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Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES) artwork

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES) review

"Monsters leave behind an obscene number of experience points, so itís not hard to go up three or four levels in each dungeon. Not only that, but the world map also provides additional opportunities in the form of battlefields you clear for prizes and experience. Because of this system, itís actually difficult to maintain low levels unless you skip over the enemies at every opportunity."

Iíd like to start this review with a summary of the plot from Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, but Iím not going to for one simple reason: the plot is so generic that such an introduction would leave a bad taste in your mouth. You might stop reading, might browse someone elseís review of this great game instead. And that would be a shame, because there are a lot of people who donít recognize one simple truth: this game is actually pretty cool!

Before I tell you why I like this game, I might as well tell you why most people donít. Though the game obviously bears the Final Fantasy name, itís not really a proper entry in the series. Apparently, Square took it upon itself to make a simple role-playing game as a means of showing us stupid Americans how easy the genre can be, and how rewarding. In doing so, they alienated many of the more Ďhardcoreí fans. After all, no gamer takes kindly to the implication that he or she is a moron. Unfortunately, Mystic Quest is precisely that. Itís nowhere near as difficult as Final Fantasy II before it, and its richness falls so far short of Final Fantasy III that youíd be forgiven for thinking theyíre two separate franchises. Aside from a reference to a Chocobo late in the game (and a storyline that revolves around restoring the worldís four magical crystals to their former glory), they actually are.

Though the Ďbig brothersí to this game featured complicated battle systems, numerous heroes and the ability to learn scads of spells while picking up armories full of weaponry, thereís little of that here. Youíll only meet a few different playable characters in the whole game, and they donít stay around long enough for you to grow attached. Not only that, but their backgrounds are so uninteresting that you will hardly care when they leave the group and your second party member becomes someone else. They might as well be faceless; youíll remember them only because some use better spells than others.

Ah, yes. Spells. Instead of learning things as your characters build levels, you will find new magical abilities written on scrolls and locked away in the treasure chests that litter the worldís few dungeons. This is cool because you donít have to level-up indefinitely in order to learn ďFlame77Ē or some such nonsense, but itís also rather disappointing because the only reason to level up is the boosts to your life meter and attack power that youíll receive. Fortunately, the game makes it easy to grow stronger. Monsters leave behind an obscene number of experience points, so itís not hard to go up three or four levels in each dungeon. Not only that, but the world map also provides additional opportunities in the form of battlefields you clear for prizes and experience. Because of this system, itís actually difficult to maintain low levels unless you skip over the enemies at every opportunity.

Doing so would obviously be a bad idea, though. The game is designed to hold your hand, and so it does. If you fight it, you suffer. So instead, I usually just do what the game wants, basking in its linearity and knowing I wonít have to think much except in one or two lone dungeons. Also, I donít have to concern myself a great deal with random encounters. This is because there are only two or three areas in the whole game where you canít see the monsters in advance. For the most part theyíre gray, wiggling icons on the map. They donít run to chase you, so you can walk slowly through a given cavern or tower, stopping just short of an encounter long enough to improve your party membersí health.

Once youíre ready, you touch the foe and itís away to the battle screen. Here, your characters are presented at the bottom of the screen. You look at their backs while they face the given group of enemies. These foes are vibrantly animated (and in fact, cheery visuals are the order of the day throughout the whole game). They are as generic as you can possibly imagine, consisting of snakes and dragons and mummies, but the sharp artwork manages to look good just the same. Not only that, but many of your foes will slowly fall apart when you put the hurt on them with your weapons (even though you never have the satisfaction of watching your ax or sword actually cleave any tentacles or such).

While a battle lasts, youíll perhaps appreciate the music that your television spits at you. The game is given a tasteful but limited selection of several different tunes, and in this regard at least the series lives up to its Final Fantasy name. The rocky battle theme in particular does a great job of getting you pumped up. Other games within the genre might learn well by mimicking this one aspect, at least.

Something else I liked about battles was the sense of humor. My tendency in games like Wild Arms (where you can give spells whatever name you like) was to create spells such as Ďnoxious breathí and Ďraging fart.í But here, similar titles are already put into place for you. For example, youíll find mummy-like monsters in one molten dungeon that attack with bad breath that can actually paralyze your party members.

Unfortunately, not all is well when it comes to the fights in which you will find yourself engaged. One problem is that they quickly grow quite repetitive. Itís easy to just mash buttons and whip through. For this, the developers included an auto-battle feature for your buddy at the time, but he is likely to just blow through his magic reserves in no time flat if left to his own devices. The feature is mostly useless as a result. Even in the few cases where you find tougher opponents that require some thought, you can still choose to mash buttons because death at the hands of an enemy means approximately nothing. Rather than forcing you back to the last inn or save point you visited, the game will ask if you want to re-attempt the confrontation.

Like I said, though, you can see battles coming from a mile away. That feature is really cool, and itís supplemented by something else that keeps dungeons interesting: your ability to use items. Though the awesome idea wasnít used anywhere near to its fullest potential, the innovation was there just the same. You can hop along stumps over a pool of water in one town, for example, or chop down trees that block your path in a forest in another area. Thereís no real risk of failure if you make an error. Youíll still progress just fine. But I do like the change.

As you already know, I also like the game itself as a whole. Though itís easy to look at the flaws I mentioned above and think the game is worthless for anyone but a complete newbie, there actually are a few redeeming features. For example, the volcano area is actually rather difficult. Itís easy for the unwary traveler to get lost before he or she even knows what happened. Likewise, most of the boss encounters are somewhat difficult if youíre not prepared when you reach them, and you may have to memorize semi-complicated attack patterns if you want to beat the guardian of the second crystal. Some of the later areas actually force you to conserve your magic, too, or else risk a butt whooping just short of the dungeonís exit.

Still, I think the main reason I like this game is one that wonít appeal to many you at all: it has charm. The sprites move around on-screen in the most generic of fashions, yet theyíre strangely endearing. The towns and dungeons they visit are also as bland as anything gets, ranging from the typical sand and fire areas to ice caves, forests and sky palaces. The most unique area youíll explore is a pirate ship. Still, I like most every area. So itís obviously not any one feature of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest that comes together to make it enjoyable. Rather, itís the gameís cheerful atmosphere and the refreshing little quirks. Play it the next time youíre looking for a guilty pleasure. You might just be surprised at what you find.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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