Discourse on Strategy Guide Organization

Friendship via VGCats

I just like this comic from VGCats.

This morning I woke up to text messages from one of my closest friends griping about the strategy guide for Final Fantasy XIII-2. She was having difficulties with finding out how to unlock one of the gates in order to progress through the story. She swore the guide was zero help, which puzzled me, because I thought the guide was extremely helpful in finding pretty much everything. After some back and forth, I had asked her if she looked in the Tour Guide section for the answer, as the guide is split up between the main walkthrough and a tour guide of each era. Sure enough, she found the answer there, and was close to livid that all of this information wasn’t glomped together.

As I said in my review, I was initially disappointed that all of this information wasn’t together, but the more I played the game, the more I was pleased that it wasn’t all crammed in together. If it had been, the walkthrough would have been an overload of information, most of which you wouldn’t need until much later in the game. I believe that that would have forced me to flip through the guide more than I already did, and it would have additionally forced me to take more time away from the game to read through what I needed to.

She pointed out that I did not like The World Ends with You¬†strategy guide whereas she did, so we obviously look for different things in guides. That made me scratch my head, because my big beef with that guide was that it narrated everything that happened in the game, down to actual dialogue. With so much text I didn’t need–because OMG that’s why I’m playing the game–I had to take more time away from the game to weed out what I was looking for.

What was fascinating to me about the whole conversation were the differences in our preferences for strategy guide organization and what we considered to be taking us away from the game. She seems to want everything bunched together so she doesn’t have to flip through the book, no matter how much she has to read through. I want the guides to require as little reading as possible in order to find what I’m looking for. While I am normally not a fan of guides breaking up the walkthrough sections, in the case of Final Fantasy XIII-2, I think it was done perfectly in order to cut down on the massive amount of unneeded information.

Obviously I’m not going to be changing my preferences, because they are my preferences, but I am going to rethink how I discuss a guide’s organization. Maybe a warning or two for those who prefer the guide to be organized in a lump sum or spread out. It’s definitely given me something to think about.

What are your preferences? Do you have any?

Strategy Guide Advice: Including Collectibles in the Walkthroughs

Space Marine Strategy Guide page layout

See how Space Marine includes collectibles? All should do this.

I haven’t “submitted” a tip for future strategy guides in awhile, but while using the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary strategy guide this past week, an issue came up that spurned me into enough annoyance to proffer some advice to guide publishers. And here it is: if a game has collectibles–no matter how strange they may be–always include the collectibles locations with the walkthroughs.

Granted, this is the first time I’ve come across this issue. In the Halo Anniversary guide, none of the Skulls or Terminals are marked in the walkthroughs. If you want to collect them all, you’ll have to use an appendix in the back of the guide.

Newsflash: I should only use appendices for collectibles when I’m replaying something or if I need to find where a certain collectible is. When going through a game for the first time, I want to know where all the collectibles are instantly. I don’t want to flip back and forth to find them. Even just marking them on the chapter maps would be nice.

The whole point of having and using a strategy guide is to make gameplay more efficient for the gamer. Not including collectibles in the walkthroughs is a far cry from being efficient. It’s annoying, and if I wanted to use a guide like that, I’d rely strictly on online guides, which are typically set up that way.

Strategy guide publishers…please do not make this a new trend with print guides.

Strategy guide pet peeve: “Prepare yourself for battle”

While playing through Mass Effect these past couple of weekends, I’ve noticed that the strategy guide likes to repeatedly tell me to make sure I’m prepared for battle. Every time I see it, I think, “Really? Because battle happens so little in this game?”

This phrase is littered throughout the ME guide, but I know I’ve seen this same piece of advice in multiple other guides (those just didn’t state it as often, but that’s not the point here).

The point is, this phrase should never be mentioned in any strategy guide for a game that has fighting, unless the fighting happens very, very sparsely. [Read more…]

When Guides Don’t Give Good Advice

The problem with guides is that the strategies they offer aren’t fool proof and they don’t work for everyone. The first example that comes to mind is the strategy proffered for defeating dragon Maleficent in Kingdom Hearts. If I remember correctly (too lazy to pull out the guide), the guide instructed the player to run up the back of the dragon’s tail and up her back so you could execute a flying Keyblade attack to the back of her head. As soon as I got near her tail, she bitch-slapped me across the room. I said screw that and used my tried-and-true RARRRRRRRRRRRR method, where I jumped around like a maniac and beat her dragonhead to a pulp. It worked, dammit. But I guess that’s not a good strategy to offer. The words don’t look as nice, anyway.

Last night I ran into a beast of a story mission. I had to protect a medical crate from waves of Reapers. The guide said there are four waves of them, but I couldn’t get past the second one. I tried what the guide told me to do, which was stand my ground and strafe the bombers with lightning bolts. I always missed one of them, which resulted in either the destruction of the medical crate or the destruction of me. Both ended in a failed mission. The guide also suggested using the Precision attack to slow time down and help aim towards the bombers. Well, when you’re having difficulty aiming quickly with the analog sticks, this method doesn’t help either.

I went to GameFAQs for help, and the lovely piece of advice each walkthrough gave was, “when you beat the bombers, your next wave is….” Seriously, how is that close to a strategy?

I was ready to quit the game, and I really didn’t want to. Thank God for gaming buddies. I e-mailed mine this morning with my dilemma, and he asked me if I tried lowering the difficulty level yet. You can do that?? Did the guide ever mention it?

To the guide’s credit, it does mention it in the very beginning when it goes over the controls and the menus. However, it would be nice if it occasionally suggested lowering the difficulty, especially when the guide points out that a particular scenario is difficult, which it does.¬† The guide is very good about offering additional tips to difficult areas of the game. It should offer reminders as well about lowering the difficulty when it offers additional tips for difficult missions.

Don’t tell me guides don’t do that, because the guide for The World Ends with You suggested the same for problematic boss fights.

I haven’t retried the mission on an easier setting because I spent all my gaming time hunting for blast shards. I hadn’t really searched for them before, and my gaming coach advised me to upgrade my battery cores a little bit before attempting the story mission again.

So wish me good luck tomorrow night. If I have as much trouble with the same bomber wave again, I may have to vent my anger on the game with a sledgehammer.

What I Look for in a Good Strategy Guide, Part 1

A good strategy guide has more than a detailed walkthrough, although this is one of the most important pieces to the work. I’ll get to what the walkthrough needs in another post.

The first and foremost items of a good guide are the maps. Every area should include a map as well as a map of the Overworld (if there is one) either at the front of the guide or in the very back. The only exception I can think of for this rule is the Kingdom Hearts games, because the KH Overworld does not allow for pillaging for items or exploration for new areas, enemies, etc. The area maps should clearly designate the rooms, items to be found, save points (if any), and hidden areas (if any).

The next most important elements are the appendices of enemies, items, accessories, enemies, bosses, spells (if any), and equipment. One guide that went above and beyond the call of duty for this was the Lost Odyssey guide which also provided appendices of hidden items already plotted out on area maps. If I could meet these writers, I’d give them freshly baked cookies just for that.

Sure, you need the walkthroughs and boss tactics, but that’s just the meat of a good guide. These are the bread and cheese, and these are usually the things that seasoned players use a guide for, if they use a guide at all.

However, this doesn’t mean I can forgive a guide for a terrible walkthrough just because the bread is fresh and the cheese is tasty. It just means that I won’t stamp an “F” on the front cover and burn it in effigy.