Strategy Guides – From Flamebait to Collector’s Item
Strategy guides – love them or hate them they’re a staple of the industry as it stands today, and, quite frankly, have been for quite some time. Gamers have a spectrum of different reactions when you mention the subject – from vile hate to passive “to each their own” attitudes. I’ve personally always been supportive of guides – especially for my chosen genre, role-playing games – for one reason, and I’ll tackle that first just to get it out of the way.
While I haven’t always been as busy with other responsibilities as I have been the last few years, my time has always been precious. Many could probably relate to my present situation, with family and work responsibilities. You know, being an adult. I have a house, a car, a wife, a family, a social life (I know, that’s blasphemy) and so on. Strategy guides afford me the opportunity to have the solution to an in-game problem at my fingertips and help me do as much as I can the first time I play through a game.
The last thing I want to do – because, again, my time is precious – is be stuck for who knows how long on a boss or a puzzle, wasting time trying to figure something like that out. I rarely these days have the time to replay a game multiple times just to get an item, a character or even a trophy that I missed the first time through, so also, in that respect, guides are a god-send.
I remember, at various points in my gaming career, back in the heyday of JRPGs, when I was playing things like Final Fantasy VII and The Legend of Dragoon, I would get endlessly mocked by friends and Internet low-lifes alike because of my purchase and use of guides. In fact, so much as thumbing through a guide at GameStop one time provided the opportunity for another customer to mock me behind my back when he didn’t think I could hear him.
Needless to say, I’m still a proponent of using strategy guides these days, even more so than I was back then. However, not all guides or games are created equal. I triumphed through Final Fantasy XIII with hardly a glance at the guide I purchased along with the game. In that case, the game was so linear and straight-forward that I practically laughed at the fact that the guide had a walk-through section at all. On the other hand, previous games in that particular franchise were so non-linear and in-depth that even Square-Enix’s attempt at a combined physical/digital guide failed miserably with Final Fantasy IX. The guide basically told you “go here, do this”, and that was it. For any additional information – such as side-quests and non-story-related distractions – they forced you to go to their horrible PlayOnline site to look up the info (and even then it wasn’t all that great).
While I still have a huge box full of old-school RPG strategy guides, these days those delightful and often-overlooked collector items have taken on a bit of a different meaning. I mentioned that they were for collectors, and today that may be even more true. If I was a fan of using guides for gameplay purposes before, I’m even more a fan of what guides have become in the last couple years.
I’m speaking of the hard-cover guides (which are sometimes released as special collector’s edition guides, aptly named, if you ask me). Sure, they cost you practically as much as the actual games themselves, but you get even more benefit from them than you did in the past. As you can see with the above pictures, I didn’t really take care of my 10+ year old paperback guides; and some, you can tell, have gone through pretty hefty use by myself and my friends. But now, a guide is so much more than just a walkthrough of a game – it’s a collector’s item.
In the U.S., we sometimes don’t receive the Collector’s Edition of games like they do in Japan, and even in Europe (FFXIII for example), yet you can usually have a nice item that looks mighty sexy on your shelf if you pick up the hard-cover guide for some of these games. It started with Final Fantasy XIII, then expanded to Kingdoms of Amalur, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and, most recently, Ni No Kuni. They simply look great on a shelf or on a gamer’s room coffee table.
Even if you’re dead-set on never opening the guide, you have to admit there’s a part of you that may want them just for the value of having it as a collector’s item, and I wouldn’t blame you. It’s likely part of the proliferation of more expensive (yet better made) guides is partly because of the wide use of the Internet these days. You don’t need to buy a guide to help you get through tough areas in a game; and the younger crowd is more likely to turn to GameFaqs (heaven forbid), a more game-specific forum or social media to gain the answer to their questions.
Me, however…I’m old-school. I’m also lazy. I dislike getting up off my sofa to sit down at my PC, hunt around for an answer to my issue, and/or spend the time writing up a note asking for help and then waiting who knows how long for someone on some forum or Twitter to respond. I still, all these years later, like the feel and convenience of a strategy guide in my hands.
So, whether you collect them, use them for a walkthrough or both, like myself, strategy guides have certainly graduated from the paperback flame bait of yesteryear to a rather elegant and tasteful collector’s item. It doesn’t hurt that many of the hard-cover guides these days include interviews with developers, artwork and other goodies for the games they represent which you can’t find elsewhere. I’m to the point where, personally, if one is available, I wouldn’t buy anything except a hard-cover guide for a game. It’s now a multi-purpose purchase that adds some class to the once-maligned strategy guide.