Mystic Ark

Anyone who’s been gaming long enough can remember That Game- the one that you heard about and latched onto and followed every tiny detail and scrap of information about. The one that you looked forward to and anticipated for months, through delays and new release dates. The one that you lived and breathed. The one that, once you got it, turned out to be a hollow shell of the game that you’d been promised- the one that dashed your hopes and turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Everybody’s got one of those- you know that you do, too- many of which have titles you’d recognize: Halo 2. Black and White. Spore.

Mine was a little-known Super Nintendo game entitled The 7th Saga.

You’ve probably never heard of The 7th Saga, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s a straightforward JRPG, released in 1993 in the US. It follows the grind-heavy and plot-light Dragon Quest model, but has an incredibly punishing difficulty level than any of the Dragon Quest games and, at the same time, also has a less interesting battle system. The setting was a straightforward 16-bit-RPG Fantasy-but-there-are-lasers-and-robots-around-for-no-goddamn-reason affair. About the only interesting concept in the game is the way the “party system” is handled- you’re given a choice of seven characters initially, and then will encounter the others (who you can recruit or fight against) at various points in the game. The visuals- which, for the time, were pretty impressive- were about the game’s only real high point. The music wasn’t bad, either, I suppose. All things considered, it’s a mediocre game at best, whose primary advantage lay in being a JRPG released in the US at a time when there were very few JRPGs to be had, and even fewer worthwhile ones. A more humane level of difficulty would have helped the game, but even without the punishing difficulty I still probably would have been better off playing Lufia or Paladin’s Quest instead.

There was a sequel to The 7th Saga which never made it out of Japan, by the name of Mystic Ark (I’ve just learned that there’s a second, Playstation-based sequel, too, which there seems to be little to no reference to on the English-speaking internet). It wasn’t a game that I was particularly interested in, but I recently checked my RSS feeds and learned that the intrepid folks at AGTP have translated it into English– so I decided to give it a try.

I wish I could say that I was pleasantly surprised- unfortunately, I cannot.

Although the difficulty level is much more reasonable than The Seventh Saga’s, Mystic Ark is still a straightforward, unremarkable SNES RPG at its’ core. It seems to rely a lot more on puzzles and “trigger quests” than many of its’ contempararies- unfortunately, many of the puzzles seem totally arbitrary and don’t make that much sense, are drop-dead easy, or some combination of the two. Many also seem designed simply to make you wander back and forth through monster-infested territory as much as possible, and more often than not advancing the plot seems to be a matter of randomly talking to people until you trigger an event (one of my personal JRPG pet peeves). The game is seperated into seven different “worlds”, which seem to each attempt to follow a different wacky theme, but the graphics are really too drab and uninteresting to capture this- it’s hard to get excited about a world inhabited by cat pirates which it looks suspiciously similar to a world inhabited by people living inside giant fruit, which looks suspiciously similar to a world inhabited only by children.

The game’s overall storyline never seems to really form into anything cohesive and interesting- it gets a little better near the end, but all-in-all it’s pretty mediocre. Beyond that, there’s nothing really remarkable about it- combat is only slightly improved from The Seventh Saga’s straightforward Dragon Quest-alike, and the presentation is fairly middle-of-the-road for the time when the game was released.

Mystic Ark is an okay effort, I suppose, and its certainly better than it’s predecessor- but it’s nothing spectacular, and it’s not a game which I’d really recommend to anyone. It was only my personal history with the series that convinced me to finish the game at all- and even with that, I had to force myself to complete the last few worlds.

– HC