Side-Quests in Games
I love a good side-quest, to the point where whenever I make a tabletop campaign, or work with modding tools, I add in side-quests. They’re fun and they build upon a story beautifully. Recently, I’ve been replaying through Final Fantasy IX, my favourite game in the series and remembering all of the incredible minute details it presents. Join Timlah as we discuss the importance and the joy of side-quests and what makes a game linear.
Let’s face the facts, if you were to sit some people down with a game that has nothing bar the main quest/story in it, they would complete it in one sitting, regardless of how long it takes. Sure, you may think your grand story of 48+ hours is impressive, but compare this to a game that is filled with side-quests and you’re having a laugh! Gosh, I don’t even bring up the game of the million quests: Morrowind.
But I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy IX, which I admit outright is my favourite of the Final Fantasy series. Not only is it my favourite, it’s the one I know the most intimately. Since it was re-released for Steam, I figured this was a perfect time to replay the game, fully get to know it again and then record it for a Let’s Play series. Whilst this is all well and good, the more I played it, the more distracted I became by the side-quests. I keep forgetting to do the things that actually matter in the game, because I want to help the characters more and more.
I don’t care if all I’m doing is pressing “x” for a game of skipping rope, 1,000 times. (At the time of writing this, I still have not earned that achievement), or if I’m helping a mother out by racing her son until he’s level 80 at running. What I care about is flavour, the very thing we expect to see on Magic: the Gathering cards, or some small, minor piece of information about something trivial, like what colour a Mudcrab is, or even how they taste when put in a stew.
World building is a powerful tool; but it’s something that so many games, I feel, just don’t do world building or branching stories any justice. They build a story and tell people “you must listen to my story”. Case in point: Sonic the Hedgehog. This is a franchise that basically started out incredibly linear, by having a Hedgehog who travels super fast and gets from A to B. This is fine, this is great and it’s a hell of a lot of fun! I love me some classic Sonic. So then, why would I even bother picking on Sonic here? Look at the later games in the franchise. Sonic Boom, a game that offered a lot more free roaming than its earlier iterations. Sure, there have been free-roaming Sonic games before Sonic Boom specifically and this isn’t to rag on this franchise, but I offer Sonic Boom as an example of a game that does not understand the importance of side-quests.
To make the comparison weirder, let me offer Sonic ’06. These two games are cited as amongst the worst games in the franchise and even in video game history. The story isn’t particularly interesting in either point and when you look at their side-quests, they believe “just do an action” counts as one. No! Give us some real juice. They got it right in Sonic 3 & Knuckles: You play the game, you collect Chaos Emeralds and you become Super Sonic and later Hyper Sonic. It’s pretty cool! But what is “right” when delivering side-quests in my mind? Let me take us now back to a game that offers side-quests, but doesn’t necessarily offer you anything for doing them.
Final Fantasy IX then is a game that gives you plenty of side-quests, but the majority of them you don’t really get a reward, or any sort of hint about. You will chat to some old lady who is looking after a pickle cart, who will then tell you she spoke to a strange knight who seemed to like her pickles. You will speak to an Alexandrian Soldier who is having some problems with her boyfriend, who is the leader of a resistance group… And you can then go on to meet said boyfriend! You save the Moogles messaging system, you make a chocobo basically go into a wonderful haven and you fight a giant ball monster who can destroy your whole team in one hit.
But the game doesn’t tell you that you can do all this. If you sit on the straight and narrow and just want to play through a game that allows you to complete a story with little to no drama, then Final Fantasy IX is a perfect linear game. In fact, when I was reading up on peoples opinions of a linear game, I was surprised that Final Fantasy IX made it onto a list of linear games. I agree, it’s a linear story but it’s certainly not a linear game in my eyes.
I open the conversation up to you now. What constitutes a linear game and what makes a good side-quest in a game? Do you need rewards to complete them? Do you enjoy games that give you such a range of things to do, or do you prefer a game where the objective is straightforward and narrow? Do you miss the classics and more importantly: What do you miss about them? As always, let us know in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.