Director of hit JRPG Shin Megami Tensei 5 echoes FromSoftware's stance on hard games: "Our intent was never to make things difficult for difficulty’s sake"

Shin Megami Tensei 5
(Image credit: Atlus)

While old-school games might have had a reputation for being brutal, I think the modern era is the true golden age for difficult games. That's in large part thanks to the fact that devs are taking a smarter approach to difficulty these days, and two separate directors behind two entirely different Japanese RPGs famed for their toughness seem to have converging ideas about how to make a good, hard game.

"Based on all of our experience developing RPGs, we believe that battles are supposed to be an obstacle that players need to figure out the solution to," Shin Megami Tensei 5 director Shigeo Komori tells GamesRadar+ via email. "They shouldn’t be designed in such a way that it’s possible to win by simply pushing buttons without thinking much. That might be why the series ended up being associated so strongly with high difficulty."

That hasn't changed with the game's newly upgraded version, either. "Even for Vengeance," Komori says, "we wanted battles to have depth and to require players to think in order to prevail. Our intent was never to make things difficult for difficulty’s sake, but to design combat to be engaging, so we hope we’ve properly adjusted the balance to achieve that."

If that sounds familiar, you might've heard similar comments from FromSoftware's Hidetaka Miyazaki earlier this week. Ahead of Shadow of the Erdtree's launch for Elden Ring, Miyazaki noted that "the sense of achievement that players gain from overcoming these hurdles is such a fundamental part of the experience." And Miyazaki's been saying similar things for years.

"I feel like our approach to these games, not just Elden Ring, is to design them to encourage the player to overcome adversity," the director said ahead of the open-world game's launch in 2022. "We don’t try to force difficulty or make things hard for the sake of it. We want players to use their cunning, study the game, memorize what’s happening, and learn from their mistakes. We don’t want players to feel like the game is unfairly punishing, but rather that there’s a chance to win a difficult encounter and make progress."

There are certainly times when I just want to button mash my way through a mindlessly easy game, but the gaming moments that stick with me are the ones where I had to fight to overcome them. It's not about endlessly banging your head against an impossible challenge, but rather letting a game's difficulty encourage you to fully engage with its mechanics. FromSoftware has become legendarily good at this, and it's fantastic to see that other developers are consciously building a similar approach.

Shin Megami Tensei 5’s excellent re-release sells 500,000 copies in 3 days, pushing the Atlus JRPG series closer to its more popular spin-off Persona.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.