Review by Overdrive

"It should have been called “Role-Playing for Dummies”"

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest can best be described as a slap to the face of any American role-playing game fan. Commonly referred to as an RPG for beginners, this SNES blunder seems to be less of a tutorial game and more of an insult to a player's intelligence.

First off, us denizens of the U.S.A. already had been exposed to a tutorial RPG by Square in Final Fantasy II. That's right....when Final Fantasy IV was originally made, there was both an easy and hard version. Guess which one was translated and shipped overseas to be our FF II? But that game apparently wasn't simple enough for our little brains. Granted, us Americans hadn't overly embraced the wide world of RPGs at this point, but did they actually think a game like this would improve our willingness to play them? If I was trying to captivate the fertile imaginations of young folk, I doubt I'd resort to forcing a short, ugly and pathetically easy game down their throats.

Square and Nintendo didn't see things my way, though, which brings us to Mystic Quest. Bizarrely, this game does a couple of things better than its contemporaries — which makes its overall inadequacy even more unsettling. Whenever you seriously wound enemies in battle, their on-screen portrait reflects that damage. A fierce three-headed dog will collapse, with a dazed look on each of its faces and a white flag of surrender attached to its tail. An ice golem will slowly melt away under the damage you bestow upon it. A menacing birdman falls to the ground with one hand reaching toward you in a final attempt to end your quest. Not only is this a great way to let players know how much damage they've caused to a foe, but it simply looks nice. With two to four different poses for each and every enemy and boss in the game, it's obvious a good deal of time went into creating and crafting your adversaries.

Also, this game prefers to make enemy encounters visible on the screen much like Grandia or Lufia II, eliminating random encounters. While a constant barrage of random battles rarely bothers me (unless you're getting one every other step), I know it can be a nuisance for many players, so that could be considered another positive that Final Fantasy Mystic Quest brings to the table.

Unfortunately, the rest of this game is a collection of negatives that vastly overshadow any positive factors. To start with the worst offender, take a good, long look at the non-existent challenge. It's one thing to make a simplistic game for novices — it's quite another thing to make a game that practically rolls over and exposes its soft belly for you. Just about every regular monster falls in one or two hits. Bosses take more damage, but still seem hopelessly outgunned. A couple spells you pick up are capable of taking devastating chunks of life from even the toughest foes. If, by some chance, you actually are bested in battle, you can simply choose to start the fight over with no strings attached. It's essentially impossible to “lose” a battle in this game, since you have unlimited opportunities to replay any disastrous encounter. And when you consider that even your basic Cure spell restores nearly all your hit points, it becomes extremely difficult for monsters to force your hand in restarting a battle.

To make things even worse, there is no actual strategy involved in these fights. Brute force is all that's needed to topple every regular battle and almost all the boss battles. Late in the game, two separate bosses will occasionally raise a magical shield. Attack during this time and they'll unleash a brutal counterattack. Guess what? That is the extent of this game's combat “strategy”. As a point of reference, all three regular SNES Final Fantasy games (and a couple of others in that series) opened with an easy boss whose only claim to fame was the ability to cover up and dish out serious pain through counterattacks — meaning that this game's “trickiest” bosses are roughly the intellectual equal of the easiest bosses in a legitimate RPG.

However, to make up for how easy battles are in Mystic Quest, Square did a great job of making them equally annoying. After you've played for a few hours, you'll realize that nearly every foe has the ability to inflict some sort of status ailment. Boring battles will stretch out for turn after turn as you watch your characters get poisoned, blinded, confused, paralyzed, petrified and put to sleep over and over again. In most games of this nature, status attacks are used as a hazardous compliment to a foe's regular attacks — here, they take center stage, as many foes would be as helpless as newborn kittens without their ability to poison or confuse you.

There also is barely any plot at all to cover up the horrid gameplay present in Mystic Quest. Basically, your hero will enter each region of the game's world and follow the exact same template.

Hero: What's up?
Random person: Something horrible has happened! I know! I'll join you! Now first, we have to go here! Then here! Then we can finally go there!
Hero: But....must get....crystals....Dark Lord....who's Pazuzu....I'm confused....
Random Person: That's great! Oh, in a half hour, I'm leaving you for no reason, but don't worry. I have someone lined up to take my place.
Weird Old Guy: Hey, I haven't popped up in a while! I just want to remind you to look for Captain Mac's ship! Gotta go!
Hero: (turns toward camera and shrugs shoulders in an exaggerated comical manner....like he's done all 47 times he's encountered the Weird Old Guy).

And that's the plot in a nutshell. You basically go place to place looking for four elemental crystals, while beating up everything in your path. Four other characters come and go from your party on a random basis to give your hero some back-up in battle. A weird old guy pops up occasionally to dispense a quick word of advice before disappearing. You solve all the quests in one region, then simply go to the next area to delve into more dungeons. Since the overworld is essentially a series of connected points with no opportunity to go off the beaten path, Mystic Quest is also painfully linear, with no optional dungeons or hidden bosses.

Well, you do have a large number of optional battlefields, but these places seem to have only been created for the sole purpose of making a bad game worse. Each battlefield consists of 10 encounters. Win each battle and you've cleared out the area. While this can give your character a couple extra levels early in the game, eventually it's nothing more than a waste of time — unless it happens to be one of the three or four battlefields that holds a useful item. Depressingly, this game hides a spell or two and a couple pieces of equipment in these places, meaning that a thorough player will find themselves struggling through each boring battlefield to find the scant few that have any actual purpose.

To be honest, I haven't even come close to mentioning all the reasons I hold this game in the utmost contempt. I haven't brought up the simple and bland graphics utilized everywhere EXCEPT in enemy designs — a flaw which only adds to the boring and repetitive nature of Mystic Quest's dungeons. Or that you are essentially handed an unlimited free supply of every single restorative item. All you have to do is open a box, collect the goodies and leave the town or dungeon you're currently in. Re-enter the place and....VOILA! — the box is full again! The only thing this game doesn't do to make life easy for your hero is personally deliver the heads of the game's bosses to him on a platter. On paper, it's really not a good concept — in reality, it's a horribly flawed game.

For me, the thing that separates RPGs from other types of video games is that you rarely need quick reflexes or nerves of steel to overcome evil. No matter how tough a battle may seem, intelligent tactics tempered with patience can lead you to victory. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is so “dumbed down” that neither are necessary. The result is a poorly-designed game with no challenge or replay value. A joyless game with a minimal number of redeeming factors scattered amongst an abundance of annoyances. A horrid game I wouldn't recommend to a RPG novice....or anyone else, for that matter. I wouldn't call this a tutorial RPG, I'd call it a tutorial on how not to make a RPG.


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 07/07/04


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