The Lost Art of Video Game Manuals

-by Dylan DiBona

I don’t hunt for retro games as much as I used to; I’ve become quite comfortable with my PlayStation 4 as of late. When I do browse the online shops for an older games, it’s like a gamble in terms of the shape of the game. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a very affordable copy of Tales of Symphonia for cheap. It’s what inspired me to write my GameCube Retrospective. I played the game on the Wii once (never beaten) and sold my copy to GameStop. One thing I received in the box that I don’t think I did last time was a thick game manual. That little packet of pages sent me further down a route of nostalgic appreciation.

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Memory Lane

It’s perfectly reasonable and understandable as to why physical game manuals aren’t really made anymore. Releasing manuals online keeps company costs down and most importantly, saves paper. Physical game manuals were a product of the time, before the internet could give you infinite tips on everything. I remember coming home on a long car trip reading the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon manual for twenty to thirty minutes, my dad said “You’ll know everything about the game before you play it!” or something like that. That was the sign of a really good game manual.

Having character bios, enemy names, a story summary- it was almost like a guaranteed sign of quality. It built hype for that moment you could finally grasp the controller after a long day of school.

I open up my steelbook copy of Persona 5 and see nothing but a small thin piece of paper advertising some useless game, and warranty stuff on the back. I open up my copies of Persona 3 and 4 and think back to the simpler times. It’s not really feasible to make game manuals anymore, but when a company like Yacht Club Games produced an old-school manual for Shovel Knight, it was a little heartwarming.

Like anything else I’m sure there are bad game manuals out there, but when you got a good one reading it was a genuine joy. A good game manual gives the player knowledge of the gameplay and virtual world, it truly is a lost art form.

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Anybody else miss physical game manuals? Which was your favorite? What modern games have you picked up that came with game manuals? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.

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9 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Video Game Manuals

  1. The first thing I would do before playing the game was read the manual. I really miss the mandatory (and fun) manual reads before the days of tutorial levels. When I opened A Link Between Worlds and saw there wasn’t a physical manual enclosed, I was pissed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I miss the crap out of physical manuals. I stumbled upon a huge collection of them the other day when I was packing my things to move, and I was overjoyed! I have so many good ones – Banjo Kazooie is probably among my favorites, although with my IndieBox subscription I get a pretty good fix of full color manuals each month 🙂

    One of the biggest bummers of the year without a doubt is how no Switch games seem to come with anything inside of them, aside from the tiny game cart. It just isn’t the same anymore. Then again, what is?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved a decent game manual. Something to refer to while playing without opening another screen or window, explanations of enemies or controls without dipping into spoiler territory accidentally, tips on how to maximise a party without giving you the complete play by play… always helpful things to have and usually quite pretty and a good memory of the game itself to display. Physical manuals would be an awesome thing to bring back.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I miss them terribly. For the old RPGs I love playing, their vague hints and wonderful artwork is truly unmatched by an internet search. These days I especially love manuals for Sega Master System games, but in my childhood I used to read manuals for NES games all the time growing up.

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  5. I remember spending some time reading the sonic the hedgehog manuals mainly so I could get the enemy names correct. I guess they’ve died out as a result of the ‘ingame tutorial’, but it is a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Man, talk about memories! The driving home in the car scenario you described played out many a time during my childhood. The other thing I miss is game boxes that actually described gameplay rather than just having buzzwords like “Great!” “8/10!” etc. It was nice to be able to go to a game store and legitimately browse, rather than needing to do extensive research before you go out (or perhaps more realistically, before you then order the product online).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I used to shamelessly read all of my video game manuals in a row when I was a kid. I also have fond memories of manuals being the first thing I ever looked at for a game besides the box art. It’s fair to say that I miss them dearly. Opening a game case and finding nothing is so disappointing nowadays. My favorites from the good old days are the Donkey Kong Country trilogy manuals, in which Cranky constantly and hilariously berated the player and the game itself. The gigantic 40+ page Pokemon trainer’s manual from red and blue is also something extraordinary.

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  8. Pingback: The magic of the video game manual – Later Levels

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