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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.

Vivi races Hippaul

Vivi races Hippaul for a rare item – Athlete Queen

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.

Sonicboomwiiu

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.

FFIX Tetra Master Card Locations

Pulling this rope unveils some rare cards for Tetra Master

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.

2 responses

  1. Murray

    Another factor to consider are post-game sidequests or New Game+ side quests.

    After having completed some games, there can be no real desire or want to return to playing it unless you want to start a whole new run which can be very undesirable. Some games will offer short epilogues which open a few sidequests to close off loose plot ends or offer up high end equipment, whilst some games can offer you pages upon pages of sidequests for completing.

    And as mentioned, free-roaming doesn’t always correlate to being non-linear, quite a few modern Pokemon games (Note: Not saying Pokemon games are bad in any way, shape or form for being this way, this is just a differing opinion) offer up this large open world which you are often going to be following a set path through “Get starter>Beat 8 gyms>Fight evil bad guys>Catch legendary>Beat Elite 4>YAY!”

    That said, Pokemon post-games are starting to improve in terms of their sidequests, such as the Looker Bureau in X and Y or the Mega Stone hunting in both XY and ORAS.

    Summary: Having post game side quests can be important in helping a game feel non-linear if they open up significant new areas or offer exciting new items.

    Sorry for the essay :c

    Liked by 1 person

    May 30, 2016 at 10:29 am

    • I read this yesterday and didn’t have the time originally to give you a justified response, so here I am today!

      Don’t apologise for “essays”. We’re geeks; we’re enthusiastic and we should be allowed to speak our mind. This is why I made this article and you know what? You hit a few points that I didn’t even consider when writing this post: the effective as hell New Game+! Rogue Legacy is a game that follows the New Game+ mechanic beautifully. Each time you beat it, you do it all over again on harder settings.

      Now, regarding Pokemon, I’d not say it’s linear. My reason is very simple: Yes, the story is linear (Ala FFIX), however the way you get to the end is not. With Pokemon, you have a massive range of monsters to take with you to the end of the game. Also, your level range is anywhere from about 45-100 when you beat it. Though if you waited til 100, shame on you! :P Effectively, I’d put Pokemon in the same category as Final Fantasy: Linear stories in non-linear games. Meanwhile, a linear game is, say, Sonic 1. Get to the end and beat up Robotnik. As years have gone on, the concept of a “linear game” has truly almost vanished; it’s just how do you approach the non-linear aspects of a game? Adding in some “fetch quests” though does not make a game non-linear, imo.

      You’re right about post-game quests! They make all the difference in the world. I remember when I played X and Y, that there was this creepy little ghost girl… and the internet EXPLODED about her. She was awesome :) Things like that make video games the coolest medium in my opinion.

      Like

      May 31, 2016 at 10:57 am

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