In theory, the purpose of a video game is to provide entertainment. A video game that is not fun to play is not really living up to its purpose. In general, this is not a problem. The vast majority of video games are fun, at least for the genre specific audience. Video games that aren’t fun generally receive poor reviews and fail to sell well. But, some games, while being enjoyable, include features that are incredibly frustrating and often curtail the enjoyment of the game. Ironically, some of these features are so common that they are practically expected to exist in certain types of video games. Presented below are the ten most frustrating features that commonly appear in video games and the games that most represent that feature.
10. Required Characters (Suikoden) – This feature is one that shows up most in role playing games, though can even occasionally appear in action games. Basically, at some point, the game forces you to use specific characters from your stable of optional characters or forces you to use a new character out of the blue. Suikoden is by far the most egregious game with this feature. The game will often force you to use specific characters for certain battles and will switch them in, just before the battle. If you haven’t appropriately armed or leveled these characters you are in a lot of trouble. Kingdom Hearts II and every Fire Emblem game have similarly frustrating moments.
9. Random Character Growth (Fire Emblem) – Many games include some form of character development. Usually, that development is prescribed so as to maintain a specific challenge level in the game. Some games instead use random character growth. This is fun and exciting when characters randomly get great powers or impressive attributes, but is remarkably frustrating when characters gain little or nothing when they progress. The most notable example of this is Fire Emblem where every character has a fixed random chance of growth in various attributes. Even being behind by a few points is enough to make a character almost entirely worthless, especially in a game where character death is permanent. Often you will basically need to reload a battle if character growth truly underperforms. Wizardry and Ultima games were also well known for this frustrating feature.
8. Invisible Terrain (King’s Quest II) – Honestly, almost any Sierra game in the 80s is a reasonable example of this frustrating feature. All too often Sierra games would include terrain in the foreground that blocked terrain in the background. King’s Quest II is just the game where you need to walk down a thin cliff without being able to see your footing. With the speed of load times in the day, it was remarkably frustrating. In modern games, this problem continues with poor camera angles, which is especially obvious in action games like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or Assassin’s Creed. Also, it is occasionally an intentional difficulty mechanic, like in specific levels of Super Mario Galaxy 2.
7. Limited Saving (Resident Evil) – Save points are, thankfully, more and more becoming a concept of a by-gone age. But, still the idea persists in many games. In early games it was especially annoying because you could only save at save points and often they were very rare. Resident Evil took it one step further by also limiting the number of times you could ever save during the course of the game. Even without that limitation, any form of save limitation is particularly unfriendly to casual gamers or game players with tight schedules. Outside of the Resident Evil franchise, Final Fantasy games are often guilty of this frustrating mechanic as is just about any game with lots of long cut scenes like Metal Gear Solid 2.
6. Long Travel Times (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – Traveling from one place to another is generally a given in most games. It is also common for that travel to be interrupted by enemies. This feature is most often used to provide resources to players, create additional challenge, and add play time to the game. In some games the travel times are truly ridiculous, though. Possibly the most frustrating example of this is in the NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At one point you need to get to another location. You can actually see that location from where you start on the map. But, due to the convoluted design of the game, you need to walk the opposite direction, go through multiple buildings, enter the sewers more than once, and fight at least one mini-boss. The amount of travel is simply ridiculous. Other games that have similar unreasonably long trips to get places include Metroid, every Legend of Zelda game, and Blaster Master.
5. Cheating AI (Super Mario Kart) – Technically the game can’t cheat against you, because it makes the rules. But, in general, players expect the other characters in the game to follow the same rules regardless of how skilled you are. All too often, especially in racing and fighting games, this is not the case. Super Mario Kart is a superb example of this. If you are doing well in the game, racers in the back of the pack will simply catch up, despite the impossibility of doing so, based on the performance of their vehicles. Rather than keep the game exciting, this feature simply frustrates the good player, especially in a game where enemies can shoot shells at you to screw up your race. In some fighting games, like Super Street Fighter II, AI opponents provably block attacks after you have fully inputted your commands, which is simply impossible for human players. Whichever form of cheating is used, it rarely makes the game more fun.
4. Slow Leveling (Dragon Warrior) – As previously discussed, many games use some form of character growth system. Usually, these systems provide constant growth at a pace that makes you feel like you are progressing through the game. Some games, though, simply reduce the speed of growth to a crawl. Dragon Warrior, for the NES, was one of the most frustrating examples of slow growth ever. Each level took significantly longer to reach than the last and even one level was often the difference between easy and impossible. Massively multiplayer online games often include this frustration as well. Early on, both City of Heroes and World of Warcraft were incredibly slow to gain levels in, though that has changed for both games.
3. Critical Items That Can Be Missed (Quest For Glory) – When Sierra includes a frustrating feature in one game, it almost always includes it in every game. This particular feature is rare in modern games, but was frustratingly common in early video games. Basically, at some point in the game you need to use a specific item that can only be found at an earlier point in the game. If you have reached the point where you need the item, there is absolutely no way to go back and get it. Almost every Sierra game was famous for this, though Quest For Glory was one of the most annoying games to have this feature. If you forgot to bring a single dagger to the final boss of the game, you lost and unless you had a much earlier save game file, there was no way to recover. That is possibly the entirety of the game wasted due to the lack of a very basic item. The Legend of Zelda series was also famous for this if you entered certain boss fights without bombs or the silver arrow.
2. Unintuitive Trick Battles (Chrono Cross) – Congratulations. You have reached the final boss of the game. Now, if you cast spells in an exact order so that the colors of the spells are in rainbow order, you will win the fight and get the good ending. This is true despite the fact that no other battle in the game works this way and you have been given absolutely no hints of this. This, frustratingly, is the end of Chrono Cross. Few features are more annoying than developers trying to show off how much smarter than you they are by including a challenge that can only be beaten by some unintuitive trick, that has never been hinted at. Final Fantasy IV also had a battle like this where you won by doing absolutely nothing but defending.
1. One Hit Kills (Contra) – Konami introduced a cheat code that gave you 30 lives just because this game feature was so annoying in Contra. Most modern games use some sort of life bar, but a few games require that you avoid every single attack or instantly lose. Ghouls & Ghosts was also famous for this, though technically you needed to get hit twice to die. Once or twice was basically the same thing and the game, while fun, was insanely frustrating. Other games famous for this are spaces shooters like R-Type and the insanely difficult speed bike levels in Battletoads.