For as long as I can remember, I have been a gamer, with the earliest system I used for gaming being a Commodore 64, for which my family had a variety of games from which to choose; regardless of the genre, I had a decent time with these games, even if I wasn’t very good at them. This was before we subscribed to Nintendo Power from the very first issues, with the magazine serving as a decent resource for various titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which our family purchased when we moved to my current hometown. These resources, however, proved to be a Pandora’s Box, somewhat affecting my enjoyment of various titles, serving as a major crutch with which I almost couldn’t possibly play any game that wasn’t covered.
My very first console role-playing game was Dragon Quest, known at that time, due to potential copyright conflicts in America, as Dragon Warrior. It was a fairly simplistic RPG with an easy combat system for which a guide wasn’t really necessary, given the basic one-on-one battles. However, some sort of guidance was necessary for determining the next logical location to which to advance, given the lack of any in-game direction and the potential to encounter enemies too powerful for the player to handle. I was a bit of a sore loser when it came to games back then (as I can sometimes be today, if I consequentially lose a lot of progress), unaware that Dragon Quest was one of those titles that wasn’t severely punishing to players if they died, simply costing players half their money.
Since Dragon Quest was one of those games with which I grew up, and hold dear to my heart with plenty of fond memories, I can safely play the original version or its remakes without the assistance of a guide, although this reviewer can concede that there are parts that would be difficult for players not used to games that don’t hold the gamer’s hand. In titles such as DQ, it can be easy at times for the player to get lost, be it on the overworld on in one of the game’s sometimes-complex dungeons, and in the latter case, some sort of guidance such as written directions from an online walkthrough, or better yet, an actual map showing how stairways connect, may be necessary.
Fortunately, games, particularly RPGs, have evolved to the point where developers can actually include in-game explanations of where to go next, and better yet, in-game maps, with this reviewer preferring automaps that show only visited places in a dungeon while leaving unexplored areas blank, a boon to perfectionists such as I can sometimes be given our desire to uncover most any secret and treasure within a particular gameplay area. Lamentably, there are contemporary titles, such as Tales of Graces f, which, while they do sport some modern conveniences RPGs should never lack, such as direction on how to advance the main storyline, unfortunately lack others, such as dungeon maps, a burden given that particular title’s often-confusing dungeons with plenty of branches.
While it is understandable that early videogames lacked in-game resources such as maps due to space restrictions, there really isn’t any excuse nowadays for modern titles to lack conveniences that can and will avert players from using a guide. A few 16-bit RPGs such as the first two Shin Megami Tensei titles had in-game maps, so there really hasn’t been much excuse since then for later games to lack the feature, yet still some developers persist in lazily excluding them and other conveniences. Demon’s Souls, for some reason a highly-acclaimed title, is another modern title that lacks in-game maps, contributing to unnecessary difficulty and leaving players to search the Internet for useful visuals of that particular title’s dungeons.
Sometimes games, particularly RPGs, love to include hidden content that NPCs throughout the game vaguely reference and where player’s guides are almost necessary to find it. If such hidden content can potentially affect a game’s balance, it is understandable why the developers keep it hidden, although if it’s critical to completing a game, then there is really no excuse to make it obscure, aside from the profiteering of strategy guide writers. Some Final Fantasy games, such as the seventh on the Sony PlayStation, absolutely adore hidden content, such as how to breed the best chocobos in the game and find hidden game-breaking summons such as Knights of the Round.
In summation, this reviewer believes that if a player can safely complete a game without referencing a guide, then it is of good design, and that conversely, if walkthroughs are necessary to at least complete the main storyline, then the game’s design is probably bad. Frequently Asked Questions list and walkthroughs can certainly enhance a player’s experience with particular games, as they often had when I grew up playing games with guides for sake of obtaining absolute one hundred percent completion, although this reviewer has long since abandoned that completionist trait and try to enjoy games as much as possible without references other than those within the games he plays. FAQs, walkthroughs, and player’s guide this reviewer considers to be a form of cheating, and again, if doing so is necessary to make it through a game, then it’s likely not well-designed.