Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • US 10/05/1992
    • JP 09/10/1993
    • UK 1993
Score: 75%

This review was published on 06/07/2013.

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is a turn-based, menu-driven role-playing game originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It's one of the only Final Fantasy games to make it to Europe in the early '90s, which is crazy when you think about it. Despite being designed by one of Square's Japanese teams, Mystic Quest was specifically geared for the North American market. As a result of that, Mystic Quest is one of the few Final Fantasy games that got released in the West first before being brought over to Japan. RPGs weren't very popular in North America around this time, so Square wanted to create an RPG that would target beginners of the genre. Thus, Mystic Quest is a lot more simplified when compared to conventional Final Fantasy games. While this might have made sense at the time, fans of the series now widely criticize this move. This is the reason why Mystic Quest is one of the most despised of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games. Does it truly deserve all the hate, though? I don't think so. It's true that this game doesn't hold up to any of the real Final Fantasies, but it does provide some simple fun for when simple fun is all you need. So long as your expectations aren't too high, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is a good entry-level RPG that will teach newcomers the basics and allow veterans to take a load off.

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If you're expecting an engrossing, in depth story from Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, then be prepared for disappointment. For an RPG, this game is really light in the plot department. It does have one, though. You play as Benjamin, a fellow who wanders onto a dangerous mountain some day to do heroic stuff or whatever. A mysterious old man shows up to tell him that he is the destined knight of destiny and will save the world from all of its ills. How convenient, right? Benjamin doesn't believe the old man's silly tales initially, but he eventually goes with it. Mysterious old men are never wrong in RPGs, after all. Mystic Quest continues in Square's obsession with crystals by featuring four crystals for the four cardinal elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. There's some nonsense about a tower and villainous villains stealing the crystals from the tower, thus wrecking havoc on the world. In Final Fantasy games, the world runs on crystals. 4 monsters have locked 4 doors in the tower and escaped with the keys, and so you'll have to hunt them down. These monsters are using the powers of the crystals to grow stronger, adding to the marginal severity of this calamitous calamity. Don't worry, because Benjamin is on the job. At this point, the mysterious old man of mystery ditches you and tells you to find everything on your own. What a guy. I have to give the writers some credit here, because they made a small attempt at humor. It's as if the writers realized how silly this all was and decided to make the best of it. From then on, the story devolves into Benjamin town hopping and helping its citizens in hopes that he completes his overall objective. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest focuses more on the game play than the plot, so the story is closer to something like Zelda than a Final Fantasy game. The story does its job and nothing more.

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Even though Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest isn't an action RPG, it does contain a lot of action elements in it. The first thing you learn in the game is how to jump. That's a pretty big deal, because you normally can't jump in RPGs, let alone Final Fantasy games. No longer will small rocks or short fences block your way. You can even jump over people, solving the issue games like Final Fantasy IV had in which townsfolk would sometimes block your way accidentally or on purpose. You can jump almost any time outside of a battle, which is nice. The action doesn't stop there, though. Not only can you jump, but you can actually use your weapon outside of combat, too! Different weapons do different things, like the axe can be used to cut down trees. There's a certain sense of excitement as you progress through the game and get new weapons, as the new weapons will sometimes help you solve new puzzles in the environment, allowing you to access previously inaccessible areas. It's a really nice touch that reminds me a little bit of the Zelda series. Being able to interact with the environment to such a degree makes Mystic Quest a lot more entertaining than it otherwise would be. Normally you only see action in an RPG during a battle, but Mystic Quest has plenty of action going on outside of the turn-based fights to keep you invested in the experience. That's the main reason dungeon areas are so much fun, because they feature most of the interactive environmental puzzles in the game. As strange as this may sound, more RPGs ought to learn from Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest's example and up the interactivity. This is one thing that Mystic Quest does better than most RPGs, especially at the time.

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Battles in Mystic Quest work much like they do in any other turn-based, menu-driven RPG quest of the non-mystic variety. The Active Time Battle system that was first introduced in Final Fantasy IV is completely absent from Mystic Quest, and it has been replaced with a more traditional, purer turn-based system. So there are no bars you have to worry about filling; you can take as much time as you want in between turns to decide on your commands. Square likely went back to this system because it's friendlier to novices of the RPG genre. It's also a bit more boring, though. There really isn't much to say about the battles in Mystic Quest, for the most part. Well, except for enemy weaknesses. In addition to being weak to magic of certain elements, enemies are also sometimes susceptible to certain types of weapons. It's not a big deal, but still something worthy of not. Besides that, the battles are as generic as you can get. The graphics in battle aren't much better than what you'd see outside of battles, either. RPGs during the 16-bit era weren't known for their graphics, but they usually had more impressive visuals during combat. That isn't so in Mystic Quest. There is something cool about the graphics during battle, though. Enemy sprites change as they get weaker, showing you that they're, well, weakened. It's a very nice touch that goes a long way in a short way. Another really good thing about the battles in Mystic Quest is that there are no random encounters. Each screen has a certain number of enemies present, and you can approach the enemies for a fight whenever you're ready. The enemies will only reappear if you leave and reenter a particular area, so your exploration won't be hampered by annoying random encounters. I give major props to Mystic Quest on this one. While the battles themselves may be boring, at least you don't have a million random encounters shoved down your throat every two seconds.

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For a game that tries to simplify the RPG experience, Mystic Quest sure has a complicated magic system. I'd say it's more complicated than magic systems in the average Final Fantasy game. That's pretty strange, considering everything else in Mystic Quest is drastically simpler than what is in the average Final Fantasy. The one thing that's simple about magic is how you get it; new magic can be obtained from spell books that you find inside treasure chests. Upon acquiring a new spell book, you'll permanently gain the ability to cast that spell any time you want, in or out of battle. You don't buy spells at stores or learn them through leveling up. I actually like this a lot, because it makes the prospect of opening treasure chests really exciting. A treasure chest is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. The complex part is the MP system. Magic, like in any RPG, can only be used when you have enough MP, and MP can be restored when it's low. The weird thing is how MP is quantified in Mystic Quest. Instead of simply using numbers, this game goes for a system similar to pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. It's still rather different, though. Magic in Mystic Quest is divided into the three categories of white, black, and wizard. White consists of restorative spells that heal HP, cure status ailments, or bring someone back to life. Black is, as you'd expect, spells that inflict damage on enemies, things like fire and blizzard. Lastly, wizard is the same thing as black, but they're in a class of their own because of how powerful they are. Okay, now here's where it gets unnecessarily convoluted; your characters have a separate MP stat for each category of magic. Using magic of a particular category expends one use of that character's MP, so using fire consumes 1 use of black magic. It's pretty weird, but not hard to get the hang of. I actually kind of like it, though I don't see how this is supposed to simplify things. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest's mystic magic works well enough, even though it's a little too convoluted for its own good.

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You can only have up to a maximum of two party members in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. That's a pretty low number when compared to most conventional RPGs. What's stranger still about the other party members in the game is that they default to being controlled automatically. Square probably made that decision as a means of simplifying things for new players, but given the poor AI, this is something you want to change right away. The good news is that you can go into the options menu and switch secondary characters to manual control, enabling you to give them specific commands during battle. If only real life was like that. You never really get to keep any of these characters, though. They're guests that come and go as they please, and you usually have a new one for each new area you visit. Unfortunately, you can't customize their equipment at all. On top of that, these characters are also incapable of gaining levels, which means they never become stronger. It's almost like they're not real characters at all. Characters tend to be a higher level than you when they first join, though, so that makes up for it a bit. I realize party customization could be considered too complex a concept for novice RPG players to digest, but this is kind of overdoing it. The good thing is that you don't ever have to worry about buying new gear for your new party members or bringing them up to speed in terms of levels. It's hard to get invested in characters you can't really influence in almost any way, though. Having a party member around to help you out in Mystic Quest is great and all, but it would have been nice if you had more control over their destinies. That's the price you pay for simplicity.

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Unlike most RPGs of the era, the world map in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest can't be freely explored. The world map works more like the maps seen in Mario games like Super Mario World, where locations can be selected on the map screen for instantaneous travel. On the one hand, this greatly simplifies things and reduces the headache of having to travel far distances, but on the other hand, it's kind of boring. There's a certain sense of adventure in walking across a vast landscape that's lost in these pick-a-path type maps. At least it's convenient. You know what they say, convenience comes at a price. This time the price is boredom. A slightly interesting design choice is how there will sometimes be spots on the map reserved for battle. These spots will allow you to fight a certain amount of battles before they become depleted of foes to decimate, acting as a convenient means to level up. I'm not sure how I feel about a game that encourages players to grind, but these spots are optional. Once you kill all the enemies in one of these spots, they never come back. I suppose that's to prevent players from totally breaking the game by leveling up too high. You sometimes get an item for defeating the entire lot of foes, too, though it's rarely anything too useful. It's certainly a way to spice up the map screen. Other than that, there isn't much of interest to mention here. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest foregoes map exploration for convenience and simplicity.

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Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest sacrifices a lot in order to achieve the simplicity it wants to, in hopes this would get new players on board with the whole RPG thing. Did it work? The answer would be no. Mystic Quest wasn't well received in either Japan or the West. It failed to bring popularity to the RPG genre in North America, which is something that didn't happen until games like Final Fantasy VI and VII got released there. The game also alienated the Japanese audience because it felt like a downgrade from the typical Final Fantasy, and it sort of is. If it weren't for a couple of nostalgic fans, Mystic Quest would have been lost to the sands of time as a forgotten title. It does do a few neat things, like no random encounters and allowing for some environmental interactions. Those things aren't enough to truly set it above the other games in the series, though. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is a good RPG for beginners, but it will likely bore veterans of the genre with its lack of depth.

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