Approximate Release Date: October 5, 1992
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Even though the reasons behind its creation border on insulting, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest gets a bad rap.
It’s funny how Japanese developers often had very different ideas about the stomach Western video game consumers had for difficult games. Some developers would make games harder and would remove features or tweak enemy damage to be more lethal, but others would do the opposite. I’m not sure where either belief came from, but companies often would tweak their games in one direction or the other.
Square was firmly on the side of Westerners being incompetent. When the company localized Final Fantasy II, it was made substantially easier. Enemies hit for less damage, potions healed more, and other little things that made a significant difference. But Mystic Quest is rather unique because it was developed for Western video game players from the ground up. This is Final Fantasy at its most basic, and even called it Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest in Japan to drive the point home.
A lot of people hate Mystic Quest for that, and if looked at as a successor to Final Fantasy II it is disappointing. But I can’t help but feel that by trying to make a game welcoming to newcomers to the Japanese RPG genre, Square ended up smoothing out a lot of the aspects of these games that were and are annoying. Mystic Quest has no random battles, lets the player save at pretty much any time outside of battle, isn’t oppressively long, and includes some action and puzzle elements in the dungeons to make them feel less like static mazes. This is a very forward-thinking game in many ways.
Also, the music is incredible. For whatever faults Mystic Quest has, the soundtrack is not one of them.
I also would like to highlight the battle system, which is somewhere between Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy for the NES in complexity. Attack, magic, item, run. Beat on enemies until they fall over. Basic stuff. But throughout the story, Mystic Quest will provide a temporary second party member to tag along and help out. Even though you can’t issue commands to these helpers by default, they’re very powerful. Having only two party members limits the number of strong monsters you’ll face in any given battle, which means there’s a great amount of detail to the enemy sprites. Monsters will start to look haggard as you beat on them, which is a fun touch.
But Mystic Quest is easy. Very easy. Easy enough that I would be shocked if many people could finish the game without becoming overwhelmed by boredom. That’s the downside to all the things I praised the past few paragraphs; by sanding off all the rough edges of the JRPG experience, Square got rid of anything complex enough to serve as a hook, as a drive to keep the player interested and focused. Maybe with a story that wasn’t totally rote and barebones, there would be a reason to keep pushing forward, but how many times can you save the Crystals in a Final Fantasy game?
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is no way as good as Final Fantasy II, but there’s some appeal here. There’s a purity in how it streamlines the very concept of a JRPG in the early 1990s. It certainly doesn’t deserve all the disdain it gets.
Tomorrow: Let’s celebrate 100 days of SNES A Day with The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare!