Patrick Hope: You want me to do what?!
One problem with this being a year with very few major releases is that I can’t just coast along by writing my thoughts on whatever’s coming out, throw in a witty title and call it good. On the other hand, it does allow more opportunities to crank out broader opinion pieces. So on that note, let’s talk about sidequests.
Sidequests are, as the name implies, content that is tangential to the main story in whatever game you’re playing. You don’t have to complete them and for the most part, it won’t affect your ending if you blow them off and plow through the main game. But they’re a pretty good way to get some extra character development, powerful equipment or just getting some achievement/trophy to pop.
It also should go without saying that certain genres are going to lend themselves much more to sidequests than others. It’s a lot easier to work in this sort of content in, say, “Zelda,” than “Gran Turismo.” In addition, sidequests come in all shapes and sizes. So for simplicity’s sake, we’ll go through some major types with a few case studies based on what items the quests yield.
The super item
Example: Chocobo breeding in “Final Fantasy VII”
The best way to illustrate the Chocobo breeding sidequest/minigame is through an anecdote. When I was a junior in undergrad, my roommates and I got on a real “Final Fantasy” kick, which resulted in our playing “Final Fantasy” IV through IX in about a three-month span. During the “Final Fantasy VII” part of the run, we got involved in breeding Chocobos. Now, here’s how Chocobo breeding is supposed to work. Two yellow Chocobos make a green or blue Chocobo and you have to breed a Green and Blue to make a Red. Red makes Black. And Black makes the ultimate Chocobo: the Gold one.
For some reason, the game glitched out and wouldn’t give us the correct combination of Green/Blue. So the solution devised by my roommate Andrew, who now teaches math at Cornell, so you know this idea is legit, was to dim the lights and put on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers. Needless to say, this didn’t work, but it didn’t stop us from trying for about two hours. And why would we go to these lengths to breed birds (and race them)? Because if you got a Gold Chocobo, you could get to an otherwise inaccessible cave that contains the game-breaking Knights of the Round summon.
For all the hours you’re going to put into getting that stupid Gold Chocobo, the reward of Knights of the Round is completely worth it because it’s gratifying to absolutely annihilate your foes. But it also illustrates a problem with a lot of the super-powerful item sidequests. Never mind that it makes no sense that the single most powerful item in the world is obtained by racing birds, but in many cases, they take so long to complete that you didn’t really save any time by getting the item. But hey, you got that sword that has a hilt that looks like a sunflower, right? Good enough.
Example: The “Persona” S-links
I actually touched on this a couple months ago when I wrote about MAH GIRL Rise. Now, the “Persona” S-links do more than just character development because they power up your personas and in Rise’s case, pretty much turn her into a goddess in battle. But the big reward is finding out more about the characters and it’s a pretty ingenious way to do so. Having a character go all exposition fairy with their backstory during the main plot can get super-awkward, so this is a great avenue to find out more. While “Persona” is the example that comes to mind most readily, other series, like everything Bioware has done since “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” do this as well. You may not get better in battle, but you’ll gain a new appreciation for the game’s world and its inhabitants this way.
Examples: The bonus dungeon or optional superboss. Pick a game. It doesn’t matter.
Yeah, pride is a pretty powerful force in games. Many gamers, when presented with an otherwise insurmountable challenge, will try to conquer it. That’s the rationale behind these sidequests, which include 100-floor endurance test dungeons, optional bosses who are just chilling in a cave somewhere, or coliseum fights against guest star characters from other entries in the series. These quests yield token rewards, like PSN trophies or a star next to your save file, but gist is the same. Your reward is proving that you did it. These fights require strategy or skill that goes beyond normal bounds. If you want to say you mastered a game, you better be ready to take on challenges like these. And you better have your victory pose ready, because you’ll have earned it.
Sidequests can range from amazing experiences that suck you in even further (Anju and Kafei in “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”) to absolute chores that make you want to throw your controller (dodging 200 consecutive lightning bolts in FFX). But they’re all there to remind you that there’s more than rushing through a game. You might get something cool, like a new favorite character or some nerd cred. And if you don’t want to, well, that’s fine too. But don’t come complaining to me when you didn’t race enough birds.
Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. He has never dodged 200 lightning bolts in a row.