In Defense of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
This post may seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, but if you’ve seen GameTrailers‘ Top 10 Worst Final Fantasy Games piece, you’ll know that Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest was on this list.
I cannot agree with this, ladies and gentlemen representing the Court of Public Opinion.
I understand that lists are subjective. If I made my own list, very few people would agree with it. I do believe, however, that Mystic Quest gets a bad rap from reviewers and gaming fans alike. Many have forgotten what the environment was like back in 1992, and many more have forgotten what the whole point of Mystic Quest was supposed to be. 22 years ago, video games weren’t anywhere near as popular and mainstream as they are now. Final Fantasy wasn’t yet hugely successful here in the United States, let alone the RPG genre. Sure, there were multiple Dragon Warrior (fine, Dragon QUEST) games for the NES and Nintendo published Final Fantasy for Square. Yes, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy II (fine, Final Fantasy IV) for American players, tweaking it by lessening the difficulty and making a few other changes. These releases didn’t automatically mean success for RPGs, and Square looked to add more interest in the genre by releasing a game that would be a starting point for new and novice players.
That’s what Mystic Quest was. It was never meant to be an epic RPG, like the numbered Final Fantasy chapters before it (of which only half were released here in the US). It’s pretty apparent what developers were trying to do. While there’s an option to view hit points (fine, HP) numerically, the game defaults to a meter that shows remaining health so as not to overwhelm novices. There were options to have the CPU fight battles for the player, or the player could take the reins and manually control battle commands. Exploring was limited as there were set destinations so that players couldn’t get lost, and yet there were areas to explore just off the main quest line to increase experience and teach the importance of grinding to players. Sure, the story isn’t the deepest or most captivating, but it’s adequate. By the time players reach the final showdown with the Dark King at the end of Mystic Quest, it’s like a final exam for players with a victory signifying the player’s graduation and readiness to take on more typical RPGs of the time.
Final Fantasy II for SNES was my first RPG, and there were times that I got overwhelmed, despite the tamer difficulty from the Japanese release. I never understood how important grinding was, and getting my butt kicked by the last couple of bosses because my party wasn’t at a high-enough level was a painful way to learn. I got lucky when I beat Zeromus at three-something in the March-something morning of 1992. I prevailed through persistence (I got crushed quite a few times) and through luck (as some spells missed hitting certain characters, keeping them alive). Had I taken time to grind prior to that, perhaps the battles would have been easier… but how was I to have known that, as someone who hadn’t played a game like this before?
Mystic Quest, quite possibly, could have better-prepared me for the concepts and challenges that Final Fantasy II laid on me. Unfortunately, Mystic Quest came out after I had beaten Final Fantasy II, and by then, I was up to speed on RPG 101. Mystic Quest was a breeze, and I questioned why I’d bought it for quite a while. (It was because the Final Fantasy name was affixed to it.) It took me years to finally understand why Mystic Quest is what it is, but once I understood, I always bristled when reviewers and players alike bashed it.
These people aren’t looking at the game through the proper lens. They aren’t approaching it from the right perspective.
Mystic Quest was never going to hit it big with players who already knew the ropes when it came to RPGs. To experienced RPG players, Mystic Quest is a chore. Of course, experienced people are going to hate it. For those new to the RPG genre, however, Mystic Quest eases them into a new kind of game, introducing basic concepts in a relatively painless way. It’s as good a tutorial experience as you’ll find, even with many current games having hours of tutorials built into them before they really get underway.
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest deserves to be cut a bit of slack. I won’t dare argue that it’s the best Final Fantasy game, or that it’s anywhere near the top. It is, however, a game that was designed with a specific audience in mind… and this is sadly forgotten way too often and unfortunately leads to the game ending up on lists like the one GameTrailers has crafted.
The defense rests.