I was 14 when Sephiroth kicked my ass in Kingdom Hearts 2. I had zero context for who he was or why he was built to be one of the hardest fights in the game. He was the only obstacle between me and my 100% completion, so I spent hours and hours dying to him for the one chance I could find an opening to take him out.
Moments like that, especially at a young age, stick with you. The hardest games have a way of drilling into your brain; you remember the frustration and the eventual elation from the duel between you and the systems that feel designed to piss you off, or worse, designed so badly that it's practically an insult.
These are the PC Gamer staff's picks for the hardest games they've played. The games that didn't budge, the games that probably still haunt each of them to this day.
Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy
Finished? Never. Never ever.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: Not a particularly surprising answer, but when I think of difficult games, Getting Over It is top of mind. I find this one frustrating partially because I love so much about it. The man in the pot with a sledgehammer is so brilliantly weird and the periodic voiceovers about how difficult the game is are surreal. No game has ever pissed me off so passionately, and I think it's because few games make it easier to actually lose progress before your very eyes. Just when I think I've mastered a nasty slingshot 140 degrees up a cliff, the hammer decides to lose all friction and catapult back to the start of the entire game. Screw that. But also? Genius.
Finished? Yes, eventually
Sean Martin, Guides Writer: Malenia is the toughest boss FromSoftware has ever devised; worse than Ornstein and Smough, Orphan of Kos, Isshin, Midir, and even those gargoyles in Dark Souls 2, which is the closest I've come to rage-snapping a game disc. I got obsessed trying to find an answer to her Waterfowl Dance, the attack where she rushes you like a hummingbird made of knives. When I finally puzzled out that if I timed it right, I could run away then dive back through it, I felt such triumph. Then I found Bloodhound's Step and realised I'd been doing things the hard way.
Ghosts 'n Goblins
Finished? No. Not sure I ever made it past the floating platforms on level 2.
Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: I had the Commodore 64 version as a kid, and the fact I was so young when I played it probably didn't help. Ghosts n' Goblins did seem bastard-hard, though. One hit robbed you of your armor, leaving you in a pair of boxer shorts, and a second hit meant death. The jumping was tricky, with no midair after-touch to tweak your momentum, and sometimes you'd clip right through the moving platforms. That might have been a C64-specific bug, though the C64 version also had the best soundtrack. The music is probably the only thing that kept me playing it.
Spelunky and Spelunky 2
Finished? Nope. Not even close.
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: My muscle memory has amnesia, and that's never been more evident than in the Spelunky games. In the original I think I only got to Olmec a couple times, and despite watching other people defeat that giant evil head repeatedly, I still always wound up getting squished. But far more difficult for me was just getting that far. I'm lucky to make it to the Temple, provided I'm lucky enough to survive the Ice Caves, and that's only if I'm fortunate enough to survive the Jungle. Frankly, I still die in The Mines a lot. I love Spelunky, but every time I play it's like it's my first time.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Finished? Once—take that you bastard!
Rich Stanton, Senior Editor: FTL is one of the best games I've ever played. I also got obsessed with it when it first came out. As with most games these days, FTL has subsequently been patched (and a popular mod is almost the true definitive edition) so it's slightly easier. But, oh god: before that, you would have a brilliant run, all the weapons and crew a captain could dream of, and then you'd run up against this totally OP final boss ship that just obliterated anything. The difficulty curve just became an impassable wall that was nothing to do with skill. Even now I'm getting angry thinking about it. Fucking love FTL: Fuck that final ship.
Robin Valentine, Print Editor: I'm always a little baffled when people talk about Dark Souls as if it's the most brutally, unusually difficult game of all time. It's hard, for sure, but when I was a kid in the '90s, every cutesy platformer I played hated me far more than From Software ever has. I recently went back to one of my favourites of the time, Aladdin, to rediscover that, yes, it is non-stop mean-spirited bullshit from beginning to end. Excellent music, charming animation, truly evil game design. I never finished it as an 8-year-old and I don't think there's any more hope for me now I'm a tired 33-year-old. At least running it on modern machines is easy—you can grab it on Steam bundled with the also brilliant-but-brutal The Lion King.
Finished? No. Screw Odin and the horse he rode in on.
Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: Steam says I played Thunder Lotus's boss battler Jotun for 15.7 hours and I'm pretty sure at least four of those were spent on its last fight against the allfather himself. It's a bear of a fight. The old man chucks guided missiles at you in increasing numbers while every boss you've beaten prior drops in for a cheeky cameo. I don't know how many times I attempted that fight but eventually I decided that I'd as good as beat the game anyhow and the ringleader of the gods could shove it.
Finished? No. How can you finish eternal damnation?
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: At the start of Devil Daggers, you materialise on a square platform surrounded by a black void. Immediately, enormous HR Giger-ey monsters start puking demonic skulls at you. If a skull touches you, you die. If anything else touches you, you die. If you fall off the platform, you die. All you've got are fast feet and a gun that shoots magic daggers. Your only goal is to stay alive for as long as you can. The current record is 20 minutes and 28.76 seconds. My personal record is 1 minute and 10 seconds. There's no known ending to Devil Daggers, just a single achievement called "Devil Dagger" which is unlocked by surviving for 500 seconds. Only 0.2% of Steam players have unlocked that achievement, plus some on GOG, which according to the in-game leaderboard comes to just 705 people.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Finished? Almost—160 hours down, around 15 or so to go
Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: We're still riding a new CRPG renaissance, and it rules, but nothing quite replicated that feeling of impenetrable, old-school, tabletopy trial-and-error difficulty until I tried Owlcat's second Pathfinder game. We've got all our AD&D favorites here: ability drain, level drain, timed quests, unclear quest consequences, crazy specific enemy resistances, and persistent crowd-control effects. This game is harder than Baldur's Gate, and that took me 10 years to finally beat. The peak for me was a pair of time-sensitive quests in the game's first act that have potential ramifications all the way to the endgame. I undid eight hours of progress to speedrun the first act without resting (and redo a 45-minute setpiece battle) to fix one of the bad quest outcomes I got before I knew about the time limit, only to get back to where I was before and discover the second quest I carked. The kicker is I hear its predecessor, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, is even harder.
Final Fantasy 14's savage raids
Finished? Trying to successfully clear a whole four savage raids while keeping my mental wellbeing in check? No, I did not finish.
Mollie Taylor, News Writer: I'm not a hardcore raider by any stretch of the imagination, but when Endwalker released I was determined to finally give savage raiding a whirl. Wowee, it sure was fun until it wasn't! I never got around to joining a static, so all of my parties were the equivalent of being shoved in a Las Vegas jail cell for a night. You search for a party to progress one mechanic and spend the next three hours constantly wiping to the mechanic before it. Learning new strategies, perfecting my rotation, and becoming better at my class was a lot of fun! But after struggling to pull together a competent party for this tier's second Savage raid, I'd had enough. I tried to continue with the third raid but sadly I was a defeated woman, a husk of my former self. Nothing is less fun than when the game you love starts feeling like a job. There's a new tier of raids on the horizon though, and I'm determined to beat them all this time round.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: Look, I'm an idiot. Is that what you want to hear? That I'm a big dum-dum too impatient to finish a quiet, reflective puzzle game that puts zero demands on my reflexes and only asks me to think? Well, it's true. I played a few hours of Riven 15 years ago and it kicked my ass so thoroughly I've been scared of Rand Miller ever since.
If you never played Riven: it's the sequel to Myst, a challenging puzzle game that at least had the decency to segment all of its puzzles into small self-contained areas. After Myst, Cyan Worlds decided to flex its design chops by making one big interconnected world, so you could wander from one context-free puzzle piece to the next, absolutely clueless as to how they fit together. Unraveling Riven required being dilligent enough to take notes on everything you saw, patient enough to explore with no guidance, and smart enough to actually connect the dots and crack each puzzle. Turns out I was 0/3. Riven's probably a masterpiece, but pretty much all I got out of it was riding around in a bathysphere for a couple hours and then uninstalling it forever.
Finished? No, and I don't care, and don't judge me.
Andy Chalk, NA News Lead: I don't have the right kind of mind for math and logic puzzles, which is fine because I don't like them either. (Yeah, maybe there's a connection.) Yet for some reason—nostalgia for Myst, perhaps—I decided to give The Witness a run. Colossal mistake. The opening bit was fine, and I actually felt kind of smart as I plowed through one colors-and-shapes brainteaser after another. But it didn't take long before my brain started to feel the strain, and the usual train of emotion quickly followed: I am angry, I am bored, I am leaving. The Witness is maybe not "hard" in the conventional videogame sense of dodging bullets and defeating bosses, but brain stuff is hard too, god dammit! I beat Elden Ring with a mouse and keyboard, don't you dare judge me.
Finished? I hope so.
Tyler Colp, Associate Editor: It was tradition to play every Halo game on Legendary difficulty with my buddies. A lot of the details about that experience have faded away, but I know that Halo 3 was the hardest game for us. I do remember getting instantly killed by Jackals sporadically throughout its brutal encounters. It was like filling out a form online and pressing cancel instead of submit at the end; the surprise deaths came at the most infuriating times. And the boss fights were worse because the amount of enemies they threw at you reduced what could have been a strategy to pure RNG. I like to think we finished all of the levels, but I'm not even sure anymore. Would it matter? All I remember is pain.