Sunday, April 17, 2016

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES) Review

Received: June 4th, 2015 / Written: April 7th-17th, 2016
Alternative Titles: Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest [|O|]
Mystic Quest Legend [|O|]
Year: 1992 | Developed and Published by: SquareSoft

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  Lately turn-based RPGs have become one of the most thriving and most successful genres not just in Japan but in America and Europe as well, which makes it hard to fathom that once upon a quarter of a century ago this was not the case on the Westside.
10/26/16 Update: Had to make a correction as I recently found out about Gdleen
In July 1991 SquareSoft created their foray title for the Super Famicom called Final Fantasy IV that when converted to NTSC SNES format would be christened Final Fantasy II (on account that at the time Final Fantasy II and III hadn't come out of Japan) that November.  This was not only SquareSoft's first Nintendo 16-bit game but also the second turn-based RPG made for the console (after Jorudan's Gdleen two months prior), and despite its less than satisfactory translation and the fact that its difficulty was reduced from the original Super Famicom edition (but reportedly challenging compared to Final Fantasy IV Easytype) it became a big hit and has since been highly revered by many that played it due to its strong impact it left behind thanks to its intuitive gameplay, great music, and storytelling.
On the other hand, March 1992 saw the Super Famicom release of HAL Laboratory's take on the turn-based RPG genre Card Master: Seal of Rimsalia which less than two months later translated to Arcana for North America that May to disastrous results.  It was heavily criticized for its largely repetitive dungeon designs, its take on the story, so-called "difficulty", random battles, and the fact that one human character's death instantly spells a game over.  While the game has since developed a following and is looked at more kindly these days (myself included, even though I sincerely acknowledge its flaws), in its heyday it did so poorly that HAL Laboratory was banned from sitting at the publisher's chair... ever again.  Bummer.  =(

"How do you know?  You just met me!"  <=|
During the '90s Americans were not as experienced with turn-based RPGs because they got nowhere near as many as Japan did and another reason contributed to the difficulty which may or may not have made them accessible.  SquareSoft of Japan, whose intentions were well-meaning, noticed this and so they wanted to create a game aimed at those new to or unfamiliar with the genre specifically for America that was supposed to "help broaden the genre's appeal".  That game was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest which the NTSC region got to experience in October 1992, and feeling that Japan wanted its own version of the game too the Super Famicom received Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest (because apparently Canada and Mexico do not count as part of the North American continent) in September 1993, until finally Europe got a chance to play it a month later (courtesy of Nintendo) as Mystic Quest Legend ("Legend" being added to the title on account that the European version of the Game Boy A-RPG Seiken Densetsu--Final Fantasy Adventure in America--was simply titled Mystic Quest).  How did it do?  It... backfired.  =(  But more on that as we talk about it.

Battlefields are a good place to fight while they last
A long time ago in a world far, far away that had no name, everything went smoothly until disaster struck, and it all started when Benjamin was climbing some mountains as his home village was destroyed.  At the mountains Benjamin meets a mysterious old man who tells him that that there is a Prophecy that foretells that he is the Knight who will restore balance, which is further confirmed after Benjamin defeats a nearby monster at the spot.  Benjamin, who at first is highly uncertain, is convinced shortly after that he is the man for the job; and in order to restore the world's balance he'll have to not only defeat the forces behind this mess but also retrieve back the four Crystals comprised of the elements of Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind.  Only Benjamin and his four companions he meets along the way will set things right.

Fighting slimes in a famished forest
As was the case with Final Fantasy IV before it Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is a turn-based RPG viewed from the bird's eye view where your character can only walk in four directions, aaaand that's where the similarities end.  SquareSoft's first Nintendo 16-bit turn-based RPG was known for introducing the Active-Time Battle (ATB) system where battles happened in real time, which meant that even if you were trying to decide your options and/or was trying to conjure magic or use an item the enemies and bosses would still attack you regardless.  Final Fantasy Mystic Quest aims to be more like the SaGa trilogy of games on the Game Boy (Final Fantasy Legend in America) as far as the battle system is concerned, which isn't surprising given that both it and Final Fantasy Legend III were made at about the same time; so basically you can take as long as you want to decide what to do without so much worrying about the enemies hitting you until its their turn.  And instead of the battle viewed from the sidelines it's viewed in third-person with the character(s) facing the enemies in front of them.

Jumping, yay!!!  =D
While the majority of battles in the earlier Final Fantasy were random, SquareSoft made sure to make the enemies visible here; and depending on the situation it is possible to avoid them if you don't wish to fight them.  During the battles you have the option to use your weapon, use an item, cast magic, defend yourself, or even abort from battle.  This game precedes Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) and Secret of Evermore (or if you want to be obliquely tangential: Neverland's overhyped Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals) in that during the overworld you can switch between any one of various weapon kinds (swords, axes, bombs, and claws) to remove obstacles or make progress (i.e. using the sword to press a switch, holding down the button to climb walls with the claw); and you can switch between them on the fly with either shoulder buttons (even during battle provided it's your turn).  =)  You can also jump over gaps and hop along a series of platforms, and if you wished to save your progress you could do so anytime (with the Start or the X button) wherever you want whenever you want, like the Ys series.

The Watchdogs' tentacle-y offspring are very
bemused over the news of Wander Over Yonder's
cancellation in the near future
And speaking of Ys, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest's soundtrack largely eschews the instrumental fare of the Final Fantasy canon in favor of rock (with some exceptions), and it sounds great!  =D  Composed by Yasuhiro Kawakami and Ryuji Sasai (the former previously having provided music for the original Shinobi and Super R-Type, and the latter being known for his work on Final Fantasy Legend III and Xak: The Art of Visual Stage as well as its immediate sequel and spinoff) have done a really fantastic job at contributing a sense of energy and atmosphere to this turn-based RPG.  =)

Town sweet town, back to normal  =)
The overworld theme is very adventurous, and each town you visit has got their own two renditions of the same theme (before and after said towns' problems have been resolved) and they all sound quite nice and relaxing.  The forest theme is somber yet inspires wonder, the Focus Tower theme sounds menacing, the title theme is very inviting (and it plays during the ending), the credits theme is well-earned, and the theme for when you venture inside Spencer's Place is fascinating to hear.  The battle themes rock here: the normal one is good, and the boss theme sounds great, and what's cool about this game is that anytime you clear (or abort from) battle the area music will resume where it left off as opposed to starting from scratch like in most turn-based RPGs at the time.  =)  This is a rather welcome innovation, personally speaking as it makes listening to the whole song more convenient without resorting to standing still; a shame that only a handful of games in the genre followed suit in this regard during the Nintendo 16-bit period (namely Square fare Final Fantasy V and VI, Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars).

Well this isn't giving me Torneko no Daibōken:
Fushigi no Dungeon flashbacks
Some of my favorite songs in the game are actually some of the best songs you'll hear from the experience: there is this theme that is so urgent and epic that it's really exciting and gets you pumped, it's awesome!  =D  The theme that plays during the Fossil Labyrinth in the desert is atmospheric, the final dungeon theme leading up to the final boss is so rock-fueled and exciting, and just when you thought the game could not have a more epic-sounding theme the very last boss theme is beautifully and intensely composed.  Even gamers who are so dead-set against this game concur that the music is really great.  =)  The sound effects are decent and quaintly-chosen, like for when a Cure or Heal spell is conjured, when Benjamin jumps, and the sound effect that plays whenever you obtain the contents of a chest... though I question why when certain enemies do a choke attack on you it sounds like something that came out of a Gene Deitch-directed Tom and Jerry episode (of all that series' incarnations you base a sound from, why that one?).  =/

Well that's one way of setting up a corridor
The visuals for the top-down segments take their cue from Final Fantasy IV, although color-wise Final Fantasy Mystic Quest goes for a bright pastel-tone color palette and given its presentation and lighthearted tone it works.  While the overworld is made simpler in terms of design, it's made up for by the bulk of the towns and dungeons you traverse in; for example when you first get to Foresta it starts out decayed and orange, but after you retrieve the Crystal of Earth it's back to normal and it's refreshing to see so much green.  The Ice Pyramid looks appropriately chilly with its Egyptian theme, especially with the icy floor you can sometimes walk underneath; and the mountains have a great overlook.  Any time you battle there is a neat perspective of the respective area you're in from ground level, and the background for when you fight the final boss is mesmerizing.

Battling a giant red skeleton
Likewise with the 1991 turn-based RPG before it the main character and the NPCs in this game walk in that choppy two-frame animation and are in a tiny size, but there are some new things: Benjamin's jumping animation is quaint, and it's funny seeing him shrug in confusion anytime he is befuddled.  XD  Benjamin and his partners' sizes basically remain the same any time they do battle with monsters, but the monsters themselves do not; in the bird's eye view they may be about your size, but during battle they are much bigger than that.  Final Fantasy IV through VI had a very common aspect in that the characters had minimal animation while the enemies and bosses looked always immobile no matter what, and while the monsters here don't exactly animate either they do exhibit signs of deterioration after enough damage has been inflicted upon them.  For example, the Medusa enemies started with a full head of snake hair, but after a while they become bald; and among other examples are vampires turning to bats, toads becoming bloated, as well as a giant ice creature slowly melting.  The final boss has a few different forms, and it's satisfying when they dissolve as they bite it.  Maybe not much, sure, but it's refreshing somewhat for an early Nintendo 16-bit turn-based RPG.

Using the Bow of Grace now
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was written by Chihiro Fujioka and Yoshihiko Maekawa (both of whom would eventually direct Super Mario RPG; Fujioka having collaborated with composer Sasai on a few occasions), but when it came to translating it for the NTSC region Ted Woolsey was the man who pulled it off, and it was the first time people have heard of his name (Final Fantasy Legend III may have been his first project, but America did not get it until ten months after this game).  As good as Final Fantasy IV was, its initial English translation was crap; not that it did not have its moments ("You spoony bard!") but I think everyone agrees that the translation was not exactly good (though to be fair it was 1991, and there were nowhere near as many resources at the time as there are today).  After the fact Square hired Ted Woolsey, who knew his craft when it came to converting words from a different language, plus the company gave him the aforementioned translated script as an example so that "there would be no 'repeats' of that mess".  Woolsey has gone on record to say that Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was one of the easiest games he ever translated due to its relative brevity, and I think it paid off because the translation here is very good.  =)
Since then Woolsey has gone on to translate future SNES Square RPGs from Japan onto American soil ending his run with Super Mario RPG, and for the most part when it came to these games the translation was near-perfect and largely sufficient; simply put he was the go-to guy to translate for Square during the '90s.  =)  He even translated for Capcom's original Breath of Fire (on account that they did not at the time have the skills to translate fully word-driven games), which is why SquareSoft got involved with its American distribution--the only crime Woolsey committed in this regard was not staying around for the sequel Breath of Fire II as Capcom did it all on their own, and that resulted in a translation that was so awful (in 1995, no less) it made Robert L. Jerauld's translation for Quintet and Ancient's Robotrek look more dignified by comparison.

When Final Fantasy Mystic Quest came out in 1992 there was a lot of umbrage towards it from many Americans who had played it, and it hurt this game pretty bad.  Coming off the heels of the successful Final Fantasy II (as it was known as at the time) certainly did not help given the title; but the fact of the matter is that Mystic Quest is not a Final Fantasy game, in the same way that ActRaiser 2 is not an ActRaiser game despite the namesake.  Final Fantasy Adventure and the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy were not Final Fantasy games either despite the moniker attached and people didn't have a problem with them (for the most part), so why is this game so different?
As not satisfactorily translated as Final Fantasy IV was the first time around, there was a sense of narrative and character depth throughout the journey that gave it a grand sense of scope; the story in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is not overtly complex and the narrative was told in a simple, straightforward manner.
Another cause for complaint for a lot of people at the time (and even today), was that it was on the easy spectrum of the difficulty, and part of that attributed to the fact that your partner (Kaeli, Tristam, Phoebe, or Reuben) operated automatically thanks to the CPU while you (Benjamin) did all the hard work during battles.  While it is possible to toggle between Auto and Manual for your partner with the Y button, despite reducing some of the easiness it would still wind up being easy (especially when you're well-equipped and leveled up properly).  SquareSoft definitely had the right approach in lowering its difficulty for American audiences to attain accessibility, but they may have gone a bit far in that regard.

With the seven rainbow gems Benjamin ventures
forth to the Castle of Illusion to fight Mizrabel and---
Oops, sorry, wrong game  =|
But the biggest gripe people had/have with it is that it is far too simple and very easy, and with Final Fantasy IV being such a hit in America as II everyone had high expectations when it came to Final Fantasy Mystic Quest but they were let down.  Even those who did not play the 1991 title beforehand (or knew exactly what to expect) wound up disappointed by it.  I don't think people objected to the idea of a starter kit for those new to turn-based RPGs (it was definitely a sound concept), but they took issue when the moniker to a highly respected series attached was not as deep as they would've liked it to be.  Unlike games like Arcana and Robotrek where they were not well-regarded during their heyday but have gradually developed a following and were being looked at more kindly these past years, this is one of those rare games where the more time passes it seems like less and less people that play it actually like it with each passing year.  Harsh.  =(

Dragon Claw, very useful
Last year if I recall correctly a company (I forget which) tried to remake this game for the PC, but when current license-holder Square-Enix found out about it they filed a cease-and-desist order against them and those plans fell up in the air.  So there are some people who still care about the game, but it's a very small percentage.  For the most part when I found out about this game online many years ago people did not have a nice thing to say about it; there were exceptions of course, like FlyingOmelette (where I first found out about Final Fantasy Mystic Quest), RVGFanatic, and Shiryu, but otherwise it's not generally well-regarded.  I have wanted to try this game for many years despite the bad word of mouth lashed against it, but being a collector and being interested in trying many other games of the Nintendo 16-bit era got in the way of that.  Last Summer I finally decided it was time to try it, so I lowered my expectations and went in with an open mind that June.  And, while it's not without its fair share of problems, I honestly didn't think it was that bad; I actually kinda liked it.  <=)

Bat: "So you don't want Yooka-Laylee after all?
Fine, you can forget it then, a-hole!"  >={
It's certainly not a badly-made game, for its area designs are decent and fun to explore (despite being bogged by monsters), and there's a likable lighthearted charm to the proceedings.  It's not deeply written but there are moments of dialogue that are genuinely funny and/or charming, like when Tristam neglects to call Benjamin by his name (only as "kid") to which Benjamin shrugs or gets upset; or how in the town of Windia after the winds died down there's a small kid walking on the roof of a house exclaiming "You can see forever" which inspires wonder; and a lot of the interaction Benjamin has with other characters is cool.  It's neat how entering some houses in towns will peel away the outside of said house to reveal the inside as if it were RPG Maker, and there's an innocent quality to it that makes it endearing like how The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang was charmingly lighthearted and purely innocent (though this game is not as great as Red Company's A-RPG).  =)

Can you tell this was tailor-made for American
audiences?  =)
And in some respects Final Fantasy Mystic Quest does make for a pick-up and play kind of game that in some respects could introduce you to the ways of the turn-based RPG mechanics, even though it doesn't exactly go through with it all the way (Super Mario RPG kinda did it better and explained the basics).  Just like this game may have been a starter kit for those new to turn-based RPGs, I'm thinking of Quintet's SoulBlazer which honestly is like a starter kit for those new to A-RPGs and was much more successful in that regard.  While SoulBlazer was easy, there was at least a sense of gradual challenge the farther you went along and at least early during its proceedings you were expressly told to equip your armor and magic otherwise it wouldn't work so you had to do it manually on the menu; here, the difficulty is consistently easy up until the final battle (especially since you can afford lots of seeds, potions, and refreshers) and when you garner new armor and helmets (whether it be by completing a ten-round battlefield, buying it from someone, or just obtaining it from inside a chest) you're automatically equipped.  That's it.

Waterfalls galore
Not many RPGs came out in Europe during the '90s, the reasons being numerous: translation takes time, there was not as much resource then as there is today, and Europe was a multi-language continent (unlike Japan and America where they both rely on one popular language); so because they didn't want a part of Europe to feel left out on account that they could not translate to either French or Spanish or German on time or any reason the end choice was Europe as a whole would miss out.  Mystic Quest Legend (as it was called there) was Square's first turn-based RPG that made it to European shores; and unlike A-RPGs which were a high commodity (Europe got to play Drakkhen, Lagoon, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, and three-thirds of the Gaia trilogy) by comparison the turn-based RPGs were few and far between in that region--the only other games in that genre being Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World, Lufia (II), and... Breath of Fire II??  How the hell does that work: they got the second Breath of Fire before the first game?!?  >_<  At least Neverland was smart to retitle their game due the first Lufia not making it to Europe (despite the second Lufia being a prequel).

Oh hey, it's Ness!  ...or is that Ninten?
At the time American gamers were very concerned that they struck out after one hit (Final Fantasy II) and two misses (Arcana and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest) in the turn-based RPG department as it was perceived, but fortunately for them things did look up after 1992 for the SNES offered many more games in the genre which were largely hit aaaaaand partly miss; but whichever game falls in either category is all in the eye of the beholder.  It's just amazing how far we've gone since 1991 where today RPGs (action and turn-based) are one of the most popular genres; over the years American gamers got more and more experience with turn-based RPGs and it turned out wonders for years to come.

The Freezer sure has seen better days
It's a shame what happened to this game and SquareSoft at the time; Final Fantasy Mystic Quest's intentions were noble and good, Square just wanted to help broaden and make the genre accessible to the inexperienced Western crowd, but both the game and company got criticized.  =(  While Square earned American gamers' respect back after Secret of Mana onward this game was not as lucky.  While a small fraction of difficulty or challenge would've surely helped, many people either did not like or just plain hated this game for the sole reason of being what it is: a starter kit to those new to the genre.  Only few in number were forgiving and liked it for what it was.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is far from perfect, but on its own merits it is simply harmless and inoffensive entertainment once in a while, and it is neither as bad nor terrible a game as many make it out to be.
Two months later on December 1992 the Super Famicom received the genuine follow-up to Final Fantasy IV, the widely regarded Final Fantasy V, which originally was slated to be localized to America during its heyday (as Final Fantasy III, before Final Fantasy VI ultimately took that title in 1994) with Ted Woolsey attached to translate.  Sadly it got cancelled during the middle of its official localization process, and one of the reasons behind that according to Woolsey was that it was "too advanced for general gamers" (namely due the jobs system).
After came a rollercoaster series of events where Square scheduled and then cancelled the American release (until the PlayStation One), which infuriated fans of the series and turn-based RPG genre to the point that they banded together and formed one of the very first (albeit unofficial) fan-translations for a video game ever, which paved the way for even more fan-made translations (and if not for that, there would be no repro carts for America or Europe).  Funny how sometimes cancellations inadvertently lead to good things.  =)

With our powers combined, you are
Captain Planet
Just kidding
If you're a fan of Final Fantasy do not expect this game to be as deep and complex as the main series because despite the name Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is not a Final Fantasy game.  If you're just looking for something simple that's not demanding this turn-based RPG is harmless as I said.  If you're searching for a game that's got plenty of challenge and difficulty you're not going to find it here; but if you're searching for some lighthearted innocent charm you'll find a reasonable amount of it here.  And if you're searching for a largely well-translated early SNES game outside Drakkhen, Lagoon, and Ys III: Wanderers from Ys you'll not be disappointed by Woolsey's craft.  It may not be SquareSoft's finest turn-based fare, but if you keep your expectations in check and go in with an open mind and are not overly critical of its shortcomings (and treat it as its own thing) you'll probably like this game all right; I know I did.  =)

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Originally I was going to make a subtle jab at the Game Boy Advance's inferior sound samples in response to Ted Woolsey's "too advanced" comment, but my review would've been longer than it already is.
P.S. 2 Both Breath of Fire II and Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals I honestly find to be overhyped and genuinely don't understand either titles' high praise (no matter how much I try), but truth be told if I had a choice I would sooner play Lufia II than play Breath of Fire II; because at least Neverland's game has great music, has reasonably swift walking pace that backtracking is not an issue, and it doesn't take forever to level up a character or do anything unlike Breath of Fire II (better yet, I'd rather play the original Breath of Fire, which I genuinely adore).  If you like them I'm not going to take that away from you (to each their own); but personally I just don't feel highly about them.

P.S. 3 The first time I beat this game in less than thirteen (non-consecutive) hours at Level 33 and my second playthrough which I've done in preparation for this review I beat it in less than eleven (non-consecutive) hours at Level 34.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Spring day, take care!  =)
Well, someone's watched Exorcist II: The Heretic while making this game!
And Quentin Tarantino did too given that he allowed Ennio Morricone to use "Regan's Theme" in The Hateful Eight's soundtrack which partially won Ennio his long-deserved Oscar  =)

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