I always find it difficult deciding upon what era of JRPG’s is my favorite. Is it the 32-bit era, when such things as Xenogears, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Suikoden II were available? Is it the 16-bit days, with Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star IV, and Final Fantasy VI? We can’t discount the fact that last gen had more PS2 releases than I could possibly make time for, or that the 8-bit era’s original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are what started me down this path.
The point is, Japanese style RPG’s have been overtaken in popularity in the U.S. by all of the Skyrim‘s and Dragon Age‘s that are being released. The portable consoles serve as somewhat of a safe haven for these games, though it’s still easy to adopt the attitude that they don’t make them quite as much anymore or quite as good as they used to. Is that really true? This conundrum is why Mystic Chronicles is such an interesting experiment. The game fits right in with titles released in the early 90’s and makes no apologies for it. Time to find out if we’re really missing out, or if we all just look at the past with rose colored glasses.
Mystic Chronicles was originally released on the iOS platform under the name Fantasy Chronicle. At its core, it is basically the same game, though when Natsume snatched it up, they provided it with a whole new translation (hence the name change) which should make the plot and the writing a little easier to digest. As a result, the dialogue is a little bit more colorful, with one or two pop-culture references sprinkled in.
The story surrounds a young orphan named Lux who strives to be a member of the Holos Guild in order to protect his village. On the day that he is to be inducted into the order and complete his first set of missions, a series of events is set off that leads to the disappearance of his childhood friend, Fina, and his adoptive grandmother. It isn’t long before Lux becomes embroiled in a struggle against a creeping darkness that puts the fate of the entire world on the line.
It’s as if Kemco constructed a list of every trope and archetype to exist in RPG’s during the 16-bit era and threw them all into one game. Orphaned main character? Check. Hometown struck by tragedy early on? Check. Childhood friend/love interest being competed over with childhood rival? Check. Whether this was intentional or not, Mystic Chronicles becomes something of a greatest hits of RPG clichés, and yet, somehow makes it all work in the end. There are a few twists and turns in the journey that can be seen a mile away, and others that were genuinely surprising. Either because the experience was nostalgic of simpler times or because they nailed the JRPG “formula” of that decade, I legitimately enjoyed the ride.
Combat is very reminiscent of the Dragon Quest games. When you get into a random battle, you view the enemies from a first person perspective with your character portraits and statistics laid out across the bottom. Your standard actions consist of attacking the enemy, using magic and items, or fleeing. Team attacks can be performed with two or more characters, though I didn’t find these all that useful for the magic that had to be expelled to cast them. Each character is built for a specific purpose, so you’ll build your party consisting of damage sponges, healers, and characters that can inflict a lot of hurt, though you’re limited to three in your active party at one time. Another three slots are delegated to Guardian Beasts that can assist in battle, though no direct control is ever given to the player. You can give the Guardian Beasts basic strategies to follow, but their overall helpfulness is often based upon luck.
Strategy does play a big part in winning some of the more difficult battles, though your character’s level and gear will also be a deciding factor. Given the high encounter rate, you shouldn’t have any problem building adequate experience for most battles, though there are times late in the game where you’ll be expected to grind for awhile before you are powerful enough to progress, as getting decimated by a single attack is not uncommon for a weaker party. Rather than just straight up finding or buying better gear (though you certainly can), much of your character improvement is going to come from simply reconstructing their current weapons and armor. It’s also much cheaper to do this, so it’s in your best interest to loot every spot that you can that gives up items. Using a combination of money and materials, your weapons can have a +1 added onto them before eventually getting the option to transform into new items. Sometimes, you’ll even have multiple paths that a particular item can go down that requires different materials to construct and may offer different benefits, like additional elemental damage.
Also aiding in finding construction materials are Holos Guild quests that can be accepted from every town that you visit. These quests are very basic and are generally done on the way to main story quests, such as “kill X number of Y” or “find Z.” A number of these are repeatable and can be done as many times as necessary to get some of the more difficult to find reagents. You may also be awarded with training manuals that are required in order to unlock some of the higher end equipment for construction. One of your early comrades has an apprentice that can be assigned to a location to scavenge for parts and reagents. If you’re feeling really lazy, you can spend MCP, or Mystic Chronicles Points (which have to be purchased with real money i.e. micro-transactions), to buy some optional high end gear or have your apprentice bring back more stuff.
Navigating the world map is rather simple, as you just point the cursor to where you want to go to travel there. I suspect some will be disappointed that there isn’t a bigger world to explore, complete with some form of flight, though it does make travel less time consuming. Moving about in dungeons and forests and the like can be a bit more tricky, on account of not having some form of map to guide you. This becomes even more challenging later in the game when you have to travel through hallways that look very similar to each other and you have no bearings on where it is you are. Still, it’s at least consistent with titles released in the 90’s, so old school RPG fans will likely not mind.
While the 16-bit style sprites aren’t going to blow anyone away, the presentation is still pretty solid for a game ported from iOS. The characters and artwork are rather well done, though the attack animations and monsters have a certain level of simplicity to them. You’ll also begin to notice, after some time, how much palette swapping occurs with the enemies you face. Not that this is a new thing for this genre, it’s just far more prevalent here.
Modern gamers will also notice the lack of voice acting, which has become something of a standard in today’s games. Again, this is not something bothersome to me on account of being able to read faster than the characters can speak. The music is pretty good though, which is a blessing considering how much you’ll be hearing each of the tracks. The sound effects are equally well done and quite fitting of their respective actions.
At the time of this writing, Mystic Chronicles was not playable on the Vita, though it should be by early August. Those still gaming on their PSP’s should be able to pick it up right now though. It’ll cost you around $15, which isn’t bad considering it took me just over twenty hours to get through the main game, plus there were a number of Holos Guild missions and post game content I had left to complete. The game is a tough sell for gamers that started on RPGs with Final Fantasy VII, though if you have any attachment to titles like Earthbound or Breath of Fire, this may be worth a look.
Short Attention Span Summary
Mystic Chronicles is an RPG developed by Kemco, best known for their work on Shadowgate and Lagoon. How fitting, then, that their latest title feels like a game that fits in right alongside of other RPG’s released in the 90’s. This may sound like a bad thing on the surface, especially given how cliché some of its elements are. However, for those that grew up with games from that era, you’ll begin to develop an appreciation for what it’s trying to do, not to mention there are still a few surprises tucked away. It may not for everybody, but if you have a craving for a 16-bit style RPG, it’s a great way to get that fix with a game that you don’t have to worry about draining a cartridge battery with.