I wanted to take a chance during this break between games to talk about strategy guides. I've been using them a lot lately. The JRPG genre in general tends to have more use for guides than other genres and Final Fantasy is no exception.
I've used a strategy guide for four out of the five games I've played so far. The game I did guide-less was FFIV. I actively needed the guides for the other games.
That's the sad part, guides are basically a necessity for so many of these games. It's really easy to get stuck in the early Final Fantasy games. There are sections where the only option would be to wander the world aimlessly searching for hours... or look at a strategy guide for five minutes. I will almost always choose the guide at that point. Not to mention how easy it can be to get stuck somewhere and not be able to go back. In a few places it's a very real possibility that you can get stuck in an area that is too high level for you. And if you saved your game there and don't have a backup save you can be entirely screwed.
The iOS versions have gone a long way toward making it less possible for a player to get stuck somewhere with a bad save spot. Although, they don't do much to help guide the player in the aimless wandering situations.
One of the reasons I loved FFIV so much was because it did such a great job of guiding me from place to place. It did such a good job that I never needed to look at a guide. This is one of the other places that FFV didn't live up to it's predecessor. I was confused about where to go next a number of times. In FFIV I always felt like I knew where to go, but I still had freedom to explore the world. I didn't have to go to the next plot point immediately. It wasn't linear and confining. The main path was just well defined by the story.
Here's the way I've been approaching it. I start a game and just play. If I hit a spot where I get confused, lost, or feel like I could potentially miss an important item or character I'll look at a guide. If looking at the guide gets me back on track I ignore it again and just play. If I have to go back to the guide a second time... I find one that I like and commit to using it throughout the rest of the playthrough.
In case you're wondering, I've been using fan created guides on Gamefaqs. Most of the time these are actually better than the "official" guide because they've had years to improve on them and find out secrets about the game.
I'm about to start FFVI. I'll start without a guide but will probably end up using one. From what I've heard, this is a Final Fantasy game with a lot of characters and I don't want to miss any of them.