Nov 18 2014

Review of Fantasy Life

i_421543.5 Stars

It’s been pretty busy the last couple of months, games have been coming out left and right and unfortunately that means I’ve ended up getting to some titles a little later than I would prefer. One such game is Level 5 and Nintendo’s Fantasy Life, which came out right at the end of October. I’m actually glad to have had the extra time with it though, nibbling at it as I could between other games, because it’s quite vast in scope (so vast in fact I never managed to finish it). It’s essentially a cross between a JRPG and a Life Simulator, Harvest Moon meets Dragon Quest as it were, and it is utterly packed with things to do as a result. Whether any of those things are particularly interesting is another matter, but those looking for a charmingly low-key Life-Sim/RPG will most likely leave satisfied.

The gameplay here is pretty simple, consisting primarily of you defeating, collecting, or making a thing by pressing the A button at it until it dies, is picked up, or is done. The reason for this simple system though is to cater to the game’s core strength, its many varied and equivalent classes, which the game refers to as “Lives”. That’s actually a much more apt term in this case anyways because these jobs run the full gamut of generic fantasy occupations, getting away from pure combat and allowing you to lead a simpler life instead. While you can still be a Paladin or Mercenary if you want, you can also be an Angler or a Miner or even a Tailor, and each of the twelve available jobs is equally defined in its mechanics. Combat consists mostly of pressing the A button with the right timing to execute combos. Crafting takes the form of mini-games where you have to switch between three different stations, each asking you to press the A button with a specific timing or speed. And material gathering has you holding or pressing the A button in such a way as to wear down the object you’re gathering from. As I said it all just breaks down to pressing A (and occasionally pressing X for special moves), but there is a slight depth to the way you have do that in each job that makes them all feel equally satisfying. Reeling in a massive fish requires just as much nuance and reflex as taking down a tough monster and sewing up a particularly tricky garment is just as rewarding as mining a particularly rich ore vein; it all feels equivalent, which is very important in this kind of game.

5scrmax1More important is the fact that each Life feeds into one another in some way and the game encourages you to switch Lives regularly. Having trouble as a Merc? Well then become a Blacksmith, not only will you get to do something else for a while but you’ll end up making some equipment that will make being a Mercenary easier. Tired of building low level items as a Blacksmith but can’t afford the pricier minerals to make the good stuff? Then become a Miner and gather those ingredients yourself while making a tidy profit selling whatever you don’t need. While you are constrained to only one occupation at a time, the skills you learn in any Life stick with you for the rest of the game, so everything you do ends up feeding into your total progression. It’s a very solid gameplay loop and it does a fantastic job of incentivizing the player to explore and try out everything game has to offer, which makes up for the dead simple gameplay which honestly can get pretty dull if you spend too long grinding away at any given Life.

A lot of that dullness though is due to the quest structure, because while the game offers up hundreds of various objectives for the player to complete, most of them are very simple and uninvolved. Quests in Fantasy Life come in three varieties: Challenges, which are related to whatever your current life is; Butterfly’s Requests, which are story related; and Other Requests, which you’ll pick up from random villagers. Both the Challenges and the Other Requests almost always break down to you killing, crafting, or procuring X number of a thing, much in the classic MMO fashion, and that can get tiresome very quickly. Butterfly’s Requests, despite being story related, are even simpler than that, usually just asking you to go to a place so that the game can explain a new mechanic or further the plot along with a quick dialog exchange. While there are some specific big story events that will happen from time to time, which usually involve a bit more adventure, those initial three types of quests make up about 95% of what you’re going to be doing. As you can imagine, these types of objectives aren’t exactly very engaging and when mixed with the simple gameplay, a sense of apathy can quickly set in. That said when you approach it more as a Life-Sim rather than an RPG, the structure it provides is actually somewhat refreshing as it ensures you always have something to do, even if that something isn’t very interesting.

To be fair, the story isn’t particularly engaging either, but that acts more in its favour than you might expect. The basic plot is that you exist in the generic fantasy world of Reveria, more specifically in the generic fantasy kingdom of Castelle. You are a young adult who is finally old enough to choose a Life, as every Reverian must, because Dosh (this game’s currency) makes the world go round. You quickly meet up with a talking butterfly though who decides to join you as a constant companion and through her you become involved in the larger plot, which involves nasty rocks called Doomstones falling to earth and corrupting things as well as some nebulous prophetic tragedy that you must prevent. 21scrmax9That larger plot though is ultimately far less important than you getting really good at crafting leather helmets, and the game seems to understand that as the only way to progress that main plot is through lots of time spent with the smaller quests we talked about in the last paragraph. That’s not to say that they don’t characterize the world though, there’s a ton of incidental dialogue and the tutorial for each Life is couched in a quest that has you meeting the other local practitioners of the trade and getting embroiled in their lives. Those efforts end up going a long way and, thanks in large part to some dry witty humor contained in the dialogue, the world ends up having a lot of charm.

Presentation-wise I found Fantasy Life to be something of a mixed bag. Visually it features a fun big-headed cartoony style with a slight anime sheen to it that’s reminiscent of stuff like Dragon Quest. Some of the designs on display though do feel overly simple and uninspired, especially when it comes to the enemies who are primarily just various animals. In terms of colour, it’s got a vibrant but refreshingly soft palette that’s not quite pastel soft but pastoral to be sure. It’s clear that an effort was made to create a strong sense of relaxing halcyon whimsy, but unfortunately at times the game confuses that feeling for childishness, which is most prevalent in the music. While much of the soundtrack does retain the serene quality that the rest of Fantasy Life has, it also tries to be gratingly youthful at times, making obnoxious use of recorders, slide whistles, and kazoos. As a result the score can feel a bit jarring and counter to the slow and relaxing bent of the gameplay and visuals, which does hamper the overall vibe somewhat.

Overall I liked what Fantasy Life was going for; its focus on varied but equivalent classes is enjoyable and the relaxing mellow feel of it all makes for a nice palate cleanser, especially during release season. That said, the core gameplay is a little too simple for its own good sometimes and while the mental loop that gameplay perpetuates is very engaging, the quests that drive it are not. It’s definitely a good lazy Sunday sort of game, something to mindlessly play on the couch while thinking about something else, but I had a hard time getting anymore invested in it than that. As such I’m giving Fantasy Life a 3.5 out of 5 stars, it’s a little on the mundane side but at least it has fun with that mundanity.

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