Top 10 hardest video games & franchises in history: Where does Elden Ring rank?

Starscourge Radahn in Elden RingBandai Namco/FromSoft

FromSoftware’s latest title, Elden Ring has become widely regarded as one of the hardest games of all time, as well as one of the most beloved in recent years. While the Souls games are often recognized for their punishing difficulty, there are plenty of other hard games on the market, so here are the top 10 hardest video games of all time.

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

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The fun in games like this is from finally overcoming a great obstacle, giving players a rush of triumph before moving on to the next challenge. While many would argue that FromSoftware has revolutionized the concept of difficult games, creating experiences that reward skill, patience, and perseverance, the Souls games weren’t the first games to employ this strategy. 

So, to those who’ve conquered Elden Ring and are looking for their next challenge, here are ten more of the hardest video games and franchises and where they rank alongside it.

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10. Flappy Bird

flappy bird gameplayGears
Just one…more…try.

Flappy Bird became infamous for its addictive gameplay, so much so its own creator removed it from various app stores, sparking a wave of imitators. This only contributed to its legend, and now this simple but frustrating title has gone down as one of the hardest games of all time.

The gameplay features a single bird, that you control with one button to fly higher in order 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 get through which makes it one of the hardest games of all time.

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9. Returnal

serene facing boss enemyHousemarque
Returnal is a clash of various genres, but it works.

Returnal is devilishly difficult and owes a lot to third-person survival horror shooters as well as the Souls series. Much of its difficulty is due it its rigid rules surrounding progression, but some of these ideas have since been patched to make the game more accessible.

This sci-fi adventure is not for everyone, but those who enjoy 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 pushing through the pain to get to the credits.

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8. Ninja Gaiden (Series)

Ryu Hayabusa grabbing swordTeam Ninja
Ninja Gaiden is an experience and a battle of patience and understanding.

Every Ninja Gaiden game is ridiculously hard and only those who master its mechanics will ever truly love it. There is an easy mode, but the game will laugh at you and call 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 swarmed by tons of angry enemies from all angles. Beating a Ninja Gaiden game, even on normal difficulty, is the mark of a true gaming warrior and it’s one of the reasons the series has amassed such a loyal following.

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7. Sifu

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

Sifu is a lot like the beat ’em ups of old, tough, uncompromising, and all about skill. Those who are good at learning patterns and movesets will really appreciate Sifu and will be most likely to survive. While it’s an entirely different genre to 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 making its titular protagonist age with each death.

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

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6. Cuphead

An image of cuphead and mugman fighting cagney carnation from Cuphead, one of the hardest games of all time.StudioMDHR
Easily one of the most fascinating games in recent memory, plus an obligatory comment about how it’ll make you pull your hair out.

When Cuphead was first revealed, it looked like a homage to cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s. Little did players know that lurking beneath this cute exterior was a lesson in frustration and futility and one of the hardest of all time. Don’t ever judge a Cuphead by its cover, and make sure you sip some chamomile tea to calm your nerves before tackling this game.

Largely consisting of bosses, Cuphead required absolute concentration and precision. Cuphead is always charming and honestly is a creative masterpiece, but it will push the player’s buttons more than the player will push any of their own. Those who are feeling brave can also try the game‘s Expert Mode, just prepare for some anguish.

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5. Ghosts ‘n Goblins

sir arthur battling enemiesCapcom
Taking damage will bizarrely remove your clothes in Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

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

The erratic movement patterns of enemies, the constantly respawning enemies, the ticking timer, and countless other factors make progression in Ghosts ‘n Goblins an exercise in futility at times. Whereas Souls games at least leave room for progressing your character, this doesn’t. Practice helps, but never makes perfect.

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4. Super Meat Boy

An image of a level of Super Meat Boy, one of the hardest platformer games of all time.Team Meat
It’s like Mario only unbelievably, stupidly harder.

At its core, Super Meat Boy is a basic, free-flowing, platform game. Its mechanics are well designed and its art style and concepts are engrossing. The only slight issue is that the game will chew players up like yesterday’s dinner before throwing them in the garbage. Those who finish the main game and manage to endure its brutality then need to tackle the game’s ‘Dark’ levels – which are even more extreme.

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

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

A promotional image from Elden Ring, one of the hardest games of all time.FromSoftware
Elden Ring took the Souls formula in an open world.

Here we are, Elden Ring falls into third place, but it’s sharing the space with its older siblings the Dark Souls trilogy, its cousin Bloodborne, and its grandsire Demon’s Souls. We’re grouping the Souls family into one entry to stop the whole list from becoming dominated by FromSoftware’s titles. Most of the Souls games follow a similar but 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 weep in agony.

That being said, it’s the first Dark Souls game that deserves accolades when it comes to difficulty. The title took the Demon’s Souls formula and made it even harder, bleaker, and filled its dark world with so many masochistic delights it would make a Cenebite blush. Elden Ring may have taken the series into the light, but it was Dark Souls that enveloped players in FromSoft’s addictive shroud.

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Don’t forget, there are lots of other Soulslike games to try that weren’t developed by FromSoftware. These are also some of the hardest video games ever.

2. Sekiro

Sekiro boss fightFrom Software
Playing Sekiro like a Souls game can lead to frustration.

Some may be surprised to see Sekiro not included in games listed in the number three spot. The truth is, while Sekiro is also a FromSoftware game, it’s not a ‘Souls’ game. While it shares many similarities with Dark Souls, Elden Ring, etc, the game is a hard-as-nails single-player-only adventure. In a Souls game, you can summon allies to help you take down a difficult boss, essentially letting them share the load. However, in Sekiro, players either “git good” or they die trying – many times.

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The game rewards mastery of its mechanics, patience, practice, and guile. Those who simply want to button bash their way through Sekiro won’t get very far. The game is easily the most unforgiving experience FromSoftware has ever crafted and is harder than any Souls game simply due to its lack of multiplayer and refusal to compromise. Yet those who conquer Sekiro will never have their skills questioned ever again.

1. Contra

An image of co-op gameplay in Contra, one of the hardest games of all time.Konami
Be prepared to die, die, and die again.

Choose from any of the early Contra games and see what we mean. We hated it, but we grew to love it and crave its approval. Contra may be the hardest video game ever once set the tone in terms of raw difficulty remains absolutely hard as nails to this day. Those who get stressed easily should avoid it at all costs. However, those who fancy a real challenge should set aside some time and prove their metal.

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Even if the game didn’t provide limited lives and continues in Contra, most still struggle to fully beat the game — and a Konami code won’t save us either. Sharing many of the same principles as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Contra games keep their foot on the gas for the entire experience, forcing players to get to grips with their mechanics. There’s no time to regroup or panic, players have to be on their top form and learn a host of behavioral patterns and movements if they wish to survive.

The franchise may well contain some of the hardest games of all time, and it’ll go down in history for it.

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There you have it, those of the hardest video games of all time ranked. For more gaming content, check out our lists below:

Best OLED Switch games | Best survival games |10 Best MMOs in 2022 | Best scary Roblox horror games in 2022 | Best survival games | Best Apple Arcade games | Best mobile games | Best MMO games | Best LGBTQ+ video games | 9 best Final Fantasy games ranked | Best Assassin’s Creed games

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