Mystic Ark (ミスティックアーク), released 7/14/1995, developed by Produce!, published by ENIX
Produce!, the developer of this game, also worked on Elnard (7th Saga), Brain Lord, and Nekketsu Tairiku Burning Heroes. Although this is not a real sequel to any of those games, there are some reused assets and similarities. Apparently there was a plan to release the game in the US as “7th Saga II” but it never happened. There is a translation patch, though.
The opening shows six characters being attacked by a spinning square and teleported away somewhere. These are the six party members you can have (in addition to the main character). None of them have any backstory or dialogue in the game; perhaps there was some in the instruction manual? This I think is one of the weaknesses of the game; the party members are just statistics and powers, with no role in the story at all. None of them have any lines of dialogue (the main character is also silent).
Everyone seems to have turned into these wooden figurines in a strange temple of some kind. The main character Kurisu is transformed back into a human. At the beginning you can’t pick up any of the figures, and wandering around the church there are various rooms, some of which are open, that have objects in them. You can interact with a lot of objects in this game in this way:
You will have various options — touch, look, shake, and use items, etc. This adds an adventure-game like element to the game. A lot of things right now can’t be affected, but a fireplace will talk, and Kurisu learns that she’s supposed to get 7 Arks in 7 different worlds. She also gets the Crystal, which acts as the enemy radar (like in 7th saga) and also can warp to different places, but not in dungeons. It also turns out that by going to the ship above we can reach the first world — a world of pirate cats.
The basic flow of the whole game is that you enter a world, solve some problem there, and then find one of the seven Arks. Then you’ll be able to use that Ark in some way back in the main church to open the way to another world. Once you get all seven arks you can go to the final dungeon and win the game.
The battle system is more or less standard. Each character has powers they gain with level ups that do various things (special attacks, defense, etc.) and some of them get spells. One nice feature is that you can see the enemy HP. The main character will soon get a power called Figurine that can transform monsters into Figurines. I never found a purpose for these figurines but I think I didn’t explore optional things enough; there is some monster arena and maybe a place you can trade them in but if you just stick to the main quest there’s no point.
There are two sets of feuding pirate cats but they’ve forgotten why they’re fighting. Kurisu sort of plays both sides and eventually with the help of a witch stops them from fighting…although the world does flood, so that’s not great. Eventually Kurisu comes across a temple that holds the Power Ark.
Now Kurisu can pick up the six figurines in the main room of the church. By using the Ark of Power on one of them they will come to life. Simply carrying the other figurines in your inventory will earn them XP; the person you actually have out seems to earn more, but the figurines won’t fall too far behind. The six characters are Miriene (an offensive magic specialist), Lux (a robot with high defense), Resheene (A martial arts fighter, who I’m using in the above screenshot), Tokio (Ninja), Kamiwoo (beast fighter), and Meshia (healer).
The way the party members work is somewhat frustrating, though. Any time you go back to the church, they return to figurines so you’ll have to bring them out again when you go into a world. If they hit 0 hp in battle, they are returned to the church in figurine form, so you have to go all the way back to the church to get them. If the main character hits 0 hp, it’s game over (back to the last inn with 1/2 gold). This is really unacceptable in a game that has instant death spells from the enemies. I had a number of times where I got a game over or a party member death from full HP having taken only one action in combat (or even zero actions in one case). I used save states to a limited extent because of this.
The second world is a strange “fruit world” where people are building their homes in giant fruits. You have to help them find seeds, get water, and defeat the evil foxes and beetles that are trying to attack them. Most bosses at this stage go down to a pretty easy combination of attack and heal — some of them have annoying heal spells themselves, but they’ll run out of MP eventually. One the final fox is defeated, Kurisu recovers the Ark of Light. This Ark can be put into a weapon to give that weapon a thunder element and increase the damage.
Next up is a children’s world, inhabited only by children and one older woman looking after them. Sometimes you will find hearts in the world which you can take back to the church and put into figurines there to restore the people to the world. In addition, the Arks can often be used on objects — for instance, the Ark of Power may let you lift something you wouldn’t be able to, and the Ark of Light might illuminate something. This is more of the adventure-game like gameplay.
The main problem in the children’s world is that the older woman seems to have made some pact with a Chimera to create this world for the children, but the Chimera wants to use her magic power for his own end. Eventually she rejects him but we have to beat him up to free her from its power.
Once this is done, we find the Ark of Wisdom, which can get a third party member. At this point the boss battles become a bit easier because the Power and Speed buff spells stack, so with a party like Kurisu-Meshia-Resheen/Kamiwoo you can have Kurisu heal while Meshia buffs the third person’s power up to max (and speed if necessary). Meshia can also “compassion” to restore her own MP. I used this strategy on most of the remaining bosses.
Next up is the Machine World, which is all black and white.
There are machines all over the place. Going further through the world we see that another area of the world has no sound, and a third area turned everyone old. All of it seems to be the fault of malfunctioning machines, maybe. Eventually with the help of the scientists Edison and Einstein, we make it into the depths of a large industrial complex where slaves are working to make robots. Here Kurisu recovers the Ark of Fire, restoring the world to normal. The Fire Ark is another one that can be put into a weapon.
Next up is the Wind World, although the wind has stopped and there’s a big giant threatening the land. Here the Ark of Wood is in the first room you appear in but the villagers won’t let you take it until you solve their problem. It’s another world that involves machines; eventually you encounter clones, headed up by the Ancient One. He’s strong but goes down to the buff strategy — he says that some “darkness” awoke him earlier than he should have. We’ve heard hints of this darkness elsewhere.
The next world, the Dark World, is a nice change of pace — you only have Kurisu and the focus is mainly on the puzzle solving, although you do have to fight some encounters. Once again this “darkness” seems to be meddling with things.
Finally there is the fairy tale world, with a bunch of characters from well known fairy tales — the ant and the grasshopper, Cinderella, Pinocchio, the Emperor’s New Clothes, the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding hood, and others. Here the “darkness” comes out explicitly, wanting to turn everything into figurines. We have to beat the big bad wolf, help Cinderella get to the ball, and other things of that nature.
Finally we fight the Darkness, and then get the final Ark, as the Darkness retreats to the final area. There are a few subbosses in the final short dungeon, and then the final boss — the Evil Heart. His goal is to return everything to a state of stillness, with no will or thought.
He’s pretty tough but if you use Mirrors to block his spells and then max Resheene’s power and speed, she can Kick with a decent enough success rate to make it worthwhile.
After defeating him, the voice behind the fireplace and the statue that has been giving us hints all game tells us what happened. The church and all seven worlds were created by this being to test Kurisu, as preparation for her entering the world she is supposed to be in. The “darkness” was supposed to be the final encounter, created from the evil in Kurisu’s heart. But it was too strong and it broke the being into seven parts (the Arks). Now that the darkness has been defeated, Kurisu can head to the new world.
During the credits sequence, all the party members are shown returning to their home worlds. Then Kurisu goes through a door of light. The screen goes dark; at this point there are sound effects that I think are supposed to represent a street with honking horns indicating that Kurisu is in our world, but it was hard to tell if that was the intent.
This game was a little disappointing, although not bad. Before I started the blog I would have expected something like this to be a below average game; in fact I would put it in the top third or maybe even 25% of games I’ve played. But the story is rather thin. The individual worlds are interesting and have some fun characters, but I wish the party members had more presence in the game. Also the final reveal is sort of dumb. The gameplay is overall decent, but the way the game deals with hitting 0 hp is annoying, despite the thematic reason for it. The graphics and music are good though, with some memorable BGM.
Next up will be Dunquest, a sort of action RPG game that’s a bit like the Torneko’s Dungeon series but without the random floors.