Let’s get something out of the way right here: There’s no wrong way to play a video game, no pure experience that is somehow the ideal and only method. Want to bash your head against the brick wall that is Bloodborne over and again, earning every inch? Go for it. Prefer hiding behind a wall in Call of Duty and not coming out until everything looks like swiss cheese? Great. Playing Final Fantasy VII Remake on the easiest difficulty because its a story-driven game and not everyone plays video games the same way? Excellent, go forth.
This is why it’s so frustrating and regressive to see an outlet like Kotaku decry the easy mode in Final Fantasy VII Remake being too easy. (Editor’s Note: The Kotaku headline has since been changed to reflect a more nuanced view about the difference between Easy and Normal, but the overall point remains.)
The post today by Kotaku’s Mike Fahey comes from a place earnestness and not any kind of ill-will, I’m sure. The short post depicting his time with the newest game from Square Enix is one meant to be an affable, relatable look at what happens when a game’s difficulty takes a weird turn and ramps up in a way that becomes a roadblock. We’ve all been there. The problem, however, is that it’s a tone-deaf take from one of the most-read gaming outlets on the internet and one that ignores that, for many, the easy mode being easy is the perfect–or only–way to experience the game.
In the post, Fahey says “I am the last person to shy away from playing a game on easy, but Final Fantasy VII Remake’s easy mode is a joke. And it’s not even the game’s easiest setting. Classic mode is easy mode, only your character attacks and defends automatically. It might as well be a visual novel.” The previous paragraphs are missives on how he fought tooth-and-nail on normal difficulty throughout most of the game, making use of all of the mechanics, weaknesses, and abilities only to be forced to switch to a lower difficulty when faced with what he felt was an impossible battle.
That’s great that you mostly had zero trouble with normal difficulty. However, your experience is not the experience of every player out there and it would behoove anyone out there to stop and think about the fact that not all difficulties should bow to the whims of what you expect it to be. Your normal difficulty mode may very well be many player’s hard mode, or worse. Complaining that easy mode is a joke and then making the all-too-common, “lowest common denominator” joke of comparing it to a visual novel makes light of the fact that not everyone out there wants or needs—or is even able to undertake—a challenge.
What about folks coming to Final Fantasy VII Remake who aren’t frequent gamers but have nostalgia for a game that reimagines an important piece of media from their past? How about players with accessibility issues that may very well need a system in place that automatically attacks and defends, just so they can experience something with the same amount of normalcy as other players? Everyone deserves to experience a piece of media–particularly one as excellent as Final Fantasy VII Remake–how they want, in the ways best suited for them. To casually make light of such a mode existing when it is clearly not for you is careless at best, heartless at worst.
Fahey ends by saying “If you want to fully appreciate Final Fantasy VII Remake’s nuanced and versatile battle system, play in normal mode.” But, here’s the thing: Not everyone is out here caring about nuance and versatility. Not everybody is driven by the need to triumph over the system. I suspect more than a few people are just going to want to experience a 20 plus year-old story in a new light and way. There’s nothing wrong with that, with this or any other video game. To say that the game can only be appreciated fully by playing on normal mode disregards the multitude of people who will not be playing Final Fantasy VII Remake on anything but easy or classic mode for a variety of reasons.
Video games have a long way to go when it comes to accessibility and not allowing things like difficulty become a gatekeeping element against those that aren’t traditional gamers. With a game as monumental as Final Fantasy 7 Remake, now isn’t the time to decry that something is too easy or is somehow lesser of an experience. And while accessibility options continue to evolve, the very least games can offer are difficulty settings that allow one and all to play the same game at their own speed.
To mock anything less than the normal difficulty as trivial or to insult another game genre as less than a real game while standing in front of the biggest audience in games journalism pure hubris, writ large.