I first heard about the concept of a perfect save from a GameFAQs guide on Final Fantasy VII by user JungleJim. When I stumbled upon it years ago I found the concept interesting but never did anything with it myself. I thought I might want to do something like that at some point, but the time required to do so was tremendous and my motivation low. After diving back in a different, although somewhat similar game recently (namely Chrono Trigger) I decided to give this a try. But before doing so I needed a strong definition for the concept as I thought the one by JungleJim could only be applied to one particular game and relied a little too much on subjectivity for some of the objectives.
A perfect save isn't particularly easy to define as it is a completely unofficial concept, meaning you will never have a checkmark or anything that will tell you for sure that you did not fail, nor will you unlock any kind of reward for achieving your goal. Additionally, creating such a save has to encompass a lot more than a conventional full clear of the game, otherwise it would be quite pointless. I, along with fellow Jenmaarai members, came up with the following definition for the perfect save, and I hope it will help you understand how it works and how to apply it to any other game of your liking.
In the broad lines this perfection implies that the save file can no longer progress forward, meaning that everything has been perfectly completed. Imagine making a checklist of everything that is in the game and that can be done with it, and completing that list. It includes of course finishing the game as well as any optional content and achieving the best outcome for every event, but also finer details that we need to detail. Note that what matters is the final state of the save file, meaning that doing anything that will not persist in the save file—that resets when you reload the game—does not matter to us.
If you decide to go for a perfect save of any game, be prepared to explain why you consider any choice better than another and to reconsider should new information arise. A true perfect save should be the result of a consensus where every player can recognize that save as absolutely perfect.
Every single reward must be claimed, a good example of that are chests. Because a chest is a one-time interaction with a unique reward, and more specifically because the game keeps track of which chest is empty or not, they must all be cleared. The same goes for any non-repeatable reward. If a quest or a mini game would allow you to obtain items infinitely, it can never be cleared and as such has no impact on the completeness of the save (there may be other reasons to do it though).
If you can trigger something in the game that cannot be repeated afterwards under the same conditions, there must exist in the save file a flag indicating that such event has been completed. In the spirit of a perfect save, we will want to set every flag to their “best” state. This means triggering every cutscene and unique dialogues as well as completing every quest, even if they do not reward the player with anything.
Whether a flag should be turned or not depends not on how the game was coded but rather on the meaning of the flag and its consequences. Consider going for the state that gives the better results down the line (more rewards, better rewards, additional quests unlocked etc.) or, if such a reasoning is not applicable, achieving the most difficult state (never failing a mini game for instance).
Anything that is numbered and persistent between saves is a variable that needs to be maxed out. This includes any inventory item as well as scores, time played, steps counter etc. In some cases you will want to reach the maximum value for a counter, but in some other you will want to reach or maintain the minimum value. Such examples include anything that counts negative events (like a death counter), or scores where a lower score is better (like the best time in a racing mini game).
For counters specifically we may differentiate between soft cap perfection and hard cap perfection. A hard cap is reached when the technical limit has been reached, meaning that trying to add one to that value (or subtract one) is not possible. A soft cap is reached before a hard cap, when you have enough of that variable to satisfy the idea of having reached the maximum.
In Chrono Trigger for instance, you may say that the Iron Helm has a hard cap of 99, because that is the limit of the inventory, but it also has a soft cap of 7 because there are only 7 playable characters and you cannot need more helms than that at any given point. Consumables on the other hand have no soft cap since you may want to use any number of them at any time.
In many games you will have to deal with mutually exclusive choices, like picking an item over another, or being locked out of a quest because you completed another. When faced with such a choice, a perfect save should always favor the path that gives the better results in terms of flags turned or rewards claimed. For instance, if one quest line unlocks more quests and rewards down the line, it should be preferred. If a choice rewards you with a unique item versus a rare but non-unique one, the unique should be preferred.
In some instances however there is no “best choice” and ultimately you are free to choose the one you personally prefer. It may be the case that one choice could be viewed as logically better, or as a better fit for the lore of the game. But if everything else fails, I would lean toward always selecting the default option since having a set rule makes it so running a perfect save twice will always result in the same save file no matter who's playing.
I consider that a perfect save can use glitches, as long as they do not allow you to bypass the scope of a regular perfect save. In other words, you might want to use a glitch (as in, something that produces results not intended by the game) to accrue experience or items faster that would be normally possible, but not to acquire 99 copies of an item that could only be acquired once or twice in a regular game. If you wish to do otherwise, then I'd consider it a glitched perfect save. It's not any less valid than a regular perfect save, but it's in a different category in my opinion, and I consider a perfect save to be glitchless by default.
More commonly known as a “new game+” this concept can throw a wrench in your most carefully laid plans for a perfect save. In most instances where such an option is available we should differentiate between a single perfect save and a cumulative perfect save, the latter allowing the use of ng+. However this difference is far from being conceptual. In most games starting a new game+ will mean that some progress will be lost irremediably. An event that can only be triggered at a low level for example will be reset on a new game+ but you may not be able to meet the requirements to unlock it anymore. In addition, reaching the hard cap of anything in a cumulative perfect save is less tricky and doesn't involve the same amount of preparation.