Kisai's Mystic Ark Review
Mystic Ark is sometimes touted as the sequel to The 7th Saga. Despite a few recycled monster portraits, and a similarity of the quest to locate and acquire seven artifacts of obscure power, this is not a true sequel.
You are an anonymous waif who has been kidnapped by a mysterious force that looks like a rotating plank of wood paneling and turned into a figurine. You reappear in a temple and are reverted to human form by an entrapped Goddess, who implores you to search for seven arks, seven helpful spirits of incredible power( hmm.. perhaps they should be called 'arcs'). The island which the temple is on is a nexus of worlds. Your mission is to search these worlds for the arks so that you can be returned to your own world.
Mystic Ark is a hybrid of 7th Saga and Dragon Warrior in gameplay. The 'Crystal Ball' method of encountering enemies remains from 7th Saga, but gone is the "infinite inventory, as long as you have up to 9 of each item". Towns and runes no longer show up on the crystal ball, and the difficulty has been toned down.
A dramatic improvement is the way that you can interact with some items. When you interact with say, a desk, you'll be given a picture of the desk, 2-4 verbs that you can do with that item, like examine it, touch it, shake it, break it, and the like. You also could use your inventory items and arks on the desk. This adds a major puzzle solving element to the mix which makes the game more like Myst a little.
There are also a few minigames, like sliding tile puzzles, chess-knight problems, and number sequence games that add to the fun.
Exploring the different worlds is both fun and unexpected. The game plays like reading seven short stories that are capped by an (unsatisfying) main story. The first world places you in a feud between two rival clans of cat pirates. In the second world, people live in giant hollowed out fruits and are menaced by giant beetles and kitsune. Little details, like scratch marks on the cat's ship, occasionally funny dialogue, and named NPCs really help make this an excellent RPG that should have been ported to the USA, but never got there. NPCs regularly say different things depending on where you are in unfolding that world's plot.
You choose a name and a gender, either female or a really feminine male. I had to explain to two different people that my character, with his long blonde tresses and billowy white shirt, was a boy. Boys get fire based magic and an Attack buff spell. Females get ice based magic and a Defense buff spell. Everyone gets a set spell/level list and no way to customize your character post creation.
After the 1st world, you get your hands on six figurines, which you can animate one and eventually two of. They are used in combat only and unfortunately, not useful in any other way. They are a witch (black mage), cleric (white mage), ninja (high speed/offense weak defense), robot (tank, low on speed), ogre (tank -low on magic) and a monk (combat god -no magic).
Be warned that there is no raising your party from the dead. If one of your animated figurines'dies', it disappears from your inventory and has to be retrieved from the temple again.
Each of the worlds contain their own little villians. The most memorable are the kitsune, shape changing foxes who take over a town. There is a major villain called Darkness (Yima) who shows up unexpectedly in the fourth world, to sic some baddies on you. You find out more about his origins in the sixth world, and then he terrorizes the seventh world.
The major baddie is a creature called Evil Heart (Jashin), who looks like a giant tomato and is anticlimatical (see spoilers).
Anti-instant-death items, crosses, are not automatically utilized like the harps from 7th Saga. If your main character dies, you automatically lose, so be sure to cast a Deathguard spell when facing enemies with Kill.
The final wrap-up speech given by the Goddess at the finale is confusing and full of plot holes. When you defeat the Darkness, he claims that he is your heart, probably separated from you when you were kidnapped, and that another, more powerful enemy waits for you, sleeping. After you defeat Evil Heart, the Goddess appears, tells you that she created everything in all worlds, but was defeated by Evil Heart, who is, she claims, is your hidden heart, which you just overcome. This leads me to the following WTF questions:
Despite the weakness of the overarching plotline, the individual worlds more than make up the fun of Mystic Ark.