FGC #050 Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

9 Reasons Final Fantasy Fans Should Love Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is a Super Nintendo game from 1992 with a box that reads “Entry Level Role-Playing Adventure”. In the whole history of desire, nobody has ever wanted something that can be described as “entry level”. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest may as well have been marketed as “Final Fantasy 4 Babiez”, or perhaps, “Final Fantasy: If You Can Read This, You’re Too Old For This Shit”. As a result of its childish position as a gaijin gaiden game for goobers, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest has been ignored by its parent franchise for decades, only finally receiving the smallest bit of recognition in Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call, a game that was already prepared to stoop to the lows of recognizing other black sheep like Live A Live and Nier.

But Final Fantasy Mystic Quest had some genuinely good ideas that the rest of the franchise could have stood to adopt back in ‘92. Eventually, shock, Final Fantasy did learn a few Mystic Quest lessons, it just took far too many years.

For instance…

#9 Weapons and Armor Are a Straight Progression

There are four types of weapons used by the hero, Benjamin, in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Swords, Axes, Bombs, and Claws. Ben can cycle through these weapons at any time, and choose a weapon that is most appropriate for the monster at hand. This is important, because, like most Final Fantasy games, different monsters are weak to different weapons. You wouldn’t download a car, and you wouldn’t use a sword on a tree. Weapon switching is a pretty common ability in most games, not just Final Fantasy (it really makes Mega Man’s day), but what’s different here is that your strongest weapon of any class is always equipped, and the older weapons are ignored. Yes, it’s important to have choice when there’s an actual difference between Bubble Lead and Metal Blade, but the difference between a +2 Sword and a +4 Sword is simply how long it takes for that evil knight to fall down, so why would you ever “choose” the longer method? And why would you want to ever waste time sorting through a nigh-endless list of all the axes you’ve forgotten to sell since town one? Squire, fetch me my finest sword every time, and waste no time on the worn blade of years past.

And the armor just keeps getting better, too.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Seven years later, with Final Fantasy 8. Squall had one gunblade, and it improved linearly, only getting better with upgrades. Sure, it may have just been a workaround for avoiding having to model a bunch of different weapons, but it was a boon for gameplay that already necessitated about 700 windows for customizing a three person party. Final Fantasy 8 seemed to be designed with an eye on not having to micromanage each individual character, so it only made sense that you wouldn’t have to spend time every new town scouring a weapons shop for Selphie’s latest jump rope to make sure she’s ready for a possible party switch.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Final Fantasy 12 was very interested in finding new and annoying ways to upgrade your equipment while keeping the old junk around, and Final Fantasy 9 based its entire magic and ability system on lousy weapons, so if you needed a spell from “early” in the game, get ready to waste time against a monster or hundred because you’re stuck with a measly +1 Staff while your +10,000 Staff sits unused.

And speaking of magic…

#8. Magic Upgrades with You

Let’s be real here: we’re all playing Final Fantasy to see numbers go up, and to watch a group of plucky adventurers go from weak and scrappy underdogs to invincible god slayers. Part of that is watching magic go from a plinking, wet-spark of a Fire spell to a blazing inferno of destruction that is Firaja. However, like the weapons issue, we run into a problem, as all those week, early game Fire/Ice/Lit spells are still lingering around the inventory, never to be used again. It vaguely “mattered” in the old days of spell charges (ala Final Fantasy I), when an extra 25 Fire spells to possible 3 uses of Firaga was important for dungeon crawling, but I literally cannot remember the last time I ran out of MP in a modern Final Fantasy game, or, to be more accurate, I cannot remember the last time I ran out of MP and didn’t have seventy elixirs on hand.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest has one fire spell, one ice spell, one air spell, and one earth spell. Period, full stop. No, Ice doesn’t lose its effectiveness as the game progresses, because, like every Final Fantasy game, the hero’s level is always increasing, so his magic power is always increasing, so Ice is always increasing in attack power. There’s no need for an additional Ice spell to tackle later bosses, because you’re using a “later” Benjamin. It is a poor mage who blames his tools.

All nice and straightforward.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Technically, Final Fantasy still hasn’t learned this one, though its basic concept seems to be used in Final Fantasy 13, a game that was released seventeen years after FFMQ. Yes, FF13 still has the crazy spell progression of its ancestors, but the way the battle system “works” precludes the usage of old, ineffective magic for the more robust, better spells, so it works effectively the same way as in Mystic Quest.
Guys, I know we all like our crazy, thirty minute Bahamut summon animations, but there’s no reason the Chocobo can’t just level up to a more vigorous designation/animation all on its own. Unless you want to tell me some of you have beaten Sephiroth using only a Fire spell… What am I saying? Of course someone has done that. This is the internet, after all. But maybe the rest of us aren’t fond of scrolling through a menu of useless junk for that one useful spell.

“Face the cleansing power of White…
Wait, that came out wrong.”

#7 You Always Know What Works

Quick! You’re fighting the Fire Dragon, so what spell do you use? Ice, right? Ice always beats fire. Except in those games where there’s a water elemental spell, in which case ice might be completely useless against fire, and you just wasted an entire turned while your party was flambéed. Now consider the fact that not everyone has a working knowledge of all JRPG conventions at all times, and the best indicator that you’re using a move that is powerful against a particular enemy may simply be a better numerical damage indicator. But wait a minute, did you just use something that was advantageous, or was it merely a critical hit? Or did the monster stealthily drop his defenses for that turn for some reason? Or was it just a random stroke of whatever RNG is controlling damage output?

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest takes the guess work out of monster slaying. Bombs are effective against beholders, and you’ll be reminded of that every time you blast one of those giant eyeballs and a message relays, “Beholder is weak against bomb attack.” It might get old seeing that message every time, but it’s great for people for whom JRPGS do not come naturally. Hell, I bet you could found an entire empire of JRPGs for children on the simple concept of continually noting “Super Effective” attacks.

Ah, yes, you can’t paralyze the dead.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

I want to say it wasn’t until Final Fantasy 10, released in 2001, that we got clear, obvious indicators for every last attack and ability. Yes, older games would generally note if something worked or didn’t work, but that precious “immune” message in Final Fantasy 10 would clearly indicate whether or not that Stone spell just missed or was never going to work. Also, its emphasis on piercing beats armor, speed beats lizards, balls beat flying, etc. was very similar to some of the “weapon elements” of Mystic Quest, which allowed you to make more informed movements during battle, as opposed to simply choosing Fight over and over again forever.

And speaking of making appropriate choices…

#6 You Can See Monsters (And Make Decisions)

Some might claim that Final Fantasy Mystic Quests’ greatest strength is that, in a time when random encounters were the norm across platforms, it stuck every last monster sprite on the screen, and completely bypassed the tension of being randomly attacked. I’m inclined to agree with that line of thinking, but I do understand how some may find JRPG random encounters to have their merits. However, merits aside, random encounters are inherently… random, and thus remove any and all choice from the player, which is something I never support. And, yes, I can see the comments now: “Oh ho ho, weren’t you just advocating removing weapon and spell choices?” Yes, I support choice when you’re making a relevant choice, not just choosing between small and large in a world where large is always the right answer. Onscreen encounters in FFMQ allow the player to make choices, thus creating more “game”. Like take the screenshot below:


Benjamin is surrounded monsters, but you can choose which monsters to fight. Those worm guys? They’re weak to axes, and the axe is one of the strongest weapons in your inventory at that point, so that’s a good choice. The bird creatures are weak to Tristam’s ninja stars, though, so if you’re comfortable with using one of his limited shuriken, that’s probably the path you want. Here you have a choice to make, but in a game with random encounters, this room would just be… a room.

And here’s another one:

Want to risk it?

You want that treasure chest, because of course you do, but a behemoth is barring your progress. Do you ignore the behemoth and the (mystery) contents of that chest, or battle on, and potentially lose more resources than you’ll gain from the battle? Relevant choices!

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Fourteen years later, Final Fantasy 12 finally brought battle choice into the Final Fantasy equation. Yes, all battles occurred on the map anyway, but the real concept of choice is there, as you can decide whether you’d like to battle a small, puttering cactus creature or a goddamn T-Rex. You can choose your own challenges, and that’s important, because I would not want to fight a dinosaur by accident.

#5 You Can See Monsters (And Make Them Extinct)

The other significant downside to random encounters is that there’s usually no way to turn them off. I don’t care if you’re level one or one hundred, you’re still going to be attacked by roaming goblins outside your hometown, and even though you’ll receive practically nothing for the effort, you still have to go through the motions of battle until they’re good and dead (or you can run, confident in the knowledge that you are an exceptional coward).

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest has monsters you can see, but you won’t ever see them respawn. Okay, yes, they’ll return if you leave an area and then double back, but there is literally never a reason to do this at any point in the game. That means that you can defeat every single monster in any given dungeon, and then explore to your heart’s content without fear of reprisal. There’s a reason I still have a poor mental picture of the shape of Final Fantasy’s Marsh Cave while I could show you almost the entirety of FFMQ’s Mine right now. Actually, yeah, here you go:

There, everything you need to see

Dead monsters give the player a simple, intuitive reason to explore every nook and cranny, and revisit potentially dangerous areas with full knowledge that the boss of the area is six feet under and you’re free to unload those spare spell charges. Nobody wants to get bumped off by an errant slime that just happened to pop up when your HP was low.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Mystic Quest was old enough to drink by the time Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 introduced monster extinction to Final Fantasy proper. Yes, for those of you that missed out on this game because the plot had become a gnarled mess that required eighty hours of prelude, LR:FF13 has a hard cap on every monster’s spawn numbers, so it is possible to kill every Earth Eater in the desert and just wander around unmolested for the rest of the game. Mind you, there is a time limit on the game, so it’s entirely possible you’ll never encounter that condition, but it is nice to spend Lightning’s final days without enemy interruption.

Speaking of killing monsters…

#4 You Can See Monsters’ Health

You might not be able to see a monster’s HP, but you sure can see their general health. Even at super speed, don’t tell me you even have to guess at how this ice golem is faring:

Melt away to nothing!

This is important not only for convenience sake (“How much longer could this battle last?”), but also for just generally knowing how JRPGs work. If you’re reading this far into an article on Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, you’re likely already familiar with a number of JRPG conventions, one of the most prominent being how monsters, particularly boss monsters, have a tendency to throw out “super attacks” when their health is low. However, to someone who is new to the genre, that last ditch effort Nuke spell may just appear to be a random fluke of the RNG that controls most boss behavior, and nothing is learned other than that the player has bad luck. The neophyte player has no idea how much HP any given monster has, so why would someone assume that monster behavior may change with HP loss? Whether it’s a depleting health gauge or a monster’s pose generally looking more defeated, a clear health indicator can only aid the player in not only understanding the battle, but the genre as a whole.

Also, sometimes it’s adorable.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

I want to say Final Fantasy 10 was the first Final Fantasy game that really made a monster’s HP total easily-accessible through auto-scanning materials. Many previous Final Fantasy games had ways to access an enemy’s HP total, but it wasn’t front and center, and shooting off a Scan spell in the middle of a heated battle was a fine way to waste a turn that could otherwise be spent healing. No one should die in the name of gray magic!

Oh, speaking of death…

#3 You Can Instantly Restart

No matter how much finesse and structure is poured into a JRPG, there is always an inherent bit of randomness in every battle. This is the reason one could perform a “no hit” run of Contra, but expecting the same of Final Fantasy is folly. In fact, one of the most popular challenge runs of Final Fantasy I is the “only one character” challenge, which, as you’ll know whether you’ve tried it yourself or just watched a Let’s Play, often hits a brickwall with the army of creatures that know instant death spells in the Ice Cave. No matter how skilled you are, there’s always the chance that the wrong Zoidberg is going to cast the wrong spell, and poof, you’re dead, game over. Back to your last save point, hope it was recent.

Here’s some other monsters with Death spells.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest does not waste anybody’s time. Whether you fought a hard battle to your final hit point, or simply got unlucky and turned to stone in the first round, FFMQ knows these things happen, and will simply ask you “Would you like to try again?” The choice here is important: you can acknowledge your loss, but still fight back, and hope for a better outcome; or you can accept your death and restart from your last save point, like a “normal” RPG. The choice is up to you, but FFMQ isn’t going to force you to complete an entire dungeon all over again just because of a bad roll of the dice.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Final Fantasy 13, and, boy, let me tell you, I was excited to see it. My first “restart” in that game was thanks to a random mob that had basically gotten the better of me thanks to an incoming phone call, and, at my loss, I was expecting to have to repeat ten minutes of gameplay and like a half hour of cutscenes just because of an inopportune interruption. Imagine my delight when I was actually able to start over exactly from that point, with maybe a mere thirty seconds of my life lost. Wow, it’s like a video game actually respects my time for a change.

Of course, the ultimate way a video game can show its understanding of my life is…

#2 You Can Save Anywhere

Whether you’re chilling at an inn or steps from the final boss, you can save literally anywhere in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I don’t have to explain this one at all, right? I want to say this is something that is important to adults playing video games, but even when I was a kid, I could never guarantee that I could start or stop a play session according to the length of a dungeon (which, incidentally, would never give any indication of its duration). An inability to save anywhere just generates fear in a player, and while tension can be fun in some games, it seems kind of unnecessary when you’re extensively preparing to enter the Sage’s Cave because, from the outside, it looks just like the Earth Cave.

This looks like a good place to take a break.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

This is another point that goes to Lightning Returns, right? I’m not missing anybody? All of them had lousy save crystals, or some variation on that? I’m sorry, I’m just distracted by recalling that time in Final Fantasy 12 when, after spending hours deftly maneuvering an apocalyptically deadly swamp, the save point decided it had to fiercely battle my party before I was allowed to rest. That wasn’t fun, that was weaponized player-hate.

#1 You Make the World a Better Place

Like a number of JRPGS, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest starts with a world in peril: Four fiends have separated the land by locking transit between areas, and each country is afflicted with different, life-threatening calamities. Trees are dying, oceans have been drained, earthquakes are rampant, and one entire town has been frozen into a Canadian freeze. Benjamin’s battle against evil solves these issues, and by the time he sails towards the final boss, the world is filled with lush greenery and blue oceans. The children play in the streets, fathers and daughters are reunited, and the elderly are getting fat off their massive uptick in healing herb sales.

When you can see a town go from this…

Looking a bit frosty, eh?

To this…

Break out your swimsuit!

You know you’ve done something right.

But Final Fantasy Didn’t Learn Until…

Some franchises never learn. I can understand how it’s another bid to increase tension as you head to the final confrontation, but the finale of a game doesn’t have to be depressing, it can be a victory lap… just not in Final Fantasy. Before the final dungeon of Final Fantasy 9, the world is at its absolute worst. Final Fantasy 10? The good people of Besaid don’t seem to have a clue that the epitome of destruction is just parked in the Calm Lands. Final Fantasy 12 and 13 both end with a world on the brink of destruction (and both finally culminate with fairly pyrrhic victories). Final Fantasy 5, 6, and 7 all have worlds that are significantly worse for wear despite (and in some cases, because) of your endeavors. Final Fantasy 8 is probably the worst of them all: as you venture toward the final challenge, the entire world is trapped in a timeless, deathless purgatory that effectively makes your party the last breathing humans on Earth.

When you’re ready for the final assault in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, there is no question regarding Benjamin’s allegiance or intentions. Benjamin, like his game, made the world a better place. At least people in that world seemed to notice his contributions.

FGC #50 Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, but also available on the Wii.
  • Number of Players: Just one hero for this adventure.
  • So you want to be Cracked now? One time homage. Seemed to fit the subject matter.
  • A turtle does biteHey, no mention of Final Fantasy 11 or 14? MMORPGs are their own genre with their own conventions and requirements. Comparing a JRPG to a MMORPG is like comparing a bird to a velociraptor: there’s a common origin point, but they have wildly different needs and movie deals.
    Favorite Party Member: Reuben has a morning star and a complete lack of magic spells. If you trust the game’s AI to do anything, this is the perfect combination.
  • So, you really like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest? God, no. There’s a lot of parts of this game that are a complete slog, and I’d literally rather play any other Final Fantasy game from that period, up to and including gameboy games that are secretly not really Final Fantasy games. But ya gotta give credit where credit’s due.
  • Did you play through the entire game for this article? Yes. And, no, I didn’t do it in two days. I’ve been staying loyal to the FGC rules of randomly playing video games as determined by a sadistic robot, but that doesn’t mean I always post about a game two days after it is chosen. A game only slots into the “What’s Next?” section if I know I can produce an article on the usual deadline, and some games… require a bit more time. This one has been in the pipeline for a while.
  • Anything else on the agenda you’re not telling anyone about? Oh my yes.
  • Did you know? A lot of the graphics from this game are upscaled revisions of Final Fantasy Legend III (aka Sa Ga 3) assets. Also, there’s a whole host of gameplay features recycled from that game, so maybe I should be writing 3,000 words about that game influencing JRPG mechanics. Then again, I don’t think FFL3 had a grappling hook, so FFMQ is probably the superior game. It could use a time machine, though.
  • Would I play again? Not for a good long while. I have some nostalgic affection for this title, but just because it did a number of things right doesn’t mean it didn’t do even more things wrong. It’s probably a top tier SNES game, but there’s an even higher echelon where Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 3 reside, so good luck getting me to ignore those magnificent games for Benjy’s Quest again.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… to take a week off. I’ve just written fifty Fustian Game Challenge articles in a row, so I need a week to recharge and play a video game or two without mentally logging screenshots and gifs every five seconds. When I do return to the FGC, Random ROB has picked out Super Mario Land, so please look forward to it!

In the meanwhile, I’m definitely posting something next Monday (the last thing to be reposted from the Talking Time archives, and if you’ve been following my writing, you may recall what that is), and I will likely post something next Wednesday and Friday as well, but whatever it will be, it will be different. You’ve been warned.

So you can set your day planners:

  • Week of 10/12: Something Different
  • 10/19: FGC Resumes

See you Monday!

3 Responses »

    • Well, the premise was “stuff Final Fantasy didn’t do”, and no one is going to argue the rest of FF doesn’t have good music. That said, yes, FFMQ has amazing music. Basically another reason I like Reuben and his hometown.

      Regarding the battlefields… I don’t know, they really don’t thrill me. They’re just kind of condensed overworld encounters, and, as such, either come off as lazy or perfunctory. I’m sure some people enjoy them, but I’m not one of ’em.

      • In a time when grinding was still the way only way to get past some parts of a game. The battlefields really condensed that effort. They also gave you prizes for clearing them out.

        It was a quick way of doing what DQ games expect players to do when they can’t beat an enemy through tactics…

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