Please expect a bit of braggery in this opinion piece. And by lowest possible level, I mean doing absolutely nothing that isn’t mandatory, and even then you avoid it as best you can..
Since the dawn of fantasy gaming, namely back in the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons, we have had stats. As our characters grew in level, those stats and what they could do increased, and the difficulty and what they couldn’t do decreased.
I have personally completed multiple self-imposed challenges in games based on a single theory; “Any finite number can be reduced to zero”. Several years ago, Konami released Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Like most modern Castlevanias, it had a leveling system, but to my knowledge it was the first Castlevania to have a level cap in hard mode.
Though most wimps, cowards, and cretin completed Lv1 hard mode on a New Game+ starting out with all the best gear available, I laughed and announced that I was going to do a new game Lv1 hard mode. Some said I was crazy. It was by far the most challenging playthrough of any game I had ever done. Even the weakest monster could bring me down to less than half HP, and some of the stronger ones (including the first boss) could kill me in a single blow. Entire rooms of monsters, some very aggressive, were a daunting challenge because of my low stats and attack power, but I eventually did it. How? There is no attack in the game that cannot be avoided or neutralized. No, not even Dracula’s walls of death (Wrecking Ball takes care of that).
The difference between platformers and RPGs is that platformers give more freedom of movement, while RPGs have you at the mercy of your abilities and the Random Number God. Trying to hide behind things in Final Fantasy X isn’t going to work. However, very crafty use of items and such along with Overdrives means that the game can be completed under some very ridiculous conditions. For instance, Seymour, who has a habit of killing or critically injuring characters in one blow, can be easily brought down with some smarts.
There are some games where such a thing is not possible. Etrian Odyssey is a series that requires a high degree of skill to play, but no amount of skill is going to help you if the enemy can wipe out the entire party in one hit (Several bosses are capable of this). Tons of luck involving Hoplites might render your party invincible but that’s really pushing it.
For the games where such a thing is possible and your skill is based purely on choices and the RNG, does it mean that the game was made to be completed regardless of the conditions to prevent unwinnable situations, or that it’s too easy?
As you can see in the previously-seen battle with Seymour, he can be difficult for inexperienced players. Anima in particular can make things fairly tricky if you have not leveled Yuna’s stats to allow Shiva to fight on even terms with the Aeon. Quite a few players have had to start over because once the party decides to rip Seymour’s head off his shoulders, there is no way to level, AND you wont be able to do Blitzball until several hours later since everyone wants you dead for murdering a Maester.
If such ease is put into a game, it could be a possibly intentional design choice. Many games, especially older ones, could force you into a corner you can’t escape from. These kinds of things can result from poor programming, a sadistic designer, or players doing something completely unexpected. Regardless, it can be very upsetting for a player to have to start over. If it can happen often and easily, then the reviews of the game might call it “unplayable”.
Stat-wise, such a thing can be common. However, if extreme skill and knowledge of the game can allow you to breeze through it, then I think the developers have accomplished something. A poorly-designed RPG in my opinion gives you the finger and tells you to grind more to beat the boss. A well-designed one tells you “As long as you can do 1 point of damage, you can kill it”. Such a thing was part of the design philosophy of Dark Souls, where very few things were guaranteed to kill you IF you knew exactly what you were doing.
So, tell me, should a level 1 fresh out of the character creation screen be able to walk straight up to the final boss and knock him spark out? I certainly think he should.