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Ridiculous notions: FAQ Secrets
Posted on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 05:18:42 PST

Another installment in the series of certain traditions of video games that should be reckognised as being utterly stupid, yet somehow is persisting even amongst the best of video games. Now, I once talked about how games with "100% complete" requirements for extra bonuses often serves no purpouse but to piss off the gamer. I got a good response to this, but one response slightly (and understandably) misunderstood what I meant, and brought up an example of a very similar, yet still different theme: FAQ Secrets.

Now, what is a "FAQ Secret"? Looks pretty obvious, but let me define it, just to be safe: A FAQ Secret is a secret within the game that you cannot find on your own, and have to resort to an internet FAQ (or a strategy guide) to discover. This, in my opinion is not a desirable state of affairs at all, because a game secret is actually something that is meant to be found. You're supposed to discover where all the heart pieces in a Zelda game are, but sometimes, you have to f.ex. do some great feats of archery to actually get it. I'm perfectly fine with difficult tasks like that, as long as I don't first have to spend five hours bombing every single surface of Hyrule to simply find the hole that leads to the archery contest (fictional example there, by the way).

The difference between this and having to discover 100% of the secrets for a bonus scene is that while a game may force you to find a gazillion coins to get full completeness, you don't necessarily need to apply a FAQ to discover them. For instance, I mentioned that the Normal Mode of Kingdom Hearts 2 required a stupid amount of minigame scores etc. for the extra bonus scene. But here's the thing, you don't have to look up on the net where to find any such minigame , because the game itself tells you roughly where they are (KH2 really has a wonderful system of keeping tracks of sidequests and minigames and treasure chests, an example to follow).

Whereas a FAQ secret is like having to find the Excalibur 2 in Final Fantasy IX. There truly is no way for any halfway normal gamer to discover this ingame, and it's also made twice as stupid by the fact that you're required to stress through the kind of game that one normally does the exact opposite of stressing through. It's almost the very definition of counterintuitive.

One question remains before putting up some examples, and that is of course to figure out where to draw the line. Not every gamer even wants to find all the secrets, they just want to finish the game; obviously we can't just put all the secrets right in front of them. Me, I personally would say that if more than 10% of those who makes a dedicated search won't discover the secret on their own, then it's a FAQ Secret, and thus ridiculous. Others might think that's a bit of a low number, but once again, game secrets are secrets that are (supposedly) meant to be found. They were incredibly tough to find 20 years ago because there usually wasn't that much game back then, but in this modern game world, that **** just won't fly.

Anyway, on to examples of really stupid secrets in otherwise really good games:

Final Fantasy XII - The Zodiac Spear
One of the greatest weapons there is in this game (and you can theoretically get it quite early, even), but the only way to get it is to -not- open a completely random assortment of the gazillion treasure jars. I never found anything ingame that as much as hinted about not opening any jars, much less gave me any clues whatsoever to which jars I should leave alone. And absolutely nobody who plays through the game for the first time will ever resist taking every piece of treasure they can spot. This one, I bet, was put in to sell more strategy guides, as I'm pretty certain even the first FAQs on the internet stole this from said strategy guides. Seriously, it's just that horrible a secret.

Oh, and their "rare monster" list is also a bit over-the-top, to say the least. The game can provide you with hints on most (all?) of them, but I got really tired of it long before I was halfway through.

Super Mario Sunshine - The Blue Coins
Both Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy were pretty much spotless in making proper game secrets - i.e. secrets meant to be discovered - so it's a mystery why we had these blue coins. You don't get a clue on how many blue coins there are in any stage (I even had to use a FAQ to discover it was 30), and it only gets downhill from there. The way some coins are only found under certain conditions, and the way they are so arbitrarily hidden... I'd be surprised if more than 1% of those doing a dedicated search found all those coins without resorting to the almighty internet.

Most Neversoft games (like Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero III) - cheat codes
Look, either you just put in the "cheats" ingame, or you just don't have them there at all. F.ex. to have all songs appear on Quick Play is something that should always just be there (for when you buy the game for party purposes) instead of having to be unlocked or having to use cheat codes that you can't possibly find ingame. To have a "no fail" cheat for quickplay is also an option you could just enable at wish, and instead making it so that you won't get any highscores when you do. Big fat "OUTDATED" on Neversoft.

Fortunately, some game series are showing improvements on this, and hopefully, the FAQ Secrets will diminish further on as years go by. Heck, even as early as Super Mario World, they were nice enough to give you a hint of which of the normal stages that had a secret exit (marked with red), and which didn't (yellow). Metroid Prime 3 gave you searching satelites, making you spend more of your time and brains on -how- to get it (some of those energy tanks took me some time figuring out what to do), not -where- to find it. Zelda: Wind Waker provided you with special maps of roughly where to find the heart pieces (and those maps were secrets in themselves, but not FAQ Secrets), and in Twilight Princess, you could get an image of the rough location of any heart piece not yet found, in case you have just one or two pieces left, and have already scoured Hyrule without success. And that is, I believe, the proper way of doing things.
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