Crystal Chronicles seems to have become something of an experimental house for Square Enix in recent years, with the Nintendo-exclusive brand putting out everything from more traditional RPGs to hack-and-slash action-focused ones and now a strategic, city building RPG in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King.
My Life as a King is the first Square Enix title to hit Nintendo's WiiWare service, a download-only service for Wii games of a smaller stature that wouldn't quite be worth pressing to disc. In spite of this definition Square has pulled out all the stops for this new title - and it resembles a regular retail product far more than you'd expect.
The game puts you into the role of the 'Little King' and gives you control over pretty much everything in your kingdom. You no longer head out and hire monsters - you hire adventurers to do that for you.
The game runs in a real time clock and every day you'll have to make sure that you get all your errands done - and some days this will be a real challenge. Money is received at the start of each new day depending on your performance the day before.
You go around the town and must decide where to build what buildings. Actual locations are already decided, but you must decide what to put there - accommodation for your people, or a weapon store, or something else entirely?
Placement of buildings is important as well placed buildings are used more - a weapon shop close to the exit or entrance of your little city will have more customers as adventurers use it on their way to missions and level it up - leveling it up means that higher quality weapons will be available there to buy.
The same can be said of item stores, churches (magic) and even places like pubs, where adventurers will meet potential friends who they can party up with.
Even where people live is important - those living next to the Church are going to come out with higher intelligence statistics and therefore be better at magic as an example, and you can pay for adventurers to be trained in powerful moves, many of them familiar from FF heroes of old.
After a while, this game reminded me of an MMO - all the adventurers rushing around, buying equipment and partying up - except you are the designer - designing the town, handing out the quests and paying those adventurers.
Adventurers can be one of many familiar FF classes, and it'll be your job to send the right types of people on the right types of missions. If you send a magic-heavy to a cave full of magic-resistant trolls, they could well die.
If you can keep them out of harms way, they'll level up just like real FF characters and in time you'll have your favorites who you send out on the most difficult missions and who work well in a party together - you can dictate who is in each party of 4.
In addition to ruling over the city layout and employment of its defense forces, you'll also have to perform special tasks for your citizens. Ignoring them will lower morale, and you won't get as much money in taxes each day if morale is low.
The entire game revolves around the idea of you as King and tries to force as many monarchy duties on you as possible. Soon you find yourself with a daily routine, and despite feeling a bit like a grind at times it's always really good fun.
You'll be waking up, rushing down to the notice boards to post quests for adventurers to take for the day, rushing around the town building and upgrading buildings and completing a few requests before it gets dark and you head to bed - it's fun and compelling.
At the end of each day your assistant Chime gives you a report on everything - money, mission success rate, what your adventurers fought, killed or lost against and shows you just about every piece of information a statistics obsessive could ever wish for.
In terms of both the visuals and audio the game is standard Crystal Chronicles fare - it looks like a slightly improved version of the GameCube original's visuals, and has the same sound design and great music by Kumi Tanioka which is only midi but still addictively hummable.
The art style in particular is beautiful and something to behold, with every part of the kingdom looking wonderfully unique no matter where or how you place it in the layout. Characters are well-animated and sport high quality textures.
In this respect, it doesn't feel like a download title at all - the graphics, music, presentation, sound and English translation all ooze quality.
The game can be controlled with a number of control schemes, and waggle is all but absent here - I found playing it with the GameCube controller to be the best option, really - but if you don't have one alternative schemes are available.
A Final Fantasy wouldn't be complete without plot, and My Life as a King still has one despite being a sandbox game at its core. As you complete various missions a simple storyline unfolds that Square promises has some relevance in the wider FF:CC continuity.
Cutscenes aren't voiced but are still wonderfully animated like the rest of the game, and the plot unlocks new gameplay mechanics for you as well as drives you to continue playing. The main story can be completed in the regular game, but Downloadable Content packs afford the chance for further mission variety and new items if you wish.
One annoying factor is that only one of the four Crystal Chronicles races can be hired as adventurers unless you purchase DLC unlocking them. This strikes us as a bit of a cheap blow, but this game could well have ended up on a disc instead.
This game has its bad side - it can get gruelingly repetitive, it forces you to spend days grinding easy missions for loot to upgrade things with, and the in-game days sometimes shoot by too fast for them all to be productive.
It is at its core a Final Fantasy game where you pay other characters to do the 'Final Fantasy' bit, which may be frustrating for some. I found I was given sufficient control over their traditional RPG stats, movesets and item load-outs for it to still be compelling fun, though. Every now and then the twinge to have the little king join the fight himself surfaces, though.
My Life as a King is definitely a fun game, and is absolutely perfect for anyone who is an RPG fan but also enjoys strategy games or ever enjoyed Sim City. It's an interesting mixture of two usually disparate genres - and the result is damn good fun.
We say look past the repetitiveness and even the arguably expensive system of buying DLC content and what you'll find is a very fun, different RPG hybrid that arguably could've been sold for full price on a disc. Pick it up.