Long ago, a company named Square believed that RPGs were too hard for American audiences. They knew we were too busy with keg stands, football, and porn to play convoluted RPGs with numbers and hilariously named characters.
Not worried about belittling their fans, Square released an “easy” RPG in North America featuring the Final Fantasy name, but little else of what made the series charming. A number of Western RPG fans hated this stripped down title, and cursed Square for releasing it instead of Final Fantasy 5, but a few oddballs actually enjoyed it. I was one of them.
Even though Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was simplistic by nature, I found certain aspects of the title charming. I especially enjoyed Mystic Quest’s rockin’ soundtrack that made me feel like a fearsome warrior single-handedly defeating entire armies. Also, my inner hyperactive child enjoyed being able to jump and use weapons outside of battle. Being able to jump across platforms added to the gameplay, as did tools such as the Dragon Claw that acted similarly to Link’s Hookshot.
When I revisited Mystic Quest towards the end of 2009, I still appreciated the game’s rockin’ tunes and clever tools, but weaker elements of the title became more evident. The game’s practically non-existent story and lack of character development were the title’s most conspicuous flaws.
Mystic Quest begins with a bearded man telling a young boy of a prophecy he must fulfill, but before he’s able to impart his wisdom, a behemoth attacks the hero. This initial battle is important, because it illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of Mystic Quest’s battle system. Upon entering the battle, the player notices that Mystic Quest’s battle system takes place in a vertical format with enemies located towards the top of the screen and the hero positioned towards the bottom.
The hero can choose to fight, perform magic, use healing items, or run, but regardless of what action is chosen, he remains in place while performing a move. Likewise, the enemies aren’t animated, but depending on how much HP they have, they’ll change forms. For example, say the player was attacking a knight riding a horse. If the player landed a powerful attack, the horse would leave the knight to fend for himself. Some enemies have multiple forms, which is useful for indicating how much damage you’ve performed.
While fighting the behemoth, however, the only option is to attack, so the hero continues to take turns until the vicious beast is cleaved in two. You’d think that a fight towards the beginning of the game would be easy, but actually it can be quite difficult since the behemoth can perform critical hits with ease.
As a result, your character can potentially die during the first fight, but Mystic Quest immediately informs you that you can re-do the battle as many times as you want with no penalty. This is a handy option that negates the effect of dying in a lengthy dungeon, but at the same time it’s usually only necessary for enemies who land cheap critical hits.
Once the player has completed the initial battle, the old man returns and tells the hero to head for a dying forest. While there, the hero notices that the decaying forest is overwhelmed by monsters, so he heads for a nearby village where he meets his first ally.
Throughout Mystic Quest, the hero will be joined by other characters who frequently leave and return. These characters are controlled by the AI by default, but they can also be controlled by the player with a simple press of the select button. If the player is feeling particularly lazy, she also has the option of relinquishing control of the hero to the AI. Most players will find Mystic Quest easy enough already, however, so they’ll probably want to control their two characters themselves.
Mystic Quest’s side characters usually come with powerful offensive magic in addition to healing spells and new tools. When a party member leaves, he’ll typically bestow his tool upon the hero, which will allow the player to access new areas. For example, when the character Kaeli leaves the party, she’ll grant the hero with an axe useful for chopping down trees.
The hero finds plenty of other tools over the course of the journey as well — ranging from bombs to claws (the latter enables the hero to climb cliffs). These tools make Mystic Quest’s lengthy dungeons that mostly consist of scores of enemies a bit more interesting, but don’t expect to tackle any Zelda-esque puzzles.
Anyway, to continue with the storyline, Mystic Quest has you journeying through a world threatened by four fiends who’ve captured the world’s crystals and have locked segments of the world behind doors of the Focus Tower. The game’s storyline is mostly nonsensical, and merely serves as a means to an end.
During your journey, an old man will continually guide you by dropping not-so-subtle hints such as, “Meet Spencer in Aquaria.” Other than the short blurbs of texts he spouts, there really isn’t much dialogue in Mystic Quest. Each villager also has a few “words of wisdom,” but most other dialogue comes from the game’s characters.
Characters such as Kaeli, Tristan, Phoebe, and Reuben aren’t very well-developed, so the main way to distinguish them is by their physical appearance and weapon choice. One character, however, is quite humorous, mainly due to his attempt to charge you for an item he discovered, and the hero responding by saying that he can’t afford it with his meager allowance. The occasional funny moment keeps this rudimentary quest interesting, but most of your time will be spent in Mystic Quest’s lengthy dungeons.
Mystic Quest’s dungeons are fairly generic and mostly serve as a place to do battle, so it’s other aspects of the game such as its puzzles and soundtrack that will keep old-school RPG fans playing. Mystic Quest’s synthesized soundtrack is truly an essential component of the experience, so if you don’t enjoy it, the game is probably not worth experiencing.
In retrospect, did Square succeed in making an easy RPG? Yes. Mystic Quest’s simplified battle system with optional AI control, automatic equipping, and battle re-dos made it significantly easier than other 16-bit RPGs, but did this barebones approach make this Final Fantasy spinoff fun? It depends on what you look for in an RPG. Mystic Quest’s generic dungeons, battles, and story don’t deserve any awards (and neither does its dialogue), but being able to jump and use tools helped differentiate this adventure from other Final Fantasy clones. However, it’s the unique, rock-inspired soundtrack that’s Mystic Quest’s biggest draw. If you enjoy upbeat rock tunes with an electronic sound, there just might be enough to satisfy your inner RPG fan. Other gamers will prefer to say, “Next!”
- Excellent synthesized rock soundtrack
- Tools such as the Dragon Claw enhance dungeon crawling
- Charming, albeit basic characters
- You can re-do any battles including boss fights
- Enemies appear on-screen before battle
- Four crystals, four fiends, and a prophecy. Where have I heard this before?
- There’s practically no character development
- The final boss is a joke
- Bland, generic dungeons
- Battlefields are useful for gaining levels, but are quite boring