Much has been made about Nintendo’s recent efforts to effectively handhold players through its games. There has also been as much made about how Nintendo games never used to be that way. However, gamers tend to have selective memories, because Nintendo began this type of philosophy with a specific genre of game: the RPG. But unlike today’s interactive and lengthy tutorials, the Nintendo of yesterday, unsure about how Westerners would take to console RPGs, decided to include a partial or even complete walkthrough with every Nintendo-published release.
When looking at the earliest examples of this practice, it’s easy to see why. Dragon Warrior, one of the first releases to do this, did not have the most obvious objectives. Talking to people gave you a vague idea of what to do, but you were largely left to stumble through the game, hoping you’re going to the right place at the right time. Luckily for us, the instruction manual also served as a full walkthrough of the entire game, often with complete maps. Many console RPGs were as vague as Dragon Warrior, so this mandate made a lot of sense at the time, especially since the Internet was not in the picture for gamers back then.
However, this practice continued even into the SNES era, where designers had gotten a bit better at communicating information to the player. And even then, the games which saw the manual walkthrough treatment didn’t always make sense, like Illusion of Gaia. As seen before, the back of the manual, which was then being billed as the “Nintendo Power Explorer’s Handbook”, had a walkthrough of the entire game. The problem was that Illusion of Gaia is largely a linear game with no numerical underpinnings to worry about. It was, in a word, unnecessary. That coupled with a rising awareness of gamers’ RPG savvy meant that walkthroughs would soon be banished from manuals. Just as the SNES was wrapping up, so was this policy.
It’s still hard to argue that manual walkthroughs didn’t play a role in bringing console RPGs to the masses. They gave publishers less anxiety about bringing out games that required exploration and strategy. They provided us with a hint in a time before GameFAQs. And even though we didn’t always need them, they were often our first exposure to the concept of walkthroughs.
If you're curious, you can view Illusion of Gaia's full manual at replacementdocs.com here.