RPGs are usually chock full of meaningless side quests, presumably to distract you from the crushing burden of saving the world with only your teenage crush and a talking cat-penguin to assist you. But few are as obscure as the ones in Final Fantasy VIII and IX. The former features a game-spanning event called "Pupu the Alien," where you stalk a UFO for really no apparent reason, other than that you giggle every time its name comes on screen. Seriously, the only hints that Pupu even exists are contained in one issue of "Occult Fan," an in-game magazine that you can access only by repeatedly examining a stack of unrelated magazines. Which, we should note, you would be doing instead of fighting epic monsters with magic. The clues the magazine provides are obtuse and vague, yet from them you must deduce the four annoyingly precise locations where the alien lurks.
The beamed-up cow is located "in a field, somewhere."
Eventually, Pupu's ship attacks you, but you're not done after defeating it and blowing up its ship -- of course not! What are you, using logic and reason to dictate a reward-based player incentive? Idiot. No, after defeating the alien you found out about only after leafing through in-game magazines and Sherlocking a series of shakily translated clues, you have to wander to another unadvertised area to find the alien itself.
You can attack him and gain an item for defeating him, but you want to see this secret through to the end. What happens if you give him the five elixirs (rare and expensive healing potions) he's asking for?
He pays you? He joins you? His skull dong goes erect?
Why, he ... leaves! Sweet. Well worth the time. Oh, but what's this? He dropped something! Finally, some payoff! It's a playing card, which you can use in another mini-game located within the game that you're already not really playing anymore.
If you told us that Splinter Cell: Double Agent had a secret side mission where you rescued seals, we'd say "cool" and agree that it makes perfect sense, Cell being a military game and all. Until, of course, you clarified that you meant actual seals. Baby ones. Who are ... also aliens. Then we would move down one seat on the bench and politely ask you to stop talking until the bus came.
We can't take our car. There's a seal in the trunk.
In a mission so secretive nobody noticed it until the guy who created it uploaded a tutorial, a race of alien baby seals with names like Muffin and Cookie ask you to return them to their home planet. Yes, that's for real. That's actually coded into this deadly game of espionage and intrigue. Luckily, you (the super-secret black ops soldier) have nothing better to do with your time and agree to help. Of course, first you have to find them. That's not an easy task, because not only does the game not hint at the seals' location, you can access them only while in two-player campaign mode. So now you have to convince a friend to help you play hide and seek with gibberish animals instead of stealth-killing terrorists. The process is lengthy and random, requiring constant backtracking to fetch specific items to gain each seal's trust. What items, you may ask? Why, things like reading glasses, flowers, and party hats, of course. Y'know, seal stuff.
You would put a party hat on a seal if you could. Don't front.
You had better give the right item to the right seal, though -- these adorable aliens are fussy, and if you mess up even once, you lose. The entire process takes about 30 minutes, but that's only if you know exactly what to do. If you're just winging it -- like, say you've stumbled onto these seals purely by accident, thinking the plot to your spy game sure took a weird turn -- you might well be playing for the rest of your life. But the sweet, sweet reward's totally worth it, right? Nope! The Seal Princess descends from the heavens, gives you a quick atta-boy, and then leaves. No money, no special powers, not even a tasty mackerel for performing your tricks so well.
See, this is why human-seal diplomacy is on such shaky ground these days.
Karl is currently the lead writer and researcher over at Fact Fiend, so you can find more work from him there.
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