Though it was much maligned at release for being an insulting “Baby’s First RPG,” Final Fantasy Mystic Quest has proven to be way ahead of its time. It now stands as one of the most modern-playing RPGs on the SNES.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest made an effort to simplify a variety of traditional RPG systems in an effort to attract players who wouldn’t otherwise try the genre. Many of these innovations would be revisited later by Final Fantasy or other games, or even become industry standards. A lack of random encounters was a weird idea in 1992, but it’s the norm now.
The beauty of Mystic Quest is that the game takes full advantage of its innovations. For instance, the lack of random encounters allows the dungeons to be puzzle-based and require a lot of backtracking without being frustrating. The combat is simple and occasionally brutal out of nowhere, but the ability to retry any battle (which would pop up again in Final Fantasy XIII) means that bad luck won’t ruin the game.
Mystic Quest won’t wow you with its story or depth or (existence of) character customization, and while it’s quite a pretty game for its time, its graphics aren’t dazzling either. (Its music, on the other hand, is fantastic.) Instead, the game concentrates on an old-school combat loop that feels like a cross between Dragon Quest and old Final Fantasy. Each battle is another opportunity to learn how to efficiently dispatch your foes, but the Final Fantasy series focus on learning and exploiting weaknesses is the core of combat.
Equipment is handled in an streamlined way in Mystic Quest, with all armor upgrades being equipped automatically on your main character (your partners throughout the game neither level nor change gear). Weapons work in a similar way, but you can switch between the four available types at will, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Bombs are powerful but split their damage, claws are weak but cause nasty status ailments, and so on. The weapons are also used as parts of environmental puzzles. You also have a complement of elemental spells with uses divided by type that let you go to town on offense without worrying about losing your ability to heal up.
On the whole, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest holds up surprisingly well if you like old-school RPG combat but aren’t interested in old-school RPG unfairness. It’s a game that fills a very traditional niche in a modern way, which makes it somewhat unique. It’s not a game that stands out as a classic, but as a way to scratch the RPG exploration itch, you can do much worse.