Strategy guides have an undeservedly bad reputation among hardcore gamers. Some seem to think that guides are just for people too stupid to figure a game out, or for those who want to get all of the reward with none of the effort. I disagree. I believe strategy guides help me get the most out of my games, and these are examples of the guides I’ve owned that accomplish that goal with flying colors…plus one that fails miserably.

Even for those who don’t view strategy guides as cheating, another question comes up when discussing them: Why not just look up all the answers online? As printed books, strategy guides offer an element of design, organization, and easy access that you can’t get on most game help sites. They are complete resources, often written with the direct assistance of a game’s development team. They have maps, lots of pictures identifying key locations, and give you all of the information in one place. If you’re just looking for a boss strategy, I agree that you can get that anywhere. However, the best guides offer more than that; they help you see things you didn’t even know were in a game.

That’s the main reason I’ve been a user of strategy guides for years. It’s resulted in me acquiring a hefty collection of the books, and here are a few of my favorites.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is a huge game, and this guide from Prima Games does a fantastic job pointing you toward the best content. The full map has all of the locations marked in case you’re looking for something specific, and detailed information on how all of the guilds, side quests, and campaign missions intersect. Skyrim isn’t a challenging game from a difficulty standpoint, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the size of the world and amount of content. This guide helps you narrow your focus if you’re just beginning, and gives you all of the finer points and hidden items if you’re looking to add another 100 hours to an already lengthy playthrough.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Gun of the Patriots

The mission walkthroughs in this guide from Piggyback Interactive do their job, but the real strength is how the guide focuses on giving hardcore fans of the series everything else they could want. Kojima Productions is known for putting lots of Easter eggs in its Metal Gear Solid games, and this guide helps players find the cool touches they may have missed. It also has important pointers about how the game changes if you are playing on harder difficulty modes, plus you’ll find well-written story and character summaries (and an interpretation of the ending) for those who may need some help connecting the dots. If you love to do a deep-dive into Metal Gear Solid games, this guide is invaluable.

Radiata Stories

I think Radiata Stories is the most under-appreciated RPGs of the PS2 era, but whatever you think of the game itself, you can’t deny that BradyGames’ strategy guide is an excellent companion. To understand why, you need to know something about the game: one of the major draws is collecting allies. These people have individual daily shedules, and often have specific and bizarre requirements for joining. The whole first part of the guide is devoted to every single ally, where you can find them, and what you need to do to recruit them. It’s a complicated task, but the information is thorough and well-organized…though it just looks like a mess on first glance:

The other aspect of the guide I appreciate is how it explains the consequences of a major choice you make about 75% of the way through the game. The game branches into two different paths at that point, but the guide makes sure you never feel like you did something wrong. I still page through this one occasionally even though I completely cleared the game long ago.

On the next page: 2 SNES classics and the worst strategy guide of all time!