Game Changers: Volume 8 – Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Anyone who’s ever tried to purchase vintage cartridge-based games on Ebay will tell you that prices can become hugely inflated based on the perceived popularity and rarity of the game. A hard-to-find SNES game cart can easily surpass its original retail price of fifteen years earlier. Even games that have since been ported can get high in price. For example, Chrono Trigger, which has recently seen its second port, can still go for anywhere from $30-$60 on Ebay. Auctions for Final Fantasy IV, which has been ported or remade a whopping six times, still go up to $20-$30 (or $60 if you’re picky about getting the box and all the maps and inserts). And Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, the first RPG tailor-made for the North American market and which has never been ported, goes for… somewhere between 1$ and $20.

It says you can get a free strategy guide... because the game wasn't easy enough already.
It says you can get a free strategy guide… because the game wasn’t easy enough already.

Hold the Mystic Quest box aloft, read the back panel, and you will find the game is “the world’s first role-playing game for the entry-level player.” Do I sense a sneer from some readers? I take it you’ve played Mystic Quest then? Did you blow your allowance on it or Christmas money perhaps? I’m so very sorry. You have my sincere condolences. Square’s strategy to woo the North American market at the time was, essentially, to create a simplified (a.k.a. dumbed-down) Final Fantasy game. The game came out in 1992, a year after Final Fantasy IV (or II at the time). And while Final Fantasy IV features an early version of the class system, giving every character a unique ability such as “Jump,”  “Summon,” or “Kick,”  Mystic Quest took players a step back to the NES era by offering them the options of “Attack,” “Item,” “Spell,” and “Defense.” Dragon Warrior anybody? It also features noticeably similar (possibly even inferior) graphics when compared to Final Fantasy IV.

Instead of having a huge map to explore and a variety of modes of transportation as seen in the main Final Fantasy franchise as early as the very first game, the map in Mystic Quest consists of set points (dungeons or towns) that the player could move between. This will be a familiar set up to fans of tactical RPGs; its use in menu-based RPGs is unusual, though there are recent examples such as Final Fantasy X-2. Many would argue, though, that it was another detriment to Mystic Quest since it imposed unnecessary restrictions on players when many fans of the genre enjoy the exploration element offered by overhead maps.

Well it had crystals; that's traditional at least.
Well it had crystals; that’s traditional at least.

Interestingly, though Square  may have been on the wrong track with much of Mystic Quest, the elimination of random encounters has become almost the standard in current-generation RPGs. Similarly, overhead maps, once the standard in the genre, have been on the decline, being replaced, more often than not, by continuous areas a la Final Fantasy XII or Fallout 3. The game also added action elements to the game and puzzles in dungeons — again, elements not unknown to many modern RPGs. Players could also perform actions outside of battle such as using an axe to cut down a tree on the map and open a path to a new area — a feature familiar to players of Breath of Fire.

Many of these elements are now familiar tropes of the genre but Mystic Quest is interesting in managing to be less than the sum of its parts. For experienced RPG players, the game was too easy; for newcomers to the genre, the game was too bland. The RPG “mainstream” era didn’t begin until Final Fantasy VII, but Mystic Quest certainly deserves a nod as an important false step.

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