Ever wonder whether a strategy guide (Official or not, despite the "O" in this page's name) would be truly helpful? Been flipping through them at stores to get an idea of what kinds of info they have or not? I've been there, I've done that, and I've over thirty OSGs to show for it. So here's what I'll do: I'm going to give you an idea of what to expect from a game strategy guide (provided it's one I have).
Entry format will be as follows:
Game Title (Publisher, Official/Unofficial) -Rating-
A text description of what to expect from the guide, including what expected features (maps, lists, etc.) it has or lacks.
(NOTE: "rating" is from one to ten, and is my overall assessment of how good the SG works. An eight (-8-) signifies one which is all-around good, definitely worth the cost of the book. Ratings of nine or ten are only given to books which have an extra something to them, whatever that something may be, that distinguishes them from the rest. Anything lower than five (-5-), on the other hand, is really not all that helpful to the user.)
Additional note: Over the course of creating this page, it has come to my attention that a lot of my scores range toward the high end, including some perfect "10"s and an uber-perfect ELEVEN. Do not think I am lenient in scoring, or biased in favor of certain games. These guides deserve the scores they get in every case. The reason I have more very high scores than very low ones is simple: I wouldn't BUY a guide if it sucked. Of the two REALLY low scores on this list, one (Lunar:SSSC unofficial) was bought for me by another, and the other (Brigandine) I bought for the completeness of the lists (something I had been unable to find on online sites), not its overall quality. Let it be known that I flip through a guide before buying it, to weed out the bad ones. And THAT is why the scores on this page range from good to perfect (for the most part).
Addendum: Over the time I've spent reviewing guides, I've had to downwardly revise some scores due to the fact that I appear to have overrated some guides early on. As I continue to review my guides, I have been getting considerably better at it, and I became aware of flaws I had previously been unaware of in a guide. Thus, the revisions. However, it seems the guidewriters are getting better themselves, because while I had to remove three perfect scores, two more have popped up in their place, and even my more critical eye cannot find fault with them. I like to think of it as a good sign.
GUIDES FOR PLAYSTATION GAMES
Almost all of my strategy guides are for PSX games. And here they are:
Alundra 2 (BradyGames, official) -8.5-
First one on my list, and a textbook example of what gives a strategy guide a score of eight here. Clear, in-depth walkthrough, lists of all items and equipment along with what they do, complete bestiary, and maps of every area. I grant it an extra half-point for providing an intro section on general game strategies and for sprinkling extra tips throughout the walkthrough. An impeccable resource for this overly difficult game (of note, this is one guide I actually needed to use to beat the game a FIRST time; I usually save the strategy guides for a replay, when I'll want to track down all the secrets).
Arc the Lad Collection (Chapters One and Two) (Working Designs, official) -9.5-
Covering Arc the Lad and Arc the Lad II, two of the four games in the Arc the Lad Collection (the other two, Arc the Lad 3 and Arc Arena, are covered in a second volume, which I am as yet unable to track down), the above score rates the guide as a whole. Individually, however, the first game gets a slight advantage. The guide for Arc 1 would earn a ten by itself, due to a comprehensive walkthrough, battle maps for all areas, comprehensive lists of, well, everything a list is needed for, and it includes entires for secrets in the walkthrough itself. Considering that most secrets in this game are time-sensitive, this is a VERY handy way to deal with secrets, rather than bunch them at the end where one might not check util it is too late. Tack great presentation on top of that, including extras such as Animechecks, interviews, and more, and that makes a perfect ten.
Arc 2's guide, while equally as good in many of its aspects, nets only a nine due to a few deficiencies (from Working Designs? Impossible!). It's walkthrough, including maps, strategies, extras, and presentation, is as perfect as the first games. It is also much larger, as the game itself is far greater in scope. And for the most part, its lists section is also perfect. However, it's items and equipment list could have been done significantly better, in my humble opinion, slightly detracting from its score.
Breath of Fire III (Prima, official) -8.5-
One of Prima's better works, at least among the guides I have. Comprehensive (but not quite perfect) lists of EVERYTHING, secrets, an excellent walkthrough, and area maps for everywhere (although they are at the back of the book, not in the walkthrough). It also includes a walkthrough of the fishing mini-game which you'll come across often in the game, as well as entries in the secrets section on two ultra-rare super-monsters. This is a powerhouse of information, earing it a half-point above and beyond most complete guides. I'd give it a nine, but it's format in certain sections could use a bit of improvement to best portray their information.
Brigandine (Prima, official) -3-
Great game, terrible guide. In this Strategy/TRPG/cool game, one would expect the Strategy Guide to include stats and requirements for all monster classes and Knight classes. Sadly, it doesn't. The only info it gives on monsters is the mana cost to summon them - no info on monster class-increases. And I do not see any index of classes for Rune Knights. There is a magic list and equipment list, both of which are comprehensive, though, and an appendix of what monsters can be summoned from each castle. They also give overviews of each country, including their initial territories and Rune Knights. This leaves out info on any Rune Knight not initially part of the game, however. It gives an initial strategy for how to start the game off, but no further planning from there. As I have yet to see any other strategy guides for this game, it is probably better to simply look online for your walkthroughs and lists for this game.
Chocobo's Dungeon 2 (BradyGames, official) -8.5-
A surprisingly good guide for the cutesy game it covers, this guide has a great walkthrough, very impressive lists (although the bestiary near the end is a bit cursory because they include monster entries throughout the walkthrough), lacking only area maps. This lack is ENTIRELY understandable, however, as the dungeon levels are randomly generated, and so have no set map to them. They also include a rather thorough secrets section, including a walkthrough for the secret, post-end-game dungeon. A fine piece of work, if you ask me.
Chrono Cross (BradyGames, official) -9-
A truly notable guide, this is filled with astonishing amounts of information. While I know I said above that it takes an "extra something" to top eight points, sometimes that extra something need only be a guide which goes above and beyond the call of duty in the amount of knowledge between its covers. An uber-thorough walkthrough, comprehensive lists of EVERYTHING (although the character bios include a few inaccuracies), and annotated area maps indicating locations of anything of interest to the gamer (however, one or two are wrong, detracting from perfection). Add to this a section covering the secrets to the NewGame+ mode and game tips throughout the guide, and we get an above-average score of nine. It may have been perfect had it not made the few mistakes it did, most notably including those couple of erroneous area maps.
Crusaders of Might and Magic (Prima, official) -7.5-
Pretty good for a guide, but not quite perfect. It contains full lists and bestiary, a step-by-step walkthrough, and area maps (which you may have a bit of trouble with, given that the maps are top down, whereas the game is a third-person perspective view and a lot of the terrain looks similar within each area). The maps *do* give locations of any and all treasure, including the hard-to get ones, so as long as you can keep track of where you are on them, they're very useful. A good guide, the confusing format to the maps are the only thing keeping it from an eight.
Dragon Warrior VII (Prima, official) -9-
A fantastic guide for a fantastic game, the DW7 OSG contains comprehensive item, equipment, and monster lists (minus a mere couple of monsters), an almost-comprehensive Secrets guide (containing every subquest except the Optional Dungeons, which it merely gives a hint to), complete breakdown of the rather complex Class System, and a full, step-by-step walkthru with area maps.
Final Fantasy Chronicles (BradyGames, official) -8-
Effectively two strategy guides in one book, the above score refers to the guide as a whole. Both the FF4 and ChronoTrigger sections have full item/equipment/(magic/tech) appendices, full sets of world maps, and a comprehensive walkthrough which includes treasure and monster lists by area. The FF4 guide has area maps to some, but not all, areas, and contains a section covering secrets in the back. The CT guide includes area maps to most, but still not all (in both guides, they seem to omit mapping some of the areas with simpler layouts), areas, and has a section in back covering game secrets, NewGame+ Endings, and the Bonus Mode. Overall, the guide is very useful, and recieves a full eight points for that usefulness.
Final Fantasy Anthology (BradyGames, official) -7.5-
As in the above entry, this is two strategy guides in one book, and the above score refers to the entire thing. Both guides have fairly everything you need to play. Area maps and treasure lists (by area) are scattered throughout both walkthroughs, so that you can see the map of the cave you need AND what to find there while you are at that area's entry. The appendices have everythying you want to know about all types of items and spells, as well as a thorough bestiary. Lacking only overworld maps for both games, this guide loses a mere half-point for that flaw. It is still exceptionally useful.
Final Fantasy VII (BradyGames, official) -7-
A complete walkthrough, and fairly complete lists in the appendices, a few details are missing from these lists (they are included in the unofficial guide, next entry). One thing Brady did do better than Versus, however, was the Bestiary, which is significantly more detailed in this guide.
Final Fantasy VII (Versus, unofficial) -8.5-
Better and cooler than the official guide, this also has many things listed wich were missing in the appendix lists of the BradyGames guide, as well as detailing all the mini-games. It also has a bunch of helpful hints that aren't even necessary added in, including details on all mini-games and various helpful game tips scattered through the book, making it that much more helpful. I'd score it higher than 8, but for the fact that quite a few names of weapons, materia, and the like are ever-so-slightly off, based off the Japanese version of the games (I believe). Despite this flaw, it's a great resource, and the names are still similar enough that they shouldn't confuse anyone.
Final Fantasy VIII (BradyGames, official) -9.5-
As it says on the cover, "The Ultimate Guide for the Ultimate Game". While that's a bit of a bold statement, both the game AND the guide are exceptional (but not perfect), in my opinion. A walkthrough more thorough could not be made - this thing tells you almost everything - and that isn't even half the book. The secrets section, lists sections, and bestiary are all larger than any other game guide's, owing to the large amount of entries in each AND the large amount of information FOR each. The plethora of numbers frequenting the lists and Bestiary are enough to make a statistician explode! Add to this area maps detailing where all the hidden (and non-hidden) stuff are and a world map pointing out ALL the hidden Draw Points on the overworld, and this guide gets a score that could only be more perfect if it did not have the few flaws it did. Those include a slight deficiency in its Secrets section (not so bad, as they ARE optional things), and a few bestiary inaccuracies. Further, the walkthrough relies overly much on overpowering your foes with summons. While perectly good, it's hardly interesting. But I don't use these guides for strategy, so it doesn't bother me too much.
Final Fantasy IX (BradyGames, Official) -6-
This guide to the final Final Fantasy on the console is, quite literally, HALF a walkthrough. It gives you a complete walkthrough, telling you everything you NEED to do, but leaving out the advanced strategies on HOW to do it. It has a section listing all the secrets (which is why the score is six and not five, the "half-way" score), but not giving you the complete scoop. And the game lists are equally comprehensive, and equally half-revealing. The OTHER half of this guide is on Square's PlayOnline website. All the juicy details left out by this gude can be found there. Sure, it's free to gain access to (although you do have to sign up, there's no cost or anything to it), but why split the guide up making people both have the OSG *and* access to PlayOnline? An interesting concept (and Square has always been one to try out interesting concepts), but it falls short in practice. When people buy a strategy guide, they expect the guide to tell them what they need, and not make them get anything else.
Final Fantasy Tactics (Prima, official) -8.5-
A fairly good run-of-the-mill OSG. It has general tips and strategies in the introduction. Then there is the walkthrough covering every battle in the game (except random encounters), with a battle map, the lowdown on your opponents, and a suggested strategy. Last, it has full treasure, job, ability, and monster lists in the appendices, and although a few of the lists are a bit vague on some of the details, they generally cover everything quite well. Very good, overall.
Grandia (Prima, Official) -6-
Pretty so-so for a strategy guide, this book has most (but not all) of the things a guide should have, but only does an average job on each. There are comprehensive item/spell/skill/equipment lists all packed into the front of the book, giving the stats and/or reqs for each and every such thing in the game, although it neglects to tell us what the spells and skills *do*. And the walkthrough, while sufficient, doesn't have maps of the areas you're in, just a step-by-step on how to get through them. Add to this that the walkthrough text ceases to match the screenshots starting on page 144 (growing to a two-page discrepancy by the end of the walkthrough, about six pages later), and the lack of a bestiary list, and I can't exactly give this book all that much recommendation. It's functional, yes, but only JUST.
The Legend of Dragoon (Prima, official) -7-
Although I wish it had a better bestiary and that it had area maps, this is a pretty good guide. The walkthrough is comprehensive, and every list except the bestiary is equally so, even if they are a bit brief in their entries.
Legend of Legaia (Prima, official) -8-
Yet another all-the-info-you-can-eat guide, this book tells you everything a guide should, and more. Lacking only area maps, this guide still earns its eight for tips on rare treasures, ultra-rare secrets, and the mini-games. The walkthrough is impeccable, the lists are comprehensive, this guide is definitely worth having if you ever want help on this game.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (Working Designs, official) -10-
Prepare to be awed. Those crazy guys at WD put the same kind of quality work into their strategy guides as they do for their games. And their same style of humor. I said above that it takes an extra something to rate higher than an eight on this list, and this guide has three such things: entertaining presentation, those nifty sticker sheets in the back, and extra features in the walkthrough, which I'll cover in my review of the book's merits. And man, does this book have merits: First, the lists that precede the walkthrough are in-depth enough for anyone interested in looking up all the stats for things. Second, the walkthrough itself is 100% in-depth, with area maps and boss entries in all the right places. Those three facts alone, of course, can be said of almost all of my Score Eight guides. Add transcripts of all anime cutscenes in the game, interviews with the various people behind Lunar, and comparisons of the changes between this game and the Sega CD original, all sprinkled through the walkthrough as well. That, plus the extra points it gained above for presentation, and I give this thing a perfect ten.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (Prima, unofficial) -3.5-
Never in my entire list has there been such a huge difference in scores between a game's official guide and it's unofficial one. Er, well, I only have two games which I own more than one guide to, so that's probably not saying much. Prima usually does a fair job with its guides, but they made the great mistake of basing this guide on the Japanese version of the game. Normally, this wouldn't cause TOO much of a problem, but given the immense localization Working Designs put into the game, there's a lot more differences than just a few name changes. This guide is functional enough, if you mentally correct the various name differences, but still flawed in those areas where WD changed things a bit. I vastly recommend the official guide (previous entry) over this one.
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete (Working Designs, official) -11!-
Learning from past experiences, I didn't even bother getting any unofficial guides for this game (assuming there are any) and went straight for the gold. I was not disappointed. Rather than waste my breath repeating the exact same words as above, I'll simply say that this guide is much the same as the Lunar 1 guide in what it contains: great lists, great walkthrough, great presentation, and those stickers as a bonus prize. This guide has two additional extras, however: First and most noticeable, this thing's hardbound. With a reversible book-jacket, too! This is WD's second hardbound OSG (see Vanguard Bandits, below), although that one had a normal book-jacket. The second feature is that WD has included a serialized comic based on the Lunar 2 characters that circulated in Japan when the game's original (SCD) version was out. Rather silly, but lighthearted fun is one of the fringe benefits in any Working Designs product. For this guide that goes above and beyond the call of duty, I award the rank of ELEVEN!!!
Suikoden II (Prima, official) -10-
A fantastic guide for a fantastic game, this book has in in-depth walkthrough, area maps, and lists, as you would expect, but it doesn't stop there. Among the appendices is a complete character list, which includes joining requirements, and a chapter covering the Headquarters System, detailing the changes the main castle undergoes over the course of the game, as well as each and every service the inhabitants can provide, from shops to minigames to castle-realted jobs. The character list is great for those of you who want to recruit all the Stars of Destiny, and the HQ chapter lets you know just WHERE in your labyrinthine castle this or that shop/service is hiding.
Tales of Destiny II (Prima, official) -10-
I am amazed. This guide, like many others I've reviewed, has all the elements that make a better than expected OSG: good walkthrough, comprehensive lists, area maps, and a comrehensive secrets section. The difference is that I can find no flaw with this one, and considering how practiced I have become at doing this, that surprises me. The bestiary and item/equipment lists list every stat applicable to them, the secrets section covers secret areas, sidequests, collectible item groups, you name it, and even provides strategies for the sidequests and the optional dungeon. A skill progression chart, scattered helpful hints where needed throughout the guide, a list for items that can be made through use of a certain item... it's incredible. I had to downgrade several of my previously-perfect scores as I learned to better ctritique these guides, and still I cannot find aught to remark on for tis guide. And on top of all of that, it is presented in a very user-friendly format at all times. Whatever you need is easy enough to find once you're in the right section. Kudos to the author for a very fine job.
Threads of Fate (BradyGames, official) -7-
As befits this game's two storylines, the guide has two walkthroughs. The lists are also fairly comprehensive, and the bestiary, despite how little info it does provide, is almost as thorough as it can be (lacking only enemy weaknesses), given how little info the enemies have to document. The guide sorely lacks in area maps (save for the labyrinthine final dungeon), but despite this flaw, the guide is still worth getting if you feel the need for a guide for this game. (It's not a terribly hard game -- as I said, when *I* get a game's strategy guide, it's because I'm going to replay the game and get everything it has to offer.)
Vagrant Story (BradyGames, official) -9-
As was the case with Chrono Cross, this guide recieves a good score due to the sheer glut of information it offers. The walkthrough takes you through each and every room, including solutions to the game's myriad puzzle rooms. The area maps cover the entire city of Lea Monde, one region at a time, including the baffling teleport maze area. In addition, a SECOND walkthrough, detailing the new areas of the Clear Game Mode and all the secrets therein (a second teleport maze, and an optional superboss). The bestiary is thorough, and the game lists are more than anyone could ask for. (Equipment-forging guides would be nice, but would consume far too much space to fit in a guide, so I forgive the lack.) Add to this a thorough introduction of general tips and strategy, and you can see why I gave this guide a near-perfect score. It's drawbacks are due to some minor inaccuracies and one major one - it says you can get a certain secret weapon (Sydney's Sword) that in actuality you cannot.
Valkyrie Profile (Prima, official) -9-
Prima goes above and beyond the call in the making of this guide. It offers every last bit of information you could want - monster stats, item and equipment stats, a very thorough walkthrough, guides to getting each of the game's multiple endings, an appendix devoted to the optional dungeon... all this and more. Only an interesting presentation format could make the score any higher.
Vanguard Bandits (Working Designs, official) -9.5-
OK, OK, I might just have a slight bias towards the way Working Designs does their guides. But I firmly believe they each deserve these scores. Even if you're not one for their brand of humor (and if you're not, why are you playing their games? *grin*), these guides are as informative as anything else on this list with a score of eight or better, and then there are the various fringe benefits mentioned earlier. That being said, I admit that THIS game has different fringe benefits. Without cutscenes, there is no need for scene scripts, and without a prior version, no need for comparison. And I don't believe this one has interviews either. In place of these, it has bonuses more fitting to a TRPG - battle maps (like FFT's guide also has), full stats on every enemy on each battle (which FFT's doesn't), and the walkthroughs for EACH of the game's three paths (and five endings), with what you have to do to reach each ending listed as well. It may not be a perfect ten, but I give it a 9 for information, and add a half-point for the presentation, and it's the next best thing.
Wild ARMs 2 (Versus, official) -9.5-
Yet again we have a fantastic walkthrough, area maps, lists of everything (although the skills list at the very end could have been better had they expanded its size), an almost-perfect bestiary (what few flaws the bestiary has are perfectly understandable, as there's an in-game bestiary which tells more). Add to this a two-page section covering the game's rather large amount of optional superbosses (core boss stats only, no strategies), a world map that includes the location of EVERY HIDDEN ITEM on the overworld, and a great secrets section, and it's no wonder they call it the Wild ARMs 2 "Official Perfect Guide". I'm highly tempted to GIVE it a perfect, but for those few flaws mentioned.
Xenogears (BradyGames, official) -8-
The last guide on my list, it's a comprehensive resource for the game, lacking only area maps. The thoroughness of the walkthrough (although not QUITE perfect) and lists compensate this lack, so I'm still giving it an eight. The bestiary is thorough as well, yet as with too many guides, it doesn't seem to include enemy weaknesses. Perhaps I'm asking a bit much, but I've seen enough guides include that factor to think that I'm not. A good all-around guide, nonetheless, and definitely worth the cover price.
Given that my total collection of non-PSX strategy guides is less than HALF my total of PSX ones, I will clump them all together down here. The system each game guide is for will be in parentheses after the name of the game, and before the publisher.
NOTE: While it is all-PS2 right now, it will not remain so, once I dig out my old cache, containing two SNES guides and one SCD guide.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (PS2, BradyGames, official) -9.5-
Apparently, the people at bradyGames have taken a cue from the people who wrote the Tales of Destiny II guide for Prima (see applicable entry). Both this guide and the guide for Xenosaga Ep. 1 have many of the same traits. In this guide, we are treated to a very good walktrhoguh containing area maps, inset boxes containing special strategies or pointing out secrets, and mini-bestiaries. The lists section is equally comprehensive, although could stand a touch of improvement in format. The appendices about the secret dungeon and the Faerie Colony are quite thorough, as well. And, due to this game's innovative style of play, they have an introductory section just before the walkthrough covering gameplay tips. If not for a few minor flaws, msotly in presentation, this may have netted a perfect, but even as it is, it is definitely one of the best guides I've seen.
Final Fantasy X (PS2, BradyGames, official) -9.5-
It appears the guidewriters for the FF series are improving. I would not quite call it an actual perfect guide, but is comes close enough. The walkthrough covers everything you need it to, and includes area maps and treasure lists, along with a minibestiary for each area. The secrets section is exhaustive, as well, although not quite as perfect as they could be. The section devoted to the Blitzball minigame that pervades the game is rather good as a resource, although oviously a game like that is best learned through practice. The bestiary seems to be complete, except for the Arena Bosses, and the lists appear to be perfect. Lastly, the included poster has a chart of all the Mix combinations for Rikku's Overdrive on one side, and a full diagram of the Sphere Grid on the reverse. It goes above and beyond what one expects in a guide, although it seems to be missing a certain something - I can't exactly place what - that holds it back from a score of ten.
Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2, BradyGames, official) -8.5-
Almost everything I said about the FFX guide could apply to its sequel. It is equally comprehensive in every way, including having a poster included which contains some handy tables. However, this guide has a few notable deficiencies, the most egregious of which happens to be an incomplete bestiary. While FFX only lacked the optional Arena Bosses, this bestiary lacks quite a few standard, everyday monsters. A map of the Chocobo Ranch hidden dungeon would have helped, as well, as would tips for the superdungeon, Via Infinito (a map would be useless here, as the levels are randomly generated). Lastly, one of its sidequests should have recieved mention in the main walkthrough, as it deals with handling several time-sensitive events in order to complete it properly.
RPG Maker II (PS2, Prima, official) -8.5-
At first glance, the guide is as confusing as the "game" itself. However, like the RPG creation utility itself, familiarity lessens the confusion to a manageable degree. And indeed, this guide is a very helpful resource in understanding what the RPGM2 can do. The instructions tell you how to do everything, but haven't the room to elaborate as to what that everything itself does. Plus, there are several listings of various things, such as an index of the game sprites (including pictures of them) or what options you can input when scripting events. By itself, it gets a flat eight, but by including a walkthrough for the provided sample game, a half-point gets added to the score.
Wild ARMs 3 (PS2, Versus, official) -7.5-
Once again, we are back to what constitutes a perfectly serviceable guide. The walkthrough and area maps are an excellent resource for clearing the game, and the extent to which it covers the sidequests is commendable. However, while it's quality in these regards would be enough to notch it up to nine, it suffers in certain areas, beinging it down to just below the standard of eight. Most notably, there is a page in the walkthrough where the editors were clearly slacking off, because the text and maps on that page overlap considerably, rendering some of the text unreadable. The item/equipment list could have stood to be divided into categories (at the very least, items... and equipment), instead of one alphabetized list of everything. The bestiary entries are a bit lacking, but not too much. And the sidequest section has an inaccuracy regarding one of the optional bosses.
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (PS2, BradyGames, official) -10-
This has all of the features which made the Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter guide attain that score (although obviously, the games being different, some features are different in each). A thorough and detailed walkthrough, including area maps, shop lists, mini-bestiaries, character introductions, and secrets insets trhoughout the walkthrough itself. Coverage of the minigames, sidequests, and obtional bosses in the appendices, and clear, complete, and informative lists of everything. And, like the BoF:DQ guide, it is all provided in a very reader-friendly format.
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