Here's where I get into a little grey area known as "Twatty Fan base". That wonderful little area games tend to fall into where some fans of a series will disown the game and label it "A Gaiden Game" or "A non-canon game" or will disregard it as being part of a series because it's "too different" or "not the same kind of game". This is why I turn around and simply ignore these pricks because it's quite simply, a game. These people need to stop being whiny little fucks and either enjoy the game for what it is rather than what it's supposedly not being.
"It's not part of the series" So fucking what? It's still a game, it's still released with that title whether you agree with it or not for whichever little bullshit excuse you can muster up even if it's "Executive meddling" doesn't detract from the game itself, look at it for what it is rather than what it is part of.
"It's too different" No... shit... It has to be different otherwise you're playing the same game as before and then it becomes "It's too similar!” Your on-the-fence little position only shows you're whining but not with a specific reason other than it wasn't the game you wanted it to be. Tough shit, now grow a pair so I can kick them up through your body and have them blast out of your shit-spouting mouth.
But enough of my social commentary on these elitist pricks, there's a game here to see. Not the game many people wanted or many fans of the Final Fantasy series want to acknowledge but a game nonetheless. Sometimes I prefer when a game doesn't have the same fans as the others in the series because sometimes, those fans are annoying idiotic people, and I've no time for those people.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest... Now begins the internal debate of whether to compare it to other games in the series. I shall not. I shall rate this game on its own merits rather than what it does better or worse than other games. I'm not going to add fuel to the fire by saying inane shit like "Yeah but Final Fantasy 1 did this and Final Fantasy 4 did this blahablahabjahjdahailovecockblahahla" like some pissy little ingrate.
FFMQ is an RPG with a wide audience as its target. The story is fairly simple and throws you into the middle of it. Your hometown is under attack, being destroyed and you leap to safety before you're attacked by a monster. (A fight you can lose... as I found out on my first go when it hit me with a critical attack and killed me outright, seems the AI plays fair, in that it can do what I can do with lucky rolls). Upon killing the monster an old man fills you in on the events and tells you that to save the world from suffering the same fate, you'll have to restore the balance of 4 crystals (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water but thankfully not Heart...Go Planet!) and restore the world to order AND stop a doomsday prophecy.
All before you realise your home town is gone and in a sniff of grief, off you go.
You control your character by the main compass points of movement, North, South, West and East and jumping for the occasional puzzle while on the maps that navigate the world and within towns, cities and dungeons. Battling is done with a menu system similar to turn based combat where you and sometimes an AI partner, will take on up to three enemies in combat where you can select a weapon with which to smack them in the gob, cast magic, defend, use an item or run off (if you can).
As a character, you level up with experience earned from beating the shit out of monsters. Some monsters are weak to various attacks and weapons, some are strong from other attacks and weapons but all are rather well illustrated and show various stages of damage to let you know how badly you've been beating on them. Particularly evident with bosses that have 4-5 different frames of animation for showing the kicking they've taken.
Progressing through the levels and towns, you'll be able to buy and find bigger and better weapons, armours from people or inside hidden chests, sometimes in out of the way places or shown behind locked doors you'll have to come back for later.
Enemies are shown on the world map as either battlefields where you can fight up to 10 enemies (or more if you know how to glitch it) or icons that depict the main enemy, walking into these enemies will trigger the fight, giving you the chance to check and prepare for the enemy and cure ailments like being blinded, which drops your accuracy in combat. Spells have maximum casting for each spell and are replenished when using seeds, the higher the level your character is, the more of each spell they can use... assuming they've found the particular spell. Most spells hit one enemy or can hit them all for a slightly weaker attack, some spells just hit everyone anyway in a more "meh, slap them all" kind of attack.
In this RPG, your most powerful weapons are already available assuming you've found them, ranging from swords, axes, bombs and claws, which can cause status changes in enemies including instant death but by the time you're using that one hit tends to kill the enemies anyway. Armours follow the same suit; your most powerful will be automatically equipped for you to save grief.
During the game you'll encounter various allies that will team up with your character for a while, the AI can be used for them to fight as they'd prefer or you can take over and use their attacks and spells for yourself. All depending upon how you'd like to fight or whether you feel the AI isn't focusing upon the enemies in ways you'd prefer. Essentially they offer the very useful helping hand against the new areas with the new tougher monsters.
It can take around 13 hours on a serious run through of the game.
Story wise, the game jumps and shifts from trying to take itself seriously in building up a situation with someone suffering from something, a monster being the cause and giving credence to the idea that battling the evil monster will save the innocent sufferers. Which does pay off well in some cases but then is destroyed when in one particular event, the heroes fight their way to the top of a mountain where they think the winds are being used to attack a town, meet the main monster and this little exchange takes place.
"So you're the one causing these problems!"
"Nope, it's boss X"
And they fight anyway. All the suspense, build up and it falls down to "Nope, it's that guy" leaving you to think that you'll just head over there to kick his arse as well. Some bosses will take the time to talk to you about how futile what you're doing is, others are just bigger, tougher creatures that are more than happy to get into a slap fight with the main character (and comrade, if you have them, usually you do). The downside to this is that unless you're paying attention to the ONE LINE of information telling you what to do, you can end up not knowing where to go next as the character you just spoke to now reverts to a loop of "Good luck" "I have faith in you" or "Come back later for a good time, bring money" though I might have imagined that last one.
The music within the game is beyond good, at times close to being a shining example of the SNES's audio capabilities while fight music and boss music have their own epic qualities and each one enriches the experience, while music in the fire town is significantly more upbeat to get the shoulders bobbing along with the tunes.
The game moves along at a steady pace though in some of the latter dungeons you need to start thinking in 3 dimensions with floors over floors being an issue, which can be a little jarring at first just to hit switches to trap a boss between floors then you can fight him and likely have your arse handed to you on a silver platter, which begs the question, why have him running away if he's that powerful in the first place? The last few dungeons of the game lose their linearity that the earlier ones had and you're left feeling that you're running in circles looking for the one exit you've not tried just to get the hell on with the next bit of the story. Levelling becomes moot once you're around level 30 with only the final dungeon and the revamp bosses and MAYBE the final boss being a challenge (if you know the glitch... great)
Some dungeons have puzzles beyond just "Walk up to enemy, fight, walk up to boss, fight" in that there's sliding block puzzles, jumping puzzles and later in the game, hook shot puzzles that come right out of a Zelda game with working out how to manoeuvre around the dungeon, grabbing all the treasures and then getting to the boss being a different take than the earlier puzzles of the aforementioned "fight boss, lose, try again", speaking of which, dying in the game lets you refight the same fight at the stats you had at the start of the fight while ending a fight with one of your party dead, the other not, brings the other person back on 1 health point rather than requiring you to get them resurrected in some obscure manner.
To coin a meme, Simple Game Is Simple. A lot of other RPGs (not just Final Fantasy games...) have more complex fighting mechanics, more complex plotlines and more developed characters but on the flip side it's a wonderful step into the RPG era, I know some people are going to whine "It's made that way for certain audiences" and my answer to that is that the game does its job VERY well. It is exactly the kind of game to get people into more evolved RPGs who may have only known platform games or top-down adventure games like Zelda. It gets the mind starting to think on things rather than throwing them in the deep end on an RPG that will only be accessible to people who already know the types of games or are Mensa champions, which is hardly a fun way to spend time playing a game.
Personally, I like the game. It's got this quaint little charm that I find endears me to the game itself and yes, people will draw comparisons to expel the game as a Final Fantasy game because it doesn't fit in with their view of what a Final Fantasy game should be, or slate it for being too simple while not realising that's the POINT of this game, to be simple, to readily accessible to all involved and to encourage people into playing a game type they might not have tried before.
Completitionists might have to resort to a guide to make sure they get every single little treasure as some are really well tucked away, purists will bitch and moan about how this game shouldn't be a Final Fantasy game though it's written on the box and the screen, has a battle system in line with the series and uses the 4 elements as a plot point like almost the whole series does, while people like me who can appreciate a nice fun game will likely enjoy a while with the game exploring RPG mechanics and getting a taste, like I did when I was kid, for something new. While today I still play this game just for the enjoyment of playing it.
In closing, fuck fan-boys for ruining the reputations of good games solely because they don't like them. Oh and try this game out if you get the change.