Well, I've travelled for too much time
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
—Star Salzman, Mega Man X - "Dreams Come True"
Strategy Guides are different from 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 canceled. Maps in the official strategy guide for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contained Rampage icons that don't exist in the final game.
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, in recent years many strategy guide publishers have provided free updates and corrections on their websites.
Due to the idea of competition with free Walkthroughs, official Strategy Guides are extremely prominent now, usually containing nice art or extras to justify their price, which is usually around $15–$20 USD. 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 hilighter. 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.
- I seem to remember hint books with the red strip of see through film that you would use to read the hints. Maybe I am thinking of teh Lucasart Games' hint books though.
- 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 the Myst games (IV?) came with the strategy guide. In the box.
- The PS 2 version of Myst III: Exile bundled a "hint guide" into the instruction booklet.
- The Tex Murphy games went one step further than that by building the hint guide into the game itself. Each incremental hint cost a certain number of points (gained by solving puzzles) and the system was structured so that it was impossible to "look ahead".
- EarthBound was also sold with the Player's Guide included.
- The original version of Myst had, among other things, an envelope labelled "Open only if in dire need..."
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past came with a similar insert - a small, sealed pamphlet called "Sahasrahla's Secrets."
- The PS 2 version 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, Lost Forever, or both.
- Both the Nintendo and Prima strategy guides for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and the Prima guides for Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver and Pokémon Black and White are split into a "beat-the-game" guide and a post-storyline/"catch-em-all" guide.
- The official guide for Platinum rectifies the issues with Diamond and Pearl's split guides by checking in at 624 pages and having both move data and a full walkthrough.
- 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 the original 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.
- 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 accidential 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 Prima guide for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion states that there are 10 Ayleid Statues for the Collector quest, then immediately lists 11 locations.
- Well, you have to find 1 statue, sell it and then you have to find the other 10 for the quest.
- 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'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 errata, particularly their Animal Crossing (Game Cube) guide, which had tons of misplaced screenshots and incorrect dates and times. Their Star Fox Adventures and Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards guides weren't even finished, ending before they could tell you how to fight the final boss.
- 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.
- Fan-made class handbooks exist for Dungeons & Dragons fans for every edition from 3.5 onward. They can be found at Gleemax, GiantITP, and Brilliant Gameologists (the latter having a subforum dedicated to handbooks). These are more min-max related than guides here, but what do you expect from a tabletop game? Links to them are being added to the Class Page.