Another “crowning” underachievement.
Remember Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest? Wait, don’t answer – it was a trick question. Because if you had said “yes”, I would have called you a liar anyway. No one who played Mystic Quest remembers it. There was nothing definitively wrong with it; it just had a forgettable story, forgettable characters, and totally derivative gameplay (I’ve made this summary based on the Wikipedia entry, because I, too, have forgotten the game). Well, ladies and gentleman, I present to you Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest II.
[image1]Officially the game is known as Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, but I like my title better. While 4 Heroes isn’t as excruciating as the odyssey to which I recently subjected myself known as FFXIV, it manages to have the same effect on single-player FFs that XIV had on MMOs. Specifically, it’s the sadness it makes you feel when you stop to think about how the game reflects on the Final Fantasy name, and remember what that name once stood for.
But perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh here. There are some nice things about the game. The art style has a very storybook quality to it, which is done quite well if you’re not turned off by mega-cutesiness in your games. And the battle system uses a very simple interface based on a single resource (AP), to eliminate the need for MP, TP, and any other whatever-Ps you have to keep track of in more complex RPGs.
A lot of frustrations take away from the high points, though, and generally they can all be traced back to one overriding cause: this game is too old-school, and in all the wrong ways. Now, far be it from me to condemn the gamers who clamor for more old-school games, seeing as how I often play the part myself. But there’s good old-school and bad old-school – allow me to elaborate:
[image2]Good old-school: Simple plot that doesn’t confuse you and lets the gameplay do the talking.
Bad old-school: Non-linear plot doesn’t tell you your objectives unless you stumble upon them, and often doesn’t even know where it’s going itself.
Good old-school: Turn-based combat with nothing fancy, just good mechanics.
Bad old-school: Fickle combat where your characters like to attack all the wrong things.
Good old-school: Simple menus to keep track of inventory, or perhaps no inventory at all.
Bad old-school: Deliberately limited inventory space that often forces you to throw out items because you lack room for new ones.
Every one of those bad old-school examples is present in 4 Heroes. Let’s go through them a little more in-depth: Isn’t the story supposed to be the backbone of an RPG? Much like the outdated RPGs from the NES days, 4 Heroes is sparse on presentation and exhibition. The story really meanders around, especially for the first half, with very little drive and purpose. It’s really quite bland and never as engaging as an RPG should be. And when the characters actually find something important to do, learning how and where to do it is sometimes just dumb luck.
Example: You’re tasked with killing a sand beast in a nearby dungeon. The beast is weak to water, but you’d only know that if you talked to the right random NPCs. On top of that, the only way to get a water tome is by entering a second dungeon that’s blocked off during the day. And no NPCs mention that you can enter said dungeon if you return at night. So the only way to obtain the means to kill this particular boss without consulting a walkthrough is if you talk to the right townsperson and happen to return to the dungeon entrance at night (which is unlikely, because townspeople have this annoying habit of going to sleep!). This isn’t an isolated incident, either; about half of the game, if not more, involves the same kind of aimless, stumble-upon-the-objective framework.
[image3]As for the battles, the simple AP system is actually not bad. 1 AP (out of 5 max) is restored with each turn (more if you defend) – attacks, items, and certain abilities use 1 Ap, while the stronger abilities and magic use more. This isn’t the problem. No, the issue with this battle system is that everything is done by AI auto-targeting. Good luck focusing your attacks on the same enemy, cause if multiple baddies are out, the party likes to spread their attacks around. And if everyone’s low on HP, you better hope your healer decides to cast cure on the guy who needs it most.
Being able to choose your targets is such an elementary notion that it’s almost laughable for me to discuss it. And it wouldn’t change the difficulty of the game, either. The auto-targeting doesn’t really make battles any more difficult, just more frustrating.
On to inventory, or lack thereof – each character only has 15 slots to carry items. This wouldn’t even be that bad if it weren’t for a few factors: same-type items don’t stack, so if you want to carry five potions you must have five open slots; equipment fills up inventory space too, so you might as well consider your effective inventory space as 11; and each spell also takes up a slot, so your casters have even less room to work with. I can’t tell you the number of times the inventory proves to be a problem, especially when you have less than a full party. Which brings up another fun fact: Your party is less than full for half the game.
There’s also a local co-op multiplayer mode where you can grab some friends and earn battle points. These points can be traded in for fancy equipment that you can’t get any other way. This could be annoying, as finding people to play with isn’t easy for everyone, but you do accumulate BP through single player, albeit much more slowly.
[image4]The crown system (aka "jobs" for any real FF fan) is the biggest highlight of the game, making the party totally customizable at any time you’re not in battle. You can go with a quick-damaging setup to blow through random battles quickly, then switch to a more traditional tank/healer/damage-dealer party before a boss. The crowns, in addition to all equipment, also change the characters' appearance, adding to the whole customization element of the game.
It’s a shame, because despite all of the rampant bad old-schooliness (I’m coining that phrase right here, right now), 4 Heroes of Light has some good qualities and I actually started enjoying it right about the midway point when you get your whole party together and the crown system kicks in full swing. The problem is that you have to slog through the first half to get there, and even then all the annoyances and frustrations are still lurking – they’re just a little easier to ignore.
So Square, take your best shot and bring on Mystic Quest III, because I think I’ll be forgetting this one fairly soon.