How Capcom has mastered difficulty and honored its legacy

Capcom has a stable of retro franchises that helped set standards for their respective genres. High difficulty often played an instrumental part in those standards, which is something that doesn’t play as well now. This puts Capcom at a crossroads when making new entries as harder games might fit with the series but not as well with the times. It’s a tricky balancing act but Capcom’s most recent games have simultaneously honored their legacies while appeasing to multiple different crowds thanks to their intelligent difficulty design.

Purposely abrasive mechanics are part of each franchise’s identity, which is a hard thing to shake. Ink Ribbons and resource management were as synonymous with Resident Evil as falling into spike pits was in Mega Man or getting sliced to ribbons by a toothy demon boss in Devil May Cry.

Forcing these elements into newer installments might be the honest thing to do but it would automatically narrow its audience as it only caters to those who are nostalgic for punishment. And when publishers have a ton of old franchises that rely on the brutal aspects from yesteryear, it puts the developer in a difficult situation. Adapting or staying the same alienates a portion of the game’s potential audience and inflated budgets don’t always allow publishers to willingly ignore would-be customers.

A smoother default difficulty

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On the surface, the Resident Evil 2 remake, Resident Evil 7Mega Man 11, and Devil May Cry 5 all have adapted to modern times to oblige newer players. While Mega Man 11 weirdly doesn’t have autosaves, DMC5 and the RE titles both do. Mega Man 11 does, however, have mid-level checkpoints, which are more frequent on the easier modes.

There’s no need to complete a stage in one sitting or search drawers for an Ink Ribbon. You likely can’t take down a whole mansion full of zombies but there is usually enough ammo to go around in both recent Resident Evil games. Bosses can be tough in Devil May Cry 5, but the abundance of consumable revives and checkpoints ensures that persistence may be enough to stumble through to the final stage.

Dante Must Die

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But instead of being the standard, these all only apply to difficulties at or below the normal setting. Save-limiting Ink Ribbons (or cassette tapes in Resident Evil 7) return, checkpoints disappear, resources are more sparse, you take increased damage, and enemies — including Mr. X and Jack Baker — move faster on the harder difficulties in RE7 and the RE2 remake. Resident Evil 7 even goes the extra mile and changes up item locations, enemy spawn points, and how players earn some essential story-related objects. Players now have to buy some necessary items with hidden collectible coins.

Mega Man’s normal mode is aligned more closely with its older installments as it has fewer checkpoints and stronger foes than its two beginner modes. But the Superhero setting is for the sadomasochistic fans as it lacks health or Gear energy pickups and only has checkpoints after mini bosses and before the final boss (who also have additional attacks). Everything from Son of Sparda up in Devil May Cry 5 is incredibly punishing as stronger demons invade earlier levels in bigger numbers, bosses learn new patterns, and, on Dante Must Die, enemies gain their own powerful Devil Triggers forms.

Devil May Cry 5’s batch of demanding modifiers have been in past titles but it also doesn’t come with a normal mode with a high bar of entry. Having a more welcoming standard mode and a ton of hardcore, old school options is exactly how Capcom caters to both veteran crowds and average players. And this goes for Mega Man and Resident Evil as well. Not making these hardcore modes the default is a thoughtful first step, but still including them somewhere is a great second step as these maintain the harsh standards established in the initial entries.

Assisted Mode

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But Capcom games usually have something for people on the other extreme end as well. Evening out the normal modes might not even be enough for some prospective players, which is where the easiest settings shine the brightest and round out the whole package.

Mega Man 11’s Newcomer option gives the player infinite lives, the ability to hop out of pits, and a fast-firing Buster. The Resident Evil 2 remake and Resident Evil 7 have easy modes with aim assist, passive healing, weaker enemies, and piles and piles of ammo. Along with an accessible “Human” mode, Devil May Cry 5 even has an Auto Assist toggle that automates flashy juggles, a welcome feature that has carried over from its predecessors. However, director Hideaki Itsuno won’t come over to your house to beat a boss for you. It doesn’t go that far.

But Capcom’s methods of easing in newer players are still quite extensive and fit within the grander scale of gaming as a whole. Titles like Spider-Man and God of War have “story” difficulties where everything is dialed down in favor of the narrative and overall experience.

Some don’t come to games for a challenge and these modes help facilitate those kinds of players. Almost anyone should be able to play and, while accessibility settings can always be better, Capcom hasn’t been neglecting those who don’t want to or can’t pass an aggressive skill test to reach the credits. Gaming doesn’t need more gatekeeping and these narrative modes recognize and embrace that.

Easier settings don’t take away from the extreme difficulties or the one right in the middle. Capcom has been ensuring that its games try to serve all three types of players through its selection of creative, nostalgia-fueled hard modes, satisfying normal difficulties, and easygoing casual offerings. By covering all of its bases in almost every release, each game can appeal to everyone without excluding anyone.

And that’s a smart strategy, given how Capcom made its name on tough games that put players through their paces but probably can’t exclusively indulge that crowd anymore. Staying true to those roots doesn’t require a sacrifice and, by mastering difficulty and implementing modes for everyone, Capcom has figured that out beautifully.