theuselessgod's Mystic Quest Legend (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) review

A good intro to JRPGs at the time, Mystic Quest has aged poorly.

The Short

Pros

- Easy "entry-level role-playing adventure."

- Graphics are decent, with enemies having multiple stages before dying

- Large variety of weapons that differ in use in battle

- Music is pretty great

- Ability to jump and interact with objects in the world with different weapons is unique to the Final Fantasy world to this day

Cons

- Extremely easy

- Also extremely tedious

- Dungeons can drag on and on

- Some dungeon puzzles are obscure and frustrating

- Story is boring and stupid

- Only have two people in your party at once, and playing with the AI is awful

It ain't Final Fantasy without crystals

The Long

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest's history is relatively well documented, so I'll only need go over it in brief here. Similar to Mario 2 back in the NES days, Square got the idea that Americans were dumb and couldn't handle actual hard JRPGs (similar to them releasing the "Easytype" Final Fantasy II/IV in the US as the only version), so instead of giving us Final Fantasy V with it's job system that was clearly over our heads, they released an "entry-level rpg" in an attempt to both bait newcomers into the genre and...make a really easy RPG, I guess.

But in the case of Mario 2 we actually got the better of the two options (screw Japanese Mario 2/The Lost Levels), so what about Mystic Quest? I mean, it's Final Fantasy, right? Does it live up to expectations?

In some ways, yes. Mystic Quest actually pioneered some neat concepts that were never seen again in Square's beloved series (though they did show up in some other games), but as a whole the game sort of collapsed on its "entry-level" design philosophy.

Choppin' down all the trees.

At its core, Mystic Quest is an extremely simple turn-based RPG. Gone is the Active Time Battle of Final Fantasy II, returning to the core idea that nobody does anything until commands are issued. It's a tried-and-true concept, one that plenty of modern games (Final Fantasy X, Breath of Death VII, Lost Odyssey) utilize. You also get a wide variety of weapons that you can easily cycle through on the fly, as well as a rather large arsenal of magic to nuke your enemies with. Mana is done in original Final Fantasy style, with a set number of spells per category per day rather than the MP system of later games.

The variety in the weapons is actually the strongest point of Mystic Quest, if only for one key reason: you can use them outside of battle, and with varying effects. Axes can be swung to chop down trees or other small objects. Bombs can clear rubble from pathways to find secrets. Claws can be used to scale rock wall faces to reach other inaccessible areas. Also, when walking around the world, you can jump. I know! Since when has any Final Fantasy game since then allowed jumping? This allowed for a few unique puzzles and secrets, and is a really cool idea to mix up the boring "just walk around everywhere" idea.

Battles are simple but have a distinct art style.

Another neat idea is the fact that you can switch your character's weapons on the fly (your companions, who switch out frequently, are locked to their main weapon), which in turn offers more strategy. Some enemies are weak to certain weapons, so matching that weakness up can do fat damage. All weapons are broken into categories, and when you buy a new one it replaces your weapon in that category with a better one. There's no armor to equip or summons to...summon, so the game keeps itself simple.

So far you're probably saying "Hey, this sounds pretty good! The mechanics aren't deep but they're certainly there, with weapon swapping and jumping and all that. I bet this game is awesome!"

Well, unknown person who talks to himself (or herself) while reading this review, I have some bad news for you. All these mechanics are for not, because you never, ever have to use them. Because Mystic Quest is so much of a cakewalk your feet would be covered in frosting after the first dungeon. Yeah, the extension of that expression didn't really work, but bear with me here.

"Fireberg? Is this where the ice temple is?"

Mystic Quest is easy to the point of tedious. Nearly every battle (including bosses) can be beaten by simply spamming whatever attack is convenient. Enemies, while visible on the world map, are plentiful and offer lots of XP and gold, but in truth it only serves to make the game more boring. On top of that, losing in battle has no penalty whatsoever: you can simply hit "retry" and continue button mashing until you win again. While I appreciate the option to restart battles should you fail (hey, Final Fantasy XIII did it) rather than hard-loading my save, paired with the fact that no strategy has to be employed whatsoever makes Mystic Quest almost pointless to "play."

It gets even worse for the "Arena" events. Rather than an actual world map, you walk between areas in a straight line (kind of like the world map in Mario World or Mario 3) and then go into your location. I'm fine with this; saves me time running around or trying to find a Chocobo or Airship or whatever. But anyway, between most cities and temples are "Arenas," where you fight 10 battles to clear out the monsters. Which you do by mashing A. Fun times.

"Windia? I'm SURE the fire temple is here!"

This tedium only escalates in later dungeons/temples. While the first are reasonably straightforward, the later ones are massive to a fault, with multiple levels populated with tons of weak, boring battles and lame puzzles. The worst part is that enemies (and treasure boxes, so it isn't all bad) respawn everytime you step out of the dungeon, so if you need to restart or accidentally leave, guess what? All the boring battles are back! Not to mention several dungeons (like the awful fire one, and the ice/crystal one with multiple floors) can take an absurdly long time to burn through with little or no reward. And don't you love it when games have you get to the end, fight a boss, and then have to walk back out? No? Well, my non-easytype RPG player, clearly you don't understand simplified JRPGs!

Your party is capped out at two, and the game decides who is in your party when, which is based on the story. You can have your companion fight automatically (the default) if you want to watch him/her waste all your spells, or you can manually control them. This only makes an already easy game easier, and since your companion is locked to a certain weapon there isn't really any strategy for them at all aside from mashing whatever weapon they have. Boooooring.

This game loves its pallet swapping.

I think my main issue is that its just bad design. Dungeons could have been made to be interesting and fun: you have a wide array of items that interact with the world, and you can jump. But instead they took the laziest possible route: make them long and tedious, because "time spent = value." The battles could have been complex and required on-the-fly weapon swapping to defeat certain enemies. Sure, that wouldn't have been deep or even that great, but it would have added some tactics. Instead, they just made hordes of easy enemies and put tons of them everywhere to waste your time, because "time spent = value." It's obnoxious, especially since the first few dungeons are actually quite enjoyable, albeit short, so they could have made this work. But instead they just got lazy. There's even some cool touches, like how enemies have a second image for when they are below half-health to show battle progression (a really neat idea that I wish they'd brought back for future Final Fantasy games) and bosses have 3-4 of these, but it's all moot because the game behind it is dull.

The story is on par with Final Fantasy. As in, the NES original. You know, the one with next to no story. The crystals have been blown up or stolen or something, and you have to go kill monsters to restore the land. Every city you go to has been wallowing in misery waiting for somebody to come fix their massive problems, so you go fix their massive problems (with your new companion) and then move on to the next (picking up a different companion). You are the "Chosen Knight" or something, which is also typical JRPG fare, proving once and for all Mystic Quest is completely phoning this one in.

The boss song is one of my favorite boss songs in the series.

That being said, Square's reputation of crazy production values is still in place here, at least...sort of. Graphics are in a similar vein to Final Fantasy IV, though the game is far less rich and colorful. However, the muted pallet grew on me, everything fitting a charming theme that, while never really making me think I was part of some bigger world, was substantial and looked fine.

The music is excellent throughout, with a few tracks being standout. You'll grow sick of the battle song after the thousandth easy battle, but the boss music is great and each town's song variate off of a same theme, which I thought was a cool touch.

Ah, here's the Sand Temple! Or..."SandTempl."

All in all, Mystic Quest isn't a bad JRPG, it's just a boring one. While there isn't anything fundamentally wrong with the game (indeed, the first couple of hours are a blast) it just has no ambition. In an attempt to streamline the JRPG to bring in a wider audience, Square inadvertently broke it down to such a level it revealed all of the genre's flaws. Level grinding isn't fun if you aren't also working towards something else, like an obvious stats boost or a enough money for new gear. Dungeons and battles aren't fun if there's no strategy and progression feel laborious. And if you don't at least give a compelling reason (aka the story) to push through all the genre weaknesses to the end, people are going to put your game down.

Which is exactly what happened with Mystic Quest, so much so that both me and my wife tried burning through this game before quitting and playing something else (granted, she got farther, but I switched to Final Fantasy II/IV and she to Final Fantasy III/VI pretty shortly after).

In an age where we have JRPGs coming out of our ears, Mystic Quest is an interesting bit of history but hardly worth playing anymore. There are decades of superior offerings available, and to be honest I'd rather play the original Final Fantasy, with all its flaws, rather than Mystic Quest again. If you really want and entry level JRPG, Final Fantasy XIII's thirty hour tutorial I'm sure has you covered.

While collectors should probably consider it (or those with nostalgia), newcomers need not bother. Two out of five stars.

Plus you can kill the final boss by just casting "heal" on him over and over, making all that leveling totally useless.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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