Continuing on the subject of fake difficulty in games, another extremely common version I see is allowing the game to cheat when competing against you. The “computer”, or A.I. controlled opponents, will act and react to you in a way a real human never could, using information that is supposed to be hidden to gain an advantage.
And one of the many blatant examples of this in Role-playing Strategy games is in…
This gets really obvious from generation 3 and onward, where the main series introduces the Battle Tower and Battle Frontier sections. Each generation after has its own versions of these, including a subway battle system, but they all follow similar rule patterns. You select a team of Pokemon to enter the challenge with, and you will face a set of trainers you must defeat in a row for points. Your team is healed every battle, but everyone’s Pokemon are temporarily set to level 50 for fairness. You are not allowed to change your Pokemon party until you won all 7 battles in each round, or you lost one of them. Now this is technically an even playing field… right up until the opponents start learning your team’s strategy after each match.
In an ideal setting, each trainer in a batch of 7 should have no idea what Pokemon you are carrying, so they can’t prepare for anything specific, just like you have to try and make a balanced team to cover as many weaknesses as possible. But if you pay attention as you win consecutive rounds, the trainers will begin to have Pokemon that yours are weaker to. As an example, if you have a lot of water types, you’ll begin to encounter a huge amount of Electric and Grass types to counter you. This gets very obvious in the Battle Subway system of Generation 5.
After beating the main story modes, the Super Train challenges open up, with a larger variety of Pokemon that are fully evolved. And after building up a record number of wins, you will see this cheating behavior described above. Your Pokemon team’s setup can be very specific, such as a weather based strategy or using Pokemon disguised as others, but the A.I. will eventually start using strategies that would only be logical if they knew what you had. You can argue that it makes the higher levels more of an uphill battle, but blatant cheating like this makes the difficulty scale less of a hill and more of a vertical wall after a certain point. How can a person realistically hope to win if the opponent is built to make them lose?
A better solution to this is to make more advanced A.I. strategies as a whole. Instead of just mindlessly blocking the player off, use common tricks and combinations that players are capable of replicating. That way, the battle becomes a pure skill challenge instead of attrition.
Pokemon games have been getting better with their trainer A.I. systems as of recent games, using more items and clever combinations of Pokemon abilities and moves instead of basic type advantage attacks and stat boosting, but at the end of the day, nothing can really replicate the creativity of another person on the other side of the battlefield.