Review by The Vic Viper

"Fine for what it is, but it could have been so much better."

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (aka Final Fantasy USA or Mystic Quest Legend) is often dubbed "Final Fantasy Lite" or a beginner's RPG (and occasionally less nice terms are used to describe it). To a certain extent, it is a overly simplified RPG (especially by SNES standards). However, it is still a complete game with a surprisingly large cast of characters for its size.

The main character is Benjamin, a knight whose village was destroyed while he's out exploring. While climbing the Hill of Destiny he meets a mysterious old man who sends him on a quest to save the world, and – oh, wait, you've heard this one before? Admittedly, it isn't a particularly original story as the game relies heavily on RPG/fantasy staples. However, these elements are developed enough beyond their archtypes that you end up mildly interested in finding out where the story is going.

Anyway, the world is divided into four different regions, each one focusing on one of the four elements – earth, water, fire, wind. Alas, there is no heart region. Each of the region contains a single town, several minor dungeons, and a final area containing a crystal. As is standard in Final Fantasy games, you have to defeat the monster controlling the crystal to restore its power to the planet. Once you've saved all four crystals, you'll go on to find and kill the big bad that orchestrated this entire mess.

Along the way, Benjamin will mean several other charters. The will come and go, so you will only have, at most, two people in your party at any given time. The characters are fairly well rounded and all have their own agendas and reasons for joining you. In terms of fighting, they are all pretty much the same – they tend to be slightly stronger that Benjamin, but have fewer spells. There are no classes, but some of the characters have more spells that others. Having characters leave and come back is a nice change of pace from most games where a character will either stay until the end or leave once and never return. Unfortunately, there are a few times when it is just a little too convenient that a character shows up. This only happens a handful of times; the plot progression usually has a reasonably natural flow.

The secondary characters can either be controlled manually, or you can let the AI handle it. Generally it is better to control them both yourself so you can use a bit of strategy in deciding which enemies to attack. If left up to the computer, the secondary character will simply hack their way through the line of enemies from left to right. Additionally, the AI tends to focus too much on healing, and will often heal you (often at the cost of one of your items) when you would prefer to just kill the enemies and get the fight over with. You can switch between automatic and manual control at a touch of a button, so you can take over if you're not happy with the computer at the moment.

The monsters that you fight are well designed, if not well developed. Unfortunately there is no villain that makes you really want to go and destroy him. The final boss only appears at the very end and is only doing what he does for power. None of the minor bosses have personalities, and only the four crystal guardians even speak to you (and that is only generic "I will destroy you now HAHAHA" type of lines). That said, they are at least very impressive looking. There are, of course, the standard palette-swaps to create stronger versions of the same monster, but there are also a surprising number of unique monsters. Many are derived from mythology, legends, and other fantasy works. What is very uncommon for Final Fantasy is that there is absolutely no mix of fantasy and sci-fi – this is pure fantasy.

What is very unique to Mystic Quest is that the enemies actually show damage; as you take more and more HP away, they'll start to look beat up and weakened. Enemies will have their weapons destroyed, look angry/hurt, kneel or lay down, etc. Common enemies only have two forms, but bosses and stronger enemies can have three or four. The world map is also constantly changing as you release more and more crystals. Forests will turn green, ice will melt, lakes will fill, and so on. It's a little touch that adds quite a bit to the overall experience. It's very annoying to be finish a level in a game and be told that the forest is now revived, but when you go through it, it is still brown and dead.

Graphically Mystic Quest is actually ahead of its time, but story-wise it is about on the level of an NES game. Had it been released the previous generation it would have been compared to the original Final Fantasy and may have been received better. However, at the time Mystic Quest was released, Final Fantasy IV had been out in the US for around a year. Final Fantasy V would come out in Japan a few months later, and compared to those two game, Mystic Quest is shallow in terms of both story and gameplay.

It is true that the gameplay is very basic; even more so that the original Final Fantasy in some ways. You only have 12 spells, four consumable items, and a handful of weapons and armor. You have four types of weapons (swords, axes, claws, and bombs), and three versions of each type. You can swap between the weapons on the fly, though you don't have to equip better versions of existing weapons when you get them. Same with your armor – when you get it you automatically swap your current piece for the new one. However, this doesn't necessarily make things easier that other games - just more streamlined. In most games once you get a new weapon, you'll equip it, discard the old one, and keep using the new one until you get yet another one. In Mystic Quest, you are constantly switching between weapons because they are all useful, depending on the situation. The same can be said about the party – you have no choice in who is with you, but in how many games does it actually matter? Often you'll have a preference with who you want in your party and it won't matter if you have 20 other characters to choose from or none.

Along with manual item management, Mystic Quest discards several other common RPG elements, most notably random battles. Instead of walking along only to be surprise attacked by a 20 foot tall golem that you should have been able to see a mile away, you'll be able to see all of the enemies on the map. When you walk up to one, a standard turn based fight will start. Overall, you'll end up fighting the same number of enemies that you would in a game with random encounters, except you won't be jarringly ripped away from exploration every few steps.

There are no enemies outside of dungeons, and you don't really get to explore the world map. On the map, you'll choose a direction among the ones available, and automatically walk to the next place. It works more like a game board than an open field. While this aspect is often cited as an example of why Mystic Quest is "easy", since there are no random encounters to interrupt your travels, it only makes it less time consuming to get from point A to point B.

This isn't to say that Mystic Quest isn't easy; overall it is very easy, but there are certain points that are actually quite difficult. If you use the number of times the party is wiped out as the only metric to judge a game's difficulty, then Mystic Quest actually is much harder than average RPG. There are many enemies that can instant kill you or petrify you, and since you only have two people in your party, it isn't uncommon to lose them both before you get a chance to recover. This is balanced by discarding save points; you can now save anywhere, even in dungeons. Whether you consider this to be a good thing or not depends on whether you think saving anywhere makes the game easier or simply less annoying as you don't have to walk through the entire dungeon again if you die. Additionally, if you do die, you can restart the same battle immediately, so it isn't necessary to save before every battle.

While individual battles may be difficult to win, the game as a whole isn't that difficult since you have an obscene number of potions and magic (for all practical purposes, you have infinite magic). So, if you can survive a fight you'll have more than enough healing magic to get through entire dungeons, even if you have to heal after every other battle. The overall difficulty of the dungeons varies greatly (a little too much, actually). Some are short and incredibly easy, while others are enormous and contain hundreds of enemies. The difficulty tends to jump significantly in each new region, though there are a few areas in the later regions that are far to easy.

You don't have to grind that much if you fight every monster in each dungeon. This really helps the pacing of the game, since grinding is a completely mindless task that many games (especially at this point in time) required hours upon hours of if you wanted to stand a chance. Removing grinding doesn't make a game easier; it makes it less boring and more games should be designed around this idea. Plus, since you can see every enemy, you can simply avoid unnecessary fights if you want to do a low-level challenge.

There are a few areas that could have been improved. As mentioned, the story is pretty unoriginal and certainly not up to the standards of RPGs of the day. There are a handful of graphical glitches that should have been ironed out before the game was published, the game doesn't inform you of any status aliments enemies are inflicted with, and you can't tell what an item does by looking it up in the menu. Aside from these gripes, the game is fine for what it is; the flaws are in what it could have been.

Overall, Mystic Quest isn't a bad game, and actually removed some of the major complaints with other games in the series (such as random battles). Nor is it exceptionally easy compared to other games in the series. It simply removed a lot of elements that give a false sense of complexity and difficulty (having to manually manage equipment, useless party members, forced grinding, and so on). What it doesn't do, however, is bring anything new to the table. There is nothing innovative about the game, nor does it introduce anything that would be reused in later games. As a result, Mystic Quest is a fairly fun, yet irrelevant game. It's good to play if you have 10 – 15 hours to kill and have already played through the other games in the series.

Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/10/08

Game Release: Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (US, 10/05/92)

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