Let's talk about some frustratingly difficult games, chaps. I've played a bunch of those in my life, growing up with old NES and DOS games. Back in the day, beating a game being difficult was a given, almost all of them were designed to be a challenge. However, a select few of them were less of a game and more of an elaborate torture device - one crafted specifically with one single goal in mind, that is, to turn the player into a broken, neurotic wreck.
One such game I want to present to you good people is Demise - Rise of the Ku'tan. A game I have had a love/hate relationship with for almost half of my life.
This being a very niche and not really popular game, I doubt many of you are familiar with this title. So, what is it, exactly?
Demise is an old-school dungeon crawler, one coming from a proud lineage starting way back in 1977 with Oubliette, continuing through Avatar, Mordor and ending with Demises very own fan-made expansion/revamp called Demise: Ascension (13 years after the initial release!), one of two that were in development (the one that didn't quite make it to release status is called Demise: The Revelation and can still be found around here and there - in fact, it is the version I am currently playing myself).
The basic premise is very simple - you create a character, picking from one of nine races (human, elf, giant, gnome, dwarf, ogre, yeti, saris, troll) and three alignments (good, neutral, evil), choose which guild will the character initially join thus determining its starting class (artisan, warrior, paladin, ninja, villain, explorer, thief, barbarian, magi, warlock, sorcerer, cleric, membership limited by alignment, race and attribute scores) and distributing a few spare points among your six character attributes - strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence and charisma.
After generating a character you enter the town, where you can obtain plot quests, check the billboard for bounties, visit the guild house to increase your class level, sell and buy items at the shop, resurrect a character at the morgue, store your shit at the bank, go to the town seer to get some spells cast on you or divine the location of a monster or item, check the confinement to buy and sell companion monsters and, finally, enter The Dungeon, where the
rape magic happens.
Gameplay is very simple as well. The game runs on a horribly dated 3D engine, the entire dungeon is a predetermined 30-level (more in the expansions) grid-based 45x45 squares-per-level monstrosity. There's a map which you fill yourself as you explore each level, square by square. Combat is turn-based with initiative resolved in real time, although you can pause it at any time to pick a spell to cast or use an item on your turn.
But what makes it so difficult exactly, you may ask? It seems so simple, straightforward... rudimentary, even. Well, let me fucking tell you.
For starters, the very first character you create will always end up being a useless gimp later on. Always. It's probably what turned most first-timers away from this game - when you suddenly realize that after hours and hours of playing, your character is simply too much of a chickenshit to make the cut in the deeper levels of the dungeon. That Roger the Ogre Barbarian who you cared for, nurtured, saw through many hardships and seen grow from a tiny ogre baby to a manly ogre killing machine is a fucking pussy that gets absolutely wrecked no matter what you do. All because you didn't know what the hell you were doing at the very beginning. Oh well.
One cause of this is the HP limitation. You will get a bigger HP increase per-level when you level up the first 20-30-40 levels, up to a certain point - the amount depends on the character class and, more importantly, on your constitution score. Since you can only increase your ability scores via certain potions and books you find in the dungeon, you will inevitably end up with a crippled HP pool. Now, it's not THAT big of a deal, in fact, you can make up for it with a good character build. Which takes me to the second cause - the guild/race system.
Hoo-boy. Okay, so you pick one guild at the very start - but you can actually join more than one. The amount of guilds you can join is only limited by your race, natural ability scores and alignment - in fact, if you want your character to actually be good, you need to be in several guilds (with some exceptions, Villains and Ninjas for example make for decent solo guild characters, more on that later).
The reason for that is simple survivability. A good example of this is starting off with a caster character. Who doesn't like to blast away nasty monsters with fireballs and thunderbolts. Might seem like a good idea, right? Hell yeah, let's throw some spells in this bitch. Wrong. Dead wrong. In this game, if your character doesn't know how to fight with weapons, he or she is completely fucked. Combat magic only takes you so far - between mana not naturally regenerating, even the weakest spells being prohibitively expensive to cast at the beginning (and later on as you have to cast stronger spells to keep up with the stronger monsters deeper in the dungeon), having to memorize which monsters are resistant and immune to which effects and how will your specific spell damage fare off against their HP, playing a caster without any fighting ability in this game is simply impossible in the long run.
In short, versatility is the name of the game. You don't want a caster that doesn't know how to fight, but you also don't want a fighter that doesn't know any spells. Magic is still crucial, even if useful purely on a situational basis. And you probably want to throw some thieving ability into the mix as well. Starting out, you don't know any of that - a good strategy is making a simple fighter, say, a giant warrior, to scrounge the first few levels of the dungeon for loot to pass on to any actual characters that you want to make.
One other thing that makes most first characters complete garbage are the experience penalties. Different races come with different experience penalty rates, same as guilds, which, in certain race/guild combos can yield a character that requires an absolutely insane amount of experience to level up. You gain your Attack and Defence scores (how likely your character is to hit a monster and avoid a hit from a monster respectively, also increased by bonuses bestowed from equipped items and ability scores) from your leading guild (the guild in which your character has the most levels), but the more levels the character has in its leading guild, the bigger the penalties are for levelling up in the other guilds its in.. which is further increased by the inherent racial experience gain penalty. So while you level, say, your warrior class your villain class penalty can easily run into hundreds of thousands or even millions of experience points required just to gain one single level. And yes, that is a lot.
Might seem like it's easier to just go with a solo guild character. However, you need the class abilities. Fighter-type guilds give you increased ability to do critical hits (absolutely crucial in the deepest reaches of the dungeon) and attack multiple times in a single round. Magic-type guilds give you not only combat spells but also spells which ease movement throughout the dungeon, allow you to resist certain damage types (very important), heal themselves and other party members, and even dominate and use monsters as companions which aid you in combat. Thieving-type guilds make it less likely monsters will steal your shit (yes, some monsters can pilfer your gold or even your items), perform backstab attacks (not as good as critical hits, but still, bonus damage is bonus damage) and give you the ability to identify and disarm traps on treasure chests. Some guilds, like barbarians, ninjas or villains, combine multiple ability types to make for more versatile characters but that comes at the expense of increased experience penalties (villains in particular are ill-advised to be in more guilds than one) and the jack-of-all-trades master of none effect.
So all that to say, making an actual playable character requires knowledge and prior game experience. You need to know which races combo with which guilds well, and which guilds combo with each other well.
Next point, already touched on that - experience. This game is the very definition of a grindfest. This is the motherlode of every man that likes to fap to the idea of working at a sweatshop. This game makes any MMO you can think of seem like a walk in the faggot park, people just sucking dicks and having a good time. In fact just thinking about people whining about grinding in MMO games makes me laugh, after partaking in the excruciating yet strangely satisfying process that is gaining experience points in Demise. If you think you know what grinding is, you know fuck all until you play this game. Theoretically, you can go up to level 999 in every guild your character is in - practically, good fucking luck getting there, since reaching around level 400 takes years (yes, years) of playing. On character builds easy on penalties, that is. And you actually need to be around that level to comfortably defeat every monster in the game (well, in the expansions, at least). Oh yeah.
Speaking of monsters. Well, mobs. Enemies. The Ones That Have The Cool Shit You Want And Make You Stronger When You Kill Them. The pieces of shit in this game do not take any god-damn fucking prisoners. They are finely tuned instruments of destruction, hell-bent on turning your precious character into a jumbled mass of twitching bloody meat. You'll get punched, slashed, crushed, stabbed, burned, frozen, electrocuted, dissolved, drained, paralysed, poisoned, diseased, scared to death, turned into stone, exploded, drowned, decapitated. You will die of old age (yes, your character can die of old age in this game) and have your soul sucked out through your nose. You will die. You will die a lot. Your items will get stolen and destroyed. Your ability scores will get drained. Your HP pool will get permanently reduced. You will be left with no mana, with barely any HP, with no idea where you are and no means to get back into town alive, praying to whatever god you believe in that the next room you go into will finally deliver you from this madness. You will get absolutely fucked. And that's just the beginning.
So yes, this game is frustrating. There's a ton of bugs (most of which are apparently getting fixed in Ascension). The interface is terrible. The mechanics are confusing, esoteric and counter-intuitive. Graphics are ugly. The learning curve so steep you could drop a deuce from it on the moon. But it's still a gaming experience which, for whatever reason, I treasure enough to keep coming back to, for more than a decade, at least several hours per week.
tl;dr - Demise is a rather hard game but I like it.
Any games you guys play/played that you have a sadomasochistic relationship with? Wanna hear what other people torture themselves with.
PS. I omitted some stuff which actually makes the game easier. You can play with a party of up to four characters, for example. But that's for pussies. Also, levelling several characters concurrently in this game is just... painful. You only get experience if you actually deal damage to a monster, so only one or two characters end up gaining any significant experience from fights. Also, there are companions (actual game monsters which were either bought in town, joined the character willingly due to his/her high charisma score, obtained from completing bounties or were dominated with spells), which any character can have four of at a time, and there are some that make it considerably easier to play. But again, proud warriors rely on no-one but themselves... let alone a puddle of purple slime or a stinky cave bear. Fuck bears.