One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my first review in this series called “50 games”.

Mystic Quest aka Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden aka Final Fantasy Adventure is a 1991 Gameboy adventure/action/RPG game. It plays like the original Zelda but with added RPG levelling features.

Note that it came out two years before Link’s Awakening and even a few months before A Link to the Past(!).

Mystic Quest is one of my favourite games for the Gameboy; it has a good story, excellent visuals and music, and the difficulty level is challenging. It allows you to grind (for stats or money) but doesn’t really require you to. It has a bunch of different weapons and armour, most of which are optional, and some of which gives you special abilities (like cutting down trees with the various axes) or better attacks agains certain creatures (the were-axe is good against lycantrophes).

What I really like about the game is that it gives an impression of being an open world where you are in control while still being heavily story-driven. A lot of the time, you can go back and visit old places, and there’s a lot of optional hidden stuff around.

The story is fine (it has some excellent moments) but the main thing is that it drives the game forwards. A nice touch is that a lot of the time, you can have a NPC following you, and you can ask that NPC for help (different NPCs have different abilities).

You encounter new cities with new shops, and sometimes you have to choose whether to grind to get enough money to buy the armours etc available in the shop - or just skip it and buy the next upgrade instead. I remember being slightly stuck at some point when I played the game as a kid, but atleast I could run around and grind me some levels and cash. I don’t think grinding is necessary to beat the game though, as you can compensate for lack of attack or defence with potions of life and magic refuel.

There’s a bunch of different weapons (spear, chain, axe, and even a sickle, amongts others) and various magics you can learn and cast. Some of these are for puzzles, some are good against certain enemies, and others are to clear out bad statuses such as being poisoned.

Essentially it has all the things I love about the great 2d Zelda games - but it came out before ALttP and LA, which is impressive.

I am replaying it currently, and I really think it holds up well. Playing it in my Gameboy advance also gives a few differnt colours (the hero has a different colour to everything else etc), which is nice.

I remember thinking this was my “hidden gem” as noone in my group of friends knew about it; I would strongly recommend it if you like 2d top-down adventure games and are happy to play old 4-colour Gameboy games!

So what have I learnt?

  • frequent weapon and armour upgrades means the player might not feel they need to grab every single one
  • upgrades in shop kinda becomes a “gold side quest”
  • when certain weapons don’t work (very well) on certain enemies it actually makes the player think about and switch between the weapons
  • this game has a very good balance between an open world and a story-driven game; a good tip is to try to keep as much of the world open, although locking off some parts might help the player to know where they should be focusing