Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is an odd outlier in the series, offering an entry-level experience for the newcomer to RPGs. In this, I say it succeeds, offering a streamlined progression and gameplay process coupled with simple, vibrant world design and storytelling that is easily consumed. Unfortunately, fans of the series tend to scoff at the game’s basic design approach, leaving this simple gem oft overlooked. Ryuji Sasai and Yasuhiro Kawakami were tasked with the game’s soundtrack, and brought a lot of straightforward compositions to Mystic Quest that fit the tone of the game perfectly. While Kawakami was largely responsible for the more calm, ambient tracks, Sasai’s penchant for rock came through in the battle themes and several other tracks. This soundtrack marks one of the more poignant works in their brief employ with Squaresoft but stands out from much of the rest of Final Fantasy for its unique soundscape.
The Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Remastered Soundtrack came to listeners just 21 days past the game’s 26th anniversary, a project helmed with aplomb by Sean Schafianski. Known for his many contributions to game soundtrack remaster and arrangement albums, Schafianski is a classically-trained saxophonist, who is award-nominated and no stranger to performing. His earliest works date back to 2010, but he has been working prolifically since and shows no signs of stopping. This album marks his latest remaster contribution, bringing together a handful of talented artists he has worked with before to reinvigorate this aging soundtrack from Final Fantasy’s past.
With a remaster, listeners should expect a true commitment to maintaining the source material in the arrangements. Schafianski does this expertly, but I still find much of the remastered soundtrack sounds so… digital. None of the tracks are technically bad, I still feel there’s an overall hollowness in the instrumentation, which is the fault of no one. The listening experience would have been night and day had Schafianski had the budget to bring in a live orchestra to play each track, but I don’t think that was in the cards. What highlights this disparity between live instruments and the digital orchestra especially are the select tracks with guest guitarists. The electric guitar provides a more visceral and grounded sound that stands out from the rest of the “orchestra.”
That being said, this digital instrumentation helps maintain what I feel is the 90s fantasy feel that many kids of the late 80s and early 90s can identify from many a film score. The Neverending Story immediately jumps out at me when listening to the Mystic Quest OST, and the clearer synth work Schafianski brings to the remaster exemplifies this. Tracks like “Shrine of Light,” “Beautiful Forest,” or “City of Wind — Windia” amplify the “mystic” part of the game, creating a sense of wonder in the listener. It is also here this soundtrack truly stands out from the rest of the series, in my opinion. The consistently whimsical soundscape lacks much of the high fantasy vibe the rest of the Final Fantasy series largely strived for. These simple, enchanting pieces that Schafianski has doubled-down on really pulls the listener into the wholesomeness of Mystic Quest’s adventure. It’s easy, family-friendly, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, causing the more dramatic moments of the game’s rote story to stand out.
As no adventure is complete without adversity, the battle themes bring the heat. Between Schafianski’s dancing keys and PirateCrab’s electric licks, “Battle 1” has never sounded better, and the same can be said when the pair revisit “Battle 2” together as well. As I mentioned, Sasai’s focus was bringing some rock and roll to the battles, and each theme shows far more complexity than much of the soundtrack. PirateCrab’s performance’s are fantastic, since Sasai clearly wanted to dazzle with his guitar work. Both pieces are a great contrast to the overall adventure, raising the stakes and getting the blood pumping. The high-flying drama that is “Battle 3” caps off the game’s battle themes, opening with a malicious march building to a stentorian break of electric guitar and percussion. This remaster showcases the talents of Ro Panuganti as it dances through the rise and fall of the dramatic final battle over an exciting base of xylophone and blasts of brass that punctuate the tension. Again, the balance between the clear wail of the guitar and the synthetic orchestra is especially clear in this piece, but the arrangement holds up over all as a thrill to listen to. Of the three battle themes, “Battle 1” has always been my favourite, largely because it makes the simplest of battles so incredibly intense. The opening guitar punches you right in the eardrums and lets you know the danger is real. It moves into a rolling melody that drives the battle forward, with a slight denouement for the synth to shine so listeners can take a breath. The guitar kicks back in after that break to remind you the fight isn’t over, the enemy still stands, but so do you. Each fight could be your last listening to a theme like this, so anyone will find themselves invigorated as they strike down the myriad monsters plaguing the land.
One major failing in the original soundtrack was that much of the percussion came off so thin and flat, I imagine due to the hardware. Schafianski’s arrangements truly shine because of the bombastic percussion he has injected into everything. It is easy to overlook, but once you compare the old with the new, the remaster sounds more rounded out overall because of this. The percussion amps the excitement in the aforementioned battle themes, it adds weight to the gentler ambient passages as well, and brings a thrilling flair of drama to other tracks. “Fossil Labyrinth” is infinitely more exciting and easier on the ears, as is steady march of “Middle Tower” along with its warmer synthetic brass section. The drama is real in these two tracks now, exemplifying the struggles the hero, Benjamin, needs to overcome in his quest. In the “Last Castle” especially, the improved percussion perfectly accompanies guest guitarist Tiago Rodrigues in making the final dungeon a truly threatening experience that also feels as 90s fantasy as anything I have heard. This is the culmination of the Saturday morning cartoon battle, what we as kids lived for when playing Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.
Though the sounds of the synthetic orchestra can leave something to be desired at times, overall, Schafianski has done a stellar job arranging the Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Remastered Soundtrack. It gives this simple yet fun soundtrack the spotlight it deserves while maintaining its wholesome roots. Everything has more punch, more weight, more breath that only elevates without overindulging. This remastered soundtrack still makes me feel right at home, ready to set out on an exciting and wondrous adventure that I can tell mom and dad about when I get back.