When they first started, video game strategy guides were just paperback books telling you how to try your best in over 9 smash arcade hits. They evolved into exhaustive spreadsheets and maps spread across 200 mostly unnecessary pages, and for exactly four days and eleven hours in the early 2000s, they were more convenient than looking the game up for free on literally any video game website. It was during this window of time the worst video game strategy guide ever was written, and it failed in ways that will never again be possible. “Let’s Take Our Game Further™” with BradyGames’ Final Fantasy IX Official Strategy Guide by Dan Birlew!
The obvious joke when anyone saw a strategy guide after 1997 was “Wouldn’t it save everyone time and money if every page just said GO LOOK IT UP ONLINE, DUMBASS.” Well, the Final Fantasy IX Official Strategy Guide did that. It took that stupid punchline and ran it into the ground on every page. This is going to sound like I’m exaggerating, but this “strategy guide” is made up entirely of vague hints that tell you to visit PlayOnline to learn more. Because, and this is also going to sound like I’m exaggerating, it wasn’t something you just read… it was something you EXPERIENCED!
EXPERIENCE (verb): pausing Final Fantasy and walking to your computer to enter a keyword to get the second half of a game secret.
This experience seems deliberately worse than a failure. I believe a scientist discovered the limits of how fucking stupid a thing could be and the Final Fantasy IX Official Strategy Guide was written to debunk him. It’s like buying a calculator with one button that announces you need a calculator in Cherokee. Wait, no. It’s worse than that. It’s a $13 book driving readers to a paid service imitating the free service specifically responsible for making their business obsolete. So it’s more like a stripper leading you to a room where you can have sex with a watermelon for $49.99, but there are six exits all labeled “free watermelons,” and none of them are lying.
Okay, now that you understand completely, let’s look inside.
Every bit of information you might find useful in a strategy guide is behind a paywall in a second location. You want to know the main character’s abilities, but don’t feel like reading them off your TV screen, like your grandpa!? Get up and enter KEYWORD: CHARABLT9 to get a complete list on any nearby Internet-capable IBM compatible personal PC computer! While you’re there, make use of this other BradyGames-PlayOnline exclusive tip: maybe try fucking yourself, like your grandpa.
As I mentioned, the book does include some information. For instance, it won’t tell you what skills your character will learn from a pair of shoes, but it might tell you they provide “a southern, tropical feel.” I hope this demonstrates how the author had plenty of space, and more than enough time, to tell the reader useful information about the shoes and he made the deliberate decision to hide anything relevant behind KEYWORD: ADDNS5 on a service that would be shut down in under ten years. Try to imagine any other circumstance where you could hand someone a pointless two page spreadsheet of flavor text for feet and be told, “Looks great, I’ll get these to the printer.” Congratulations, you’ve just imagined Foot Fuckers Gazette; visit RawTrottersOnline KEYWORD: WETSOCK9 to learn more.
I feel like you still might be confused. Luckily, there’s a strategy guide to using the book’s PlayOnline world wide web links. See, the KEYWORD is what you enter in the “Keyword” field, but the PLAYONLINE HEADER is more complicated. It “indicates the type of information you’ll find online” such as how your brain might categorize a horse or favorite salad dressing. Consider the PLAYONLINE HEADER to be the author’s way of saying, “I can name three types of things, but two of them are feet, bye.”
The “text” below the PLAYONLINE HEADER is what makes this whole experience work– those letters correspond to sounds and concepts found in language and can communicate anything from “Log into PlayOnline” to “Log into PlayOnline, you dumb piece of shit.” I’d argue the information in this guide already came included with your ability to read, but it’s the only complete and functional piece of information included in the entire book.
There are a lot of boss battles in Final Fantasy IX, and the advice the book gives for every single one, without exception, is to go to PlayOnline for more strategy tips. The fact that they’re all worded in slightly different ways is psychopathic. This goddamn maniac spent days, maybe weeks, adding his own unique flair to every “click here.” Some might call this “extra effort,” but I feel like if you saw a line cook who had to invent an all-new way to crack an egg each time, you’d consider it a mental disorder. A demon cursed this author and we are watching him try to scream for help in this book’s margins.
Sometimes the links read like hot news stories you need to check out rather than strategy guides. Breaking news! The 80th entry in the acclaimed Final Fantasy series of video games features the 80th appearance of the rare “Chocobo!” This time around “Chocobo” challenges your wits by hiding an object and telling you whether you’re “hot” or “cold.” It’s called “Chocobo Hot and Cold” and the slowest among you already has more than a full understanding of it! If we told you how to use and not eat a diaper, it would be less insulting than another single word about Chocobo Hot and Cold! Visit us online and enter KEYWORD: CHOCO1 to learn more! PlayOnline has the story covered!
Sometimes it’s not even clear what help you might need. “Is there a mystery here? Maybe not! You probably shouldn’t have gone back to this book after your first visit to PlayOnline. We’re not sure what we have to say to make that clear to you. For more, find out at PlayOnline! Are you still fucking reading this!? Visit PlayOnline! How are y– I swear to God I’m going to lose my mind if you don’t close this book and get the information online! There’s nothing here to look at! Why are you doing this to me!? Visit! Find out! AIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!”
“Something for fun and profit” is a seventy-year-old cliche used by talentless writers. If you’re the author and would like a full joke about this, visit the Grave of Your Childhood Dreams, you hack fuck.
I’m sort of tired of telling this guy how to do his job, but when you’re selling secrets about what to do with Final Fantasy IX frogs, you’re undermining your own profit stream when you say, “frog catching is very beneficial.” What I mean is, this is enough information for a savvy player to determine whether or not to catch frogs, even if they don’t visit PlayOnline. You don’t offer your customers a nine year test drive or a sixty pound cheese sample. I guess these frog tips would work with their business model if they said, “Controversial study says frog catching may kill you. Or connect you with horny singles in your area! Visit PlayOnline to see if you’re at risk.”
Dan Birlew, professional writer, carefully and pointlessly reworded “for tips on defeating this boss visit PlayOnline” 283 times, but decided the sentence “Frog catching for fun and profit,” was fine to use again word-for-word. If you’re the author and would like a full joke about this, visit the Grave of Your Childhood Dreams, you hack fuck.
Dan’s job was to tell readers how to jump rope with little girls in a role playing game. Then, because a Sony executive wanted to boost the numbers of their failing online service, Dan’s job became tantalizing readers into going somewhere to learn how to jump rope with little girls in a role playing game. And the best Dan could come up with was “Those girls look like they’re having fun jumping rope,” along with the coy hint you could, giggle, maaaaaaaybe get a prize if you’re good! I alluded to this earlier, but fuck you and your book, Dan. You idiot creep. You write links to jump rope guides like an undercover cop trying to buy a baby.
Let me understand this, book. You’re a $13 video game answer key, but instead of giving me the answer, you’re selling me a website explaining what will happen if I get a question wrong in the game– the thing I probably did since you didn’t tell me the right answer. I’m going to try this one more time, Dan Birlew. This thing you’ve done is like selling someone a plane ticket to Phoenix and then giving them a coupon for an alarm that tells them when a bus is on the way to Scottsdale.
Yes, please. Please, keyword QUMAR4, help me break up the monotony of my endless trips to Qu’s Marsh with a trip to a second Qu’s Marsh.
Look, you get whatsits for doing stuff. I don’t have time to get into it here, visit PlayOnline.
An easy way to defeat undead monsters? I didn’t play Final Fantasy IX, but is it “use healing shit on them?” Because if I bought this book and signed up for a monthly service to enter KEYWORD: UNDED2 only to find out Final Fantasy IX‘s skeletons are exactly like the skeletons from every other role pla– oh, Jesus, I just looked it up. They are! Hey, Dan. Go to YourMama to find out more about the long-term effects of prenatal drug exposure.
I looked this one up, too. There are eleven characters in the group. So if you visit PlayOnline and enter KEYWORD: EKCOOK1, Sony’s gaming subscription service will count to eleven for you. What broken soul was told to write this and then did? Dan, I get you were doing a job, but any contractor attached to this nightmare project with an ounce of remaining spirit would have written, “Having trouble counting to 11? Ha ha okay, we’ve got you covered at PlayOnline. Oh did I give it away? Fuck you, that’s the exact same amount of mystery as ‘you must cook the right amount of food for the entire group’ which is the note I got back. By the way, whoever at Sony keeps giving me notes like that, ask yourself: who could this book possibly be for? Asshole.”
I don’t want to try to imagine how easy something must be for this guide to assume we’ve already got it handled. If you’re worthless enough you need to enter KEYWORD: ARMD1 on PlayOnline’s Final Fantasy IX guide, all you see is a picture of yourself taking sleeping pills and, for the second place on the site, instructions on how to count to eleven. For an apology for that joke visit NeverFools KEYWORD: NEVER.
“I miss you, Kupo. Enter KEYWORD KUPNUT1 to remember our trip to Gizamaluke’s Grotto, how much it meant to us, and what I did to your filthy nuts.”
– Dan Birlew, author of Final Fantasy IX Official Strategy Guide
I didn’t write anything mean about this one. Hearing about a nice reward I can’t miss sounds pretty useful.
Okay, so I enter keyword STEINE1 to find out who is due for a weapon upgrade? I can’t wait to learn whether it’s Zidane, Vivi, or Steiner! Oh, what if it’s Princess Garnet Til Alexandros The 17th? Let me just put in S… T… E… oh man, I hope it’s Princess Garnet Til Alexandros The 17th!
After a hundred pages or so, Dan loses perspective completely on what “hints” are and starts explaining the basic concept of gaming. There’s nothing less informative to say than this. If you unfroze Walt Disney’s head and introduced him to video games with, “you receive nice prizes for defeating the monsters,” he’d say, “Obviously. I may not have met Biddy O’James, but I figured that was the goal. I’m not some filthy, lump-skulled m–” before you unplugged him just in time.
“Save the taowhns- peeeple?” Speak English, doc! For a less by-the-numbers joke about Dan’s failure, visit earlier in this article where I think I called him a coupon for an alarm that goes off when you’re on the way to Scottsdale? Oh man, I don’t know if I’ve ever been this exhausted trying to explain how hard someone fucked up. He told us monsters drop items when you kill them two thirds into a Final Fantasy strategy guide! Across all time and space, it’s beyond the dumbness of anything made by man or cosmic accident. I’m going to need weeks of recovery before it’s safe to describe anything so stupid again.
Not again, no! NO!! Fuck you and the monkey paw that heard you wish to be a writer, Dan Birlew!
This one doesn’t even tell us to visit PlayOnline. Which means Dan thinks “logging into Sony PlayOnline” is more automatic than “looking down both hallways in an RPG.” I don’t understand how anyone could think a thing like this is “knowledge.” At least seven of Dan’s roommates have starved to death waiting for him to finish explaining pizza to them.
If you’re at the Four-armed Man, you can also find out what he’s offering by staying right where you are and not visiting PlayOnline. As for the second SECRET found at KEYWORD: GRNT4, I’m so happy to inform you Dagger’s true name is Princess Garnet Til Alexandros The 17th as already mentioned by this book at least 30 times and by the video game you’ve been playing, I don’t know, hundreds of times? This is fucking nuts. It’s… pbbbbbhhh… I guess… I guess it’s kind of like someone turning to the audience in the 8th Batman movie to say, “You’re probably wondering who this caped fellow is! To find out, send a self-addressed stamped envelope along with a check for $11.82 made out to The Batman is Bruce Wayne Tipline, PO Box 1033 Scottsdale, Arizona to find out he’s a cranky bat because his parents are dead!”
Let’s hope your readers don’t realize they bought a book made entirely out of advertisements, and one of them is an offer to buy an exclusive advertisement.
To drive home the absolute pointlessness of it all, the book contains “quick reference” sections with most of the useful data removed. If you go to PlayOnline, you can see “an enemy’s weaknesses, strengths, and more.” But if all you did was spend $13 on this book, they only tell you ARMODULLAHAN (N/A) is a wad of maybe plant shapes with 4598 MP and an Ore somewhere on him. I’m not sure I have another one of these descriptions in me, but it’s like selling someone a phone book that doesn’t even tell you which Clovis Johnsons are weak against Shadow until you sign up for a year-long membership at Phonebook.biz.
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