souls.
Also, if you thought the Asylum Demon was tough, that guy's got nothing on Cleric Boss—a giant monster guarding the cathedral and surrounded by werewolves. Yeah, welcome to the nightmarish world of Yharnam.
Darkest Dungeon, released in 2016, is a cruel, unforgiving experience. Not only do you have to take into account your characters' health, but you also have to worry about their sanity. When stress levels reach 100/200, they'll start to lose their minds, causing negative status effects. Healing also hardly does anything and, in terms of money, you spend most of the time broke.
The tag line should be "Darkest Dungeon: From Bad to Worse."
Even when you're doing well, things usually take a turn. Defeat an enemy and he'll turn into a rotting corpse, preventing you from landing further attacks. In fact, pretty much everything you do has a negative outcome. It's all about balancing the bad with the bad and trying to make the most of what you have, which isn't a lot.
It should come as no surprise that Elden Ring is tough. Is it harder than Dark Souls or Bloodborne, though? Well, that's complicated.
Released in 2022, Elden Ring is similar to Dark Souls in a lot of ways. Even common enemies pose a considerable threat and, every now and then, something nasty comes along and completely ruins your day. In Dark Souls though, you're usually restricted to small encounters (although there are plenty of exceptions to this) but, in Elder Ring, enemies will swarm you out of nowhere. Areas like Ainsel River and Castle Morne are particularly tough, requiring players to contend with more than a dozen enemies at once.
I hope you like two-on-one boss fights, because there's plenty of those too. You've got the Cleanrot Knights, Grafted Scions and the Demi-Human Chiefs just to name a few, and don't even get me started on the Godskin Duo.
A lot of the games on this list are hard because they're supposed to be hard. They were designed with challenge in mind. Elden Ring may seem unfair but, with enough patience, players are given the chance to learn from their mistakes and "get good" as veteran players like to say.
Released in 1991, Battletoads is a different story entirely. First of all, you pretty much have to co-op the game due to the insane, unrealistic expectations of the single player. For some reason though, co-op players can hurt each other—which means you spend the whole time more concerned about your partner than the actual enemies. It's infuriating!
Considered by many to be the hardest game ever made, Battletoads is sure to ruin any friendship, so bear this in mind.
Make no mistake, Demon's Souls is more challenging and less forgiving than Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Elden Ring.
Bonfires are few and far between – usually in inconvenient spots and quite a distance from the boss – health items are scarce and enemies all have unique vulnerabilities, meaning you have to constantly vary your weapon choice and approach depending on your circumstances.
I think an argument can be made that the bosses are more challenging in Dark Souls but, due to the lack of shortcuts, Demon's Souls requires players to trek greater distances to re-challenge them. There are also plenty of random difficulty spikes that make Demon's Souls more unpredictable and chaotic. You can never be sure exactly what to expect.