Games That Punish You For Making Yourself Stronger

I’ve just recently finished playing a video game called Prey 2017 and was surprised when it all of a sudden punished me for making myself better by upgrading my equipment and skilling out new abilities.

Are there any games you know that make your life harder for making yourself more powerful within the game? And how those systems are implemented?


I distinctly remember playing Final Fantasy VIII and slapping on “Encounters: None” as quickly as possible. Got through to the fourth disc of the game at about level 20.

I turned Enc:None off so I could steal some tentacles from some Marlboros in order to upgrade a weapon, and wouldn’t you know it: the first two encounters I had on the Island Closest to Hell were immediately ended by the untimely arrival of Odin, who proceeded to instantly kill the enemy.

My party ended up gaining 40 levels in 2 random encounters thanks to Odin, and the numbers of the game bloated out of control. My strategies had been lackadasical and weak before, and now enemies were hitting for orders of magnitude harder because they too levelled up.

It was a senseless mess and to this day I wonder how the heck that got past quality testing.

Cave Story’s Nemesis gun is the most extreme example of this I can think of

The Casey Bat in EarthBound is a super-powered weapon for Ness, but is essentially a joke weapon because it also has a 75% miss rate.

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There’s the classic model of making difficulty dynamic by linking the level, stats or abilities of enemies to the level of the player. This often leads to the problem of levelling increasing the power of the enemies more than the player. If balanced incorrectly (and honestly, perfect balance is impossible) this can lead to players actually getting over-experienced in a way that they can’t undo, and now the enemies are too difficult to overcome.

@Arclight Gave a good example of this in Final Fantasy VIII (though that did also have the Tonberry level up/down ability which means you technically could reverse it iirc.). Another, arguably more infamous example, is Elder Scrolls Oblivion.

I’ve thought of one from left-field but Dungeon crawlers where spawning enemies get harder the longer you sit on the same floor might count. Technically this is penalising slow play but ultimately it’s punishing the player for being too cautious (and thus ‘more powerful’ and able to deal with difficult rooms) or spending too much time scouring the room for items, buffs or experience. Spelunky’s Ghost is the one I automatically thought of (though this is also in Persona 5 more recently).

Edit: Depending on your perspective, the Dark Souls 3 quest where you can get free levels in return for a disfigured look could count as punishing you for picking the quick way to become more powerful. It’s temporary, however it’s a tough pain to accept on a fashion souls run regardless.

Oh, geez. Oblivion was the worst with its level scaling. And it didn’t even try to hide how ridiculous it was. Once you get powered up enough, random bandits you meet in the countryside that were wearing leather armor and wielding simple weapons are suddenly decked out head to toe in magical gear.


Nethack does level scaling where, I think specifically whenever you enter a new level it populates it with monsters based on your current level and also how far down you are. it’s led to some interesting, kind of counterintuitive strategies like players actually avoiding grinding and letting their pet take most of the kills both to level it up and to avoid leveling themselves up at least until they can collect better equipment.

I haven’t actually played it but Nonguns has a system where you can just grind out better weapons but once you do everything murders you even more. Which seems pretty neat.

And it didn’t matter what you leveled up in! Leveling up your stealth and acrobatics and putting your points into agility or health gives you the same enemies as leveling your two handed and putting points into strength!
I ended up cheeseing that game with 100% chameleon because the combat is so dry and lifeless.

Gahhh that game gets me heated! Why did I put so many hours into it! Even after I realized it was a mess of game! I even closed all the oblivion gates!

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In Final Fantasy IV, one character, Tellah, will slowly experience stat drain as he levels up, because he’s an old man. A bit of a different example because it’s just one character, and something that was clearly intentional, versus being a weird side-effect of how the level scaling works.

Not to mention how Tellah, and Garnet in FFIX, will be MP-capped for portions of the game in order to keep them from casting “forbidden” spells. In Tellah’s case, Meteo, and in Garnet’s case, her summons.

When you first get either character it’s no big deal, but after a point it results in their effectiveness badly lagging behind the rest of the party.

There was an infamous bug* in Phantasy Star IV, where if you leveled a character up to 99, their stats and abilities would go crazy. This bug could switch party members stats/abilities and/or effectively level them down to 50-60 while still showing Lv99. Thankfully, the Wii(?) VC version has a patch that fixes this bug, the Sega Ages PS2 collection also has an option to fix it, and the Steam Workshop has the ROM Hack that fixes the bug for the Genesis Collection on there.

*There has been some talk that this was done on purpose to punish over-grinders, but that could just be some post-hoc re-contextualization to justify a bug with some pretty random effects.
(But even without the patch, it’s pretty easy to avoid in normal play, since you don’t need to be anywhere near 99 to finish the game)


Goat Simulator. Just try to combine all those mutations. See what happens.

As a more serious example, Plague Inc: Evolved. I think Plague Inc might actually be the best example of this as a lot of the time making yourself stronger as a disease will also make you more easily noticed which can be very much to your own detriment if you haven’t spread to enough countries and continents before they start cutting off travel, so leveling up is actually an extremely important and central strategy in Plague Inc.


Dark Souls 3 had fun with that. Needless to say, if it sounds too good to be true: yup, kinda.

But also Undertale, yo.


There is this awesome game from a recent Ludum Dare (game jam) called Ascend. The creator describes it as a ‘reverse-rogue like’ where you will lose more of your abilities as the game goes on. It’s an amazing idea and they did a great job developing it in such a short amount of time.


I think the best example I can think of is most of the Elder Scrolls series, which will scale encounters to your level. Which, is fine most of the time. It makes for a good difficulty curve usually, where almost anything you fight might drop something you want, but won’t give it up for free.

The problem comes from if you’d leveled up on athletics, lockpicking, sneak, acrobatics, you name it. If you went to town so to speak on non-combat skills, scaling of combat encounters could get you into really bad situations.

The other example that comes to mind is the AI director. Although it’s less about making yourself stronger, and is just the game responding to you doing well, the director in Left 4 Dead, and Left 4 Deaad 2 will try to crush your advantages. You’re all super healthy, everyone has medkits in chapter two? Clearly we haven’t thrown enough tanks at you. Here, have some tanks.

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