Since their inception, RPGs have always been a complicated genre. The thought of level grinding, inventory/equipment management, random encounters, menu diving, a lot of stats and more strike fear into the hearts of many casual gamers. This especially holds true for American RPGs. What was needed was an RPG that was not only easy to get into but fun for veterans as well. In 1992, we were given an RPG for beginners called Final Fantasy Mystic Quest developed by none other than Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix.) The gameplay and plot were simplified to make it easy for a newcomer to get into and it held your hand while teaching you the basics of RPG gaming. It might have attracted a new audience, but in some aspects, it's not the best example of a beginner's RPG.
Though the game has the words "Final Fantasy" in the title, many Final Fantasy trademarks were sadly missing. Jobs? Nope. Summons? Nay. Classic spells? Mostly no. Uematsu's music? Big fat no. Moogles? Nuh-uh. Chocobos? As random décor. Perhaps all that is trivial, but I still found it odd to call something "Final Fantasy" when many Final Fantasy trademarks were absent.
You play as the hero whom you can name (the unlisted default is "Benjamin"), and trouble has already occurred. Less than a second into the game, your village is swallowed up, and you wind up in a mountain top saving an old man from a monster. A few seconds later, he hails you as their savior and the only one who can save the world from evil. He tells the hero to go to different parts of the world and save the four elemental crystals in order to restore peace and harmony. That's it. There isn't much more to it than that. The game certainly does not waste your time with details and tells you everything you need to know, mere minutes into the game. Hero becomes destined to save the world, saves the crystals, fights the ultimate evil, saves the world, the end, happily ever after.
The characters have some degree of charm, but their character development is thinner than a sheet of paper. There is zero interaction with the various party members you team up with, and zero interaction with the various other people you meet. I can't even remember most of their names. The first time you meet a certain someone, you (the hero) bluntly tell him/her to join you, and without hesitation, the person joins the party. Minutes later, they act like they are your best friend. Where did that come from? The characters also try to be funny, and they did manag to make me laugh... at them. It was an era of cheesy dialogue, but the dialogue had too much cheese and the flavor went stale. I had some fun with the characters from the old man bluntly telling you what to do, to the frequently replaceable party members who joined your quest for no real reason. Good times.
The graphics are simple, but they were good for their time. Main character models are fairly distinct, giving them some individuality. Towns are generic-looking, but the look works and they fit in with the environments surrounding them. Spell and weapon animations are simple, but some were pretty flashy for 1992. Dungeons are quite creative on the other hand, having their own distinctive look. They might have been simple designs, but they were done well enough to make me want to explore further (unlike the story.)
I was most impressed by the monster designs. A lot of them looked quite menacing as they stood there staring at you. While there were a lot of palette swaps as seen in many other games at that time, there was enough variety on enemy designs to keep some portions of the game fresh. The most unique aspect was that they changed appearances as you damaged them a certain amount to indicate the brink of their death. This was a great indication to show that your actions were effective. It's too bad a lot of future RPGs haven't made use of this.
As mentioned earlier, Uematsu had no involvement in the music of this game. Instead, Yasuhiro Kawakami and Ryuji Sasai composed the soundtrack. The bulk of the music, especially the main battle theme, had a rock style that made the fights, dungeons and such seem edgy. Both composers did a good job of giving the game fitting and catchy music, and it shows some players that there is video game music talent beyond Uematsu. I liked the battle music and the dungeon music was catchy with each major dungeon having its own theme. Town music, on the other hand, had little variety. All the towns used the same song with slight remixes here and there. The song was pretty nice, but hearing it in every town I visited quickly robbed it of charm.
I found the sound effects to be a bit on the goofy side, mostly coming from sword sounds and some spells. The sound effects coming from swinging the sword was a bit odd; it was a high pitched swiping sound rather than a slash. The healing magic sounded a bit dull to me. The cure sound effect was fine, though. The sound effects were a bit weird, but no big deal.
If you have played an RPG before, then you will instantly figure out the games mechanics with ease. It's the standard turn-based battle system where the player and enemy take turns pounding each other with weapons or magic, and victory gives you money and EXP. Only the hero levels up while other party members have fixed levels. However, they rejoin numerous times with higher levels and better stuff.
The game is quite easy due to the simplistic dungeons and enemies (both normal and boss) who don't put up much of a fight. Most enemies are weak to certain weapons and elemental magic so there's some strategy involved to finish the fight quickly, but you can still take them down using normal hack-and-heal methods.
While your foes are quite easy, they are certainly cheap, due to the dreaded status ailments! Almost every enemy can inflict status effects on you. Unless the target has immunity for a certain status, it usually hits the mark and some status effect will easily lead to your doom. Bosses also have a lot of cheap attacks with their own status inflictions along with attacks that take a huge chunk out of your party's HP. The equipment your hero gets throughout the game gives him certain status immunities, and eventually, he will resist almost all of them. The same can't be said about your party members, though. If you die, you can restart the fight with no penalty so it balances out.
Unlike most RPGs where there is a singular mana pool (MP) for all magic, each spell category has its own MP pool. There are three magic categories with four spells in each set. White magic aids your party by either healing, curing status ailments or reviving downed party members. Black magic consists of offensive spells, each with an elemental property. Wizard magic is stronger and flashier offensive magic. Normally, each spell has its own MP cost, but in this case, every spell costs only 1 MP from its respective category. With the high MP pool you'll be getting, you can spam spells to your hearts content.
In order to appeal to a broader audience, adventure elements were incorporated to provide more interactivity in the dungeons. Each of the four weapons has its own use to overcome obstacles. A sword pokes switches. An axe cuts down countless trees. A bomb breaks cracked walls. Claws are used to climb certain walls and later grapple onto objects. Your character can also jump over treacherous gaps. While these are simple concepts, they add more involvement as you go through simplistic, yet fun dungeons.
There is no inventory management whatsoever. There are only 4 usable items in the game and all your equipment gets replaced as you obtain better weapons and armors. Because of that, you can relax, and not worry at all about managing all of your stuff. Gold becomes mostly useless since your best stuff has to be found, and there is an abundant amount of chests that fulfill your item needs. At least the player does not have to worry about shopping much either.
The game is very simple, but that's the point. It's supposed to be an easy RPG that anyone can sink their time into; and the fact that you can save anywhere makes it playable in small doses. It's not deep or involving, but it is enjoyable. Sure, from an objective standpoint it has some glaring flaws, but I had fun with it and still sometimes play it for kicks. Though it's far from being a great game, you could do a lot worse.