This Is Not The Game I Signed Up For

No objections to this scene in Hollow Knight. The part of the game that riled me would be a spoiler, so I’m not showing it.

In the game’s 46th hour, I finally got frustrated about a design choice in Hollow Knight. I won’t spoil it in anything but the vaguest terms, but I’m sure anyone who has played enough games can relate.

You’re playing a game and you think it’s one thing, maybe a first-person shooter. Then suddenly, right at the end, it becomes a timed driving challenge. Why, Halo, why?

Or maybe the game is an entertaining third-person exploration game, and then right near the end, it becomes a punishing platformer. No, Recore, no!

Sometimes it’s a genre change, and sometimes it’s a difficulty spike that makes me loathe the last chapter of a game I’ve otherwise liked or loved.

I never finished Final Fantasy X and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year, because the games’ final bosses required me to turn back from the way I was playing—marching steadily through it, beating all enemies in my way—and do something I didn’t want to do, which was fight all of those enemies again and again to level up so I could beat the boss. 

Video games end more like school years than like books. Many don’t just give you the flourish of a final sequence of events but instead give you a final exam. They’re generally supposed to be tough at the end.

That’s fine, but there’s a thin line between challenge and a cheap twist or sudden ramp up in difficulty. Much as I enjoy finishing games that have concrete endings, I’m no fan of uber-hard boss battles that require grinding. I’m also not much of a fan of final gameplay genre twists, not unless they make sense, or unless they seem to be in the spirit of entertaining or intriguing the player rather than just forestalling the end. (Much love to Banjo-Kazooie’s bizarre transformation into a quiz show right before its finale, a test of the player’s ability to recognise the sights and sounds of the game they just spent hours playing.)

All this elevated critique (or pathetic whining, take your pick) is due to the trials I’ve experienced trying to get the better ending in Hollow Knight, that Metroid-style game I’ve previously using my keyboard to froth over.

The game has two endings, as best I can tell. There’s an easy one that you get by doing the game’s standard mix of slightly difficult exploring and much more challenging boss battles. Then there’s the tough ending, which requires a lot more exploring, some tougher boss battles and a final sequence that makes me go … really? I must be on track for the tougher ending, because the game turned, two nights ago, into a masocore platformer full of constant death.

If not for an optional item I’d found that gives you a wait to heal while standing still, I’d be screwed. Before now, the game has asked for nothing close to this level of platforming skill. There has been no gradual increase in platforming challenge as there is with the game’s steadily tougher combat. It’s a game with some moderately difficult platforming, then suddenly, chambers of constant death. You’re killing me, Hollow Knight!

After weeks of nightly Hollow Knight enjoyment, I’ve spent the last two nights playing with a frown, urgently wanting this latest section of the game to end. Late last night, I finally cleared it and texted a colleague. That terrible part, he assured me, was over.

I’d known my pursuit of the better ending would be tough. I had even prepared myself for the possibility that, given how hard I’d heard the game would get, I might not ever finish it. I just expected to hit my limit with a really tough boss battle since that is what the game seemed to be pointing toward.

And maybe I will. But to get there, I had to play through something that didn’t feel like the rest of the game I was playing.

You’ve been there, too, I bet. The game is one thing, and then suddenly it’s another. It’s not the game you signed up for. Do you play through?


Comments

    I remember being completely blown away by ending of Halo: CE. Such a great way to finish a game.

      I thought it was a great way to end the game. A big change from how FPS games at the time usually had a boss fight.

    Is it the same though? its still the same style of game - platformer, but with a steep increase in difficulty.

    I dont know if that is the same as the other examples you use where the actual style changes from one type (platforming) to another (racer)

      he said "and sometimes it’s a difficulty spike that makes me loathe the last chapter of a game I’ve otherwise liked or loved" i also mis read that part.

    Ah yes, the platforming challenge in The White Palace I got stuck there for a night. Just couldn't clear it no matter what I did, so I came back to it again the next day and passed it.

    Hard genre shift late game...hmmm can't think of any that I've played. Well except for FF15, starts off open world then rail roads you to the finish once you've cleared enough of the story.

    I'm sure anyone who has played Drakengard III has felt a mix of love and hate for the ending.

      Dude, this is the exact game I was thinking of the entire time readjng this story. I spent 4 hours trying to do it, even with my iPad set up with a YT vid with the button prompts, perfectly timed... couldn't do it. Holy shit is that final sequence a massive F U to the player.

      I fricken love it though. It makes so much thematic sense in such a weird cathartic way. Never will be able to beat it though. Eventually was happy to just watch the final cutscene on YouTube.

        Eventually was happy to just watch the final cutscene on YouTube.

        This, or install a trainer - on PC.

        It's getting to the point, these days, where if I suspect (from reviews or just intuition and shit-tonne of gaming experience over the decades) that the game is going to be riddled with bugs or ramp up the difficult to impenetrably un-fun levels, I ONLY buy it on PC where I can be confident that I can fuck its shit up with cheats.

    Sounds like it must have been SUPER hard! but isnt it still the same game genre?

      "and sometimes it’s a difficulty spike that makes me loathe the last chapter of a game I’ve otherwise liked or loved" my mistake, i miss read the article.

      I am really worried about getting tot his point in the game! sounds so tough!

      I would say no. That's like comparing castlevania to mario.

      Imagine if the last level of half life is one long timed jumping puzzle. Just because jumping is something you can do in game doesn't mean the game you're playing is defined by it.

    Original Deus Ex Human Revolution, you start with a stealth non-lethal takedown route... all your skill points and gear. End up locked in a room in a boss fight to the death. Many people got stuck, huge outrage. I didnt ask for this.

    Eventually they added a re-cut of the game with non lethal takedowns for bosses, but the original issue was compounded by the fact they gave the boss stages to a seperate third party developer.

    I just want to say, "Rayman 2"
    mostly because we had a old N64 and no controller expansion pack so we could never save. But I tried to play through without turning it off and that game never stopped swapping genres! eventually someone (pet most likely) bumped the cartridge and the n64 needed to be reset... Queue title sequence... never finished.

    This phenomenon is probably why I never finished Brutal Legend.

    White Palace and Path of Pain got to you, huh? I thought it was nice to mix things up because the game has excellent platforming mechanics. In fact I was surprised the platforming aspects took so long to be introduced and it was only one area by the time it came around.

    I felt like this when I hit the FPS level in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. I just stopped playing, that level was so annoying, and not what I wanted from a Splinter Cell game. C'est les vie.

    I thought white palace was the best part of the game and I support the idea that if you want to finish the giod ending then you should earn it. I know when I finished it I felt like I accomplished something which i think is the best feeling a game can give.

    I think you're being a bit harsh on Hollow Knight. The bit you're talking about is definitely hard, but it's not totally out of place and the devs have given you all the tools you need to pass it.

    Before you get to the White Palace, you'll already have done some fairly challenging jumping puzzles, like in the bottom-left of Greenpath to get to Nailmaster Sheo or around the Crystal Peak. These puzzles teach you all the movements you'll need to finish the White Palace, including the tricky drop-dash-doublejump sequences. The Goams in the Forgotten Waterways taught you to time your jumps and falls, and how to use your nail to bounce of hazards. The game has given you all the skills you need.
    The developers also deliberately put Hiveblood in the game to give you infinite chances on each part of the jumping puzzles (it heals way too slowly to be useful in any of the combat encounters - this is what it's there for!

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