Side Quests are additional or extra quests that a player can attempt. Side quests are not necessary to complete a game and experience the main story, however they are sometimes attached to additional story sequences or different multiple endings.
Side quests are associated with Role Playing Games (RPGs). The nature of these type of game lends itself well to the side quest, as travel around a world map and the slightly non-linear nature make it easy for players to explore extra areas. It is difficult to name an RPG that does not have at least one side quest. Side quests also appear in other types of games, for example, Devil May Cry has the extra missions, while Halo 3 has the skull collection side quest.
Side quests are designed to enhance the game experience by adding extra content for those who really enjoy a game, while allowing others to skip it if they would simply like to reach the end. Generally, those who take time to experience a side quest will be rewarded with power-ups in the form of items, armor, or experience points. Another common reward is additional story scenes that further develop the main story, or add a sub plot that enhances the overall presentation. Finally, some side quests are more for completion purposes, and offer no reward except for the ability to say, "I have seen and done everything this game has to offer."
Side quests are often criticized. Some state that many side quests are crammed into a game simply to make it take longer to complete without adding anything relevant to the overall experience. When I can easily defeat all the bosses with my regular Final Weapon, why should I spend an extra fifteen hours killing bugs hoping the Final Weapon with One More Attack Point will drop?
Another criticism of side quests is the amount of backtracking they frequently involve. Oftentimes they are completed by returning to locales previously cleared simply to talk to some people while tediously defeating underlevelled enemies.
They esoteric nature of many side quests is also a common compliant. Side quests frequently are bizarre puzzles that are obtainable only with a strategy guide or FAQ. Even Super Mario Bros 3 suffers from this, with random actions that must be completed in reference to specific time and score requirements. Many players complain that side quests are illogical, and lack the feeling of discovery since they cannot be worked out by the actual players. Side quests often are 'completely missable' which means that players can make an error early in the game that later prevents them from completing a side quest.
Another major criticism of side quests is the effort vs reward involved. Side quests may involve hours of gameplay for a small reward. The Gran Turismo series endurance races ask players to sit at one race for several hours at a time, which is a long commitment for those with busy schedules. MMO style games may involve playing the game every day, commonly to care for a pet or plant, which some players cannot commit to due to real life constraints.
Despite these complaints, side quests remain a popular addition to video games. One reason is that they are generally optional. A player who simply wants to experience the story and gameplay of a game can avoid these and move onto the next game. Also, side quests are great for bragging rights or showing off your skill and commitment to fellow players. The sense of discovery as you experience a new level or cut-scene is often worth the extra hassle.