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Some video games may reward their players for choosing harder difficulties. However, merely getting Cosmetic Awards may often seem unfair, so gamers may receive some actually gameplay-affecting bonuses to keep up with the challenge. It's often bonus experience or better equipment, especially when the player may select difficulties for particular missions. These rewards sometimes have a bit of a Magikarp Power: the starting conditions for the harder difficulties are undeniably harder, but as the game goes on, the bonuses kick in noticeably.

If overdone, the harder difficulties may become easier than the easy ones. Contrast Easy Mode Mockery. Compare Bragging Rights Reward, when you don't need the reward because you already beat the game, and Golden Ending, which is sometimes reserved for hard mode.

Examples of Hard Mode Perks include:

  • In Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, the players rely mostly on equipment found during the levels in order to power up the characters. Upon defeating Dracula for the first time, it's possible to play in the Hard version of the levels, in which enemies inflict much more damage, are faster and have drastically increased HP, as well as placing more enemies on the maps and making the hazards considerably harder to avoid. However, item boxes will provide much better equipment.
  • The Forza Motorsport series has bonuses for players that disable driver assists (traction control, anti-lock brakes, racing/braking lines). The more assists that are turned off, the more money you get a bonus at the end of races; disabling all the assists and setting the AI on the hardest setting will give you 165% more credits at the end of the race, on top of the regular winnings.
  • In Star Wolves, harder difficulties grant experience bonus, and the experience is extremely important in the game.
  • In World of Warcraft, heroic versions of dungeons are harder but give much better loot, as well as currency with which to buy raid-quality gear.
  • Diablo II gives much better Random Drops on Nightmare and Hell difficulties.
  • Sacred gives an experience bonus based on difficulty.
  • On Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse for the SNES, harder modes make you start with less Hearts, but you can find more Heart Containers than in easy mode. You still have to deal with more enemies and tougher bosses, and the bonus containers are hidden.
  • Vindicators gives you a bigger number of starting stars (ie: money) for the harder difficulties.
  • This applies to most of the Dynasty Warriors series. Depending on the exact game, playing on harder difficulties will get you better weapon-drops, better stat-increase drops, or just faster experience-gain. In most cases, the best weapons can only be acquired while playing on Hard Mode or higher.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, beating the final boss on Hardcore mode gives you more karma you can use to carry skills and special astral equipment and consumables into your next ascension.
  • Mass Effect 1 offers higher exp (or more exp opportunities) on higher difficulties.
    • In Mass Effect 2, completing a certain character's recruitment mission on Hardcore or Insanity yields the Geth Pulse Rifle, an extremely accurate Assault Rifle.
  • In Valkyrie Profile, getting every character at level 1 on Hard might not seem like this (and probably wasn't intended to be), but it lets you level up new characters more carefully, such as by equipping them with accessories which boost their HP and skill points at each level up. In practice, it ends up giving your characters a significant boost in power at a lower level.
    • A straighter version would be that the dungeons exclusive to hard mode contain top tier equipment that just isn't available in normal or easy difficulties. The net result between this and the above point is that Hard Mode is significantly easier if you know what you're doing, while Easy Mode can be much more difficult--and it doesn't let you get the Golden Ending.
  • Almost all of the Touhou games have some method of scaling your score to the difficulty chosen. A few of them grant extra lives based on score. This means that playing on harder difficulties gets you lives earlier in these games, and the point barriers can be high enough that you can miss them if you're playing poorly.

    Additionally, Ten Desires gives more spirits on the higher difficulties. Spirits are used to fill the trance gauge, and trance is not only a powerful attack and defense, but can be used to double the effect of bomb and life fragments.

    The way Fairy Wars works is that you have the ability to freeze bullets, and get lives, bombs, power, and score based on the area frozen. The increased amount of bullets on the higher difficulties is a natural help. The higher difficulties also have death-bullets, which can be used to greatly extend a freeze by a clever player.
  • The "hard mode" of the original Super Mario Bros. actually replaces all Goombas with Buzzy Beetles, which actually allows Mario/Luigi to get as many lives as they want by having their shells being kicked repeatedly against certain structures, much like a Koopa shell.
  • Space Rangers have several sliders adjusting difficulty of various parts of the game, thus making the difficulty go from 50% to 200% - it's actually a quotient to multiply points by for the record table. Aside from that, more enemies means more experience and money once you get moderately good weapons, and Enemy Mine becomes much easier to utilize. Also, you may pick either additional units or bonus armor for planetary fights, or deny both and get bonus experience and money.
  • In X-COM, there are more aliens per UFO and more UFOs on the higher difficulties. During the early game, when you actually have to worry about money, most of your money will come from selling alien equipment. While you'll have higher overheads from your higher death rate, this extra cash will still speed up your progress considerably (assuming you survive).
  • Super Smash Bros, Brawl has more stickers and trophies appear in harder difficulties, especially stickers in the Adventure Mode.
    • In Melee, you could only fight Crazy Hand in Classic and Giga Bowser in Adventure if you were playing on the highest or second highest difficulty.
    • For the whole series, playing on higher difficulties would give you bigger bonus points for completing the game on said harder difficulties.
  • A number of Western RPGs including the Dungeon Siege series allow the player to begin a New Game+ with all the enemies in the game at a much higher level or scaled to the level at which the initial playthrough was ended. Needless to say, the experience, gold and loot scale as well.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+ includes Critical Mode which offers an initial AP of 50, subsequent AP increases are now 3 instead of 2, and several abilities are granted on Day 3: Reaction Boost, Finishing Plus, Draw, 2 Lucky Lucky, MP Hastera and EXP Zero.
    • In Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, you start with five command deck slots for attacks if you play on Critical, instead of the three you start with on the lower difficulties. You also get the EXP Zero skill, which negates any EXP earned from defeating enemies.
  • Mushihime-sama Futari Black Label's God mode allows the multiplier counter to go up to 30,000, as opposed to Maniac's 9,999. As a result it's much easier to score high (once you tame the Bullet Hell), to the point where you can get the extends earlier than you would in Maniac if you know what you're doing. In fact, if you play with both player slots active, it's possible to max out the score counter.
  • Many classic arcade games--particularly those of the endless variety--allow the player to choose their starting stage. Choosing higher stages often will grant the player a bonus at the beginning of the game. Examples of games that do this:
  • Newer releases of Beatmania IIDX have Hazard mode, an offshoot of Free Mode (a mode that guarantees 2 stages regardless of whether you fail the first one). In Hazard, breaking your combo will result in stage failure. However, you are guaranteed four stages instead of two.
  • Jak II and Jak 3 have "Hero Mode", in which the enemies are more powerful, but you start with all of the guns. This makes Hero Mode easier at first . . . except in turret sections and others where you can't use your guns.
    • You can however unlock unlimited ammo, Dark Jak and invulnerability with less orbs than usual and before the game ends. And considering you need orbs to unlock hero mode it's not too much trouble to just go out and nab a few.
  • In Ratchet: Deadlocked, the difficulty determines the number of stars the player will receive after completing a mission (to a maximum of 5 on Exterminator), which are used to get Hundred-Percent Completion and allows you to unlock Ratchet's alternate skins far faster. Thankfully, anyone who's beaten one of the other games in the series on Challenge Mode will be able to breeze through the higher difficulties.
  • In the Super Robot Wars games, achieving bonus objectives on each mission scales up the difficulty. If you keep this up long enough, however, the game often rewards you with very powerful bonus equipment in the later stages.
  • In the adventure mode of the 1999 version of Q*bert, you get double points on normal (compared to easy) and triple points on hard. This does have an in-game use: getting better high scores on early levels increases your rank faster, which lets you access optional areas (those normally-impassable "2" and "3" blocks). It should be noted that the only difference between the difficulties is how many lives you start with.
  • In Do Don Pachi DaiFukkatsu Black Label, playing on Power Style (though not Strong Style) will force you onto the hidden stage paths, instead of requiring you to "earn" them. This is normally a bad thing as some of the midbosses you end up encountering are That One Boss, but for those playing for score, it's also a chance to rack up easy points due to the longer stage lengths without worrying about meeting the conditions for the hidden paths.
    • If you play Bomb or Strong Style, and turn off Auto-Bomb, you'll be able to use Hyper Counter even if your Hyper gauge is not full, by using a bomb stock instead. This is very advantageous for two reasons: Going into Hyper does not kill your combo like bombing does, and while in Hyper Counter mode, your shots will cancel enemy bullets (although those bullets will fire suicide bullets in Strong Style), so you get about 10-15 seconds of protection vs. the 2-5 that a bomb gives you.
  • Playing The World Ends With You on harder difficulties will yield different enemy drops, which most of the time are better than the ones for Easy or Normal.
  • DJMAX Portable 2 and Fever normally require you to play a few hundred songs to unlock 8-Button Mode. If you change the options difficulty to Hard, you'll be able to use 8-Button regardless of playcount.
    • DJMAX Portable 3 is similar. To unlock 6.2 Tracks mode in Easy and Normal, you need to reach level 50 through a LOT of Level Grinding. And THEN, you have to unlock it through a 3-item "pick a ? box and uncover the mystery prize" Mini Game that only appears whenever you level up. If you set the difficulty to Hard, however, 6.2 Tracks is available from the get go...if you can stand the stricter timing windows and the batshit insane Life Meter (we're talking death after only 2 or 3 misses).
  • Fallout 3 allows you to change the difficulty, which ramps up enemy HP and damage resistance to ludicrous levels, in exchange for more XP from killing them.
    • One could take advantage of this by switching the difficulty mid-fight. Attack enemies on a lower difficulty, then switch to Very Hard and finish them off.
  • Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 allows the player to gain more experience by increasing the difficulty. This ends up making the Easy setting almost not worth playing, as every kill is only worth a single experience point on that mode, compared to 5 per every kill you make and 3 for every one your teammates make on Normal.
  • The best materials won't spawn in Terraria until the Wall of Flesh is killed, turning on Hard Mode for the entire world.
  • Fire Emblem 6 buffs up the starting stats of quite a few usable characters on Hard Mode, and almost all of the affected characters are good in the first place. You'll need it.
  • Playing on Hard in Bit.Trip FLUX (on SAGA or COMPLETE) increases the amount of Beats required to go up and down - perfect for players who can get to META, but can't stay there for long on Normal.
  • Resident Evil 3 has an extra optional challenge on Hard mode. The recurring enemy, Nemesis, will relentlessly track down Jill until you avoid him long enough or pump enough bullets into him to knock him down for a while. Shooting down Nemesis on Easy won't change anything but doing the same on Hard will make Nemesis drop one-of-a-kind items like parts to build unique weapons or cases filled with first aid sprays. If you managed to stop Nemesis on every single encounter, the final item he drops in the clock tower is an ammo case that gives any one weapon infinite ammo.
  • Parasite Eve 2 has various challenges based on difficulty level. Bounty Mode forces you to fight stronger enemies a lot earlier than you usually do but beating them gets you better items and guns just as early. Scavenge and Nightmare mode doesn't do this, but for all difficulties above Replay Mode (Easy), your overall BP and EXP when you beat the game gets multiplied by a difficulty bonus and you get to use the leftover points for New Game+.
  • In the Streets of Rage series, playing on a harder difficulty level meant enemies not only had more health, but they would also come in bigger waves. However, more enemies also means more points to your score and if you were really good, you could rack up a huge score and net several extra lives as you played.
  • In Bastion, invoking the gods creates all sorts of negative effects that power up the monsters you fight. However, you also gain bonus experience and money per kill.
  • In Kid Icarus: Uprising, you can wager hearts at the beginning of each chapter to increase or decrease its "intensity level". At higher levels, the enemies shoot more often and some take more damage. On the other hand, it opens up sections of levels that are closed off on lower difficulties, and you receive more powerful weapons if you're able to clear the chapter.
  • Mega Man Legends 2 starts you off with an SS-class digger license on Very Hard mode, allowing you to enter any ruin in the game without having to take those digger tests beforehand.