Challenge.

One of the driving reasons behind why we play videos is the challenge they induce. Many of us find trouble enjoying video games that are just too easy - that was one of the more prolific complaints against New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS, for example. The more perfect games tend to have some level of balance or a learning curve - this can often happen by using different difficulties (as in the Kingdom Hearts series), or by implying a need for co-op multiplayer (as with Contra on the NES), or just by starting the game off easy and slowly increasing the difficulty (as most games try to do).

I have been playing video games for the past fourteen years, and played hundreds upon hundreds of them. In such an expanse of time, it is hard to not find games that are harder than the rest. Admittedly, challenge is one of the things that makes games entertaining - if it is done right. There are games, however, that have too much challenge - some absolutely brutal games that are nearly impossible to play without a cheat device, such as Xenon 2 on the PC and Sega Master System. That, in turn, can detract from the overall quality of the video game. Some games, alternatively, are just unusually difficult at some points, such as The Amazing Spider-Man 3 on the GameBoy, but are tolerable in others.

The purpose of this Top 10 List is to list the top ten most difficult levels, areas, dungeons, what-have-you in video games. As you sift through this list, you will find that there are a fairly large number of "rare" or exceedingly "old" games. This is moderately coincidental - most such unheard-of games tend to not have a proper testing process or some other reason for being difficult. This goes for those in the FAQ Completion Projects especially - if you look through some of their lists, you will find obscenely difficult games.

Anyway, onto the list.

In Final Fantasy X, you have a number of optional sidequests. You do not get but one extra dungeon among them, however. The Omega Ruins is that dungeon, found by selecting a moderately-well hidden pair of coordinates from the airship near the end of the game. You need to be well-prepared for this journey, though.

Unless you have been doing some intense grinding within Sin (the final plot dungeon) or at the Monster Arena, you will probably be very weak. Barring the enemies spawned by the Monster Arena owner's "breeding" or some monsters inside Sin, the Omega Ruins harbors some of the strongest monsters in the whole game. Healing after every encounter is not all too uncommon to first-timers. Staying near the Save Point to grind for experience and Sphere Levels is one of the more common grinding techniques as well.

Perhaps the greatest threat in the dungeon is the Great Malboro. Unless your weapons have some special abilities, you will always go after this monster. It quite commonly will use Bad Breath to induce bad statuses upon you - namely, Confusion. While this is easily prevented by armor-based abilities, it is quite hard to fully prevent Confusion. This in turn can often lead to a Game Over when you least expect it when traversing the dungeon, even at higher levels.

Of course, the Omega Ruins does tend to get easier as time goes on. Once you manage to get characters with 80% or so of the Sphere Grid covered, you can breeze through this place for nearly-free Gil, so long as you come prepared. But, when it is first available, being prepared for it is not nearly as easy.

Grand Theft Auto III, like the others in the series, is primarily based around completing missions for a number of sketchy employers. In GTA3, perhaps the hardest mission is not the final one, but "Kingdom Come". As I recall, Catalina - the main antagonist of the story - basically tries to kill you. This time, she has sent a number of SPANK'd-up suicide bombers to you in the parking lot behind the Liberty Tree newspapers.

Of course, you do not know this, and you go into the designated car there. When you enter, suicide bombers spew out of the vans nearby. When they make contact with just about anything, they explode. Anyone well-versed in Grand Theft Auto probably knows, then, that one explosion can take off 40% ~ 75% of your health if you are out of a car, and it will kill you when in one. That thusly implies that you will have to do most of this mission on foot, perhaps.

There are only two real ways to do this mission. You could bring along the nearly explosion-proof Rhino tank and flee the scene via it, thin the crowd, and take them down like that. Alternatively, when in the parking lot, you are able to destroy the vans that are already there with a Rocket Launcher. It does not make the mission a whole lot easier unless you pay attention in this latter instance, as more vans will come. All in all, it is quite a hard mission.

The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series is a fairly typical rogue-like game. Each of the numerous dungeons takes place on a gridded field that is randomized from floor to floor. The player and the enemies both are Pokémon, and the game relies on the basic mechanics of Pokémon series. There are more than a few special dungeons in each game in the series that have certain restrictions. Some of the most harsh can be found in Purity Forest.

Purity Forest is unlocked in the first entries of the series after getting the Sky Blue Plains friend area and then recruiting Latias and Latios - two legendary Pokémon - as members into your rescue team. The restrictions in this 99-floor (the maximum length) dungeon are harsh.

Firstly, you can only bring the team leader (the person you control) and not the usual four-or-less you normally have. You cannot recruit Pokémon in the dungeon to try and increase your party size. Additionally, you cannot bring any items or money. That means you cannot have the useful auto-revive Reviver Seeds or the healing Oran Berries or the move-teaching TMs or any useful thing. The loss of money prevents you from being able to buy items en masse from in-dungeon shops until you have collected a fair sum of money in the dungeon, if you are lucky enough to find much.

Perhaps most significantly, the lone Pokémon you bring into the dungeon is reduced to Level 1. Its stats are reduced to the appropriate levels. It will also only know what are pretty much its weakest moves. Its IQ stat (which give it special skills that may, for example, allow for the use of Reviver Seeds) is also reduced to the minimum level. In short, you come into this dungeon with nothing whatsoever and are as weak as the game can possibly make you. And then you have to progress through the many, many floors in this dungeon against infinite enemy swarms that quickly grow stronger. It is one of the most challenging dungeons of the entire Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series.

Xenon 2 is, by itself, a hard game. No, forget that - a hard game is one you do not need to use a cheat device on just to make it through the game. Xenon 2 wholly takes place in your typical top-down scrolling-shooter format. It plays akin to the famed arcade game Galaga, but moreso like the lesser-known variation Galaga '88. You will go through levels and enemies will absolutely swarm upon you. And I do mean swarm - there are so many sprites on-screen at once that game begins to flicker severely and animations slow down. Yes, that many.

Luckily, this is not one of those games that kill you if you are touched by an enemy. Nevertheless, it is not that far from it. Most of the enemies can attack rather rapidly and, when you are taking on ten, eleven, or twelve of them, that is quite a problem. You can always dodge, but you are usually too slow to dodge the majority of them. Additionally, some of these enemies just serve as kamikazes - and that chops off large amounts of health from your health gauge. It gets painful eventually.

From experience, without using a GameGenie, I could easily die at least once or twice before a level ended. (If you do not believe me, try playing it yourself. There is a PC version, too, if you do not have a Master System.) So, what makes Level 4 special? In this case, you have to often move backwards throughout the level, which, given the camera, prevents you from seeing enemies coming from behind. Add that and the narrow spaces - you get damaged by running into walls in this game, and it is never hard to not get hooked onto one and stuck for massive damage - and you have perhaps the most difficult level of the game.

Zork III is the third entry in a series of mystical text-based adventure games. The three are actually freely downloadable from Infocom's website, too, so you can Google them if you want them. As one would only expect from a text-based adventure, the whole game is conveyed through words. There are almost no visuals in the entire series (except Zork Zero, to some slight extent), so our normal sense of sight has to be aided through mental pictures, which can be strongly limited by limited in-game descriptions.

One of the few exceptions is the Royal Puzzle in the latter one-third of Zork III. The purpose of this puzzle is to get you to move blocks, grab some book, and get safely back out. This puzzle even has to be conveyed through ASCII art in the game, descriptions so left the developers. Okay, not too hard, right? I mean, visuals tend to help. However, the pictures are very limited in their scope and you pretty much have no hint as to how to solve the puzzle.

So, how do you solve the puzzle? Well, there is an eighty-step process you have to follow - you can look in one of the FAQs for this game for it - which I will not post here, it being fairly lengthy. In fact, that takes up nearly 1/3 of the minimum commands to beat the game, over a single puzzle. There is practically no hint other than trial-and-error as to how to solve it, and messing up or not keeping track can easily get you extremely lost. It is perhaps the most challenging puzzle in the entire Zork trilogy, except perhaps the compass-based puzzle also in Zork III.

Spider-Man 3 (as this entry will be much more shortly henceforth known) is already quite the hard game. Like a number of other GameBoy Spider-Man-based games, it features extremely wonky controls. However, the "selling" factor would be the messed-up physics. Climbing up buildings in, for example, Stage 1-3 is nearly impossible unless you approach from the arbitrarily "right" angle. That is fairly pointless to go into, but maybe you have got the point so far - it is quite the broken game to begin with.

In Stage 4-1, though, it is a bit harder. Spider-Man, in a bout of irony, has to fight off three different spiders on a construction building. This is easier said than done, because a number of the ledges just make you fall, and large falls lead to a loss of health. Each spider can be found a quarter of the way up the building from the previous spider, with the bottom quarter being vacant. The first spider is not too hard to deal with - all you need to do is kick him as he speeds across the screen.

The second spider is a lot harder. It goes quite speedily to an arbitrary point on the screen, rotates a random number of degrees, and speeds off just as quickly. This all takes about one or two seconds. Damaging it is nearly impossible because it comes and leaves so quickly - you almost have to kill Spider-Man just to kill this spider.

The third spider, the black widow, is quite your bane, though. It will move slowly (making it usually fairly easy to attack), but will widely scatter bombs to damage you. That effectively repels you, and will also cause a high amount of damage. Given that there is only the one restorative pickup in this level, which you have probably already used because of the second spider, you will likely die at this point unless you get fairly lucky. And, if you die, you start the whole level all over again - all of the spiders will regenerate. It is perhaps the hardest level in the game.

The game of Puzznic is a rather addictive one. There are 128 levels in it (ironic choice, huh?), in which you are to match blocks with the same type. For example, you need to match all of the water-emblem blocks, all of those with single dots, and so on. This is not just a one-with-one deal, either - sometimes, because there are odd numbers of blocks in a level, you have to match up three at a time, which is itself quite harder to foresee when you match up the blocks.

Then there are levels where you need to move two blocks at once - or so I think that it is allowed. I am still not sure if it was intended by Taito in the development of Puzznic. Anyways, Level 127 is one of those levels where you need to move multiple blocks at once. You do so by moving one block and, as it falls, move another. This can require exquisite timing, and none more so than in this level. Why? In this level, you have to move three blocks at once. This is quite hard because the timing of the D-Pad movement is a little wonky, and, if you screw up, you have to restart the level. It gets quite frustrating as time goes on, especially if you do not know the exact process or take note of it.

(This game is also known as Argos no Juujiken, but we'll say Rygar, for relative simplicity, despite the reference to certain unrelated games with the same name on other consoles.)

Rygar is one of your typical 2D platformer games. You go to the right, sometimes up and down, beat the boss at the end of the level, and repeat. In Rygar, there are five levels total that you are expected to complete in five minutes or so each. That would not be so concerning - after all, think of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES - if but for two things. Firstly, enemies kill you in a single hit - if they so much as touch you, unless you get the extremely rare invulnerability power-up, you will die.

Then there is the fact the enemies come in swarms. Not nearly as large as with Xenon 2 as mentioned previously, but often five or six enemies at once. The majority simply aim to run into you, but you have several flying enemies that like to sporadically swoop down or fire fireballs. Thusly, you often have to be quite careful as you progress, which is counterintuitive in a way. It is hard to try and make it through a level while caring whether you die or not - if you try that, it is hard to not make it through a level without the timer running out, or often having just a few seconds remaining on the clock. (And, no, the timer-refilling power-ups are few and far-between, and only restore a small 20 seconds, anyways.)

So, what makes the fifth and final level special? Perhaps that you will need to adjust your techniques and strategies as you progress through the various segments of the level, as each and every enemy (barring end-level bosses) is represented at some point in the level. There is also a series of difficult-to-navigate ledges early in the level (and you have to do so while dodging or killing those annoying flying enemies mentioned previously). And then there is the difficult boss at the end of the level. The boss often jumps at you before you have a chance to move, and then the boss attacks rapidly. Remember, one hit is equivalent to death, so rapid attacks thusly means likely death.

Pac-in-Time is not that much different from Rygar, as far as its reasons for being in this list goes. It is a 2D platformer, this time with some integrated puzzles. Most of the puzzles are quite simple (such as the seemingly-suicidal solution to Level 4-1), though there are few more complex ones (finding the key hidden in the wall in Level 5-6). One of the more difficult levels has to be Level 4-10.

Like Rygar, if you get hurt, you die here. There is no middle ground to this, either - you either dodge the enemies, usually, or you die. Thusly, more enemies means more trouble. Level 4-10's main pain, though, is not enemies. At least, not exactly. In one of the later portions of the level, you will have to dodge several pigs that are shooting arrows. They are not aiming at you, but at the hole over the path you need to next reach. Getting there is quite simple - just move left between two arrows.

Getting out is not so simple. After triggering the switch at the end of this dead-end path, you need to get back out to reach the other path that the switch just opened up. As you get out, you have to progress to the right against the "flow" of arrows. This is harder said than done, because the narrow space you navigate under is not as easy to go through, especially when you are dodging the arrows. It is not hard to die in this part of the level at all.

I will open up this entry by saying that this is quite possibly not the hardest level in video games. Like every other level in this list, there is a solution to it. Is it difficult? Quite hellishly, yes. The most difficult on this list? In my opinion, yes. Now, why?

Well, Crazy Climber is already odd with its control system. It attempts to emulate the original arcade version by forcing you to use two NES controllers. You need to rotate them ninety degrees clockwise (so the D-Pad is at the top). Then you need to alternate at least one of the D-Pads between simulated-Up and simulated-Down to climb up the ledges on the buildings you climb. You may even prefer to use both D-Pads to provide a little "barrier" (you will understand later) and to speed your climbing, if done properly. You move left and right by using the appropriate simulated directions on the D-Pad on both gamepads at the exact same time. That itself is quite hard to do, because the command does not seem to "stick".

Your main opposition in the levels would be the enemies. Most of them tend to be relatively benign, just dropping random crap on you. This can dislodge one of your hands that is on a ledge - obviously, once both hands are gone, you fall and lose a life. The fact that you get hurt will take off a little off of your timer - therefore, being hit a lot is bad. Special Level 3 of this game has part of its extreme difficulty to add to this fact. There are also enemies that will just flat-out knock you off (namely the "Crazy Climber" signs in the level), and some that will sap out your timer straight to zero in the blink of an eye.

Now, onto the level. Firstly, you begin in a swarm of those timer-sapper enemies. Soon after that swarm, you have to deal with the hard-to-dodge "Crazy Climber" signs that will instantly kill you. After this, you have a sequence of ledges where you must move downward. This requires an extremely awkward set of movements. (Get both hands on a ledge, press Down, move a hand very carefully between two ledges, press Up, and repeat. It requires a lot of unusual precision.) That sequence, combined with awkwardness, also requires you to grab a time-freezing power-up. If you do not grab it, you will be swarmed upon by lots of trash-throwing people - as mentioned earlier, having only hand on a ledge will make you die if you are hit then, and climbing down often requires that. Even then, the timer power-up is quite brief - you do not really have enough time to reach a "safe" area before the swarming restarts.

Not long after that, you have another such sequence (but no time-freezing power-up). Then you have to guess and find the hidden invisible path further ahead. After those trials, you will find the rest of the level to be relatively easy. However, there is so much to work against in this level that I find it hard to believe that this is not the hardest level on this list.

~ Honorable Mentions ~

- Extra Stage - Face Raiders (3DS)
- "Through the Fire and Flames" - Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS2/Wii/360)
- The Final Level - Pyramids of Ra (GB)
- Stage 1-3: Two Towers - The Amazing Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider Slayers (GB)
- Zero Isle South - Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky (DS)
- The Compass Puzzle - Zork III: The Dungeon Master (PC)


~ Conclusion ~

Well, I suppose that does not leave a lot to say. As you know, challenge is the driving force behind the entertainment in video games - after all, it is not fun to play a game where you can just shut your eyes and work from there. But sometimes, this challenge is over-done, like with the entries on this list. I am not saying these are the perfect or the more accurate examples - harder games probably exist, and will always be made - but they are quite prime examples.

Anyways, I hope I have entertained you for the time it took for you to read this list. Feel free to offer your critiques, compliments, and/or trolls at the Top 10 Lists message board (the link below), or through the e-mail you can find on my contributor profile. Thanks, again, for reading!

List by KeyBlade999 (02/27/2013)

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