Starting up Final Fantasy Mystic Quest immediately brought back memories. The main character runs into a weird cloud riding dude who makes mention about being the knight of legend or some such. The main character's sprite responds by doing a cute little shoulder shrugging animation. A little later on after beating the first dungeon he does a Hulk Hogan style flex animation. I know this sort of thing has nothing to do with how good the plot or gameplay is, but I really like it.
Along those lines, I'd totally forgotten that the enemy pictures change as they take damage. A standard monster will have two pictures: a mean one and then a sad, damaged one. The picture changes at 50% health. Bosses have many different pictures showing the monster in varying states of decay. I just killed an ice golem and the different pictures show him melting more and more as he takes more damage. I guess Octomom worked a little like this in Final Fantasy IV but I can't really recall this happening in any other game. Monsters tend to look fully healthy until they keel over dead in games and I really like this 'feature' of Mystic Quest.
The lack of random encounters makes the game feel different than a standard jRPG but I enjoy it. I've taken to skipping as many fights as I can which has made my main character rather underleveled. The game works by having a sidekick join up and they're always a fixed level so the game is still pretty easy despite the main character being several levels shy of where I should be. As far as difficulty goes if you die in a fight you get the option to do the fight over so when I die it isn't crippling. (I die a fair bit, but mostly when my sidekick gets confused and shoots me in the face with her bow and arrow.)
The plot is fairly tame so far (the world is in chaos because the four crystals have been dimmed; I need to go kill bosses in dungeons to power them back up) but definitely feels like the core of a Final Fantasy story. I'd expect more twists and turns and random distractions but it doesn't seem as bad as reviews would lead me to believe. It's incredibly linear, though. There are 'battlefields' you can enter but they don't seem to do anything except level you up and I'm skipping fights as it is so I've avoided them. I should see if I'm missing anything important...
One control innovation I love is being able to change weapons at any time (combat or dungeon map) by hitting L or R to scroll through my options. Given that I need to use different weapons to solve dungeon puzzles this is huge. Compared to Final Fantasy Adventure or Zelda: Minish Cap where I was constantly digging into menus to change items this is such a great quality of life improvement.
Mostly I've been playing the game when Diablo 3 has been down but last night I powered up the SNES instead of leveling my barbarian. I'm enjoying the game for the game itself and not just as a stepping stone to Final Fantasy V which is saying a lot considering the terrible reviews it gets.