If at first you don’t succeed, try again, and again, and again…or quit?
The concept of failure in video games has been a hot topic in my head of late as I juggle between Slay the Spire and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. In both games, players die a lot. However, I can’t stop playing the former and I’m not that enthused to pick the other back up.
Slay the Spire is a Roguelike. Failure is inherent to the genre, as your goal is to eventually beat the game in one continuous run. Despite having lost dozens of times before finally winning a run with The Ironclad, my morale never faltered.
Failure happens a lot, but there’s a lot of success in between losses. I feel great each time I beat an enemy, gain new cards, or make forward progress in the spire. The pain that comes with demise stings, but my memory of that run is mostly positive cause of all the tangible successes along the way. Even when you die, the pain is eased thanks to your characters leveling up, unlocking new cards, and gaining a power-up for the next run.
The handling of failure in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is different. Taking heavy cues from classic platformers of the 80s, this is a punishing trek through demonic castles and landscapes. Though its default difficulty is never as brutal as the games that inspired it, I oftentimes die in quick succession with nothing positive to show for my efforts. Even though I love the first game, dying repeatedly in the same spots of the sequel have largely killed my drive to play more.
Yes, there are numerous checkpoints throughout each level. Yes, you have to exhaust your entire lineup of characters before it actually counts as a lost life. Yes, I can lower the difficulty. Yes, if I really put my heart into it, I probably could eventually push through. It’s certainly not a Dark Souls situation where I’m resigned to it being a completely hopeless cause for me. At this point in time, my desire to overcome that kind of challenge has evaporated.
With Bloodstained: Circle of the Moon 2 in particular, I don’t want entire runs to be sabotaged because the character designed for this section suffered an instant kill by falling into a pit. The other three characters technically can get by, but it’s considerably harder if you don’t have the right characters for the job. Losing one character is basically a fast-track to losing all four.
They warn you about the potential for getting knocked back into pits when you get hit on Veteran difficulty, but it still feels cheap every time. Casual difficulty removes the knock-back for those who don’t want to deal with that particular aspect of the game.
Some players love these level of punishment for fail states. This is why games like Dark Souls exist. It harkens back to a time when games handled failure in this way, which is absolutely the intent behind Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. Right now, I’m just not in the mood for it.
The way that games handle fail states can really shift one’s desire to play. In certain games, just a few failures can be enough for me to banish them to the shadow realm. Meanwhile, I’ve died over 1,000 times in each of my Celeste playthroughs and have loved every minute of it. How has the handling of fail states impacted your ability to power through certain games?
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