Having cleared ‘Rex, the Earth Crystal appeared in his place, floating in mid air. Kyle remarked how, as a kid, he didn’t realize you were supposed to just leave the Crystal floating there and kept jumping up to get it!
With the Crystal restored, Tristam began rifling through Rex’s stuff like a good thief. There he found a late-weapon, the Dragon Claw, in a chest nearby. He gave us the Elixir in exchange for the Claw and bailed on us at once, once again like a good thief. Thankfully he left us the Sand Coin, a small little clay disc, which we could use to restore partial access through Focus Tower. Of course, now we’d have to walk out of the dungeon on our own. Thankfully, a lot of obstacles in the dungeon had been shifting sands that pushed us back toward the entrance, so there was a quick way out this time, at least until we got back to that gauntlet at the entrance room.
Once we had cured Kaeli, she mentioned wanting to visit a man named Spencer in Aquaria, but despite being cured, Kaeli would still be stuck in bed for a few days or weeks (depending on how you see the progression of time in an RPG). Ben said he’d go ahead while she finished recovering. Heading back into town, we discovered that… everyone was a kid now? Sure, we knew the old folks in town had had their life force drained by ‘Rex, but apparently none of them were adults but Kaeli’s mom and Captain Mac? And sheesh, Kaeli was the only teen? No wonder she was so eager to skip town.
Heading towards Focus Tower, we found a Battlefield, which served as a goodbye to the minor bad guys from the region. This becomes something of a tradition, with a similar Battlefield appearing in every section of the game but the last (as the minor guys from that section are reused for the final dungeon instead). This particular “farewell Battlefield” was unremarkable, save the point where Confusion first got a chance to really mess with us. In one fight, Ben somehow managed to Quake himself to death while Confused, and in another he tried to play FFII by chopping at himself with his axe, and in what must have been the most remarkable thing to see in person: he missed.
As I’ve said already, the route to Aquaria ran through Focus Tower: Foresta in the southwest and Aquaria in the northeast. The Tower is interesting for a structure that’s functionally little more than an elevator. Focus Tower is built on a crag of rock in the very centre of the world, with Ben accessing it from the Forestan side via a cave at its base. Once you reach the centre of the tower, the Tower turns into a hub world to the other three quarters. I would have simply called it a hub world if it weren’t for a final twist. Ultimately, the Tower is a simple meta-dungeon that you visit multiple times, with no monsters inside most of its rooms, and not a gauntlet like The Tower in FFLI. I like it… on the first trips, anyways. If only the return trips between quadrants weren’t so dull after you’re solved the Tower’s few puzzles!
I’ve gotten ahead of myself again. In the base of the tower, we met our friend the Old Man on the cloud again, who told us that Captain Mac would be important to our quest, just to keep his name in our heads. He added that a girl named Phoebe “can” help us. “She CAN,” Kyle said, “…that doesn’t mean she WILL.” Partway up the tower, we came to the hub room and used the coin-key from Flamerus Rex’s horde to open the door to the Aquarian quadrant. Near the door were two other doors, marked with the icons you might have seen in any other fantasy game (Sword, Shield, Staff) but oddly enough, icons not seen in Mystic Quest itself. Where did these icons come from? They have no honest relation to the quadrants of the game world, and it would hardly have been intuitive to put them on doors in the first place!
Disconnected from the three icons I described above (but still visible thanks to our top-down perspective) was a fourth door marked with the symbol for Items, which we couldn’t access. (You can see this green-coloured door between the text box and the “1F” box in the image above. Because our longplayer heads speedily to and through the yellow door, I couldn’t get a better picture at this point in the game!)
Past the Aquarian door, we found a Fire spell book just before stepping back into the world, and into the snow. Delighted at this winter paradise, we began murdering things. The nearest Battlefield featured some Brownie recolours (“Mint Mints”, after their green caps, though clearly called “Knockers” in the Japanese, named after a goblin recolour from FFIII). In fact, the entire Battlefield was Mint Mints, without exception! We were pretty sure they were just popping out of the ground to say “hello” and Ben just set their burrows on fire.
…You know, after FFLI, FFIV, and that sort of thing, Kyle and I may be starting to expect the worst from our protagonists from the get-go. God help us if we ever play the intended villain or we might end up inserting teddy bears where they don’t belong.
Our next stop was Libra Temple, another cave defined by a Libra Tile on the floor, where we walked past the only occupant to bust open a few chests before we finally talked to Phoebe. Phoebe’s one of my favourites, entirely based on inferred details. Actually, the first three party members in this game are pretty good concepts, even if they might not work out in execution. Tristam is cool thanks to his theme song and egotism. Kaeli’s clearly supposed to be some sort of druidess, but like Faye the supposed nun in FFLIII, Kaeli wears heavy plate mail on top of her dress and, also like Faye, fights with battle axes, and that’s just complicated enough to be awesome. Later in the game, her battle axe is replaced by one the size of a monster truck hubcap. Better yet, Kaeli’s motivation is supposedly about trees but if you look a little deeper it’s also about getting the hell away from her hometown filled with three year olds with crippling arthritis. It’s like her adventuring career is equal parts “genuine” and “genuine portrayal of a teenager.”
Meanwhile, Phoebe is kit in blue field plate and greaves, sky blue cape and pit fighter claws, and she’s a mage. Like a lot of female sprites in the 16 bit era, her legs are bare, but her greaves are so high that this patch of skin almost seems like an oversight – honestly, she’s wearing more armour than any other mage in the series and the blue armour gives her a unique look, I quite like it. Unfortunately, the European artwork doesn’t draw her in the blue plate, but it does draw her in red robes and fur armour, possibly inferring that she’s supposed to be a Red Mage, and also kind of a barbarian. This is just as amazing. We’ll get into her personality as we go along, but let’s just hint that she has one quirk that’s so memorable, so cartoonish that it could only happen in a kid’s game.
Phoebes tells Ben that things were bad in Aquaria. The whole town was frozen over, and people are getting sick because their supply of Cure herbs are frozen over as well (the Cure herbs were represented using a sprite borrowed from FFA, from the swampland just outside Kett’s, demonstrated below). To make matters worse, Phoebe’s Grandpa is trapped somehow, though they didn’t explain the particulars (knowing what the particulars turn out to be when I write this, we probably wouldn’t have believed them at the time). Ben, showing a lot of concern for her situation, asked about Spencer instead. “Well,” Kyle said, “our concern was evident when we opened the chest [before talking to her].” It turned out Spencer was Phoebe’s Grandpa, so finally (and only then) Ben offered to free him. Ben absorbed Phoebe into the party right then and there. She didn’t even get a say in it.
The Cure herb sprite (defrosted) and the original sprite from FFA.
Before doing anything else, we visited Aquaria, a town built over currently-frozen water. Aquaria had a gentle, flowing variant of the Forestan town theme playing in the background, and was chock full of people gently freezing to death. There, we bought Ben a Steel Helm, and found our first batch of Refreshers. This weird, crystal-bottled potion clears your debuffs, bearing in mind that debuffs in MQ are few to the point of being harmless. Wheee… We also found a Gemini teleport tile in the equipment seller’s basement. Lastly, we discovered that the inns in this game are prohibitively expensive. Sure, our last inn was free so anything would look pricey, but the Aquarians were charging 95 gold when we were earning 6 gold a fight!
Phoebe tells us that “Wakewater” from Life Temple could unfreeze the town, but the only way to Life Temple is a Libra-marked tile in Libra Temple, which was apparently a teleporter tile! The only way to activate these teleporters was with matching Crests, and thanks to the Aquarians storing the Libra Crest in Some Cave Somewhere (these storage practices are becoming an international problem), and a monster called a Squidite has the tile now. With Phoebe’s help, we vacated a few more Battlefields, leaving a trail of broken homes in our wake and ganking a ring in the process, making Ben immune to Mute. That would be great if poor design hadn’t disabled the enemies’ ability to cause Mute! Yeah, they aren’t able to cause it at any point in the game!
The Crest Phoebe was looking for had been stashed in a place called Wintry Cave, cross-country overland from Libra Temple (remember the thief is a squid). We headed in and promptly slipped into a gorge, like heroes. Phoebe used her Claws to save herself, not Ben (also like a hero), even though the Cat Claws can clearly carry party members. I know this because she passes them off to you immediately so you can use them for climbing, and she just follows along.
The Claws are an odd weapon type. It’s always weaker than your previous weapon (unless you’ve missed a weapon or two), but each Claw can cause status effects with some regularity. This first claw causes only Poison or Paralyze. Normally we’d give status effects a pass, but we found that so long as we didn’t run into an enemy that was weak against Axe attacks, the Cat Claw could kill them in the same number of attacks as our Axe and Sword! That meant a free stunned or poisoned enemy from time to time, which was good for our hearts.
Meanwhile, Phoebe replaced her Claws with the Bow of Grace, which put her into a more traditional female caster role. Ah well. Now we had to deal with limited ammunition, but it was hard to care, as she was hitting harder, doing extra damage against fliers, and Blinding enemies with regularity, which can only imply that she was sniping their eyes. Do you believe me now when I say she’s a Barbarian? When you’re that good a shot, you only muck around with short-ranged claws to show off. Also, she got confused once and shot Ben straight in the eye. You know what, Phoebe? I’m transferring you to Firion’s team. You’re a natural. Ben and I will carry on with Guy. Guy will be a great guest party member. Guy speak to squid.
Speaking of squid, the boss wasn’t much of a challenge, thanks largely to Phoebe’s Thunder spell. Thunder was the first of the “Wizard” spells, which are all top-tier attack spells distinct from the “Black” spells in terms of MP. The biggest downside of the Wizard spells is that they never get that many casts, barely eking into double digits for Ben by the end of the game.
With Thunder’s help we easily fried the Squidite, and took the tablet to the crest in Libra Temple, allowing us to teleport to Life Temple. If you bothered to walk out the front door in Life Temple, you’d find it’s actually on a cliffside in the game’s fourth quadrant, which was a nice touch, and very reminiscent of seeing the Valley of Bowser from Donut Secret in Super Mario World. Unfortunately, the spring full of Wakewater Phoebe had been counting on had dried up, presumably thanks to the corruption of the Water Crystal, but the game never says. We found the Old Guy in the back, carrying a winesack of the water. Why did he have it? Kyle rationalized that the Old Man drank all the water, which is the only thing that possibly explains why it was both gone but not gone. Otherwise the devs simply manufactured a situation to make the Old Man seem relevant to the plot when he really isn’t, and that would be silly! Ha ha! Ha!