GameSpite Journal 10 | Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest | Dev.: Square | Pub: Square | Genre: RPG | Release: Oct. 1992

Every Final Fantasy game, no matter how terrible, has its group of devoted apologists. The story of Final Fantasy X-2 may be cringe-worthy pandering, but you’ll find plenty who champion its sublime battle system. Final Fantasy VIII’s totally bizarre Junction system may have alienated its fair share of fans won over by VII’s groundbreaking-at-the-time style, but plenty of others adore the way it defied series conventions. Even series whipping boy, Final Fantasy II, has a number of people who find its more recent Dawn of Souls incarnation almost, maybe, kind of playable if you squint enough and keep an open mind. Of course, the one exception is Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Everybody hates Mystic Quest, and not entirely without cause.

The story goes that back in the day Square was confused as to why its Final Fantasy games weren’t selling like gangbusters in the U.S. the same as they were in their native Japan. Eventually they concluded that traditional Japanese RPGs were just too complicated for U.S. gamers (never mind that the much more complex likes of Ultima, Might & Magic, and SSI’s “gold box” Dungeons & Dragons games were born in the U.S. and all fairly successful), and they therefore needed a game that bridged the gap between the types of action games U.S. gamers preferred and RPGs. Thus was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest born.

Gone were inventory management, large parties, random battles, and a complex narrative. Instead, Mystic Quest featured two character parties (with the second character set to AI control by default), gear that equipped automatically, a world map made up of a series of interconnected nodes the player simply selected, a mere handful of items, and a story even more basic than the original Final Fantasy. To further appease action game fans uninterested in selecting choices from a menu, the hero could now jump around and periodically prod at things with his equipped weapon (the battles were still completely turn-based).

Needless to say, it didn’t go over very well. RPG players expecting another epic on the scale of Final Fantasy IV, released just over a year prior, were deeply dismayed by Mystic Quest’s bare-bones approach to adventuring. Meanwhile, gamers who preferred the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Contra? weren’t fooled by the game’s miniscule attempts at injecting more action into the genre. Critical reception was middling, and the game was largely forgotten outside of the occasional joke at its expense. Japanese RPGs did eventually become much more mainstream with the release of Final Fantasy VII, a game notable for how little it was altered for American audiences compared to most of its brethren.

There’s no getting around that Mystic Quest is pretty dull, and anyone with any RPG experience will likely find it very boring. However, as an introduction to Japanese RPGs it’s not completely terrible. It gives the player a fair number of options without overwhelming him, teaches him about elemental affinities and the concept of grinding for experience, takes the stress out of dungeon exploration by eliminating random encounters, and tops it all off with some rockin’ tunes. Of course, you know what other game that describes? Chrono Trigger. I can tell you which one I’d rather play.

By Mike Zeller? | Dec. 15, 2011 | Previous: Axelay | Next: Out of This World