Every time some kind of Souls-like (or whatever you want to call it) comes out, we get this discourse again. And every time it happens, opinions fly in all directions about how accessibility in gaming is really bad and how easy modes should be more normalized, but also about how demands for easy mode are not always feasible to answer because it often requires sacrificing integrity of gameplay. I think it’s only recently I’ve actually started seeing proper discussion of the added nuance that, actually, everyone’s suggestions for an “easy mode” are really oversimplified and don’t add the kind of accessibility that would be genuinely helpful (I particularly like this article about it).
Now, I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I can at least see if my own perspective provides anything helpful, or if anyone else understands what I’m talking about. So let me say that I am in the audience of people who can’t play action games at all. I love video games, but the majority of what I play is turn-based, and I struggle with anything that requires reacting quickly — mostly action games, fighting games, platformers, and the like — because my reaction time is completely screwed up. I used to consider this just a personal failure, and that maybe I just really sucked at this and had to accept it, but after a while it turned out that I do actually enjoy challenge, and it’s not that my overall “speed” or motor skills are necessarily that terrible (for instance, I’m fairly good at certain rhythm games, because I know the song and what to expect at a strict pattern). If it weren’t for my reaction time problems, I probably would enjoy the process of spotting enemy reads and figuring out what move to take in order to act accordingly.
Unfortunately, most action games fall under one or both of the following problems for me:
- The enemy signal of what they’re about to do next is too unclear. This has especially gotten worse with modern 3D games, because now there are so many fancy animations and hyper-realistic graphic detail portions that I can’t figure out what’s supposed to be a tell and what’s just part of the general idle animation. By the time I’ve figured it out, I’ve already gotten hit.
- There’s too little time between the tell and the attack. I’m trying to memorize the enemy’s move list and remember which ideal action corresponds to what, but (especially if I’m having difficulty figuring out what the tell even is) by the time my brain has figured out what’s going to happen and ready to react accordingly, I’ve already gotten hit.
The problem is that everyone’s favorite concept of “easy mode” usually just boils down to “reduce enemy HP, increase player damage, reduce damage player takes”. That doesn’t actually help the above problems. Sure, “easy mode” is definitely easier for me, in that even if I get hit a hundred times (which is probably going to inevitably happen when I can’t react to reads quickly enough no matter how hard I try) I won’t die, and I’ll still do decent amounts of damage even if my attack pattern is suboptimal. But you didn’t actually make the game fun. You just made the game theoretically possible if I mash buttons, I don’t understand why I won, and it doesn’t feel earned at all. So I still have no reason to be interested in the game because it’s not going to be fun either way, just “impossible” or “possible but boring”.
I think it’s possible for me to play more action games if there were more ways to deal with the fact my thinking process is fundamentally slow. I’m not against thinking hard, and I’m not against trying to be engaged. I mean, I play Atelier; I’m not a huge minmaxer or anything, but I could easily spend hours making high-level synths, and I have been pretty decent at very simple things that make me have to act in real time accordingly. While it’s not a huge accomplishment or anything, I was very satisfied figuring out the right timing for Infight Battles in Blue Reflection: Second Light. So if action game devs could make their tells actually readable for me, and give me a bit more breathing room to figure out what tell is being used and prepare accordingly, I think I could get behind that kind of easy mode (or adjustment slider, or whatever), and far more so than if you just mixed up the HP and damage numbers or something. And I get that’s a lot of dev overhead rather than just mixing numbers! But I’m telling you this is what I actually would like to see more and would rather push for, rather than just equating “theoretically possible to clear now”.