Review by FlintIronstag
Oh my god, you can jump now!
The year was 1992, and JRPGs were getting to be big business. After Enix codified the genre with Dragon Quest and Square really got the ball rolling with the 8-bit incarnations of Final Fantasy, Sega, Falcom and Atlus jumped on board to great success, and Namco, Capcom and Taito weren't far behind. Enix was having to release Dragon Quest games on weekends only so that students wouldn't skip classes. But over in the US, JRPGs weren't doing so well. This left Square scratching their heads. What could they do to pump up the sales of Final Fantasy in the US, where action games dominated? The answer was: dumb down the difficulty of Final Fantasy IV when they released it in the US as Final Fantasy "2". (I don't know why, given how many NES games liked to pound the player into submission. But I digress.) Needless to say, Final Fantasy "2" sold a lot more than the original Final Fantasy... but not because of the reduced difficulty. It sold more just because it was BETTER than FF1. But the Square execs didn't come to the right conclusion. Instead, they decided to dumb down the difficulty even more, and release a "beginner's" RPG in the West.
Enter Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.
The story is pretty rudimentary, but for a "beginner's" RPG, it's probably about what you'd expect. The four magical elemental Crystals have been stolen by a group of demons known as the Vile Four, causing widespread natural disasters. When his village is burned down, a young man named Benjamin is chosen by the Crystal of Light to find the Crystals and save the world from the evil Dark King (who dies when you cast Cure on him three times, hint hint). So, yeah, it's pretty much the plot of FF1, but with only one "Light Warrior". That said, he does meet some allies along the way - the axe-wielding nature chick Kaeli, the treasure-hunting ninja Tristam, the beautiful warrior mage Phoebe, and the morning star wielding badass Reuben. You only have one of them accompanying you at any one time, and they rotate out at set points. Bit of a step down from the four-member parties of the NES incarnations. The story's thin, but hey, you can look past that if the gameplay's fun, right? Well, it's not.
The one crippling flaw that this game has is challenge, or the lack of it. This is seriously the easiest game I've ever played. Most of the regular enemies, spells, items, elemental affinities, etc. return from the main series, but this just doesn't FEEL like a Final Fantasy game. The 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy games all had engaging combat, tough bosses, and challenging dungeon crawls that forced you to use your Potions and Elixirs wisely. But in this game, all that goes out of the window. The enemies are so weak that fights barely last two rounds. You can get through the whole game by tapping the A button, healing in between battles, and using the incredibly broken "Seed" item which completely restores your MP and can be bought for relatively little. (Incidentally, I believe the Seed has never appeared in another FF game. I wonder why.) I never died once in my entire playthrough, and never ran out of MP, due to the existence of Seeds.
It is somewhat interesting in being a 16-bit RPG that gets rid of random encounters, but the result is utterly BORING. Enemies appear as static objects, which can't be moved or jumped over. (If you're wondering about the tagline, you can jump on the field map in this game. You hardly ever need to use it, and was probably just included to give a superficial gloss of "action game" elements.) Battles begin when you touch them. You can hit the enemies with your sword, but it doesn't do anything most of the time. You can flee from enemy encounters... but the enemy still isn't removed from the map! Basically, you're FORCED to fight the enemies in this game, unless you can find a way around them, which is almost never. Combined with the incredibly easy battles, and the dungeon crawls in Mystic Quest become a chore to sit through.
There's not much point in even having party members to help you. Benjamin can use every piece of equipment and every spell in the game (with the exception of Tristam's ninja stars and Phoebe's bow), and is immune to every status ailment. Now, I ask you this: what's wrong with Benjamin being the only character you control? The original Dragon Quest did it, and that came out fine. But this game goes way beyond in making party members redundant. All four of them remain at set levels and don't gain experience points, they don't learn new spells, and you can't even change their equipment. They don't even have any unique abilities to make up for it, and they're set to act automatically by default (although you can change this). And in the last place, the party members are simply dull. There is literally nothing to learn about them beyond what I said in the introduction. They might as well not exist at all.
Let's talk presentation. The soundtrack is decent, though one wonders what Nobuo Uematsu would have composed for the game had he been involved, but the graphics are simply uninspired. FF's usual character/monster designer from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, Yoshitaka Amano, sits this one out, and it shows. His distinctively detailed and impossible-to-mistake surrealist aesthetic is replaced with a rogue's gallery of generic-looking beasties. Not only are Amano's designs cooler to look at, even his designs from the 8-bit FF games make the ones from Mystic Quest look dated. The graphics aren't bad, per se, but it means it just doesn't look like a Final Fantasy game at all.
As for lasting value... well, because the game is so easy to beat, there is none. Mystic Quest is a short game (I beat it in about eight hours, but you can probably do it in less), and it's completely linear. There are no sidequests, no chocobos or airships to ride on, no optional dungeons or superbosses. You can't even explore the world map yourself (Benjamin walks between location markers when you press one of the directional buttons instead). I'm sorry to harp on this point, but even the NES games had that kind of stuff! Basically, this game doesn't stand up to repeat plays whatsoever.
And to sum it up, who the hell thought this was a good idea? The idea of an entry-level genre game is stupid to begin with. Mystic Quest has lost the challenging strategy and epic storylines that made Final Fantasy what it is... and it still didn't sell anyway. Apart from the decent soundtrack, I can think of absolutely nothing to recommend this watered-down excuse for a Final Fantasy game.
P.S. By the way, Mystic Quest is known as "Final Fantasy USA" in Japan. If that's not a kick in the pants, I don't know what is.
Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Product Release: Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (US, 10/05/92)
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