Top 10 Hardest Video Games & Franchises In History: Where Does Elden Ring Stand?

With Elden Ring sparking a debate about hard video games and whether they should have an easy mode, let’s take a look at some more of the hardest video games of all time – and compare them alongside FromSoftware’s masterpiece.

Games like Elden Ring have come along and reignited the debate over video game difficulty. Despite being a new franchise, Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s latest ‘Souls’ game, a spiritual successor to the Dark Souls trilogy – which itself was a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls and one of the hardest video games ever made.

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The great thing about games like this is that you finally overcome a major obstacle, giving players a triumphant kick before moving on to the next challenge. While many would argue that FromSoftware revolutionized the concept of difficult games, creating experiences that reward skill, patience and perseverance, the Souls games weren’t the first games to use this strategy.

So for those who have conquered Elden Ring and are looking for their next challenge, here are ten more of the hardest video games and franchises and what they stand next to.

10. Flappy bird

flappy bird gameplayGears

Just one…more…try.

Flappy Bird became infamous for its addictive gameplay, so much so that its own creator removed it from several app stores, sparking a wave of imitators. This only added to the legend, and now this simple but frustratingly difficult game has gone down in history.

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The gameplay features a single bird, which you control with one button to fly higher to reach the next area. There’s something about Flappy Bird that gets under your skin and makes you determined to keep going – no matter how many phones you use.

9. Refund

serene confrontational boss enemyhouse brand

Returnal is a clash of different genres, but it works.

Return is fiendishly difficult and owes a lot to third-person survival horror shooters and the Souls series. Much of the difficulty is due to the rigid rules around progression, but some of these ideas have since been patched to make the game more accessible.

This sci-fi adventure isn’t for everyone, but those who like punishing games will find a lot to love, especially those who appreciate a layered and well-told story. While Returnal can be admittedly frustrating at times, it’s worth going through the pain to get to the credits.

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8. Ninja Gaiden (series)

Ryu Hayabusa grabs the swordTeam Ninja

Ninja Gaiden is an experience and a battle of patience and understanding.

Every Ninja Gaiden game is ridiculously difficult and only those who master the mechanics will ever really love it. There is an easy mode, but the game laughs at you and calls you a Ninja Dog. The first game is probably the hardest, but all three Ninja Gaiden adventures will test any player’s metal.

The combat in Ninja Gaiden is meaty, satisfying and violent. It’s also relentlessly punishing as you’re overrun by tons of angry enemies from all angles. Beating a Ninja Gaiden game, even on normal difficulty, is the hallmark of a true game warrior, and it’s one of the reasons the series has garnered such a loyal following.

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7. Sifu

Sifu logoSloop

Sifu is a rock-solid beat-em-up.

Sifu is much like the beat ’em ups of yesteryear, tough, uncompromising and all about skill. Those who are good at learning patterns and movements will really appreciate Sifu and are likely to survive. Although it is a very different genre from Elden Ring and the Souls series, Sifu shares some similarities with them, especially when it comes to boss fights. One wrong move can end a player’s run, what’s worse, the game punishes death and failure by aging the titular protagonist with each death.

The more the player dies, the less chance Sifu has to retaliate, and the older he gets, the closer he – and the player – get to the permadeath. This is a lot like the lost souls mechanic from FromSoftware’s games, but has so much more impact.

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6. Cup head

cuphead and mugman fight cagney carnationStudioMDHR

Easily one of the most fascinating games in recent history, plus an obligatory note on how it’ll pull your hair out.

When Cuphead was first revealed, it appeared to be a homage to cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s. Little did players know that lurking behind this adorable appearance was a lesson in frustration and futility. Never judge a Cuphead by his cover, and be sure to drink some chamomile tea to calm your nerves before you get into this game.

Cuphead consisted largely of bosses and required absolute concentration and precision. Cuphead is always charming and frankly it’s a creative masterpiece, but it will push the player’s buttons more than the player’s buttons. Those feeling brave can also try the Expert mode of the game, prepare for some fear.

5. Ghosts and goblins

Mr. Arthur fights enemiesCapcom

If you take damage, your clothes will be bizarrely ripped off in Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

After all these modern games, it’s time to take a trip down memory and die a lot. Ghost ‘n Goblins can realistically be completed in less than an hour, probably a lot less, but most won’t get that far. Newcomers to the game will take days, maybe weeks, to beat it. While some players make it look easy on YouTube, it never quite works that way in reality.

The erratic enemy movement patterns, constantly respawning enemies, ticking timer, and countless other factors make progression in Ghosts ‘n Goblins a pointless exercise at times. While Souls games at least leave room for you to advance your character, this one doesn’t. Practice helps, but never makes perfect.

4. Super Meat Boy

A level of Super Meat BoyTeam Meat

It’s like Mario only incredibly harder.

At its core, Super Meat Boy is a simple, free-flowing platform game. The mechanics are well designed and the art style and concepts are captivating. The only minor problem is that the game eats players like yesterday’s dinner before throwing them in the trash. Those who beat the main game and manage to weather its brutality will have to tackle the game’s ‘Dark’ levels, which are even more extreme.

Super Meat Boy is a classic and only those who have spent some time with it and seen their eyes water in frustration will ever truly appreciate it.

3. Elden Ring, Dark Souls (1-3), Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne

Elden Ring ray tracingFromSoftware

Elden Ring took the Souls formula in an open world.

Here we are, Elden Ring falls in third, but it shares space with its older siblings, the Dark Souls trilogy, its cousin Bloodborne, and its grandfather Demon’s Souls. We’re grouping the Souls family into one entry to avoid dominating the entire list by FromSoftware’s titles. Most Souls games follow a similar, yet punishing formula, and Elden Ring is actually one of the easier Souls games. However, it has some late game bosses that will make even a seasoned veteran cry in agony.

That said, it’s the first Dark Souls game to earn the accolades when it comes to difficulty. The title took the Demon’s Souls formula and made it even harder, gloomier, filling its dark world with so much masochistic delight that a Cenebite would blush. Elden Ring may have brought the series to light, but it was Dark Souls that enveloped players in FromSoft’s addictive shroud.

Don’t forget there are many more Soulslike games not developed by FromSoftware for you to try. These are also some of the hardest video games ever.

2. Sekiro

Sekiro boss fightFrom Software

Playing Sekiro as a Souls game can lead to frustration.

Some may be surprised to see that Sekiro has not been included in games ranked number three. The truth is that while Sekiro is also a FromSoftware game, it is not a ‘Souls’ game. Although it shares many similarities with Dark Souls, Elden Ring, etc., the game is a rock solid single-player adventure. In a Souls game, you can summon allies to help you take down a difficult boss, essentially letting them share the burden. However, in Sekiro, players get “good” or die trying – often.

The game rewards mastery of the mechanics, patience, practice and trickery. Those who just want to make their way through Sekiro will not get very far. Easily the most unforgiving experience FromSoftware has ever created, the game is more difficult than any Souls game simply due to its lack of multiplayer and refusal to compromise. But those who conquer Sekiro will never have their skills questioned again.

1. Against

co-op gameplay of contrakonami

Be ready to die, die and die again.

Pick from one of the early Contra games and see what we mean. We hated it, but we grew to love it and craved his approval. Contra is perhaps the hardest video game ever to ever set the tone in terms of raw difficulty and remains absolutely rock hard to this day. Those who get stressed easily should avoid it at all costs. However, those who are up for a real challenge should carve out some time and prove their metal.

Even if the game didn’t offer limited lives and continues in Contra, most still struggle to beat the game completely – and a Konami code won’t save us either. Contra games share many of the same principles as Ghosts ‘n Goblins and keep their foot on the gas throughout the experience, forcing players to master their mechanics. There’s no time to regroup or panic, players need to be in top shape and learn a host of behavior patterns and moves if they want to survive.

The franchise is perhaps the most difficult of all games, and it will go down in history.

There you have it, the most difficult video games ranked. Check out more below for more original content:

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