Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
Review by Phediuk
"It's not a game to go to for depth, challenge, or storyline, but it's functional as a brainless RPG to pass the time."
It's rare that one comes across a game whose very existence seems as unnecessary as Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. After the so-so sales of previous RPGs in North America, the developers at Square went back to the drawing board and tried to decide what it was that wasn't clicking with American gamers in the genre.
They decided that the gameplay must be too complex. I mean, all those items and spells and dialogue reading...it's all way too complicated, isn't it? Americans, they thought, were being confused by all of that stuff, and needed a simpler gameplay experience. Perhaps, thought the minds at Square, if we release a very simple beginner-level RPG, we can ease them into the genre a bit more! After they're done with that game, and have acquired vital skills to deal with the inherent complexity of the genre, they can move onto bigger, more complex RPGs! Square thought it was a brilliant strategy, and thus, Mystic Quest was born.
This is the sort of game you'd think would be doomed to failure from its very conception; intentionally dumbing down every aspect of a game-and to do so considerably-seems like a recipe for disaster. As a result, Mystic Quest has numerous flaws. Big flaws. Yet, for almost every one of these shortcomings, the game makes a smart design choice that leaves a strong first impression on the player. After the first hour of the game, I was quite enjoying myself, and was prepared to give Mystic Quest a solid 7/10. But as I continued through the game some more, its repetitive nature became more and more conspicuous, its flaws more and more irritating, to the point where I can't really call Mystic Quest anything more than an average RPG. Call it a case of the good points of a game perfectly balancing out the bad.
The beginning of your quest sees the hero (named Benjamin in the instruction manual) walking up a mountain, stopping to talk to a mysterious old man. The hero demands to know what's going on; his hometown has just been destroyed! One might expect that the hero would have more of an emotional reaction to this, but you'd be wrong; this scene is, in fact, the only time the hero mentions the destruction of his hometown throughout the entire game. Three dialogue boxes later, the hero's already been convinced by the mysterious old man to go on a journey to save the world. Cue quest.
This sort of half-assed exposition is rampant throughout the entire game. The hero is never developed; you know nothing more about him at the end of the game than you do at the start. Not only that, but you're accompanied by some of the blandest characters ever to grace an RPG: Kaeli, the girl from the forest village who...err...that's it. Tristam, the ninja who likes to hunt for treasure and...uhh...yeah. Phoebe, the young mage who...you get the point. Reuben, the knight...ahem. Moving on.
The game's storyline is embarrassingly bad; the sheer brevity and laziness of the the game's dialogue seems to be intentional on the developers' part, lest the boorish American gamer crowd be bored by too much reading. The motives for the entrance and exit of characters into and from your party are extremely abrupt and jarring. For example, Kaeli's motivation for joining you is as follows:
"Hey, there's some evil in the forest nearby! I'll go with you to investigate! (Kaeli joined!)"
I wish I could tell you that was just a summary of the conversation, but I can't. The motives of your other party members become more and more stupid as the game progresses. For example, late in the game, when the ninja Tristam is tagging along with you, you encounter an old man who mentions a treasure he'd like to search for someday. At that exact moment, without any warning whatsoever, Tristam says "Hey, I'm going to search for treasure with this guy. See ya!" and leaves. Just like that.
Even if the characters had the most developed personalities and backstories of any RPG ever made, there's still a huge gaping hole in Mystic Quest where the storyline should be. There really isn't much of a story arc here at all; you just go from place to place, solving whatever problems the residents of the game's four towns are going through at the time. Only a paper-thin crystal collecting plot even attempts to tie everything together. At the end of the game, the hero revisits each town to see what all of his former party members are up to, but it's unclear why; he didn't get to know any of them any better than being a passing acquaintance.
Mystic Quest does, at least, begin to redeem itself somewhat in the gameplay department. The game's areas do feel somewhat more interactive than other RPGs of the time; the hero can jump at will to clear gaps and pits, and you can stab with your sword, swing your axe, lay a bomb, or use your grappling claws at the press of a button. This leads to some rudimentary puzzle-solving in the game's numerous dungeons, which is certainly a step up from Final Fantasy IV and most other early RPGs, though nothing here will test your analytical skills very much.
The best thing I can say about Mystic Quest's battle system is that it's fast. There are no elaborate attack animations or menu options here; it's not uncommon for a battle to last under twenty seconds, and as far as I'm concerned, the faster an RPG battle is, the better.
In a move that's several years ahead of its time, Mystic Quest also eschews the random battles that plague its contemporaries so much. The system here isn't as refined as in, say, Chrono Trigger, but it works well enough: little icons representing monsters will stand in plain sight all over the game's dungeons, and walking up to them will trigger a battle. If you win, the icon disappears and you can continue on. Since many of these icons are unavoidable, battles are still frequent and necessary; at the very least, however, you can see them coming, which is easily preferable to traditional random battles.
Magic points are also handled differently from most RPGs. Rather than having just one pool of MP for each character, there's three: white (defensive), black (offensive), and wizard (...more powerful offensive). All spells in all three categories use up only 1 MP, and your options feel like they've been reduced to lowest terms by the developers: there's only one Cure spell, which heals you right to full health. The Heal spell works for all status ailments. Life revives party members to full health. Exit lets you retreat from any area on the spot. There's only one Black spell apiece for fire, wind, ice, and earth, and a more powerful Wizard variant for each. This design choice doesn't really strike me as good or bad; it's just...simplified.
Don't look in the battles themselves for any depth, either, as the actual system with which you fight is about as bland as it gets. Aside from the hero, you only ever have one other party member accompanying you at any one time. Additionally, the maximum number of foes you ever fight simultaneously is three. On top of all of this, your options in battle are limited to the generic attack/spell/item/defend commands seen in pretty much every RPG since the original Dragon Warrior. And if you're expecting active-time battles here like in Final Fantasy IV, you're going to be disappointed; the encounters here are solely turn-based. This all feels like a drastic oversimplifiication of the RPG norm; the only "skills" that an RPG beginner will learn from this game are how to pick "Attack" or "Spell" from a menu.
Aside from the shallowness of its gameplay and laughable simplicity of its storyline, Mystic Quest's other major problem is extreme easiness on all fronts. This isn't all bad, though: once again, Mystic Quest shows off some design elements that feel smarter than the game should be allowed to have. The most convenient of these is the ability to save anywhere, at any time. Yes, this contributes to the lack of challenge in the game, but it also makes Mystic Quest an easy game to play in short bursts, since you'll never feel obligated to play for an hour to reach a save point at the end of a dungeon.
Furthermore, if you ever lose a battle, you have the option of starting over again from the beginning of the fight. This certainly streamlines things a bit, as it wouldn't have added anything to the game if you had to load your save file and engage the boss again to do the same thing.
Unfortunately, while these things do redeem the game somewhat, the game holds the player's hand to the point where it's mildly insulting. The game's structure is so lienar and rigid that is almost feels like you're on rails: rather than being able to explore the overworld at will, the game chauffeurs you from place to place simply by pressing in the direction of the flashing arrows on the map.
While here, you can choose to engage in "Battlefields" that contain 10 very similar battles. If you beat all 10 of them, you'll receive a reward for clearing it out, be it EXP or a new spell. This is an interesting idea, but it's quite boring to engage in 10 nearly-identical battles in a row, and thus, the battlefields just feel like an attempt to pad out the game a bit more. Additionally, there are no sidequests, no hidden areas, and nothing to do besides the main storyline, excluding the aforementioned battlefields.
The game also sees it fit to remove all customization of your characters. Rather than buying equipment, you'll find gear in chests hidden throughout the dungeons, and your new weapon or armor will automatically replace the older one in your inventory. The game has no traditional RPG shops, either; instead, you'll just find a person in a town who'll ask you out of the blue, "Want some explosives?" or "How about some Cure Potions?" and let you buy some. Eventually, you'll be able to buy Seeds, which fully restores a character's MP. Since Seeds are very cheap items, you'll never have to stay at an Inn, buy any potions, or even use a regular attack in battle ever again, as you can just rely on your magic for the rest of the game.
Yet, even in spite of Mystic Quest's simple and low-stress gameplay, its battles can still be quite annoying at times. Since none of your foes are strong enough to beat you through brute strength, pretty much the only way you're going to lose a battle is because of a status ailment affliction. Therefore, the developers thought it would be a good idea to give nearly every enemy in the game the ability to stun, blind, poison, or petrify your party members. Since the cures are only a Heal Potion or Heal spell away from being purged, this is never too big of an issue, but Mystic Quest will get on your nerves after the hero's been confused by the same enemy for the eighth time in a row.
Yet, while I have numerous sizable complaints about the game, I can't truly say it's a bad RPG. Mystic Quest manages to be tolerable simply because of its low-key approach to game design. As the game's storyline is virtually nonexistent and it goes to great lengths to make itself easy to pic up and play, it never feels like a commitment. As such, this is a game you'll want to see through to the end, which comes sooner than most RPGs-it's unlikely that you'll take more than 10 hours to fully complete Mystic Quest. However, this works out to the game's advantage, since by the time you really start to get bored of it, it's already coming to a close.
Mystic Quest's graphical presentation is as basic as its game mechanics. The game uses parts of Final Fantasy IV's engine outside of battle, so don't expect anything flashy; the game almost looks like it could've been done on the NES. Sprites are small, and lowly-detailed, and the areas you travel through never look any more intricate than what's necessary. As the game's graphics aren't outwardly offensive in any way, I can't really fault it for looking clean and bright, if nothing else.
The game's battle graphics do have one innovation worth mentioning; while Mystic Quest rather lazily reuses your characters' field graphics in battle, the enemies' portraits change as you whittle down their HP to reflect how much health they have left. This is an innovation that I haven't seen in any other RPG besides Mystic Quest, and it's such an interesting feature that I have to wonder why.
Perhaps Mystic Quest's strongest asset is its infectiously catchy soundtrack, featuring entirely hummable tunes with blazing MIDI guitars and trumpets. It's difficult not to be impressed by the dramatic Doom Castle theme, which is better than pretty much any other RPG final dungeon music. Like the rest of the game, though, Mystic Quest's music suffers from repetition; the regular battle theme is catchy, yes, but it gets tiresome after you've heard it a few hundred times (and you will hear it a few hundred times). Ditto for the game's overworld theme.
Overall, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest isn't a good game. Nor is it a bad game. Its strength perfectly balance out its flaws, adding up to a totally average RPG. Mystic Quest won't satiate your thirst for an engaging storyline or compelling characters. Nor will it win any gameplay depth awards. Yet, I can see a small sect of RPG players enjoying Mystic Quest for its pure, uncomplicated approach to the RPG formula. If you think you're part of that niche, than Mystic Quest may be the game for you. Otherwise, there's no real reason to play it, and Mystic Quest feels like entirely unnecessary game.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 02/27/06
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