Review by threetimes

"You can hold my hand any time."

Described by some as a beginner's RPG, it's not that simple, or easy, but if you're looking for any kind of epic Final Fantasy tale, then forget it. The story is both irrelevant and inconsequential, though it involves finding four elemental stones and defeating a Dark Lord that has messed up the way things are supposed to be. People in one town have prematurely aged, in another, all water has turned to ice, that kind of thing. Each town represents an element: the first is wood, the second water, the third fire, and the fourth, wind. All simple ideas which won't tax your brain at all.

In another hand holding exercise, your main character has an ally who changes at each location. It's an odd but comforting device, since the ally does not gain any experience from the battles they fight with you, yet each one has powerful attacks and the healing spells that you might need, but don't yet possess. You can also set them to fight on auto if you wish, and this works very well, since they will usually be at a higher level than you, and will act to heal and protect you if needed. The first two even have the "Life" spell, which they will use if you die. All you have to do is to take care of the main character, and select the right attacks for the various enemies you encounter. Though in fact, if it's just one enemy, you don't even have to do that, since your ally will have already killed them for you. The AI is clever, since your ally will always heal if needed, and finish off the weakest enemy.

Now, this is the best part of the game. The enemies are fantastic! They appear on screen as a small and stationary creature which will not attack until you touch it. You get an idea of what kind of enemy you will be fighting from this, and you might have to fight one, two or three foes at one time. When the battle screen opens up the background varies depending on your current location.and some of them are really nice: one with clouds rushing across a blue sky or serried bones in the background. The enemies are large compared to your tiny team, and you face them directly. Then it's turn based time, with options to use items, spells, or physical attacks. The speed of the enemy is a factor, though, and sometimes they strike first, which can be awkward if they use spells that petrify or confuse. In fact it's easy to get a game over in these circumstances.

As the game progresses, you find various new spells and weapons, and can select any of these from the battle menu screen. You can change weapons with a simple button press, and choose the best attack for the enemies. If you select the right kind of attack, then you will get a large and friendly message to tell you that the enemy is weak to water, earth or axe attacks, and so on. Most spells only target one enemy at a time, but this is where it's worth while NOT defeating an enemy too quickly. If you damage an enemy, but don't defeat it, then its appearance changes. A flying red bird will lose all its feathers and appear as nearly ready to be barbecued chicken, a seductive gorgon will lose her hair and tap her bald head with painted nails, whilst looking very embarrassed. A ninja ends up with just its face and hands protruding from the ground, and a fearsome three headed cerberus, becomes a crawling puppy with all three heads looking at you with sorrowful eyes, and a white flag tied to its tail. Aww, poor puppy.

These enemy designs are excellent, both colourful and varied in style, and some of them do pose a challenge, since they inflict status disorders. More than once my ally got confused and killed my main character before I could heal them, or both of them got stoned before I could do anything about it. However even this does not spell disaster, since if you lose a battle you are given the option to continue and fight again. If you want a little more challenge then you can fight many optional battles. I liked this idea, even though it could get a bit tedious, especially if, like me, you feel that you must do them all.

Dotted around the map you will find battlefields. Enter one and you have the option to fight 10 consecutive battles for additional rewards. You can leave after each one, so consecutive is a bit of an exaggeration, but this is an additional minor challenge, at least it's the sort of thing you can just about manage with your eyes closed. It would have been better if there had been a boss at the last battle, and if you couldn't save between battles...well, that's part of the problem with the game, You keep wishing it was something a bit different. It's the same with navigation on the world map. You can only go to the next area, as indicated by a red arrow, but once you access new towns, then you can return to previous locations and rifle them for treasure. Yet another benefit of backtracking is that all treasure chests will re-fill. You never have to buy anything at all beyond the occasional single weapon.

Okay, so the story is virtually non-existent, there's not much depth to the gameplay, not much shopping, and no party to manage. Even your one and only character is nondescript, and there is not even an inventory to fiddle with since you cannot alter the equipment of your ally, and your own is automatically upgraded when you find new stuff. (That took me a while to cotton on to the fact that I didn't get to equip anything.) The most difficult decision you get to make is whether to use an all enemy megabomb attack, hit one with an axe, or maybe use a spell. Even that becomes a complete no brainer at around half way through when you obtain the first of a number of powerful spells. This one, called "White", is a wizard class, all enemy attack, that seemed to hurt any enemy. Now, there is a slight restriction to using this, since you only have 5 slots for this magic, (the number of uses for spells increase when you level up, but the wizard category has the least). But, by the time you get this spell, you can buy seeds which replenish all spells, and guess what? Seeds are cheaper than staying at an inn, and you will have cash to burn.

By this point, I realised that there really was no challenge left at all, yet I kept playing. Despite all these criticisms, the game has a degree of charm. The world map is nicely laid out, with tiny towns dotted around the place, the volcano is visible, the tower looms over the landscape, everything is clear and cute. Each dungeon has some small challenge to solve, whether it's jumping over stones, (you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget that you can jump!), moving a statue, bombing a hidden doorway, or finding invisible enemies. In fact, as the game progresses, navigation of these dungeons becomes increasing difficult without a map. There are some nice little extras to find, with warp tiles leading you back to previously inaccessible areas, a troupe of dancing girls to entertain you, and various free or very cheap weapons if you chat to the right person.

There are more cute touches: use your retractable claw and you can hop onto a roof and find a chocobo on the wind vane. The wind town has nice wind blowing sounds, and the whole game has great little sounds as well an an excellent music score. I loved hearing the squeaky sound of the axe, or the downbeat sigh when an enemy was defeated, things I normally don't pay much attention to, yet these added something extra to my experience of playing this game.

I've got to admit that I am hard to please when it comes to RPGs. If the battle system, characters or story doesn't grab me early on then I tend to abandon the game, but Mystic Quest held my attention from the start to the finish. It's fun to play, well worth the few hours it takes to complete, and the ending sequence is lovely. Mystic Quest can hold my hand any time!

Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/26/09

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

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