You have to give Spencer some credit: he was right about earthquakes in Fireburg, since they took place every. single. time you moved between map locations in this quadrant. Though all this makes one wonder: just how on earth are these quakes only hitting one quarter of the interconnected world? Fireburg proper turned out to be a multi-levelled town with an odd but danceable remix of the usual town theme. It even had another track simply called “Rock ‘n’ Roll” playing in the bar where there was a real rock and roll band playing on the stage. You find Tristam listening to the band, getting pissed at the bar in good ambience. (This seems to have led some YouTube videos to misname Tristam’s theme, properly titled “Rock Theme,” with the bar’s theme “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The OST was just asking for it with titles like that!). Tristam actually seems happy to see you, though he doesn’t have much to say.
Weaving through town, breaking into houses and harassing the locals, we bought a Battle Axe for 500 gold. The Knight Sword’s day in the sun was brief. We bought the axe from a lady with Gemini tile in her basement, just like the shopkeep in Aquaria. We actually found the Gemini Tablet in a nearby battlefield, and discovered that the two shops were simply linked by the tiles, giving you a shortcut between quadrants. Fair enough. Continuing our ransacking of Fireburg, we also found the game’s first Seed shop. Seeds restore magic in this game, which is to say they restore your magic to full and aren’t really that expensive, so we pretty much emptied our wallet to stock up so we would never have to worry about magic limits again. The game just flushed its own difficulty down the toilet.
We also met Reuben and his mother while we were in Fireburg, and the mother said her husband Arion had gone into the Volcano with a friend because the Volcano “seemed odd,” but the buddy freaked out, ran back to Fireburg and locked himself in at home. A boulder was now blocking anyone from getting to Arion, and they needed a Mega Grenade to rescue him. And who’s the only person in town with the Mega Grenades? You guessed it! It’s the friend barricading himself in his bunker-house at the bottom of town. Now, we’re getting a little Rube Goldberg here, but it gets worse. If you’re wondering why you need the Mega Grenades, you might think it’s because the boulder is the size of a small moon, but it’s actually not a matter of explosive power. No, even though the boulder seems accessible by foot on the world map (and since it’s blocking footpath, it really has to be), the game is only going to allow you to blow it up if you toss Mega Grenades across a far-away gap. By the way, that ledge? We later learn it can only be accessed at the end of another dungeon.
While we’re on the subject, why is the game making such a fuss about “needing” to throw throwing grenades that this boulder, aka this boulder right here, in the attached screenshot? Maybe you can see why I’m raising a fuss? For starters, you could clearly just walk up to the boulder and set manual explosives. But more than that, there’s clearly room to fit around the boulder on the world map. In fact, I’d say you could troop a five-wide marching band around the thing. Is no one willing to just walk around? Reuben? Nobody?
Reuben joined up (more on him later) and we went to check out this guy barricaded in his house. Ben took one look at Vault Boy’s locked door and did the productive thing, by turning to the only thief in town. I wasn’t lying when I said Tristam was glad to see you, because once Ben had described the problem, Tristam whipped out a “multi-key” for Ben, no questions asked and no money charged. “Aren’t these illegal?” you can imagine Ben asking. “Kid,” says hypothetical Tristam, “we really can’t work together if you’re going to ask questions like that.”
Arion’s friend wasn’t actually all that peeved about us breaking into his house, in front of him, as he watched. He handed over the Mega Grenades after polite conversation and exposition, the nicest guy I’ve ever mugged. The odd thing about getting the Mega Grenades now is that this essentially spells the end of your bombs. The Grenades are the last time Ben’s bombs will ever be upgraded again even though we’ve just eked past the game’s half-way mark, and that’s by design. You’ll soon have to rely on a different source for group damage – typically magic, a source with far less than 99 units of ammunition.
…Oh, wait, we just picked up enough Seeds to cast magic from here till doomsday! Forget what I just said.
After noting an infinity symbol tile in the bunker’s basement, we left our survivalist friend to his own devices. Having committed to rescuing Reuben’s dad, it was time for us to bail on the entire country to go on our shitty shield hunt.
It turned out the Shield was back in Bone Dungeon, hidden behind a bombable point that appears before you first get the bombs. That’s actually pretty clever! Though unusually, the bombable point is a small skeleton, and no other such bombable skeleton appears in the game. Sure, it’s clearly blocking a passage, and you can get close enough to see the chest past it… ehhh, come to think of it, this is actually pretty clever. You know what? As Kyle put it: “we have no good excuse.” We should have found this chest. You win this round, Mystic Quest.
Returning to Fireburg, we let Reuben’s dad worry through a few more of his emergency supplies by hitting up the Battlefields instead of rescuing him. The ones before Fireburg were meant to be fought by Ben solo and without the Battle Axe, so they just folded over between Ben and Reuben. Reuben is the game’s only straight-up Fighter-type, wielding a Morning Star and armour that, if it weren’t for that glitch, would have given him strength against Fire spells so common in this quadrant. His only spell of real note was Life, like every other guest character, but made up for with the best attack stat in the game, though he sort of runs out of steam before his time as guest party member really comes to a close.
Back to the Battlefields: the second had living trees that gave us full nelsons (that is an entirely literal statement), but they buckled under Ben’s axe, and even Reuben’s morning star which for some reason also counted as an axe. The last Battlefield had the Thunder spell, which was partially out-of-date but it felt better to have something to do with your Wizard spell points than nothing at all.
The dungeon we had to cross to get our Goldberg Device going was a mine, which was simply called “Mine” by the game. Believe it or not, the series usually has unique names for each dungeon, but the generic name “Mine” slipped through quality control twice, once here and once in Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Fate. Shame on the both of them!
Early on in the dungeon, we had to ask ourselves an important question: were the generic brown chests with potions and refreshers scattered throughout the game still worth the trouble? The Mine had one section where a small gauntlet of monsters cut off access to a brown box, which probably held 4 Cure potions that couldn’t heal a bruise at this point in the game. Like I said earlier, Heal potions couldn’t be purchased, so there was some merit in hoping to find those in brown boxes… but we almost didn’t need Heal potions to begin with, and rarely used them even when we did! About the only good defence for the brown boxes is the argument that ignoring the chests means ignoring XP from their protectors, but we decided to push through the rest of the game without going out of our way for a brown box, and didn’t really suffer for our decision.
The Mine, we found, was a series of cliffs and treadmills flowing over flowing lava, and combined with Spencer this raises some serious questions about how the average person pictures mining in this world. Actually, the Mine brought up a mental picture of the first dungeon in Soul Blazer, a fellow 1992 game where the treadmills are over flowing water. Frankly, the background animation in Soul Blazer was a lot better, even though Soul Blazer’s animations are generally awful, but it’s not as though MQ’s animations were better. I mean, a turn-based game like Mystic Quest has only a half-dozen animations to begin with! The Mine also had a series of one-way pulley systems that put you in a bucket and dumped you at the bottom. They were probably meant to be used with a helper to lift ore, so it was nice to see a little verisimilitude from this Mine with no exposed rock to mine, all three feet from exposed magma.
For reasons I don’t quite recall, Kyle fought some of the enemies in this section with the Cat Claw, poisoning a Skeleton at one point, which was hilarious. Perhaps he was channeling some lost memory, as the Mine actually holds the second claw weapon, the Charm Claw, which could also cause Confusion, Sleep and Blind, but we didn’t realize it was there until after we had cleared the boss. That boss was a “Jinn,” which we attacked with the Mega Grenades. The poor thing didn’t really have a chance, even if it did have group attacks to use on us in turn. Our characters had actually been faster than all the bosses lately (probably going back to Squidite, but that’s a guess). This made them fairly easy to beat, as we could Cure any damage they caused in the previous turn before they could ever capitalize. It’s no wonder most games introduce more randomness in turn order!
Past the Jinn, we found the ledge near Reuban’s dad, where for once, at close zoom, the boulder looked like it might actually block the path! There we finally met up with Reuban’s Da… wait, is that Kyle’s Dad from FFLII? What makes this Indiana Jones sprite even more preposterous was the fact that this game’s dev team designed FFLIII, and as you might recall, Dad actually appears in FFLIII but looked nothing like he did in FFLII! Why could they only be arsed to draw Dad properly for a game where he doesn’t appear? Reuben tossed the grenade to clear the boulder, and we zoomed out to watch this fucking asteroid Raiders of the Lost Ark‘d itself down a cliff side, steamrolling dozens, despite not actually blocking anyone’s path to begin with.
After backtracking through the Mine with our new Claw, we observed that the boulder, having come to a bloody stop in a canyon, was now forming a natural bridge from one of the Battlefields to Sealed Temple, a cave that connected to Wintry Temple via the Gemini Crest, a cute but pointless trip because there was nothing in Wintry but some brown chests. Do the devs not realize these chests are pointless? Perhaps they do, because the old man, our mystical guardian showed up in one of the temples and actually bummed 10G off of us for “a coffee.” “Serious,” said Kyle, “this guy’s just trolling us!”