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CONSOLE: SNES DEVELOPER: Square PUBLISHER: Square
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 5, 1992 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Easily the simplest Final Fantasy game known to man...

We all know that the Final Fantasy series ranks as one of the most popular video game series out there. But looking back, there was a time when Final Fantasy wasn't so popular outside of Japan. Heck, before the mid-1990s, the RPG crowd was mostly limited to people with thick glasses and a stack of Magic: The Gathering cards a mile high. No offense to vision-impaired cardholders, but...yeah, that's pretty much all you had back in the day. Apparently, we just wouldn't "get it" overseas, and would much prefer to stomp on Goombas or shoot things up in a post-apocalyptic warzone. (And who WOULDN'T?) I personally believe that Americans can and do enjoy their RPGs just fine, which explains why many of the more recent (and complex) Final Fantasy games and other RPGs sell well enough and get plunked into Greatest Hits lines. But that is the current state of affairs; it's 1991 we're talking about here. There weren't too many console RPGs on the American store shelves to lure the masses. A Dragon Warrior here, a Final Fantasy game or two there, but that was pretty much it. And they were overshadowed by more popular releases of Mario, Sonic, Zelda... you know, all the "greats".

So leave it to Squaresoft over in Japan to try and come up with a solution. Well, they have been making a bunch of RPGs over there, so why not bring a few more over to increase the genre's exposure? That sounds like a novel idea! They should do that! And do that they did not. Instead, they opted for a different route: to create an RPG so dumbed down that even a senile hamster could function through it. They pretty much took the general formula for the standard RPG quest structure, tied it up in a dank cellar, and raped it repeatedly until it was dried up and permanently broken. Now before I continue, I need to set the record straight: I do like this game. I really do. But that being said, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is as basic as an RPG can really get, unless the goal is to have the game play itself.

Square made the game simple for beginners in a number of ways. First of all, your entire quest is pretty much explained to you on a need-to-know basis. If you need to go somewhere, attain an item, etc., a character will tell you so. Need to go to a specific town? Well, you'll be told to do so. And because there are no side-quests, you'll pretty much always be on the right path, because there is no other way to play the game except how it was designed. Speaking of paths, that leads me to my second point: the map is extremely linear. In fact, to get somewhere, you literally follow a predetermined pathway to get there. The main character even walks on his own between areas. This is great if you're so exhausted from a long day at the office and are too weakened to hold down a directional button on your controller, but it doesn't really fully immerse you in the world you are exploring. It's almost as if the hero already knows where everything is and it's all a matter of transit. Interestingly enough, because they also believed that beginners would not be familiar to the concept of "leveling up" (which is true), they included Battlefields specifically designed only for battles. If you clear 10 battles, you will clear the battlefield as well, and possibly get a nice bonus at the end. Save points -- often a staple -- has been replaced with more of a "save anytime" mentality. Oh yeah, and you can jump in this RPG, leading to a couple more puzzles that require you to hop around.

But I can live with all that. All that just makes my job a little easier so I can focus on what RPGs are known for: epic storylines, distinct character development, and battle sequences. Okay, it's not always about the first two. So... did they tinker with these? You bet. As a result, these aspects are also less than stellar compared to similar offerings in the franchise, as well as from other developers. Let's start with the storyline. It's nothing too spectacular: the four crystals of the continent, which keep order and stability amongst the four regions of your world, have been stolen by nasty creatures. Your job is to defeat those creatures, return the crystals to their natural state, and then go after the one who sent them: the Dark King. Along the way, you'll meet up with allies that will help you fight the evil. There really is no depth here, and I can't even really describe the motivation behind the protagonist. He's not royalty, and he's not in the bloodline of any heroes. He's just a guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up getting caught up in some mystic quest. Well, whatever. I'll just go do it anyway because everyone else in the game is too lazy to save the world. As for character development, there really isn't much of that either. You can only have two people in your party at one time (including the main hero), and there really isn't much chatter that goes on between the two unless it's right before or right after they part ways. Oh, there are indeed important characters, such as Tristam the treasure hunter or Kaeli who talks to trees for some reason (she needs more friends...), but you don't really find out too much about their inner thoughts. The game is too simple for that. There isn't even the clichéd love triangle. Nobody gets married or groped inappropriately over a spiked sarsaparilla. You pretty much play for the sake of playing a video game.

Now that we've looked at some potatoes, let's wrap our hands around the meat. (Yes, I know that sounded disturbing.) First of all, random battles have been replaced with the ability to see your enemies beforehand à la Chrono Trigger, which works for me. As well, the raw basics of a typical turn-based RPG are present. You get caught up in a battle, and you are given numerous options on what to do. You can attack using your equipped weapon, cast a magic spell, use a helpful item, defend yourself (thus taking less damage, but causing none), or try and run away if you feel you cannot win. So let's talk about these "weapons". In other RPGs, you can go out and buy new stuff or even find it hidden away in secretive locations, away from the eye of the public and the faerie paparazzi. But here, you're literally GIVEN most of your weaponry. Not at the same time, mind you, but you progressively get upgraded axes, swords, claws (also good for climbing purposes), and bombs. The game automatically equips these for you, but you do get to switch between the four different types of weapons both in travel and during a battle sequence. Marvelous. Armor and accessories for improving your stats is similar, except that you can buy some armors, but again, everything is automatically equipped for you. No fuss, no muss

Even your magic spells are found, not earned. Now, to add an extra jab to the forehead, Square decided to remove the concept of MP (Magic Points). Instead, you are allotted so many uses of different types of magic (Black, White, and ...um... Other?), which increases as you gain more experience and improve yourself. Every time you cast a spell, the number goes down. You'll have to rest up before you can reset your spell totals. At least you can use items without hassle, although there aren't too many different types of items to find, plus they're easy to accumulate. Just open a brown chest that contains that item, leave the area, come back and it'll be refreshed and filled with more. Superb.

In battle, you also get the option to control the second character in your party, or to let the computer handle those duties. I do recommend controlling him or her yourself, as the computer tends to be far too random and sure enjoys using up spells. But that is merely based upon my experience. It may not be the same for you... but it probably will be. Overall, I wish that the game had more depth and more faith in its players' abilities, but after all, this was intended to be the beginner's RPG. To that effect, they succeeded. But even with all the concessions made, the game is still fun, albeit a tad on the easy side -- especially the final boss, which has a very cheap weakness that makes the ending all that much simpler to achieve. There's just less to worry about overall, which can lead to a smoother journey to save the world. We all could use that.

The graphics themselves are not horrible, although it became clear in the later days of the SNES that so much more could be achieved. The actual characters you see in various areas that you visit are pretty small and lack great detail -- including yourself. The enemies are designed well enough, but after a while, they just get recycled with a palette change. Heck, even later bosses resemble the earlier ones with different colours. That is fairly lazy, but not unexpected in early RPGs due to limited cartridge space. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is perhaps the game's greatest asset. The music in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is awesome! Boasting a more rock-oriented soundtrack, instead of famed FF composer Nobuo Uematsu's symphonic masterpieces, the game is more likely to get your toes a-tappin' and not your tears a-droppin'.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is clearly not for everyone. Those seeking a deep, challenging RPG experience will probably shake their fists in anger over this one. But for someone who doesn't want to deal with the overcomplexity of modern RPGs, this is a haven. The first time I played through it, I actually really enjoyed it, and I still do. I see the value in both this game, as well as the more mainstream and more critically favoured offerings on the scene. I recommend this more as a starting point to RPG madness, and hopefully, you can get hooked.


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