June 26, 2012

Square Wave: Killing with Cure

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest defines "below-average." In Japan, they called it Final Fantasy USA, and intended it as a kind of introductory lesson on RPGs, presumably aimed at particularly brain-damaged children who needed the corners cut off their toast for safety reasons. It is one of the blandest, most miserable exercises in monotony ever committed to a SNES cartridge, and as an educational experience for dolts it utterly fails. Mystic Quest doesn't go out of its way to impart tips on how to interpret character stats or how to manage an inventory of spells and equipment -- and more importantly, it falls completely flat in instilling any sense of how enthralling and personal the role-playing experience can be. It's not hard to imagine someone being forever turned off of RPGs as a concept after trying this one.

You play as a generic-looking, spiky-haired character sprite (default name: Benjamin) who literally has no origin at all. In the first minute, you're told by some nameless elder that four monsters sealed the doors of the Focus Tower, which links the four nations of the world -- and are draining the power of the four elemental crystals, which keep the balance of the seasons in check. For some reason, you and only you are tasked with the defeat of those monsters and the restoration of the world. It's like they took the most cliché bits of all the crappiest games they could find, and used that as the driving force of the plot. From there on, you explore sleepy towns, navigate dull dungeons, and grind yourself through hundreds of snore-inducing monster battles until ultimately you shut off the SNES console in shame.

Like a diamond in the rough, the best part of the game is actually the very end. The final battle against the Dark King is comparably impressive, and as you hack away at him he takes various sinister forms:

As cool as this fight was, with its multiple phases and swirling galaxies in the background, the best part was discovering that it could all be over in just a few rounds by casting your normally-restorative "Cure" spell on the Dark King -- dealing vicious damage like you'd never seen, rather than healing him.

Final Battle is the high point of what is admittedly quite a strong soundtrack, for so weak a game. It's a great example of a classic, old-school approach the "final boss" scenario -- rather than attempt to overwhelm you with the epic dread of a hopelessly-monstrous ordeal, the track energizes the game's climax with a sense of encouragement and excitement. "This is it!" the music seems to say. "Hang in there, hero -- you can do it!"

Track: Final Battle
Game: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
Composed by Ryuji Sasai and Yasushiro Kawakami

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