Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
First Played: Approx. 1994
Approximate Time: 20 hours
Nostalgia Factor: Medium
The Focus Tower was once the heart of the world, and it’s our job as dingus knight to restore it. There is an old prophecy which says “The vile 4 will steal the Power, and divide the world behind 4 doors. At that time the Knight will appear!” The 4 monsters are draining the light from the 4 crystals of the world. Along the way, we meet several characters that aid us in the journey of restoring the crystal, but they conveniently leave the party as we meet a new one, keeping the party size at 2.
Final Fantasy – Mystic Quest is an RPG with pseudo-action and puzzle solving elements. It’s a combination of Link to the Past and other Final Fantasy titles (you can actually jump in this one!), but doesn’t deliver well on either end. There is no explorable world map (you just kind of hop from place to place), combat options are limited and boring, the townspeople are boring, and RNG can kill off your characters easily on a critical attack or status effect.
The game’s progression system, however, is well structured. You can’t just march through the game and expect to clear it easily. Each dungeon requires some grinding to finish the boss and there are hidden spells and items throughout, usually stashed behind some sort of jumping puzzle or item usage tied to the weapon you are using (axes cut tress, bombs blow up rocks, etc.). A neat feature of the game is that enemies change their demeanor and sprite graphic as they are damaged. They might shed clothing or look more beat-up as you hit them throughout the fight. A minor detail, but I’m a fan.
There are certain portions of the soundtrack that really hit the right buttons for me, and most of them are the battle tracks where you spend the most time anyways.
Could be made today with little effort in an RPG Maker program. Mystic Quest is lacking in what I would call “random objects” that give RPGs personality and flair. Lots of flat surfaces and little nuance to dungeons and towns.
Jumping, grappling, chopping, swinging, and bombing functions add a bit of fun to what would otherwise be dull controls.
Status effects and RNG abound in Mystic Quest. The puzzles aren’t too tough, but the battles and boss fights can be if you aren’t prepared. And you can just randomly die… A lot. It’s not punishing at all though, there’s a retry button that starts each battle at the beginning instead of reverting to your last save game.
The RPG elements of this game are a poor copy of the prior decade of RPGs. The action elements, while not new to gaming, are usually not present in a JRPG. I found little use to gold during the game – all upgrades to gear and spells are found in treasure chests, a nice change of pace for the genre.
Replay Value: 3.5
If you missed any armor or spells, there’s a small reason for a replay. I *think* there’s a loot room before the last boss that replaces things in chests you may have missed, so that’s probably unlikely. The speedruns for Mystic Quest on speedrun.com are hilarious, for those that replay the game 1000 times.
Test of Time: 2
Lacking in gameplay compared to RPGs today. Too much grinding that has a poor reward structure, making the game feel slow.
Character Development: 3.5
The main character does not have a default name and the others are… lacking in personality. I wish something interesting happened to any of them at some point during the story, but it just doesn’t.
Frustration Level: 6.5
Inexplicable deaths, over and over.
First 10 Minutes: 5
Not… quite as good as I remember. Battles and landscape are bland at the start.
Last 10 Minutes: 7
By the end of the game, I found out that I had enjoyed finding the best armor and spells. The last boss is strange.. It’s just a wizard-spider-guy that really had nothing to do with the plot, if there was one.
Composite Score: 6.5
General Comments: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was brought to North America in 1992 to introduce us to the role-playing genre. While it does a decent job of being a very long RPG tutorial, the story and gameplay fall well short of most RPGs of the era.
Final Fantasy II (IV)
First Played: Approx. 1997
Approximate Time: 35 hours
Nostalgia Factor: Medium
You play Cecil, the Dark Knight and commander of the Red Wings of Baron. The game starts with Cecil being tasked by the king of Baron to recover the water crystal from the City of Mysidia, which Cecil equates to robbing from the helpless. He later finds out, after a personal transformation from Dark Knight to Paladin, that his king had been overtaken by a demon under the command of Golbez, the big bad who is collecting all the crystals of power to get to the moon where his evil master Zemus is planning to annihilate all living creatures on Earth.
There are lots of plot twists, a love triangle, and many deaths along the way… but the story is lacking something, which I think can be attributed to two factors: (1) poor translation and (2) lack of explanation for objectives. Cecil and party often do things just because they’re told that’s the next place to go, without convincing plot elements to send us there.
Final Fantasy II (IV) is a traditional JRPG with a ton of characters that effectively form a “job” system even with the lack of such a system in the game. Part of the tradeoff of not having a job system here is that characters are switching out too much, making grinding with most characters except Cecil a waste of time. Each character has a different role with abilities designed to help them fulfill that role, and they move in and out as dictated by the story. For example, the bard can sing to charm enemies, the dragoon can jump to damage enemies, and the summoner can summon to bring forth a powerful ally in battle. The roles are very pronounced in this game- so much so that it can be a burden at times. The casters basically waste their turn attacking and are better spent just defending, letting a paladin or monk attack enemies.
The random battles feel as if they are at their worst, mirroring the cruelness present in the original NES Final Fantasy where a battle can, in theory, take place every step. There seems to be no bad luck protection in place. Boss fights are very well designed – almost every boss has some unique mechanic they use that you have to figure out in order to defeat them, rather than the standard “attack and heal until it’s dead” found in many RPGs. You can have up to five players in the party fighting at once, breaking the normal convention of 4 for JRPGs. This might not sound like a big deal, but it allows for more strategic decision making via interesting boss mechanics and difficult fights.
Quite stellar for the release date of this title. Final Fantasy II (IV) was the RPG frontrunner on the SNES, and it set the bar high for soundtracks. I’ll link a few good ones here.
A few steps up from the NES Final Fantasy, but the SNES is capable of much more. The details on each playable character are well done- for example, Tellah summons a small sphere in his hands as he casts a spell, which is unique amongst spellcasters. Cecil undergoes a full transformation halfway through the game, changing the look of his character and attacks/abilities. Their emotions are portrayed well both in battle and on the field, even with the limited facial expressions the SNES can muster.
Standard stuff for a JRPG – move in four directions, menu navigation. There are many different overworld vehicles, but there’s nothing special to navigating them.
Final Fantasy II (IV) has some tough moments navigating dungeons and fighting bosses. Most dungeons have a save point where you can use a tent to full heal your party, but many dungeons don’t allow you to use the spell “exit” to get out because they’re locked behind a cutscene when leaving, meaning you often have to backtrack through several threatening floors after a boss fight. The last part of the game can be brutal. As always, anything can be overcome with enough leveling.
This entry was a bold leap for the genre. Multiple maps, a party of five characters, several vehicles and landscapes, lengthy cutscenes, and notable abilities for each character are just some of the firsts (?) in this game. The biggest innovation was an Active-Time Battle (ATB) System which allowed enemies to continue attacking while the player is navigating menus, giving the game more of a real-time combat feel rather than purely turn-based.
Replay Value: 7.5
Even though this is my fourth playthrough of the game, I would only suggest replaying the game for extra features added in by remakes. Final Fantasy IV is a bit lacking in side quests and collectibles, making a replay only worth doing for reliving the story or maxing out characters.
Test of Time: 7
I’ve played through the game twice in the past 3 years or so – it’s definitely still playable if you’re a fan of the series.
Character Development: 7.5
Much of the story centers around Cecil evolving from using the forces of Dark and overcoming them to become a Paladin and rely on the forces of Light. His friend, Kain, is controlled by Golbez even when he is supposedly partied with you. Rosa is Cecil’s love interest and she has to be rescued when captured by the bad guys. There are many more characters, and each has a minor plot that involves a quest in the game. I feel as if the developers could have devoted a little more text and put some more effort into each story. For this period of RPGs, however, the story and characters were given a lot of attention.
Frustration Level: 4
Some fights are downright unfair, but the game is pretty clear on where it wants you to go and what you’re supposed to be doing there.
First 10 Minutes: 8
Mostly just cutscenes and character development, but the game needs it. The opening will keep you playing.
Last 10 Minutes: 8
The last dungeon is arduous but a fitting end to the game. I like that all the ultimate weapons are there, each guarded by an optional boss.
Composite Score: 8
General Comments: Final Fantasy II (IV) set the standard for RPGs on the SNES, and what a standard it was. Most RPGs only moved up from here, and this one ensured that RPGs would be the dominant genre moving forward. There is a sequel out there released for the Wii, steam, and mobile phones that I haven’t tried yet, but I’m sure it’s pretty good.
Final Fantasy V (JP)
First Played: Nov 2019
Approximate Time: 45-60 hours
Nostalgia Factor: N/A
The game begins as Butz investigates a meteor that has crash landed near his hometown. He quickly finds out that something isn’t right and the wind has stopped. Upon gathering some friends (Galuf, Lenna, and Faris) and visiting the wind crystal, one of the four crystals that control the planet, it shatters. We find out that the four crystals were holding a great evil in check known as Exdeath, and it’s our job to stop him from resurfacing and taking over the world.
Final Fantasy V returns to the NES roots of the series by allowing the player to have character shells and mold them as you see fit using a “Job” system. You can create a balanced team such as knight, white mage, black mage, and thief. You can make a goofball team such as 3 white mages and a monk, 4 berserkers (I did this for a while), or 4 different types of mages.
This is the first title in the series (and maybe the first RPG) to have an action bar that slowly fills throughout the battle, allowing you to see which characters will act next and approximately how long it will be until their next available action. I like the way summons, or espers, are acquired in Final Fantasy V. Instead of the game just giving you summons at important plot points, you fight them in random battles that often involve going off the beaten path.
Stellar music throughout most of the game – as always, here’s a few that I liked:
Great forest of Mua: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewCfUn6ljww
Battle at Big Bridge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKRyNlHtwps
I wish the in-game map wasn’t a piece of junk. The world map is a little confusing to navigate because of the perspective from your airship. Standard JRPG graphics for the era otherwise, not terrible but not awe-inspiring either.
The vehicles can do a bit more in the fifth entry than the fourth, but standard JRPG controls once again.
This figure entirely depends on what you decide to do with the game. My rating here assumes you want to achieve all hidden objectives. There are some incredibly powerful optional bosses and the last boss is exceptionally tough without a fair bit of grinding.
A deep job system and three different world maps with some new puzzle solving elements across the dungeons. Three world maps isn’t necessarily new, but creating a merged world for the third one was.
Replay Value: 10
If you don’t max everything out or find all the secrets or summons or gear on the first playthrough, this is definitely worth a second. It would be neat to really 100% the game, but after putting about 45 hours in, I’m not going to go back to it just yet. There is a scorecard at the end that kind of grades each character on how well you completed their build.
Test of Time: 8
Only lacking in story and character development elements, but still worth playing today if you’re a fan of the series.
Character Development: 6
The story of Butz bothers me a bit because, well, he doesn’t have much of one. He’s a boy that can ride a chocobo that somehow got caught up in saving the world… for no good reason at all. An actual line from the game: “Galuf: By the way, Butz… Knowing that you wouldn’t be able to return to your own world, why did you come here? Butz: … there is no reason.” He just does what people tell him to, which isn’t very interesting for the main character.
The other 3 characters (Galuf, Faris, and Lenna) have backstories that are interesting enough you’ll want to see how they approach the obstacles to come. The job system also inherently strips away some of the identity of each character when they can all be any class you want.
Frustration Level: 2.5
I would often get lost or forget my objective since I took 3 months to finish this game. It isn’t friendly to playing and picking it back up a week later.
First 10 Minutes: 7
No challenge in early battles with a mediocre plot line.
Last 10 Minutes: 8.5
Loved the last boss, the challenge made it fun even though he was kind of lame as a villain. The ending was pretty meh.
Composite Score: 8.5
General Comments: Anyone seriously interested in the Final Fantasy series, like myself, should go back and play through this one at least once. Final Fantasy V is a unique entry that scratches the leveling and customization itch better than any of its predecessors.