Review by NT220
The idea that Americans need an ''easy'' RPG to introduce them to the genre is already quite insulting, especially considering that games like Wizardry have been around in the US far before anyone knew what Dragon Warrior was. It's no big wonder that RPGs in the early 1990's were ill-received, anyway; not only were they often primitive, monotonous affairs, but they were usually plagued with god-awful translations laden with ridiculous censorship.
Amazingly, none of these possibilities ever occurred to Square, which decided that the reason for poor RPG sales was because the US-released games were too difficult and complicated. Thus they happily set about paring their Final Fantasy series down to a more easily digestible game just for Americans. The five-man parties, semi-real-time battle system, and convoluted story of the latest installment, Final Fantasy IV, were all thrown out the window. No, they wanted something simple. Nothing as complicated as that. And so they came up with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, a game representative of all of the genre's weaknesses and none of its strengths.
Mystic Quest didn't really do anything wrong. In fact, there are lots of things it does right - certainly, no one could fault it for not sticking to the Japanese RPG formula closely enough. As usual, you fill the role of a reluctant hero destined to save the world. He travels around, convince allies to join him, exploring dungeons with conveniently maze-like passageways, and does battle in the gentlemanly turn-based fashion. All the classic elements are in place - even the omniscient crystals Final Fantasy is famous for.
In fact, there are some things Mystic Quest did better than many RPGs of its time. You can save your game anywhere, even when you're standing right in front of a boss, instead of at save points that often seem arbitrarily scattered about. Battles occur at predetermined spots, and you can see where the enemies are, which is certainly an improvement over the relentless random battles other RPGs are fond of throwing at you. The in-game menus are elegant and well-designed (one of the few respects where simplicity actually pays off), not the convoluted mess that many games end up with.
If it commited no wrong, however, the Mystic Quest certainly didn't do anything right, either. It may have all the trademark elements of a classic RPG, but it implements them in such a half-hearted and simplistic fashion that they border on being pointless. Sure, other characters do join the hero in his journey, but only one does so at a time, and they join and leave in an arbitrary, senseless fashion. They usually do have some background development, but their stories are immediately discarded the moment they leave your party.
Battling is no better. Monsters are so laughably weak - most dying in two hits - that you are never in danger of dying. Despite having only two people in your party, battles seldom last more than three rounds. A simple Cure spell provides a complete HP refill. In the extremely, extremely unlikely event of both your characters being killed, you're even given the option of starting the battle over with no penalty whatsoever.
As if to squeeze out any last drop of challenge this game might have had, there are a number of senseless features just to make things easier. Boxes that contain cure potions actually refill every time you exit and re-enter a location. You're spared the excruciatingly difficult task of exploring a world map, instead being forced to follow set paths marked by flashing arrows. And, should you ever feel the urge to bash on poor little defenseless monsters and grow even more absurdly overpowered, our considerate programmers have provided numerous ''battlefields'' each containing ten monster encounters just for this purpose!
Thus, Mystic Quest fails in every purpose it might have been designed for.
As a tutorial for future RPG players, it fails. Any degree of strategy present in most RPGs, Mystic Quest lacks. A crucial element in the genre is exploiting various weaknesses of monsters - here, it just leads to even more pointless overkill. Another commonly-seen element is the choosing of various equipment taking into account statistic bonuses and special effects - here, our hero can simultaneously reap the benefits of every single piece of armor he owns. Mystic Quest is simply barren of any challenge and requires no effort whatsoever be devoted to it, a poor preparation for a genre that often demands endless patience.
As a game to make RPGs more popular, it fails. Although it spares the player the sheer tedium of walking in circles trying to gain a level, Mystic Quest introduces a completely different kind of monotony. The dungeon designs are as labyrinthine as ever (the only facet of the game that hasn't been simplified to hell and back, it seems), and gamers accustomed to fast-paced action games will not be impressed by the character's slow walking speed. A bare-bones graphical look and near-nonexistent story offer nothing to reward the patient gamer willing to stick through with it. The brilliant soundtrack, perhaps the only thing Mystic Quest has going for it, is too little, too insignificant, to drastically change the outlook.
As a stand-alone game - well, failure may be too mild a word. Its simplicity and brainlessness, though certainly not a help, is not the whole problem with Mystic Quest; what's troubling is the complete lack of personality the game exudes. It seems content to be just a beginner's RPG, something that more experienced player is sure to scorn, when in truth it could have been more. It could have invented a fresh, simpler system to handle battling, instead of stripping the old one down to its very bones. It could have taken a more lighthearted, original approach to the save-the-world story, instead of telling such a dumbed-down version of it it borders on self-parody. It could have been a enjoyable new experience to both veterans and rookies, instead of being a ghost of a game to the former and an unplayable mess to the latter.
Perhaps the only good to have come out of this game is that it proved Americans aren't that stupid - Mystic Quest was a dismal failure both critically and commercially. Square appears to have learned from the experience, for the next time it dared venture into the kiddie pool it was with an excellent game, Super Mario RPG, which was both simplistic enough for someone new to pick up and play, and original enough to please an experienced player. Eventually RPGs grew far more popular in the US, and by now most of them include detailed documentation and even in-game tutorials to help someone lost. In this age, Mystic Quest is unneeded - just a relic of a bygone time when most people didn't enjoy RPGs, and developers were foolish enough to think this would change their minds.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 06/20/03, Updated 06/20/03
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