Really Hard Game is a game released in 2018 by TheMannn (Bumpland).
Once upon a time Really Hard Land was peaceful, but demons invaded it and made it harder. The player controls John Hardgame, whose mission is to kill the demons; shenanigans ensue. John can choose one of four classes: Petite Sword Wizard (high damage output, but fragile), Obese Fork Wizard (high defenses, low damage output), Veteran Wizard (a more moderate character with a gun), and Sorcerer (casts spells). A bestiary item details enemies John has encountered. When John defeats a boss he gets a LevelUp item, which can be taken to a well and traded to Da Hip-Hop Witch for stat bonuses.
John starts at his house in the town of In-The Pines. There are meta-gags everywhere: John finds a giant key and lock (but they key itself is locked and requires a smaller key). There’s a merchant who sells boss weapons for cheap, but the merchant looks like an ordinary chair. My Sorcerer was thoroughly slaughtered by some grapes in a shop. I started again as a Veteran, killed a security guard, and gained 44 levels at once. A tutorial forest to the south explains combat. West is a wiggly gate that can’t be breached. North is a cave with a grate that can’t be moved. East is a highway that can’t be explored without a car (and a car that requires a key to start) and a rope leading down into a hole (it’s not sturdy enough to climb). Equipping some better gear and taking on the grapes in the shop opened up more available merchandise from the vendor, including a key that supposedly opens a gate to the north. I couldn’t figure out where to go or how to progress out of In-The-Pines for a while, until I finally found a path that was obscured by incredibly tall foliage (it was annoying, wasted my time, and made me feel dumb, but knowing when it’s possible to pass behind vertical objects did become important later).
Heading north to the elf glen, John encounters a reoccurring jerk named Anton by the Fountain of Life (a water fountain that restores HP/MP for free, which I utilized until the end of the game). If John has agreed to kill the elves for the council, the elves will turn hostile and attack; otherwise John can listen to them play music (in battle mode) until their leader arrives and asks him to kill the council. For this playthrough I decided to kill the elf leader, which unlocked the car (which opened up the factory and dig site locations). Colliding with another vehicle on the highway triggers battle with a commuter. Somewhere during the course of the game multiple car sprites appeared on the highway map, which made it difficult to dismount in a desired direction.
John must search around for a hat and suitcase to gain access to the factory, where the boss Banjo Smokes has been corrupted by a demonic blue idol. John is contractually obligated to make some goods in the factory. I kept expecting to see something useful or novel come down the conveyor belt, but I never did. When I first discovered the blue idol I first decided to desecrate it, which landed John with a nasty curse (an infinitely looping battle). Exploring the factory further, John gets into an altercation with Banjo Smokes leading to Smokes’ death and the acquisition (by John) of the key to the dig site.
Upon returning to the dig site, John is summoned to hell to be judged for the murder of Banjo Smokes. Hell looks great. It’s silly, bloody, and features some lo-res photo collage that looks “otherworldly” compared to the stick figure aesthetic of the game’s physical world. I chose to plead John’s innocence, which in hell meant a fight to the death between accused and accuser. This was my favorite part of the game. John’s demonic lawyer temporarily joins the party for the battle against Banjo. Presented with a choice between the lawyer’s two special skills - Extort (steal money) and Execute (kill enemy instantly) - of course I extorted and extorted again until I could extort no more. If John chooses to confess, he goes to jail and finds a new spell there. He can escape hell through an icy passage leading up to the surface. Back at the dig site, John runs into Anton and battles a monolith; it’s implied he decimates a tribe of dark-skinned natives in the process (which is dubious), though he only directly combats the monolith they worship. The natives’ ashes can be returned to a living native in the swamp later, and the dead natives also reappear in hell (along with various other characters slain by John throughout the game).
A warp room opened up in town that enabled John to teleport to a few different locations including a newly available swamp area, where the blue idol reappears. Some mutated band is throwing a free concert, which must be infiltrated to stop the idol. The singer sends John on a quest to rescue the missing fourth member of the band, giving him the key that opens the rift to the Black King’s keep. Inside John must choose whether to save Anton from an egg monster or let him die. I let him die because he was a racist colonialist bastard. At this point the Devilled Egg forced itself into my party. John climbs to the top of the tower (through some obstacle courses), and competes in some races with the knights there, gaining access to the winner’s lounge. It turns out the real game being played here is an eternal game of chess between the Black King and the White King. John helps the White King win, and frees the imprisoned musician. On the way out I picked up a piece of armor that was cursed, causing angels to attack me sporadically throughout the game.
Something is clearly not right about the egg following John around, but Da Hip-Hop Witch (the character who grants bonuses when John levels up) has a plan - hatch it. The elemental forces of heaven and hell banded together in the form of a pine tree to stop John from doing so, but John does what he does (kills everything in his way). Finding the witch involves a lot of subterranean shenanigans including block-pushing puzzles, a battle against a quasi-vampire, and a return to hell where John can talk to Anton and his other victims. Dying during the Angel boss fight caused me to start over from before the block puzzles, which was infuriating. Meeting the elder who cures curses was a great relief. All of this led up to a very odd climax and non-resolution, and I received an ending that chided me for not beating the game but congratulated me for at least returning it to the store. My final save was at 6 hours 20 minutes, but I did also die and restart/restore a few times.
The writing is pretty good for a game that obviously wants to be bad. With the exception of a couple of un-telegraphed objectives, the snowballing of plot points seemed natural (at least within the logic of this wacky universe). Dialog and narrative conceits were frequently legitimately funny without going overboard with persistent jokiness. There were a small handful of typos, but unfortunately I forgot to document them all as I was playing. One of them was in the dialog of the miner trying to excavate treasure from under the town, another was the talking corpse in the same area (everyones=everyone’s). Most of the text was clear and easy to follow.
RHG pitches itself as “the bloodsouls of indie platformvanias.” Its aesthetics involve primitive stick-drawings and constant verbal reassurances of the game’s difficulty. The art is stylized to look shoddy, but is mostly visually clear and aesthetically coherent. There are some good sight gags with the perspective of the 2D art (irrational stairs, windows, and rugs that only make sense as tiles). Another level of craziness is added to the visuals whenever demons show up, bringing with them pixilated photo psychedelia. It’s all incredibly lo-fi, but it works really well for the game in question.
The game utilizes sound effects from various sources including Foxley’s Bfxr Set A, as well as music by rock artists like Lou Reed, Fugazi, Neu!, and Amon Duul II (good picks).
The combat in RHG is decent. The only things legitimately hard were surviving long enough to level up and surviving the tedium of doing so (before discovering the fountain of life, I literally taped my Enter key down to grind for pennies in John’s basement). After leveling and gaining access to the fountain I still died plenty of times, but when I restored I always knew how to do better so it wasn’t obnoxious (except for having to restart the program after every game over).
Really Hard Game has a lot of personality and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was only punishingly hard until I figured out its tricks, but even then it kept me on my toes. The game’s use of curses as an RPG conceit was really fun; I was thrice cursed, and it was amusingly awful every time. At a few points it was frustratingly unclear where to go next, and even after figuring it out it still didn’t really make sense (why is John’s next step after defeating the elves to sneak into a factory?). At times it felt a bit like playing an old Sierra adventure game, except punctuated throughout with potentially-fatal RPG combat. Overall I had a great experience with Really Hard Game, and I would recommend it over a lot of other throwaway homebrew meta-JRPGs (including some of my own) that are lazy without remembering to be legitimately fun. Sure, text and player direction could be polished a little more; but Really Hard Game is pretty much good as-is. At some point I hope to return to it as a different character class and make some different narrative choices.
...spake The Lord Thy God.