Why is a JRPG that was purposefully made for a Western audience now considered the black sheep of the 'Final Fantasy' series? Is 'Mystic Quest' really as bad as people believe?
Developed by Squaresoft
Published by Squaresoft
Released in 1992
When it comes to making money it's much easier to sell people what they want than convince them to buy what you have. It was a realisation that Squaresoft came to in the nineties. Considering the ‘Final Fantasy’ series has now sold over $110 million units worldwide it seems surprising to think that twenty years ago westerners didn't care for the "world's biggest RPG franchise". Copies of the Nes original that now sells for hundreds, used to live in bargain bins and its two sequels were unreleased outside of Japan.
Wolsey looked at the previous translations done internally by Squaresoft and determined that the poor job would certainly have contributed to the failure of their game outside of Japan. ‘Final Fantasy IV’ for example was initially translated by a Japanese Squaresoft employee who only spoke “some English”. Although members of Squaresoft’s sales and finance department in America spent a few hours cleaning up the translation, it was still a complete mess on release. Ted Wolsey was hired to oversee all localisation and one of his first projects would be a the translation of a game developed with a western audience in mind, a game that would become known in the US as ‘Final Fantasy : Mystic Quest’.
Motivations for someone joining your party are at best circumstantial and at worse hysterical. Villains are often the most interesting characters in JRPGs but we don’t even get to see the “Dark King” antagonist of ‘Mystical Quest’ until we face him. Ted Wolsey once said that ‘Mystic Quest’ was “the easiest game [he has] ever translated due to the lack of story and simple interactions” adding that "it [is] basically a Game Boy game that was put out on the Super Nintendo".
Like their hand held adventures, battles take place behind your character rather than from the side on perspective seen in ‘Final Fantasy IV’. The character too looks more like ones seen on an 8bit console, or perhaps more accurately they look like full colour GameBoy sprites. Towns like Foresta and Aquaria sound exotic but they are barren of life and defined by endlessly repeating background objects. The graphics are noticeably poorer than those seen in ‘Final Fantasy IV’, a fact not missed by Jonathan Davies in his review for Super Play Magazine. “The colours are a bit drab the sprites are rather small, but the music is brilliant, however, which helps”. Indeed, the music is the only real thing that favourably compares to other games carrying ‘Final Fantasy’ branding. The melodies composed by Ryuji Sasai and Yasuhiro Kawakami are even included in the audio celebration that is ‘Final Fantasy Theatrerythm’, the only time that Square has really acknowledged the existence of ‘Mystic Quest’ since its release.
Nintendo Power pointed out that “arrow icons on the map show where to go, when they flash the road ahead is clear, but when they are not flashing there is a roadblock ahead”. It could not be more explicit where an objective is and every place you go is pre-determined. With a few exceptions, equipment cannot be purchased from shops, not that there is actually that much equipment to accumulate anyway. Four different weapons can be found, in four different classes. The game even automatically equips any item found if it’s better than your previous equipment, which really limits the need to look at inventory screens at all. While you can use some weapons in the over world, the only time you really need to switch between the four options is during battle as some enemies are weaker to specific things. Like the limited weaponry, magic is simplified and divided into three types each with a separate MP counter. Casting a spell of one type consumes one MP, so it seems practically impossible to run out of spells.
The most difficult thing that faces you is status affects and these are made extremely irritating given you only have two people in your party. If both get paralyzed no matter what you do the battles is over. This would be devastating in a game such as 'Fire Emblem' but with 'Mystic Quest' being the "beginners RPG", death really isn’t a problem. If you die you can start the same battle over again as if nothing happened. While experience points and levels are earned as per usual, the player's level cannot be maxed out at level 99 or 100, but at level 41.
There is never a need to grind though, as every time you meet a new party member they start several levels above Benjamin. To lessen the game’s challenge more when they leave they typically bestow on the playable character a weapon that slaughters any foes you meet in the next section of the game.
According to Jonathan Davies, despite a budget price upon release, the games length “can’t really be excused. Four megabits is absolutely nothing in RPG terms, and after about an hours playing I was roughly a fifth of the way through the game. Don’t expect it to last you for very long”. However, maybe a short length was required. ‘Mystic Quest’ after all was a demonstration of the JRPG genre, a starting point that would encourage a player to explore other JRPGs. Most would see Benjamin leaving on his ship at the end of the game, watching as he heads off in search of more adventures. It’s hard to not draw parallels between the player and the hero character. Like him, they started off clueless and inexperienced. However after a short but informative adventure they have learnt all the skills needed to take on richer more involved challenges, specifically Squaresoft’s other games.
In Europe ‘Mystic Quest’ had a ‘Legends’ subtitle rather than a ‘Final Fantasy’ prefix. Confusingly it was actually presented as a sequel to a GameBoy game called ‘Mystic Quest’, which in reality was a translation of ‘Seiken Densetsu’; the prequel to ‘Secret of Mana’. The different Squaresoft series in Europe were clearly considered “all the same”, so swapping the titles between games wasn’t considered foul play in the way it would be now.