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Strategy Guide Mayhem
Posted on Friday, February 16 2007 @ 08:21:46 Eastern

The official Final Fantasy XII strategy guide is a monster. BradyGAMES wishes to take my game further, and 350 pages of color, worth one penny less than twenty dollars, does just that. I usually use GameFAQs because it's free and because of my amazement that someone took the time to write so many ASCII characters. But color and graphics go a long way, and when I got my Collector's Edition for Final Fantasy XII (because GameStop ran out of normal ones) on the opening day, I wanted to do things "right." So I came out of the store one book heavier.

I didn't expect too much from this strategy guide, in part because it was an "official" guide, which I find dry in wording at times, and that I was partial to Versus Books. So finding that I had problems about the book wasn't a shock. This is not to say that it wasn't helpful when and where it needed to be (Balthier does have a Zodiac Spear because of it), but there were many places where it could have improved.

I have never understood why strategy guides don't have an index, especially for role-playing games of this magnitutde. Upon the first moments of opening the guide, my inner Final Fantasy fan wanted to scour for anything that said Ribbon (an ancessory that makes you immune to all negative status effects). Now, I'm all for the process of looking for something as a way to get engaged into the guide, as much as I did the game. Still, I don't want to miss an instance of the word 'Ribbon' anywhere in the book because I didn't read every word, and furthermore, an index is just a concise way to relay information.

Any 350-page guide should have one. Even short travel guides have one.

Maps, however, give more bang for their buck; the sheer quantity of info - directions, street size, landmarks, treasure chests, and entrances/exits - is generous and clear for the amount of time it takes to look at it. All the more reason to have an index for all the maps scattered across the guide. The side quest section for hunts is filled with snippets of where one can find the mark for a specific hunt, but there is no page number for where the full map could be found. Extending this, whenever a guide for a particular area refers to another area, the only way to find the appropriate area map is to just remember where it is (that is, if the reference is to an area that you have visited before). Paper doesn't have the advantage of search engines like "Find" under the Edit menu. An index would help relieve the reader from having to flip through unnecessary reams of text.

But not even an index is useful if the font size is about the wdith of a hair. Reading what items each space on the License Board activates (on pages 20 and 21) is an eye-squinting affair - such an eye-sequinting affair that they had to provide a blown-up detachable map of the entire board in the back of the book, a place usually reserved for a detachable poster of the game characters. Packing lots and lots of text in a small space is certainly important for a guide of any kind, but no one should need a magnefiying glass to read it.

Upon further inspection, the guide has a few specific problems that are surprising for a guide deatiling a high-profile game. First, the bestiary doesn't have information on status effects. Any advice on how to defeat monsters, difficult or not, should include this, so that no one wastes time casting a status effect spell until to see the word "Immune" emblazoned on the screen. Each monster in the bestiary also has a field for gil, but unless the enemy is human, nearly all monsters drop loot. So there's no reason to include a field for gil for more than 95% of monsters. No one needs to see the number 0 that often. Aside from a few other unfinished places, such as few "page (???)" marks, there are also no indications in the Gambit Shop guide of when Merchant Shops actually gain new gambits. I was under the impression that every gambit was available at the start. I was wrong.

But this isn't necessarily a bash on the Final Fantasy XII strategy guide. As many complaints I have about it, the guide does many things well and has helped me out of tight spot many times. But strategy guides haven't evolved much, apart from shifting the labor over to the internet. This guide in particular and most guides regardless of medium aren't spoiler-free. Turning the page shouldn't spoil the story, especially through a summary of a cut-scene, and it always startles me when the writers believe that a guide needs to go this in-depth to explain something or just to go that far in general.

Really, an index and a spoiler-free standard of practice are just severals ways that would make gamers want paper-form strategy guides more. It's about time that publishing houses like BradyGAMES expand the definition of strategy guides and what they contain. If that means selling official computer-enhanced strategy guides, then I welcome that change. Anything to make a book worth its weight.

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