Back in the main body of the castle, we got to a room at the top of the stairs where we found a statue of Ben, standing just outside the Dark King’s door. Can you explain this? Because we couldn’t explain this. It’s not even trapped. Have you ever heard that old joke that bosses are trapped inside their boss rooms? Because the Dark King doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s got set up as décor. Walking up to the statue, we heard the voice of the Crystals, who named Ben and Phoebe the Knights. Since the term “Knight” has been singular up to this point, I have a feeling someone wanted to write “Warriors of Light” but pulled back for consistency. The Crystals then they gifted us with help, a dump truck full of potions and ammunition: 25 each of Cure Potions, Seeds, Arrows and… Refreshers. Thanks.
We headed on, and found the Dark King hanging out in a physics defying room like a good last boss, lording over space and time in the form of a strange teal man in royal robes and a crown. When we talked to him, he dropped one of the bombs this game is famous for: the prophecy was just a rumour he started ages ago for his own entertainment. No one is destined to save the world! This is great (and even fixes my complains about the Venus Shield in the process, because it wasn’t fated for anyone in the first place)! Yes, this is a solid twist and all, and I respect the dev team for pulling the rug out from under the Chosen One storyline, but there are two major problems. First off, the Crystals just acknowledged the party as the Knights, which means they seem to believe in the prophecy, and they’re base elemental forces. They were pretty much right about the Warriors of Light in FFI, III and later V, so was the Dark King just lying? How disappointing if that’s the case. Second: for all Square Enix is maligned as a relic, stuffed full of dusty clichés, the Final Fantasy series… hasn’t done a Chosen One storyline since FFI. The closest example is in Kingdom Hearts, which is also a snub on the trope, as Sora isn’t the Keyblade’s chosen either, but proves himself better all his own. Since Kingdom Hearts does this so much better than the Dark King’s afterthought here, Ben is just breaking in Sora’s clown shoes in a manner of speaking, and that takes a lot of the wind out of the proceedings.
I wish there was more we could say about the final boss, but there’s really not. That’s the thing about a boss fight, I can describe his capabilities but unless something unusual happened on our end, I really don’t have much to say, and nothing did. He actually has four phases, more than any final boss in the Marathon so far, save the Creator of TAY, who you’ll recall is a modern creation. Perhaps he got all these extra forms because the game was already built to handle changing sprites at various damage thresholds?
The first phase was against the King in his robes, as he used debuffs to soften us up without attacking. He reminded me a lot of Smithy’s baffling “Cat Box” form in Super Mario RPG, which did nothing but remove your buffs. But he changed off that phase quickly, and came after us with a plethora of weapons, each with its own attack. Phase three was a spider and in phase four the spider’s legs were replaced with tentacles, although the last two forms are identical. You might as well consider the “tentacle spider” to be the damaged sprite of the regular spider. The spider forms could web us with status effects (although only Phoebe was vulnerable to status effects at this point) and smack us with Mega White and Bahamut’s Mega Flare, but it wasn’t that hard to keep on top. Our strategy was pretty much the same phase to phase: Ben’s Flare, Phoebe’s White, Life when necessary.
Actually, funny story about Ben and Phoebe’s magic. Mystic Quest, like Final Fantasy Legend, is infamous for a glitch that can instantly kill the final boss. In this case, you have to cast Cure on him with Ben. Because Cure heals damage based on max HP, it will heal the Dark King a massive amount, going over the game’s integer max, rolling over into negative HP and killing him instantly. The real odd part about this, though, is that using Cure from Phoebe heals him so well that it wraps over into negative, then over again back into positive, because she’s just that powerful a mage! Glitches are against Marathon rules, but I just couldn’t discuss Mystic Quest without bringing this up.
I can’t say much about the ending, either, as its dry like an overcooked turkey. The Old Man showed up on his cloud, saying he was the “Crystal of Light” all along and that he had been “guiding” us. Yeah, that’s what you’ve been doing. Ben then went on a world tour to greet old friends. Reuben was now in a band (why not) and Ben found no sign of Tristam. Spencer was mining under his house again when Ben came to ask about Tristam, and this time Spencer was mining for no good reason, so it may have been that Ben didn’t want to stick around to ask where Tristam had gone before Spencer brought the roof in. Ben stopped off in Foresta to ask Mac if he could have his ship so that he (Ben) could seek out more adventure. Everyone came to see Ben off at the Dock in Windia, where Phoebe finally left the party, and there was a cute bit where the game used its limited spriting ability to have Kaeli give Ben a goodbye hug. At last, Ben boarded the ship and did one of those little spin dances he’s been doing all game long. I can’t really blame him for being excited, because no matter what bullshit the ending of FFLII was trying to pull, Ben is the only protagonist in the Marathon who legitimately hasn’t really seen his entire world and actually can explore further! But he wouldn’t be alone (I hope not, that’s a huge sailing ship the size of a dungeon, you need a fucking crew!) as Tristam showed up on board, complete with theme song, ready to tag along.
So that was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: tacky, simple, and while I didn’t bring it up as often as it happened during play, it was the only game in the series that leans on status effects for difficulty like it was its only leg. But if the question has to be asked: do I still like it? Well… mostly? Mystic Quest really isn’t so much juvenile as its reputation suggests. It’s really just simplistic. Its plot is simplistic, its gameplay is simplistic, and so on. As plot goes, I can’t really imagine being mad at MQ’s plot without being mad at all RPG plots everywhere, and the neatly quartered world actually lent itself to some interesting story developments with Mac’s ship. And I think it’s funny how even in a kid’s game, Square couldn’t help but tell the Chosen One cliché to take a hike – now if only they’d do the same to amnesia! Now, in terms of mechanics, I still don’t really feel all that put out. MQ’s combat mechanics were dull and with only status effects on point, though maybe “on point” is too generous and “out of your control” closer to the mark.
But consider this: in any other Final Fantasy game, saying combat is dull would be a stake to the heart, but in Mystic Quest, combat is only half the game. The other half is improved manoeuvrability, tool use, and puzzles. It’s not as good as Lufia at the Zelda-esque elements, but it’s the only other game from the era that I know about that was doing Lufia’s shtick, and technically it beat Lufia to the punch by a year! It’s a little under-ambitious compared to FFA, its fellow sort-of-Zelda game, but seeing what happened to FFA, maybe that was for the best. This Zelda connection continues with the use of unique and significant equipment, and the use of significant spells instead of momentary, disposable ones, even if the balance was off. And while there’s an advantage to both the significant equipment and the insignificant equipment systems used in other Final Fantasies, I’ll confess, even as one of the guys playing a marathon of every Final Fantasy and Persona game, I prefer the Zelda system. I’d rather see more games like Mystic Quest where equipment is rare, significant and sometimes well-hidden to make the puzzles seem even more rewarding. I also prefer systems where defeating wandering monsters has an impact, even if it’s just as rudimentary an impact as there being a limited number of monsters. Better a rudimentary impact than a game like TAY where they couldn’t even be arsed to pretend the monsters existed in Palom’s Tale!
But in the end, a game that’s only half good is also a game that’s half bad. If I can be frank, FFI, FFII, FFLI, to an extent FFLII, and FFA all have really shitty battle systems too, but Mystic Quest’s is shitty and also it is boring. Mystic Quest’s biggest sin is that its battle system has old school thinness with none of the difficulty, so it appeals to no one. So that’s the legacy that will be stamped on Mystic Quest forever: “Who even cares?” Well, I do. But just a little.