Design Analysis – Quest 64 23 April 2018

What hooks a player into trying out a game? And what happens when the game fails to meet the player’s internal assumptions?

Quest64 was one of those odd games which I keep coming back to even though it’s awfully designed. It was the second RPG I ever experienced after Super Mario RPG.

Quest64’s flaws are obvious. No sense of story, monotonous fights, boring music, poorly balanced enemies, awful camerawork, obnoxious encounter rate, hidden battle mechanics, and a broken progression system.

There’s no debate it’s a bad game, yet there’s always a bunch of people like me who remember being so excited to play it! Quest 64 had so much potential, and I think there’s something we can learn from that. We saw the box art and thought “Yes! I want to go on an epic quest wielding all sorts of magic spells, defeating cool-looking monsters, and discover a world!” How did Quest 64 inspire our imagination, but fail at delivery?

Spell Menu

The spell selection menu is terribly misleading for how the game actually functions, but it’s captivating in what it could be!

First you have to select an initial element, then this menu pops up. Here we selected the fire element. Fire ball (interesting to note it’s two words and not “Fireball”) is the selected spell, but there are four more spells that could be available, each obviously associated with another element. Intuitively, you’d think if you level up fire and water, you’d unlock the water spell in the fire category.

Unfortunately, the spells are unlocked purely based on the level of the first element selected. This means you’re only rewarded for leveling up one spirit at a time.

UnImagine instead if you earned spells based on your total number of spirits collected. Now the player is free to level up whatever they want, though only spells with leveled-up elements will be strong. Or imagine if spells were unlocked as elements in those spell categories, as shown in the UI, were leveled up. For example, high levels of fire and water elements would unlock all spells that use fire and/or water to select them.


Despite all of this, the designers nailed a key aspect that’s still defining RPGs today – an unbridled sense of adventure! Spirits (little bubbles that level up your magic skills) were hidden across the world and in towns and every single spirit brought you closer to unlocking a new spell. Before the days of the internet, you had no way of knowing what was in store for you. The desire to discover the cool-looking, powerful magic spells almost makes the game palatable. You were encouraged to look at every corner of the world in hopes of finding another spirit. The spell selection menu only further encouraged finding spirits, even though it turns out it was just a poorly designed, misleading UI.

Quest64’s unique battle and progression-system (how the player becomes stronger and evolves over the game) are the best parts of the game and are worth examining. It’s so interesting how they essentially scattered free level-ups around the world so it’s not just through grinding monsters.

The battle system (not just unlocking spells) where you have to aim your spell so it hits enemies and then you can physically dodge attacks! This is such a cool mechanic and deserves to be revisited.

Spell Selection

A good point on the importance of UI design, Quest64’s spell selection system was novel, but incorrectly implied how spells were unlocked and became stronger.

Leveling the base, not the spell

Quest64 had the most potential in how players could decide to level up one of four types (elements/schools/groups/etc.) of magic. As that type became a higher level, spells in that type would become stronger.

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