I recently revisited and finished 2013's under-praised Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch while looking for some JRPGs to occupy my summer. (It's quite good and very pretty!) I find RPGs great for the summer months for two reasons: (1) there are generally fewer large releases in the summer and (2) RPGs are filled to the brim with plot lines, side quests, and grinding—perfect for filling in this slower season. There are hundreds of treasures to find, new gear to hunt down, synthesizing options to exploring, and stretched-out plots to follow. For completionists like myself, sometimes the amount of tasks to complete can seem daunting: Where do I start? Did I miss something in that last dungeon? Which of these classes should I upgrade my characters to? I don't want to get to the final dungeon and realize I missed that one magic spell I really need to defeat the enemies here. Hidden information is always tantalizing but also allows room for anxiety to creep in. There's a risk that players will get frustrated and leave the game behind. More likely, they'll just look up all of the secrets online.
I know very few people who play Pokémon without referencing the Internet. FINAL FANTASY games tend to almost assume you will have a player's guide. Players would never find all of the titles for a Tales of game (e.g, Tales of Symphonia) without looking up details online. The fact that players are going to access resources to get answers to their questions may as well be expected. If that's the case, why not just build the answers into the game? (Or provide your own guide online.)
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the WhiteWitch includes a menu option called the Wizard's Companion. It's a virtual book with finely crafted images, embroidered text, and plenty of lore. There are a few times in the story that the book is referenced as the key to our hero Oliver's success at becoming a capable wizard. But there's more in the book than just world lore. There are lists of alchemy formulas which you can actually follow to create new items. There's a full compendium of all of the game's creatures, where to find them, what items they drop, and what more powerful forms they can evolve (through metamorphosis) into. World map locations are listed with descriptions of what can be found there. Essentially, if it exists in the world, it's probably noted in the Wizard's Companion.
All of this information isn't available to the player for the get-go. When the Companion is received, it's missing a lot of pages. Furthering the plot, visiting inns, and talking to random people are necessary to complete the Companion. That's not unexpected. What I found impressive was the amount of information available. Nearly anything that you may be tempted to leave the game and look up can be right here.
Why is this better than letting players visit their favorite wiki for their answers? To start, it's more convenient. It also keeps the player engaged in the game's world. The Wizard's Companion has a crafted aesthetic to it—it feels like you're pouring through an ancient tome looking for arcane data to improve your fortunes. When I visit a second screen, I pull out of the game, lose my suspension of disbelief, and apply my attention to another screen where I may be tempted by Facebook and Twitter, or emails, or possibly another game. With the Wizard's Companion the designers can keep me in their world and give me the information I want presented in a way they prefer. In my opinion, this is a brilliant idea.
And just in case players really want all the answers, there are also spells awarded to Oliver for charting treasure chests on the mini-map in the top corner of the screen. Additionally, the menu gives completion percentages for every area you've visited, so it's easy to know if you need to revisit that spot or not. You'll never miss a secret again!
Ni no Kuni isn't the only game to give the players answers like this. Metroid Prime 3 included a room about halfway through the game that downloads a map of the locations of the all available power-ups, making 100% completion much easier to attain. Many SNES games included maps or secret item locations within their instruction manuals. (Remember instruction manuals? Those were cool.) Civilization titles include the incredibly detailed Civopedia. These are all good implementations.
I can think of two cautions pertaining to included 'guides' within games themselves. First, there's the risk of not including enough information or making the information too inconvenient to access. Pokémon comes to mind. The Pokédex claims to give information about where to find Pokémon but oftentimes is too vague about what it's trying to tell you. Additionally, finding out your monsters' IVs and EVs tends to involve talking to a specific in-game character to receive some coded statement about what their strongest attributes are. (Pokémon X/Y did finally just provide an EV star graph for each of your team members.) The other danger is giving too much information about details that are better left for discovery. I've been told of an example of this within Alan Wake, that the game hides book pages which reveal what will eventually happen in the story. Even the power-ups map in Metroid Prime 3 may have been a little too much information.
What do you think? Should secrets stay secrets? Is it a waste of development resources to build out answers within games when the Internet is such an easily accessible resource? Do you prefer to know exactly where to go to find what you're looking for? Let me know in the comments!
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was developed Level-5 and published by Namco Bandai Games.