Review by Alecto

"I can swim without the life-jacket, thank you"

In its effort to be an “easy” game specifically geared towards young people and those not familiar with role-playing games, Mystic Quest exploits two different concepts of the word “easy.” The game is easy in that it lacks the complexity and number of micromanagement options that could easily overwhelm a casual gamer and tend to turn many people off of RPGs in the first place. However, Mystic Quest also easy because it lacks any serious challenge and lightly skims through all the areas of gameplay and plot, making it a mixed bag for gamers of any age or ability level.

Several of the things that people complain about most in RPGs have been done away with in Mystic Quest. For example, there are no random battles and you can save the game wherever and whenever you want, including when you’re standing right in front of a boss. If your party is defeated in battle, the game does not end. Rather, you are given a choice of replaying the battle over again, or restarting from your last save-game.

Of these, the lack of random battles is perhaps the nicest feature since I always found them to be one of the more monotonous trials of playing through an RPG. Yet the monotony creeps up in Mystic Quest in other ways. Instead of being invisible and randomly generated, a finite number of monsters are out in plain site in the form of little icons that can either be avoided or engaged in combat by walking into one of them. These monsters are located with painful predictability around anything that’s important to the quest: There will inevitably be hordes of them clustered around a treasure chest, or strategically blocking a door or passageway so that even though the battles aren’t random they are still quite frequent and necessary.

Just in case the player chooses to bypass too many of the monsters and needs some quick extra experience points for levelling up, Mystic Quest introduces something called the Battlefield. Battlefields occur all over the world map and are a kind of monster nest of 10 monsters that can be cleared out for money and the occasional item or spell. Again, it’s all so out in the open and forced. I think if given the choice between random battles or this binge-like overdose of fighting groups of 10 identical monsters at a time for xp, I would choose random battles.

Combat itself is an uninspired affair. Much of the potential excitement is destroyed by knowing that if your party gets wiped out you can just play the battle over again. In other words, sloppiness isn’t penalized with death or even a more minor consequence like the loss of gold. This doesn’t seem like a wise move in something that’s supposed to be meant to instruct people about RPGs, since it doesn’t encourage them to hone skills of any kind that would be needed in any “real” RPG they go on to try. Monsters can be killed by one, or at the most two hits, and cure and life spells will restore all of a player’s hit points. Instead of using a system of magic points, players can cast a certain number of spells in each of the three classes of magic (black, white and wizard). The wonderful list of Final Fantasy spells has been pared down to the bare essentials: fire, blizzard, lightning, life, cure, and a handful of others.

Another disappointing feature is the lack of a party system. Although companions will join the main character from time to time, there is only room for one other person, meaning that the party will only even have a maximum of two people in it. The other person in the party can even be put on “Auto” mode, meaning the computer will control their actions and fight for you. If you haven’t thought so already, this is the feature that should push Mystic Quest’s non-existent degree of difficulty into the realm of utter ridiculousness.

The characters that join your party, as well as the hero himself, are all one-dimensional in the extreme, and will join and leave your party with a level of abruptness and nonchalance that makes caring about them or their fates very hard. Since only one other character ever joins you at a time, there is never the feeling of leading a unified group of people with common goals and expectations. Rather, I got the impression of a solitary hero plagued by hangers-on who were likely to ditch him at any moment.

I was also extremely disappointed with the story. Not that I didn’t appreciate the lack of pomposity and pseudo-religious musings that have plagued other Final Fantasy titles. However, I must say that the premise of Mystic Quest is one of the most shallow and clichéd storylines that I have ever encountered in an RPG. The story goes something like this: monsters have broken into the Focus Tower and have begun draining the light from the four crystals, and a prophecy tells of a hero that will restore power to the crystals and save the world. The hero of the game is of course the guy who fulfills the prophecy, but I was never satisfactorily convinced as to what made him so special. The old man at the beginning of the game gets very excited about the fact that the hero kills a monster. This is enough to convince him of the coming of the Knight of the prophecy, but to me it all seemed rather flimsy.

Not only that but the game is linear to the point of literally being on rails. Instead of being free to roam the overworld, you are forced to follow arrows that automatically lead you to the next dungeon or town. I had less of a problem with this than I thought I would; I guess it gives a nice feeling of having “conquered” one area and moving on to the next like in an action game. Yet to have something like this in a RPG is decidedly strange.

I can’t complain about the graphics or sound for the game; they are certainly nothing to get angry about, and there are even a few memorable songs although nothing comes close to the music of Final Fantasy II or III.

The entire game takes about 8 hours or so to complete, which is of course incredibly short for an RPG. While it’s nice to play straightforward games like this every once in a while, I found it difficult to drum up any sense of achievement after winning, since very rarely in Mystic Quest did I actually feel that my gaming skills were being put to any sort of test.

The idea that North American audiences somehow needed this watered-down and dumbed-down RPG to “introduce” them to the genre is more than mildly insulting (especially considering that Final Fantasy II had already been released on the SNES in North America before Mystic Quest), and it is all the more frustrating consider given that Mystic Quest basically fails at what it set out to do in the first place.

First of all, Mystic Quest offers nothing beyond the kind of clichéd fantasy stereotypes and mundane items and spells that have become all too common in the more hackneyed role-playing games out there. As a tutorial, Mystic Quest is also lacking. Being easy at the beginning of the game is ok, but one expects that the difficulty level should increase as the game progresses and the gamer gets more familiar with the system. But instead, the final bosses are just as easy, if not easier, than the earlier ones. There is no learning curve to master, and I doubt very much that by the end of Mystic Quest the gamer will have learned any useful role-playing game skills beyond how to select “Fight” or “Spell” from the battle commands menu. The computer even auto-selects equipment for you, so the concept of choosing weapons and armour based on their attack and defense power and alignment (things that are absolutely VITAL to understand about RPGs) are never even introduced.

Honestly, if someone is interested in getting into role-playing games they would be better served just buying one, buckling down the with manual, and learning about how the game works. The other Final Fantasy games are well-known for having excellent in-game tutorials that take you through most of the important aspects of gameplay that you’ll need, which makes a game like Mystic Quest not really needed after all. All of the complaints about role-playing games that Mystic Quest has omitted in order to seem easy are unfortunately staples of that genre which exist in force everywhere besides the self-contained little bubble of Mystic Quest itself.

The game can perhaps stand alone as an easy RPG for people who don’t normally like the genre, as long as people understand that it’s actually not very good preparation for what lies beyond. I would however recommend Mystic Quest for children, since it does a great job of holding the gamer’s hand all the way through and I enjoy the idea of giving the kids a sword & sorcery fantasy plot instead of drenching them with Barney or Mary Kate & Ashley. However to the people who think that RPGs are too complicated and boring, I would suggest that perhaps the genre isn’t for you in the first place, and that making overly simplistic and shallow RPGs like Mystic Quest to bridge the supposed gap is just a bad idea.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/03, Updated 05/06/03


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