The world is falling to pieces, the princess is in danger, the forces of evil have just about won, but if you catch enough chickens for this lady she’ll give you a heart piece! Logically sidequests don’t make much sense, they pull us away from the impending doom of the main story, and usually offer less rewards. That being said there’s just something special about carving out your own path in a video game. Going away from the main road to find your own adventures. And it’s these little diversions that make a particular playthrough feel unique. Of course, not every game does side quests well. Many RPGs have silly collectathon quests that never really pay off, however there are some games that simply nail side quests. These are the top 5.
Fire Emblem isn’t a franchise particularly known for its side quests, however when the tactical rpg franchise released Awakening in 2013 it not only reinvigorated the franchise, but brought with it a cunning way to make every playthrough feel like your own. FE:Awakening does this through character relationships that develop between your units during combat. Once outside of combat, these bonded characters can engage in conversation and improve their relations. These upgraded relations are not only an interested additive to the story, but also a good way to boost the effectiveness of your troops. However the side quests don’t really come into play unless you romantically pair up two units of opposite sex. By doing this the characters can marry and have a child. This child will then travel from the dark future and be available for recruitment. Trust me, the whole time travel thing makes perfect sense within the context of the game, and even can add interesting elements to the child’s backstory. Recruiting these children from the future requires the player to engage in a paralogue battle in which the child can be found. These new characters can then form relations of their own, as well as assist you in future levels. Though it may seem unorthodox, Fire Emblem Awakening’s relationship and subsequent paralogue battles are the perfect template for a sidequest. They are entirely initiated by the player, everything from the character relationships to the paralogues themselves. These sidequests also offer interesting stories via the relationship dialogues. And finally they offer a pretty significant reward in the form a new unit to recruit. Between these characteristics, Fire Emblem Awakening out right deserves the fifth spot.
Despite logical conventions, gamers often prefer quantity over quality. We aren’t so much concerned about how good the game is, just as long as I get enough hours out of it. Though this sentiment is probably pretty bad for the gaming community, it has lead to the development (or at least popularization) of massive open world games, and few do the open world better than Bethesda. With franchises like Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Bethesda are practically synonymous with not only open worlds, but the hundreds of sidequests that fill them. And though the quality of sidequests is most certainly important, as we will see later on in this list, the sheer number of other things to do simply cannot be overlooked. In this spirit it seems only fitting to give the fourth spot to Skyrim. Though it is not the most recent open world Bethesda title, it was more effective in communication and character building than Fallout 4. This allowed for a greater level of role playing which added depth to the otherwise shallow side quests. In open world Bethesda games, side quests serve as tools to help you tell your own story. Are you a thief or a warrior? Do you hunt werewolves or become one? Skyrim’s amount of side quests allow you to build a character that not only feels appropriate for the world, but also unique to that playthrough.
Out of all of the JRPGs, Chrono Trigger has side quests that are both of high quality and significance. First and foremost, every CT side quest is meaty enough in both gameplay and story to be its own short indie game. Once you add those types of adventures to an already 30 hour campaign, the game becomes even more epic in scope than its time travel story-line originally lead you to believe. In addition to amazingly deep and wide side quests, they are also extremely character focused. By doing these quests you learn and uncover so much more about the characters, that you grow greater bonds with them. In fact, there is info you learn in these side quests that does so much to improve the main story, that it is almost stupid to call them sidequests. Consider that with the fact that there are twelve endings where nearly everything you do factors into your ending, and you get playthroughs that are totally different. One of the main tenets of side quests is to give a player a special feeling, of doing something no one else has done by going off the beaten path. And though every game on this list does that to some degree, nothing does it as harshly as Chrono Trigger. Playthroughs of this game can be insanely different; to the point where a friend and I got different endings and basically different messages.
I lost my Witcher virginity to the Wild Hunt, and I will never forget it. Bursting through the first tutorial-esque mission and then stumbling blindly into the massive and deep open world that is the Northern Kingdoms was more impressive than any other open world RPG. CD projekt red builds a world that is both fantastical and mature. It impressively has all the size and scope of a game like Skyrim, but all the depth and intricacy of a linear experience like Bioshock, or Dark Souls. The world of The Witcher is so deep in fact, that it doesn’t feel like a game world, but rather a world that is simply not our own, full of its own history, conflicts, and struggles. Much of what makes the world of the Witcher feel so real is its side quests. Each quest is well written, emotional, and and a great exploration of the game’s monster hunting and mystery solving mechanics. Though the Witcher 3 allows players to have their own varied adventures, its real strength lies within the complexity and interest of the side quests, some of which are just as engaging as the main story.
Without a doubt, Majora’s Mask operates side quests better than any other game. The central mechanic of Majora’s Mask revolves around a repeating three day cycle. Once it concludes, the player must restart the cycle, and though the player will keep all of their progress, the world and all of its problems will revert to their original state. This goes for side quests as well, meaning that despite your role as the hero, you can never save everyone. You have to watch the people of Termina go down their paths which you know will result in failure. Combine this with the game’s sense of dread and the often depressing side quests that you face, and you have a world that is constantly berating you with a feeling of failure without your help. In addition to the awesome emotional impact of the side quests, most also offer masks as rewards. Not only is there a great collecting aspect involved, but each mask also gives the player a special ability that allows you to complete more quests and explore more of the world. Speaking of exploration, Majora’s Mask is unique in the regard that you don’t explore a vast open world with an engaging dungeon and history, but instead the player explores people and the struggles that they face.