Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord Review
They say that bad guys have all the fun, and after years of handing players control of the good guys Square Enix has finally decided to present fans with a Final Fantasy title where you take the role of somebody evil - a Darklord.
Well, sort of. You take the role of the inexperienced Mira, the daughter of the antagonist from Square Enix's previous Crystal Chronicles WiiWare effort, My Life as a King. Mira really doesn't know anything about being a Darklord, and is nowhere near as vindictive as Disgaea's Laharl - but she's still quite clearly evil.
She giggles and smiles and clad half in pink looks like a very traditional anime female lead - but in terms of attitude, she couldn't be more different.
Despite the plot links to My Life as a King, My Life as a Darklord couldn't be a more different game. In fact, it plays like more of a tower defense title than a city builder or simulation like its predecessor.
Players are tasked with defending Mira's Darklord tower from do-gooder adventurers of the same kind you controlled in My Life as a King. You do this by controlling various monsters and choosing what kinds of evil beings will inhabit the various floors of the tower. Once your placement is complete, the adventurers will enter and try to make their way to the top.
Final Fantasy staples are here in force, and where the Little King had Moogles Mira has Tonberries to guide her through her evil conquest.
As the game progresses you will be able to add extra floors to Mira's tower, allowing you to build complex layers of traps and minions to destroy all those who enter the tower to defeat you.
Like My Life as a King, traditional RPG statistics and skills play a large role in this game despite its non-RPG basis. The game plays like an intricate game of rock-paper-scissors, and every class of adventurers has a hard-counter that will defeat them with ease - but each of your monsters have the same strengths and weaknesses themselves.
Both floors and monsters come in various flavors, and you will quickly find you have possible combinations so numerous that the choices of what load-out to give each floor become vital. Each floor must be protected individually, too - if any floor's artifact is lost the floor collapses and the minions inside are crushed in the rubble.
Of course, adding floors isn't free. "NP" is your currency in this game - not Gil - and it can be used to add floors to your evil tower and add monsters to each individual floor. NP is earned by defeating adventurers, while the second type of spendable item - Karma - is earned for completing stages.
Karma is used to expand the maximum size of your tower and the maximum statistics of your minions. Wisely spent Karma will allow you to have more floors to clear and more formidable minions on each floor, and so it is crucial to ensuring you can defeat the adventurers.
Mix all this together and you quickly find the game becoming more frantic - you'll find yourself rushing magic units onto a floor to combat incoming melee fighters, and spending cash on healers to heal the units on a particularly vulnerable floor.
It all sounds very simple individually, but it mixes together to make for a compelling, addictive and frantic game that puts an RPG-styled twist on tower defense and also turns the tower defense genre vertical.
To sum it up, the gameplay is simple but yet can still become fiendishly difficult. This is both wonderful and a black mark against the game as it can become extremely frustrating. The only way around the hard-counter focused system of the game is to save money and buy units when you see what the enemy has headed for you - but this makes the fast paced play even more difficult.
The game is played by turning the Wii Remote on its side, NES style, and as such is relatively simple to control, with the D-Pad used to navigate the menus and the '2' button used to select the item highlighted. Everything is pretty intuitive, and it's easy to bring up statistics on characters mid game, regardless of if they are friend or foe.
It does seem strange that this title forgoes the Wii Remote's unique pointing interface, though. This game certainly didn't need waggle, but we can't help but think that the game would've benefitted from use of the pointer in some areas - particularly frantic, fast paced play when your tower is being overrun.
Like its predecessor, the game is impressively presented for a download title. Graphics are once again a slight improvement over the GameCube FF:CC title and Kumi Tanioka composes the music again, though it's sadly still midi.
Like any Final Fantasy title, Darklord features a fairly interesting plot which actually twists and turns and adds a bit to the Crystal Chronicles universe. It plays out through the game menus and while not voice acted is well translated - we can't really complain about great dialogue, even if it is in text bubbles.
All in all, this is a solid title with impressive depth for a game of its kind. It does a fine job of incorporating traditional RPG elements and archetypes into a different genre and will feel very familiar to RPG and Final Fantasy fans in spite of the different gameplay. It can be witty, funny and actually kind of interesting to play on the side of an FF baddie.
There's one major negative point about this game, though. You get a fair bit of bang for your buck and the full storyline is included for the initial entrance price of 1000 Wii Points. However the game already has almost 5000 Wii Points worth of downloadable content including new levels and buffs to your powers only a week after launch.
In many ways it almost feels like the fiendish difficulty of the game is a deliberate ploy by Square to push you towards buying more DLC which in many cases affords you more NP, better minions and generally makes the game easier.
In spite of this what you get in the initial download is still an interesting, deep experience for the WiiWare platform. It's weaker than its predecessor for a number of reasons, including the DLC situation, slightly more repetitive gameplay and rather drab controls but make no mistake - this is still a very fun game.