Thursday, May 17, 2012

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Easy to get into and play, contains most of the standard RPG elements, great soundtrack
Cons: Simple, cliche story; simple graphics; not much in the way of customization

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is an RPG from Square that receives a lot of flack for its simplicity and the fact that it caters to younger gamers and those new to the genre. While it shares many aspects with the mainstream Final Fantasy games, it differs in many ways as well. Think of it as a game similar to The Legend of Zelda, but with the world map of Super Mario Bros 3. While it's not the best game in the world, it would have fared better had it not possessed the Final Fantasy moniker. As a game, it's not bad -- but as a Final Fantasy game it leaves you wanting more.
The storyline in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is pretty standard and cliche. An old man tells you that you're the knight from some prophecy, and that some monsters took over the Focus Tower and stole the four crystals (earth, fire, wind and water). It's up to you to defeat the monsters and restore the crystals' power to the world. You can tell that Square went all out when thinking of names as well, as the four areas of the game world are aptly named Foresta, Aquaria, Fireburg and Windia. Sadly, I'm not kidding.
One of the main differences between Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and other Final Fantasy titles, is the complete lack of random battles. Not only that, but monsters don't move around at all here. Whenever you enter an area you can see all of the monsters on the screen, standing in place obstructing your paths to various places. When you walk into one you get to fight a group of 1-3 enemies in a turn-based manner using a menu-based setup. This is similar to early Final Fantasy titles, except the layout is vertical instead of horizontal; think Dragon Warrior II.
The world map is similar to that of Super Mario Bros 3. There are a series of locations (towns, dungeons, battlefields, etc) that you can travel between on a set path. After finishing one area, it allows you to travel to other areas that are connected to it. There are no enemies on the world map at all, so all of your battling will take place at one of these locations. Towns are self explanatory; there are NPCs in them, some of which will point you in the direction of your next objective, as well as inns where you can heal.
Smaller dungeons have items in them that you pick up as you clear them on your way through each area, and the final dungeon in each of the four major areas contains the final boss that holds the respective crystal. Battlefields are a little different in that they each contain 10 random enemy encounters, and clearing all 10 battles will reward you with gold, experience, a spell or an item. Once they've been cleared they stay cleared and you can not do them again. Clearing 3 out of the 10 and then going to town to heal doesn't matter, there are still only be 7 battles remaining when you return.
While you travel around by yourself at times, more often than not you will have a second character travelling with you. These other characters don't stay with you, and one will always leave before another one joins, but there are four different ones in total. They can be controlled manually or be allowed to act on their own with the built in artificial intelligence, but the A.I. isn't really the smartest thing in the world. They'll just attack whatever enemy is furthest to the left of the screen, if you're missing some health they'll waste healing items to heal themselves or you even if it's not necessary, and they'll waste magic spells on an enemy that you could have killed in one hit anyway. If you want to do the fighting yourself and let them take care of healing, it's quicker and easier to just set them on automatic -- but if you want them to be more useful you'll want them on manual for sure. The other characters usually start out a few levels higher than you do, but they don't level up so you overtake them pretty quickly.
The main character does level up as he gets experience from fighting battles. You don't get to distribute any stat points manually, but you do get stronger; you get more health, your attacks do more damage, etc. It's definitely a noticeable improvement. Unfortunately, you also can not manually work with your equipment. You are automatically equipped with the best stuff you have, and if you get something better it takes the place of your previous piece of gear.
Only the weapons can be switched between, and then only to different types. The hero can equip swords, axes, claws and bombs -- and there are only three of each. If you obtain a knight sword it will replace your steel sword, and then the Excalibur will replace the knight sword; or if you obtain a battle axe it will replace your axe, and then the giant's axe will replace the battle axe. You can switch between your axe, sword, claw or bomb with the L and R buttons, but that's the extent of your equipment customization. You wouldn't even end up with this much, except that the weapons have different uses in the area maps. The axe can clear a tree from your path, the bomb can blow open a door blocked by rocks, and the claw allows you to climb up and down walls in certain areas.
There are also only four consumable items in the whole game, and one of those is rarely worth using. Strangely the Cure potion heals you and the Heal potion cures poison; beyond that you have Seeds to restore your spell charges and something called a Refresher that's used to cure debuffs on your character (attack down, speed down, etc). I've found the Refresher is mostly just a waste of a turn though, as I don't recall ever needing it on a boss fight and the random enemies can be killed quickly and then your debuffs are cleared anyway.
Speaking of spell charges, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest forgoes the use of magic points or mana, and instead gives each type of spell a number of casts. White, Black and Wizard spells are the three types, and there are four spells of each type. You get so many casts from each type and when you've used them up you can no longer cast that type of spell until you rest at an inn or use a seed item to restore your charges.
The graphics in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest are equally simplistic, but they're at least colorful and fairly detailed. While they're not great, they do at least rival most of the later NES games. If Mystic Quest were to be released for the NES or very early in the life cycle of the SNES, the graphics would have been received much better. The enemies especially look nice, and they even show damage as you attack them. When a slime gets weak it changes sprites to a half mushed slime, or when a minotaur takes enough damage he changes to a sprite that looks beat up and has missing horns for example. The sound effects are typical for a SNES game, with exploding bombs and swinging swords sounding just as you would expect them to. The music is really good though, and the battle music in particular is faster-paced, upbeat and is really a boon for the title.
On a scale of 1-10 I would give Final Fantasy Mystic Quest a 5 on it's own. However, if you just can't get the Final Fantasy moniker out of your mind and treat Mystic Quest as its own game, it's probably going to be more like a 3 out of 10. It's a little shorter, more simple, and it lacks a lot in the way of character customization. For younger gamers or those new to the genre, I'd say Mystic Quest scores an 8 for its simplicity, easiness to pick up and play, and the fact that it does contain most of the basics even if some of them are cannibalized and/or toned down quite a bit. Even being a huge RPG fan though, it doesn't hurt my feelings to pick it up for 5 hours or so and pick my way through the game. Overall, it's an average game that's worth a shot.

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