Review: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES)

In this review, we explore the world of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. We find out if this spinoff RPG game is worth a play.

This game was released in 1992 and is a spinoff to the original Final Fantasy series. The Final Fantasy series is a series that we are quite familiar with. Already, we’ve reviewed Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy VII. So, we decided to detour into this spinoff to see how it shaped up.

The story follows the hero, Benjamin (can be named anything) as he makes his way up the Mountain of Fate. In the process of climbing that mountain, an earthquake hits the area and destroys his home village. A mysterious old man appears and guides him to safety. Benjamin is then told that he needs to make his way to the Focus Tower. After that, Benjamin finds himself on a quest to save the four elemental crystals.

The game features an overworld map where you can go to location to location depending on whether or not you have unlocked that area. This model, while more restrictive than other RPGs made by this time, does resemble the overworld system of older Super Mario Bros games. On this overworld map are, essentially, three types of locations: battlefields, villages, and dungeon locations. Villages are pretty self-explanatory with their inns, merchants, and people.

Battlefields are spaces where you can fight 10 times against groups of monsters. These battles can help pad the amount of gold and experience you have. These battles are typically appropriate for your character or party if you have entered that area for the first time or beaten a particular dungeon in that area. If you clean out the field by winning all 10 battles, you’ll get an extra bonus award. Sometimes, this award is a nice boost in money. Other times, it’s a good boost in experience. On occasion, though, you’ll get a special bonus like an armor upgrade. This concept, I thought, was definitely an interesting one because it added a nice challenge to the game.

Finally, there are dungeons. A vast majority of these dungeons need to be explored to, mostly, move plot events along, defeat bosses, obtain special items, or free crystals. Some dungeons do not feature monsters, but most do. If the dungeon contains monsters, they’ll, most of the time, appear on the map. If you walk up to them, you’ll initiate a battle sequence. If you win the battle, that monster will be removed from the map after. Sometimes, monsters won’t appear. If you want them to appear, you require a special item in that particular dungeon. For example, the mirror of truth will make monsters appear on a particular ice dungeon. Some reviewers said that this was a terrible feature. To be honest, I didn’t mind it because so many RPG games rely on random encounters. You wander a map either on the overworld or in a dungeon and the game just randomly picks a moment for you to go into a battle as you wander around. This system actually provided a nice break away from that battle method. I, for one, found it refreshing that a developer actually tries to change something up in this area. There are very few RPGs that employed a system where regular monsters appear on the map. One such example was Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. While the system employed here isn’t perfect, I thought this was a step into a great direction for a turn-based RPG.

One element that this game really separates itself from the rest of the pact is the employment of a 2 character party system. I have yet to play an RPG game outside of this game that caps your party at 2 characters. There are games such as The Elder Scrolls and Quest 64 that employ a 1 character party system. There are countless games that employ the 4 character party system such as many games found in the main Final Fantasy series, Earthbound, Demise – Rise of the Ku’Tan, and Might and Magic 6 – The Mandate of Heaven. There are a few turn-based RPG games that employ a 3 character party system such as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the 7 Stars. You even get the bustling party of 5 such as what is found in Might and Magic VIII – Day of the Destroyer. Still, unless you are counting turn-based RPG games that feature a main character and a computer controlled companion such as what is found in Paper Mario, examples are few and far between of a 2 party system in a turn-based RPG. This two character system offers a surprisingly unique set of challenges. If one character is petrified, you are one death away from defeat. You have the option of allowing the computer to control this character, or you can take control of this character yourself. Both methods end up being workable because every time Benjamin is hit with a status ailment or dies, the computer will try and revive or restore your character. Even if your character’s HP is low, the computer will try and restore your characters health. In short, the game does force you to rethink battle strategy with such a low party member cap.

One criticism I’ve heard about in this game is that this game has a highly repetitive battle system. I found this criticism to be puzzling because constantly entering battle screens and fighting enemies is a very common element in turn-based RPGs. You gain experience points and gold through battle and gradually improve your main character. You can utilize melee attacks or you can attack with magic spells. I don’t honestly see what’s so particularly overly repetitive about this game compared to other turn-based RPG games.

One weakness this game does have is the limited kinds of items available. You have heal potions that restore a certain amount of health. You have heal potions that end up being a sort of cure-all potion. Have you gone blind? Heal potion. Are you petrified? Heal potion. Are you asleep? Heal potion. Are you paralyzed? Heal potion. The only thing the heal potion doesn’t cure is the fatal status (at which point, you need the life spell). I thought this was a bit overly simplified. The third item is seeds. Seeds restore your mana in full. Finally, there is the refresher item that’s supposed to restore your abilities. You can only use this in battle, but I never found a use for them in the grand scheme of things. I would have thought, at the very least, you could split some of the healing items up a bit into more items. You could also have different power levels of potions. Unfortunately, it was just excessively simplified and you only get these 4 kinds of items. You are also capped out at 99 each item.

Mana is actually following an interesting concept. Most games feature a store of mana that you can use for any kind of spell. This game actually operates a bit differently in that you have a store of mana for each kind of magic: White, Black, and Wizard. This coincides with the three types of spells in this game: White, Black, and Wizard. White spells have curative properties. Black spells, on the other hand, are offensive spells that you can use on monsters. Wizard spells are more powerful offensive magic spells. The capacity for number of times you can cast a wizard spell is the smallest of the three. I thought this potentially opened the door for a lot of different strategies, not just for this game, but for many other RPG games. A healer has a lot of healing magic power whereas a sorcerer only has a lot of offensive battle magic. It almost makes me disappointed that I didn’t see this in any other RPG game that I’ve played in the future. The only downside to this magic system is that every spell in each class costs the same. In fact, it’s so simplified, you are given the number of times you can cast that particular class of spells. Still, there are interesting ideas to be had here.

The weapon system, on the surface, looks like an overly simplified version of a weapons system found in other RPG games. You have four kinds of weapons: Swords, axes, claws, and bombs. As you travel along, you’ll get a general upgrade from what is either given to you or what you end up finding in a special treasure chest. Once you get that upgrade, that upgrade is pretty much permanent. The kicker to all of this is that every weapon doubles as a tool. Swords are used to press hidden switches. Axes are used to knock down shrubbery. Claws are used for climbing (or, in the case of the dragon claw, reaching far away objects for the purpose of clearing small gaps in the terrain). Bombs are used for blowing holes in weak walls or destroying small objects. Uniquely, at almost any time, you can change your weapon with the press of a single button between the four types. In other RPGs, you are required to at least enter some sort of menu system to change the weapon you have on hand. This game, seemingly uniquely, allows you to bi-pass the menu system completely and equip which item you want. It’s a system so simple, it does make some of the menu systems excessively complex. In the end, even though there are weaknesses with the weapon system in this game, there are certainly plenty of strengths as well.

Probably one of the only criticisms of this game I was able to find that I really agree with is the armor system. Like the weapon system, there are four kinds of armor: helmet, shield, body armor and an accessory. Also like the weapon system, as you find more powerful armor, you automatically equip it and the older one instantly becomes unusable and obsolete. You don’t lose any abilities with any upgrade, but you do gain some resistances and defensive power with each upgrade. Unlike the weapon system, the armor does little more than sit there in a menu. You can look at the attributes and some enemies attacks will get greatly reduced in power in battle, but that’s it. I thought this made the system distinctly lacking.

One aspect of this game that is common in many RPG games is exploration. As you explore the dungeons, you’ll find yourself trying to navigate through obstacles. Sometimes, you find yourself climbing walls. Other times, you’ll find yourself jumping across narrow gaps. In a number of cases, you’ll find yourself using your weapons as tools to get from one place to another. I thought this was quite an advanced exploration system for an RPG game of its time. Some might be reminded of the system seen in another SNES title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Consider the fact that this game was released in the same year. I thought this was actually more well realized than the Zelda counterpart. Probably the only thing this game was lacking in is a half decent key system. Keys are found in this game, but they are, in my view, underutilized. Still, there are plenty of areas that will force you to think.

Also found in dungeons (and sometimes villages for that matter) are treasure chests. There are standard brown chests that contain regular items. These items can be 10 units of a disposable weapon, 3 heal items, 3 potions, 3 refresher items, or 3 seeds. These, of course, can help you on your way. The other treasure chests that can be found are red chests. These chests contain special items such as door coin keys, spells, armor, weapons, and crests (for warping). The more you find, the better.

While I do disagree with a lot of the criticisms about the game, I don’t necessarily see this as a flawless game. One way I think this game just doesn’t cut it is in plot. While some Final Fantasy games don’t really have the best plots in the world, I thought this game definitely features the thinnest plotline I’ve seen. You are only given enough plot to go from one point to another. That’s pretty much it. In fact, you don’t really get hardly any background knowledge of the final boss. You are only told about this monster towards the end of the game. The only thing you know is that this character exists and you must stop him. Throw in a little “he was behind everything” to tie it to the rest of the plot and we’re gold, right? Yeah, no. This final boss, as far as plot was concerned, was seemingly tacked on last minute to try and tie everything together. It just didn’t work for me.

Whats worse is how characters were written to come in and out of play. You do meet up with the first character. After that, the game just falls apart on this front. One character falls and your next companion just magically appears and says something along the lines of, “Yeah, let’s just continue together from here.” This, in my view, was incredibly poorly thought out. I get that characters can come and go in a game, but this has to be the most poorly planned character exchanges I’ve seen. The only thing that made it all interesting was that, on occasion, the playable character doesn’t actually join you.

Staying with the second character system, another weird element is the fact that your second character doesn’t level up or gain experience points. In fact, the second character never really gains any abilities either. If that character enters the party at level 12 and knows three spells, that character leaves the party at level 12 and knowing three spells. If a character rejoins your party later, that character may be at a bigger level to match the requirements of the area in question. In fact, I would say that the levels and stats selected for each partner is set so that they are somewhat overpowering in the first few dungeons and somewhat underpowering in the later dungeons. When the handoff happens between partners, everything pretty much restarts on that front. I thought this was odd and a bit disappointing that you couldn’t build up your partner in any way, shape, or form.

On the plus side, for this game, everything seems nicely balanced. I didn’t really find anything in terms of excessive difficulty spikes. I thought the difficulty was more of a case of walking comfortable up a set of stairs. The difficulty does jump every so often, but it never really becomes unbearable unless you are deliberately avoiding confrontation as much as possible. Even though character swap-outs happen, they never really interfere with your progress of the game. So, this part gets a thumbs up from me.

One thing I found great in this game is the fact that the final dungeon features all the past bosses. There was something deeply satisfying about re-battling previous enemies and wiping them out with ease the second time around. A case of exacting a little revenge. This was especially true with the bone dragon where I ended up doing a one-hit kill on it by casting life on it. One guide I read after I completed the game suggested White or Flare. Puzzling since Life was far more effective. Another aspect of this final dungeon is that you get a quick replay of past environments on a much more challenging scale. I thought that was a nice touch and a great way to cap off the exploration element in this game.

So, generally, it seems that some people give this game quite a bad rap. Even though there are a few valid points to be made, I don’t consider this a bad game at all. Considering the time frame on when this game was released, there was actually quite a few innovative features to be found here. One person I’ve heard of went so far as to call this game a slap in the face to gamers for its simplicity, but I completely disagree with that assessment. I think this game is actually worth playing.

The graphics were an interesting thing to assess. Some areas were a bit sparse on the visual eye-candy. There could have been more objects to break things up in some dungeons. Instead, there was a lot of visual repetition in this game. Still, even then, there were plenty of different environments you could explore. Each environment had a completely different look. So, while the visuals weren’t perfect in this game, they were not that bad either. The battle sequences on the graphics front were worth mentioning. I really liked how the backgrounds constantly changed to match the map environments. In fact, in the wind tower, battling monsters on the roof yielded a different look than the rest of the tower. I thought that was a nice subtle visual touch. Another great part about battle sequences is number of different monsters. There may be subtle moments where monsters are simply retextured, but it wasn’t that bad. The highlight for, however, was the fact that as monsters take damage, their appearances change. Very few RPG games I’m aware of go through the trouble of putting that much effort into each sprite like that. So, even though there are small downsides to the graphics, there were also great highlights to be had here.

Few seem to dispute that the audio was a major highlight of this game. The sound effects were nicely done. One big highlight was the dragon claw. The nice subtle panning if you use it left to right or right to left really added to the sound effect. The music was also on a level on its own. Boss battle music, the final dungeon, and a few of the dungeons ended up being highlights for me. The rest of the music was quite well done. I had no complaints in this area.

Overall, some people say that this was a terrible game. I disagree with the assessment. While this game is by no means flawless – what with the wafer-thin plot, character handoffs, and excessively simple armor system – this game also had plenty of highlights as well. This included a unique mana storage system, impressive utilization of weapons as tools, interesting puzzles, nicely done graphics (particularly the damage dealt on monsters in the sequences), and excellent music. While this isn’t a game I would want to play over and over again in rapid succession, this is a game I would like to dust off and play every once in a while. A recommended play.

Furthest point in game: Hit the level cap of level 42 (?) and won the game. Also won the game at level 37 in a replay. Completed the inventory and spellbook.

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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