Review by Combat Crustacean
This is no beginner's RPG - not unless you want to scare the beginner away forever.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest deserves its "black sheep" reputation. Many gamers old enough to remember this obscure, unusual bit of Squaresoft programming often look back on it with amusement; the game is quirky and lame on nearly every level. A few try to defend its ineptitude with claims such as, "it's a beginner's RPG!" or "it's just brainless fun", but these claims are sadly illogical.
It would not be quite as much of a stretch to say that, on average, a fan of the RPG genre is probably smarter than a fan of most other genres. You can call this a generalization, but there's a lot more cerebral challenge to be offered in Chrono Trigger versus NBA Jam. (Not to say that NBA Jam is unenjoyable, but you get the point.) Most role playing games are text-heavy, rely greatly on their plots and characters, and demand strategic play from whoever decides to pick up that controller. I remember getting my start on the genre with Final Fantasy III and understanding the game near-perfectly. Quite simply, there's no market for a "beginner's RPG", because most of those who have the patience for an RPG could probably do well with a better title anyway. How many beginners have actually started out with FF: MQ as their induction into the genre? Not many, as they'd probably just be bored and frustrated.
To refute the brainless fun claim - in short, the game is not fun. A fun game is a game with personality, with gameplay that keeps you coming, with quirky characters and clever levels and a no-frills plot. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest has none of that. The main character Benjamin is a lame, pedantic simpleton with absolutely no depth beyond his characteristic shoulder-shrug. All of the other PCs that accompany you are ultimately interchangeable in their dialogue, besides Tristam, your prerequisite "guy who steals stuff and acts glib". The plot is absolutely pathetic, with absolutely no sense of purpose; you basically go along to wherever the next plot event takes you. This painful linearity worsens when you consider how similar all of the locales are: a handful of long, tedious dungeon crawls with nary a device to set them apart. If I had to draw a comparison to another game of the era, I'd probably pick Arcana. Another game completely devoid of a soul banking on its gameplay to crawl out of the pit it dug for itself.
Even Arcana manages to one-up FF: MQ on several fields. First off, throughout the span of this game, the gameplay remains the same: painfully static. All you will ever be doing is casting the spell you most recently found on whatever easy boss happens into your path next. There's a really simple elemental system, but since the game tells you whenever an enemy is weak or strong against something, it'll take all of one cast to learn your course of action. The spells graduate in power in the order you get them anyway, so there's not much reason to use Fire over Aero. Almost all of your equipment is found in very conspicuous treasure chests, and you can only get three pieces of each that also graduate in power. If that's not enough, you end up resisting every element and status effect by the time you've gotten all this armor. At this point, the game's challenge level plummets from 1.5 to 0. At least Arcana was somewhat challenging; Mystic Quest's lack of difficulty is almost an insult.
I suppose the fact that your opponents show up on the maps, as opposed to random battles, is a positive aspect to the game. It means that you won't have to slog through nearly as many tedious and repetitive battles as you would under a random system. Then again, that also means that you won't make the money you need to purchase all the pricey stuff in this game -- oh wait, what? You mean you only have to buy three pieces of equipment and the rest is basically given to you? Yeah, money is almost worthless in this game, considering not only that you get all that equipment easily, but that treasure chests also replenish themselves. You can effectively have 99 of each type of potion by the time you get to the second dungeon and it'll probably only take you about ten minutes. Money is nearly worthless in this game, except to buy Seeds, which replenish your magic points -- and 4000 GP will buy you 99 of these babies too. Thus, battling is almost worthless, unless you belong to the School for the Gifted and actually need to level up to proceed.
For what it's worth, Mystic Quest does at least meet the SNES standards for graphics and audio. The soundtrack is expectedly generic, just like the rest of the game, with very few standout tunes. Fortunately, it's not flagrantly offensive in the same way that the gameplay is; UNfortunately, the sound effects more than make up for this. A sword slash sounds like a rat dying, and the swing of an axe sounds like a lot of air being let out of a bag. The graphics are also par for the 16-bit course; though they are vividly colored and clear, the spriting leaves something to be desired and the design is a little bit funky. The level design and enemies are unlikely to leave any sort of impression once you complete the game.
Then again...it's not likely that the rest of the game will either, unless it's the "That was the worst game I've ever stumbled through!" kind. Though the simple gameplay manages to stay fun for a little bit, there's only so much that one can take before undergoing complete burnout. The game's utter lack of variety quickly sends it to Mediocre RPG Purgatory. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is an unfortunate black mark on the otherwise prestigious 16-bit Square collection.
Rating: 1.5 - Bad
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