to see you spend one more dime
on stupid strategy guides
when the answer wasn't inside
Just figure it out you dummy
Then you won't have to spend nine ninety-nine."
Strategy Guides are different than Walkthroughs in that they provide a portable, professional, and easily accessible hard copy while playing. However, they are more likely to avoid giving outright spoilers and munchkin-like hints, preferring to suggest ideas rather than spoiling the playing aspect. Aside from average gaming information, they also usually contain:
- Several splash pages highlighting the party members.
- Maps across areas and dungeons, with associated locations of items.
- Stats and strategies of bosses.
- A back index of items, customizable stuff, and a bestiary of enemies.
- Some bonus content, such a wall map or poster.
Strategy guides are typically based on the pre-release version of a game, which often leads to blunders. In one infamous example, an official strategy guide for the Dreamcast version of Half-Life was released, but the game was subsequently cancelled. Maps in the official strategy guide for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contained Rampage icons that don't exist in the final version.
Because they are generally released alongside the game and can not be updated, they almost never contain any gameplay tips, tricks, or glitches that are discovered by players post-release. However, over the years, many strategy guide publishers have provided free updates and corrections on their websites.
Unfortunately for a small number of video games, when some strategy guides are made to go with games, they aren't released outside of Japan, meaning that for some games, you have to use other means to get through difficult sections of games, unless you buy the Japanese strategy guides and can understand the Japanese language.
A few of the more notable strategy guide publishers were Prima Games, BradyGames and Nintendo Power, none of which are around anymore, as BradyGames merged with Prima Games in 2015 and ever since then, all strategy guides had been made and published by Prima until it announced it'll stop making guides in early 2019. As for Nintendo Power, their guides ceased production in 2007 and no guides from then have since been released. Considering that Nintendo Power itself ended in 2012, it's unlikely that we'll see any more from them.
In the end, strategy guides fell into disuse with the advent of the Internet. Online forums, text guides and walkthroughs from websites such as GameFAQs, video guides covering all kinds of content from secrets to strategies, and community wikis combining the knowledge of hundreds of players, left the idea of actually needing a physical strategy guide redundant.
Due to the idea of competition with free walkthroughs, official strategy guides became a much more prominent product than it was in the past, usually containing nice art or extras to justify their price, which is usually around $15-$20 USD, although in certain cases, some can end up at more than $40. Many companies will sell it along with the associated game at a lowered price.
Some appropriately complicated games will have thicker guides on newsprint paper with only black ink to offset costs.
- Some of the strategy guides for Sierra's old Adventure Games even included novelizations of the stories in each of the games, along with the traditional walkthroughs.
- In one particular book that covers the first six games as a walkthrough, the events of the King's Quest series up to that point are novelized. There the phrase "Take everything that isn't nailed down, and if it is, check for loose nails or boards" is used by the main character; extremely revealing for the genre.
- An alternate collection of guides for some of the earlier King's Quest, Space Quest, and Police Quest series featured invisible ink and came with a yellow highlighter. The questions for each puzzle were in normal ink and you could highlight the answers conveniently preventing you from spoiling puzzles or story lines that you wanted to figure out on your own.
- Space Quest IV went meta by featuring the "Space Quest IV Hintbook" as an item in the game itself. It featured a few bits of info needed to progress further in the game, but was mostly a send-up of strategy guides.
- Sierra actually sold more hint books for Leisure Suit Larry than it did games. This probably had a lot to do with the cover art on the hint books.
- The PlayStation 2 version of one of Myst III: Exile bundled a "hint guide" into the instruction booklet.
- Enix's Illusion of Gaia included a full walkthrough of the game as the majority of the game manual. This is only fair, given that many of the Red Jewels were Guide Dang It!, Permanently Missable, or both.
- The Prima strategy guides for major Pokémon games since Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (and Nintendo's Diamond and Pearl guides, back when Nintendo still published guides) are split into two for each title, a "beat-the-game" guide and a post-storyline/"catch-em-all" guide. The exceptions are the Platinum and Let's Go! Pikachu/Eevee guides, which feature everything in a single volume.
- The Nintendo Power strategy guide for the original NES Final Fantasy contained a number of gaffs, including suggesting strategies not implemented in the final game (the Giant Sword wasn't more effective against giants, for instance), and labeling the contents of every chest without noting that some were "linked" and contained the same item that could only be gotten once.
- The swords were intended to work as explained in the guide, bad programming prevented this.
- On the other hand, the guide did specifically point out the area where you encounter a group of giants every step, something which is often thought to have been a programming mistake.
- Similarly, the official guide for the Final Fantasy Anthology rerelease of Final Fantasy V was next to useless because it seemed written by and for Munchkins. The "strategy" for most bosses was along the lines of "Have everyone master the Ninja class, then change them to Dragoons, give everyone two of the most powerful spear in the game, and jump," rather than practical advice.
- The instruction manual for the American release of Dragon Warrior III was largely a strategy guide that literally walked you to the final boss, spoilers and all, if you read it the whole way through.
- The Prima strategy guide for the Gamecube remake of Sonic Adventure updated the information for the bonus missions and unlockables, but the information for the connectivity feature of the Game Boy Advance was incorrect. Instead of having information on the Tiny Chao Garden, the guide instead discusses an "Adventure Walk," which did not appear in the released versions of the handheld games.
- As mentioned above, some Strategy Guides avoid the pure-spoiler effect by suggesting courses of action. One of the best was for Fallout: Each page that had a 'spoiler' or other solution to an obstacle/puzzle/objective would lead you to the conclusion by providing a series of questions prompting you for a part of the puzzle. As you read down the page, the answers got more and more specific until finally all was revealed. This was muchly appreciated because sometimes one DOES just want a little hint to help them out.
- The strategy guide for the old-school TBS Master of Magic was a massive tome with information about every unit, spell, and item in the game, along with page after page of data and charts detailing the math involved in combat. This was pre-Internet (or at least pre-GameFAQs) so that information was largely unavailable otherwise.
- The official Final Fantasy IX guide was amazingly sparse. It was very general and less than 100 pages. Why was it so empty? Well, it had several codes that would reveal "secret information" if you joined Squaresoft's website and entered them. Yes, they made an awkward competitor to GameFAQs. GameSpy readers listed it among the dumbest moments of the gaming industry, noting this only made Square avoid this for Final Fantasy X.
- Doublejump guides tend to be less strategy guides and more full blown compendiums. Complete listings of characters, enemies, weapons, maps, secret fights, ect. No inch of the game is left uncovered. The actual walkthrough parts are written vaguely enough so nothing will be spoiled (such as boss names), and full blown spoilers are in their own section and printed upside down to prevent accidental viewing.
- Final Fantasy XI had a BradyGames strategy guide that became notorious for two reasons: It started becoming out-of-date due to the constantly changing structure on an MMORPG, and some of the job advice presented was laughably bad. Yes, a Monk/Red Mage could use a sort of Flaming Fist with Enspells, but in an experience points party against monsters several levels higher than you, a half-level Enhancing Skill will cause hits to land for 0 extra damage instead of actual additional damage. Brady probably realized the futility of the whole deal with this guide, and hasn't released an updated version since, although the release of World of Warcraft may be more responsible for it.
- The author of the Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete guides knew how important it was for a walkthrough to be littered with dirty jokes and all the pictures to have funny captions under them. But most importantly the guides had all the bromides found in the game in the back in convenient sticker form. The second guide even came in hardcover and had little comics in the back.
- The strategy guides for the original Sega CD releases (and probably the modern versions too) were co-written by Zach Meston, head writer of the games.
- The strategy guide for Riven: The Sequel to Myst contains multiple formats for their hint delivery, the most subtle just outlining what a puzzle appears to involve visually, the most dramatic being a fully-fledged narrative of a person stuck on the five islands and solving the puzzles to get the Good End.
- World of Warcraft provides particularly pointless ones, as each new patch makes the guide increasingly inaccurate or incomplete. Also, because there is no circumstance where you would be able to play the game where you wouldn't also have access to free, more accurate, and probably more in-depth online guides.
- The first edition of the Prima guide for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion states that there are 10 Ayleid Statues for the Collector quest, then immediately lists 11 locations.
- Fangamer's Mother 3 handbook is truly an awesome sight to behold.
- The Prima Official guide for Tales of Vesperia is known for lacking fairly helpful information and listing non-existent Titles for characters.
- The strategy guide for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is notable for including an index not just for itself but for the original rule book that came with the game.
- The official Players' Guide for Star Fox 64 is chock full of precious information, including posters depicting blueprints of the vehicles used. Several elements used in later games (Beltino Toad for example) are first mentioned in this guidebook.
- A particularly good strategy guide for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time described the proper actions as if you were reading a story about Link's exploits.
- The guide for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was written similarly, and was also interspersed with various factoids about the locations you could visit in-game and the people of Hyrule. (The guide for the GBA version was much more generic in comparison.)
- There was also a similar guide for Pokémon Red and Bluenote written by the same author from the Ocarina of Time one.
- There's a strategy guide available for Awesome Gaiden, but even he can't help you.
- While they've gotten slightly better about this, Prima guides tended to be full of errors, particularly their Animal Crossing (Nintendo GameCube) guide, which has tons of misplaced screenshots and incorrect dates and times. Their Star Fox Adventures and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards guides aren't even finished, ending before they can tell you how to fight the final boss (and in the case of Crystal Shards, claiming that the Eldritch Abomination True Final Boss is a "friendly inhabitant of Shiver Star", among other bits of weirdness). Their guide to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time completely lacks a walkthrough for the Gerudo Training Grounds and only gives general hints for Ganon's Castle. The guide for Dragon Quest VIII doesn't even cover the full main quest, much less the side quests and Superbosses.
- A particularly good strategy guide company was Versus Books. Their guides were basically totally complete walkthroughs. Admittedly, they left very little to the imagination and basically told you how to do everything, but they did it very effectively (and usually with a good sense of humor). They had a tendency to list everything you could get at parts of the game and tell you how to get them, like extra powerups and such. Their Metroid Prime guide was even completely streamlined, having you collect the Chozo Artifacts before you even needed to (or even scan their locations). They usually had a checklist in the back of the guide as well. Their Ocarina of Time guide even had custom illustrated maps. Sadly, they appear to have gone out of business.
- Their guide for Pokémon Red and Blue had a glitch section, where they explained several of the game's infamous glitches, from harmless ones like fishing in statues to game breaking ones like Missing No. They also released a guide for Pokémon Gold and Silver, and both guides were notable for suggesting specific Pokemon and moves for various situations, such as beating Gym Leaders and the Elite Four. Compare them to more recent guides which usually just recommend types and don't go much deeper than that. Both guides also had brief summaries of every single Pokemon evolutionary line, usually highlighting their strengths and telling players whether they were worth using or not, all in good humor. The Pokedex section at the end of the guides also featured articles for what they felt were the best Pokemon of each type in the games.
- A relatively new player on the strategy guide scene is FuturePress, a company based in Germany that does guides for the European market. The company releases guides fairly infrequently compared to some of their competitors, but when they do a guide they really go all out, with some of the highest quality guides in the industry. Of particular note is their strategy guide for Bayonetta, a 400-page hardcover tome with detailed strategies for getting to 100% Completion in addition to a regular walkthrough. The guide also contains details on every single enemy in the game and every one of Bayonetta's weapons and attacks. The gorgeous guide has received stellar reviews from pretty much everyone who's read it, which... is not very many people since the only version of the guide is the hardcover Collector's Edition with a limited print run. In addition, the guide is a case of No Export for You for Americans and Canadians, since Brady Games (which later decided not to release a Bayonetta guide at all) held exclusivity rights over the North American strategy guide market. Combine all of those factors and you now have a guide which is selling for upwards of $250!!! on Amazon (and people are indeed buying it for that price, though you can also find unwrapped copies on Ebay for slightly less if you're lucky). The success and rave reviews for the Bayonetta guide convinced FuturePress to begin selling guides to the North American market, and their Vanquish, Killzone 3, and Portal 2 guides have all been released in North America to rave reviews.
- The old school Nintendo Games Secrets series by Rusel DeMaria. Apart from the Totally Radical tone, the books had pretty good walkthroughs, cheat codes, boss strategies, pictures, a little humor, and one book even had a mini-comic crossing over half the games listed in the book. They were much nicer than the competing How to Win or Ultimate Unauthorized series
- The Pigskin Player's Handbook is a rare example of an official strategy guide for an Arcade Game.
- Prima Games released a fairly decent guide for Gran Turismo 4. However, automaker Peugeot is almost completely absent from the guide. They actually got worse with the guide for Forza Motorsport 3. Lamborghini and every make associated with General Motors is missing.
- Faria had the Adventurer's Guide Map, a two-sided fold-out sheet including detailed maps of all of the game's towers and caves.
- The guides released for Metal Gear are an interesting case. The Solid franchise titles had several titles released by Brady Games and Prima Games in the U.S. (up until Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater), but Piggyback Interactive has retained the exclusive international rights, and subsequently produced their own series of guides for all 5 games (and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance). Starting from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (and in an effort to counter online free guides), Piggyback has produced both "standard" and "collector's" versions of the guide, with the latter versions each featuring an exclusive lithograph by series artist Yoji Shinkawa, hardcover binding and additional art galleries/production information.
- Sword of Vermilion was actually packaged with its own strategy guide, which contained a largely complete walkthrough. Phantasy Star II did the same thing earlier.
- There's been a lot of these published for Minecraft — both official and unofficial ones.
- The creator of Lunarosse was nice enough to include a strategy guide for his own game when you download it. But you'll have to figure out the Extended Cut version's bonus quests and bosses on your own.
- Rakenzarn Tales has a guide available for download from its wiki, written by the same guy who did Lunarosse, as well as a walkthrough on the wiki itself.
- FE000000 links to a guide that details an optimal way to progress through the game which is divided into sections. It's not complete and has been made before achievements started improving all generators, but it's relatively thorough otherwise. It even offers information on formulas you don't see in the game itself.
- The strategy guide made for Final Fantasy IX is a strange and unique case where 90% of its content was referred to Square's PlayOnline service where the actual strategies and hints were listed. The physical guide itself did very little to help and if you didn't have a good internet connection (not uncommon due to the game coming out in the late 90s where dial-up was still the norm), the book was nothing more than a glorified paperweight. Having the guide refer to Square's site was due to Executive Meddling from Square.
- The official guides for both The 7th Guest and its sequel The 11th Hour were both written in-universe, with Ego and Carl discussing the story and puzzles akin to a novelization. They also included the original scripts for the games and interviews with the creators.
Non-Video Game examples:
- When the toys infiltrate Al's Toy Barn in Toy Story 2, Rex finds a strategy guide for the Buzz Lightyear game he was playing at the start of the movie, and starts complaining to the other toys about a Guide Dang It!.
- 8-Bit Theater: A strategy guide (specifically, the aforementioned Nintendo Power guide) is part of the set up for what is possibly the longest, most Spoiler-tastic Brick Joke in webcomic history.