Back in the 16-bit days, RPG’s were not nearly as popular outside of Japan as they are today. That’s not to say that the genre was invisible, but many other genres were much more popular at the time. In 1992, SquareSoft made Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, an entry-level RPG with a few common elements from action games. SquareSoft made Mystic Quest in an effort to make RPG’s more popular outside Japan. The game ultimately failed to do its job, and it wouldn’t be until 5 years later when Final Fantasy VII would make RPG’s uber-popular outside Japan. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was also one of the first Final Fantasy games to be released in Europe, which was renamed “Mystic Quest Legend” over there.
The in-game story is very basic. The focus tower, the place where the four crystals reside, is invaded by monsters one day. The monsters made off with the crystals as well as the coins that keep the doors unlocked. Without the crystals, the world began to decay and become plagued by disasters. A prophecy tells of a warrior that will appear to vanquish the darkness should the aforementioned occasion ever happen. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most generic stories ever told in a Final Fantasy game. There’s barely even any plot twists in the story. Not only that, but all the characters are pretty much like cardboard cutouts in terms of personality. There’s the main hero, Benjamin (you can give him another name though), whose only defining trait is no doubt his shrug that he does from time to time when he’s confused about something. There’s Kaeli, a girl from Foresta that has sworn to protect nature. There’s Tristam, an adventurer that only cares about treasure for the most part. There’s Phoebe, an archer from Aquaria that wants to save her grandfather. Last, but not least, there’s Reuben, a warrior that desires to save his father from the mines. Most of these characters except for Tristam don’t even seem to have much of a personality to them. If not for the dialogue that comes from them throughout the game, they might as well be blank slates.
The setting is also very bland. The game takes place in a single continent with four regions, Foresta, Aquaria, Fireburg, and Windia. The towns share the name of the regions. It should be pretty obvious what these four locations have in them. Foresta is basically a town with a big forest nearby. Aquaria is a town surrounded by water. Fireburg is a town near a volcano, and least but not least, Windia is a town on a mountain with strong winds. At the center of the four regions lies the focus tower, where you would be going to and from at certain parts in the game. Of course, you have forests, caves, mountains, etc., to explore besides the towns.
Considering the fact that Mystic Quest is marketed as an “entry-level RPG”, the game is quite different from the other Final Fantasy games as well as many other RPG’s. For starters, you can’t go wherever you want in the overworld. You have to travel along pre-destined paths that the game gives you. You can still go back to previous locations and towns however, it’s just that you can’t freely explore the overworld. Another big difference is that there are no random encounters in the game at all. Rather, there are enemy sprites in dungeons and other places, and by touching them, a battle is initiated. The lack of random encounters is great because it allows the player to avoid unnecessary battles. The game also allows the players to save wherever and whenever they want to, which is really a godsend. Nothing can be more infuriating than being stuck in the dungeon and not be able to save.
Although some of the differences can be good, there’s also some which are pretty bad like the previously mentioned inability to freely explore the overworld. Also, when you get a new weapon or armor, it’s automatically equipped to you and it can’t be removed unless you get a new weapon or new armor. Again, just like the inability to explore the overworld, it also restricts player freedom. What if the player wants to go through the game with weak equipment for a challenge? The game won’t let them do that. The biggest difference between Mystic Quest and the other Final Fantasy games is the difficulty. It’s just laughable compared to the other games in the series. For example, some bosses can be killed just by spamming a few spells over and over again. Enemies can sometimes be killed in just 1-2 hits even if you’ve never ever level grinded in this game. Even if you do somehow die, you can always restart the battle without any consequences. No gold or money is lost.
Now let’s talk about the party system as it is pretty different compared to other RPG’s. For starters, you can only have the protagonist and one other person in your party at a time. While each party member joins the hero multiple times at certain parts of the game, they also leave you at certain parts of the game. Not only that, but late in the game, you cannot play as most of them again without starting a new save file. Furthermore, you cannot change their equipment AT ALL. Should you run out of arrows as Phoebe or shurikens as Tristam, you’re just gonna have to use their magic (I’m not sure if Tristam even has a lot of magic in the first place .) Speaking of magic, the people that join your hero throughout the game cannot learn any new spells while they are with you. Don’t like the fact that Tristam or Reuben each only have a few spells on them? Oh well! Too bad!
I seriously cannot find a more restrictive party system than the one in Mystic Quest. No really, I cannot. Just because it’s an “entry-level” RPG doesn’t mean the party system should be restrictive and fun resistant. Look at Pokémon, a series of easy RPG’s (ok, ok, there’re some hard parts in those games). Even though Pokémon is pretty easy, it has the most customizable party system out there. Maybe Final Fantasy should take a page from that series someday.
To be fair, if there’s one thing I like about the gameplay, it’s that you can use your weapons outside of battle. Like cutting down small trees with an axe or climbing up walls with a claw. It’s pretty neat if you ask me. Another cool thing in the game is that you can jump. There are some segments in the game where you have to jump over gaps and it kind of feels somewhat like a platformer.
The graphics in this game are mediocre at best. While some of the environments don’t look too bad (such as the forests), others look like they came out of an early Sega Genesis game (The mines as well as Windia and Fireburg). The characters are just laughable. Many of them look like they were literally taken out of an NES or GBC game. Even the characters from Final Fantasy IV look better than the ones in Mystic Quest for crying out loud! It’s really sad how a game that came a year earlier has better graphics than Mystic Quest. To be fair, however, the monsters don’t look too bad in this game. One neat touch that I liked is that the enemies have different sprites to represent their amount of health remaining. For example, a mummy will lose its bandages as it loses health. Some of the spells in this game such as meteor and blizzard also look pretty good.
The music is probably the best part of the whole game. While the soundtrack is not as memorable as Final Fantasy IV’s and VI’s, it still has a lot of great music. For example, the normal battle theme has a pretty cool rock n’ roll feel to it while the music that plays in the forests has a very calming and quiet tone to it. I’ll post links to some of the music in this game below this review so you can listen for yourself.
To sum things up, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest failed to popularize RPG’s outside of Japan and for an obvious reason; the game just wasn’t that good. Outside of the music, SquareSoft barely put any effort into the game. Had they done more, the game might’ve been more popular and ultimately would had a better chance of popularizing RPG’s outside of Japan. If you still want to find a good easy RPG, I would recommend the Pokémon games as well as Breath of Fire.
Two stars out of five.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Manual
Some music from Mystic Quest:
Normal Battle Theme – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZOQ8sLO-vU
Wintry Cave and Ice Pyramid – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oodxDEjuu6o
Level Forest and Alive Forest – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6q3T82d1q4
Spencer’s Place (Mines and Falls Basin) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZJNljYtfB0
Fireburg Town – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_Zq95YQGnY