There once was a time when the RPG was not all that popular outside of Japan. Sure there was the Ultima series, but that was more for the hardcore computing crowd, with their fancy thousand dollar PC’s. It wasn’t until the late 80’s with the North American release of SEGA’s Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System that the home video game console got it’s first taste of the role playing game. The perception was that the games were too complicated and challenging for North American video game players, and as such game publishers tried their damnedest to give us all the help they could.
Handbooks, maps, monster charts, and tip sheets were among the shwag included right in the game box throughout the 8 and 16-bit era of console role playing games.
I remember when I was 8 years old I walked into Acme Video with my dad to rent a Nintendo game. To my total joy and amazement on the shelf sat a copy of the newest game in my favorite franchise; Mega Man 3. The game had been released only weeks before and I was dying to play it after salivating over Nintendo Power’s coverage for months. I had tried on several earlier attempts to rent it, only to be met with empty shelves and disappointment. But now, with the game in hand, it was time to finally play Mega Man 3. It wasn’t until I got home when I opened the plastic box and realized much to my chagrin that the somehow Mega Man 3 was not put back into it’s proper case. I was so pissed off and basically heart broken. And what lousy game did I have instead? Some crap I had never heard of called Final Fantasy. I decided to make lemonade out of those sour, sour lemons, and give the game a try anyway. Needless to say I was fairly confused. I had never played a game where there was no jumping or sword swinging involved. I begged my dad to take me back to the video store to see if Mega Man 3 was waiting for me in Final Fantasy’s case, but my parents had already settled in on a cold December night and my complaints fell on def ears. I continued to plead my case explaining that I didn’t even understand the game and that it was boring. My mom suggested that I read through the instruction booklet. Defeated I decided that I would do just that.
Thus began a journey that altered my life for ever. The second I started reading the Final Fantasy Explorer’s Handbook I was hooked. The game was so far beyond anything I had ever played before. Reading about all the strategies and party formations in that manual gave me the feeling that this was a different type of video game, something much deeper and more complex than anything else I had ever seen. I read that manual- hell, I studied that manual cover to cover for hours before I even turned my Nintendo on again that night. I wanted to make sure that I had every trick and tactic that it contained memorized before the dove into the actual game.
Over that weekend I played Final Fantasy pretty much nonstop and than pleaded to my parents not to make me return it. i must have begged my parents for it for months after, and after getting my younger brother Robert on board we must have driven my dad insane because one Saturday we went out to Canadian Tire and my dad surprised us by buying us a copy of our very own. My original box, maps, and monster chart are long gone, but I still have that original manual from Acme Video (that I kept by “mistake”) and my original cart, which has my brother and I’s initials printed on it in my dad’s printing.
There once was a time when all you had were the hint book and whatever articles you could find in video game magazines. The Dragon Warrior games in particular were astonishingly difficult games, and for parts 3 and 4 specifically if you tried to get through them without help you would need to dedicate a small portion of your life to searching every space in the entire game. Nintendo of America was so frightened that their seminal RPG masterpiece Earthbound would not sell that they included a full sized strategy guide with the game in an enormous box just to wet the appetites of North American gamers.
The rise of the internet and the strategy guide industry pretty much put an end to the whole “include awesome free stuff with your video games” thing, and by the time the PlayStation rolled around you were pretty much shit out of luck if you were expecting anything other than a basic instruction manual. There were, of course, exceptions with Working Designs in particular showing the love with it’s deluxe edition localizations. However, games, such as the Playstation Lunar releases, were released more as collector’s editions instead of including maps and guides as a necessity.
Unfortunately, these deluxe collector’s edition are about the only thing that insertophiles such as myself have to look forward to. But hey, you can always go out and buy the strategy guide, right?