Ah, game guides. I remember many an occasion back when I was young having to search on Gamefaqs for guides to Kingdom Hearts or Soul Reaver 2. I remember my brother owning the physical guide to Silent Hill 4, and it was the coolest collection of artwork and hints. Being young, I often didn’t have enough knowledge or the right skills to get through certain sections of games without a little help.
Now I’m older, I very rarely feel the need to rely on these self help bibles. Maybe I’m wiser, or maybe the games just got that much easier, but very recently I found myself referring back to game guides as an essential tool, and it got me thinking about that age old criticism: “Walkthroughs ruin the game, you’re not even playing it yourself”. It may sound ludicrous, but when I was younger that was a pretty genuine reaction I’d get if I told somebody I’d looked up how to do it online. It left such an impression on me that when searching for help on the recent remaster of Tim Shafer’s Grim Fandango I almost felt as though I should be chastising myself for the very action.
However, it struck me that with a game such as this, who the hell is smart enough to figure out each and every puzzle without SOME form of help? In particular, I was tasked to retrieve two balloons shaped into ‘dead worms’ by a clown outside of the protagonist’s office building. With these, I was supposed to cover two hose pipes that sprayed different liquids, creating a tough insulation-like material. I was then to insert these two filled balloons into the building’s pod-based memo system, jamming it to progress to the next section of the game. The only indication that this was what I had to do? My character was not receiving any ‘good’ clients. Oh, and an irate mailroom demon.
With no hints or even way of finding out a goal, I was left with having to search for an answer online. The issue here is that while reading this to yourself, you might think “Oh, that’s obvious. That makes total sense!” (if you’re an ass), but the problem is that this subtle train of logic is unique to one person: the developer, and if you don’t happen to share it, you’re stuck. Throughout the game I’ve had to refer to a guide frequently in order to progress, and I can’t tell if that makes me a ‘bad gamer’ or just somebody who’s just as confused as everybody else. This thought stayed me with me until the game’s climax, to the point where I now feel as though I may have cheated myself somehow. I don’t consider myself a prodigy as far as gaming ability goes, but I’m certainly not somebody who struggles, but after sinking several hundred hours into The Witcher 3‘s vast world, I wanted something a little more relaxing and straight forward, and that wasn’t what I got with Grim Fandango (which, incidentally, is still a fantastic game, despite my complaints).
On the flipside, allow me to look at the games from the Souls series (Bloodborne included, of course). When I first started on Dark Souls, I was totally perplexed. Running in one direction got me crushed, and running in another got me, well, crushed. I was stuck, and no amount of learning the combat seemed to help. Sure, I could deal with enemies and the odd boss, but as far as world progression, I was at a crossroads: give up, or seek help online.
However, when I decided to search, I found that for this particular series, the wiki dedicated to it may as well be a companion, and I don’t know what I would’ve done had I not seeked help (probably died a lot and given up). It was the same when Bloodborne was released earlier this year. A vast majority of the game I was able to progress through without trouble, but there were still points at which I needed some help. For example, finding the arena in which to battle Rom. Can you honestly say as a player that you were aware of how to get there without a helping hand? If you were, I’d love to know how. But the main point here is that with Dark Souls & Bloodborne, that stigma of “You suck” just wasn’t there. The series has a welcoming attitude, and people seeking some guidance are given it with a smile, and at no point did I feel I was missing out on an experience or cheating in any way.
This could be a result of the fact that the games have a larger focus on combat and it’s nuances than being able to uncover every single secret on your first play-through, whereas a game like Grim Fandango lives on it’s story and puzzles. However, with both of these games, I’ve enjoyed them immensely and despite feelings of “Maybe I’m just not good enough”, guides have helped me to enjoy them to their absolute fullest. I still get that satisfaction every time I solve a puzzle in Fandango, and when I find a hidden door in Bloodborne, and game guide or not, that’s a great feeling to have.