Fantasy Life Review
Level-5 is a developer that has a very interesting slate of games indeed. Titles like Dark Cloud and Ni No Kuni gave them their core RPG fan credentials, but others like Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven prove that the studio can build for a wider audience with ease. Fantasy Life ends up slotting somewhere in the middle, and is probably best described as what would happen if you mixed Nintendo's hugely popular Animal Crossing with a more traditional Japanese RPG like Ni No Kuni or Dark Cloud.
As somebody who has a soft spot for both of those types of games, I'm immediately interested. Fantasy Life drops players into the town of Reveria, a lovely little place that matches the previous description of the game well.
Reveria feels like a very typical JRPG town, but is immediately augmented with a very Animal Crossing-feeling with introductions to the townsfolk, your new home, and what can be done about the town.
The player character, which can be a boy or a girl, is the typical town newcomer, and there's a lot that needs to be done. Very quickly Fantasy Life presents that strangely addictive gameplay loop of doing chores that Animal Crossing has had such success with - but here it has an RPG-flavored twist.
Everything essentially revolves around the core concept of a job system, something that's probably quite familiar to the type of RPG fans likely to be reading this review. There's 12 jobs in total available, but not all of them relate to combat unlike most titles to feature such a system.
Here in Reveria a job could be fishing or woodcutting to help the town in general, for instance, both of which come with an attention-holding but largely boring mini-game to complete the task.
Other roles are far more traditional to the genre, however - take up the title of Warrior for a time and you'll find yourself trekking outside of the town into the wild to hunt dangerous monsters.
In addition to simply going out of town or doing things of your own volition, the townspeople will also make requests of you. The game will also dish out specific missions with the reward of 'Bliss', one of the game's three currencies, and dangerous monsters will have bounties placed upon their heads.
The mission structure often amounts to going somewhere and slaying or collecting something - or a bit of both - and in that respect there is a touch too much repetition here.
It has to be noted that even though combat is more involved than the monotonous work of, say, chopping down trees for wood, its real-time action-based battles are deliberately simplistic and accessible compared to other, more traditional RPGs. Like Animal Crossing, this is a game more about advancing within your virtual life than it is about a specific challenge.
A large part of that progression is fed into by the job system. The more you do within any given job, the more proficient the player character becomes at it. New abilities pop up in each, and in an interesting touch certain skills from one role can be carried over to another, even if the jobs are fairly different in nature.
Being able to move abilities around is just one element of how jobs interplay, especially given how each job can later inform another. A reliable way to get equipment for the warrior job is to make it yourself, for instance.
To do that you'll need skill as a Carpenter, but to be able to do that work you'll need wood gathered in the wood cutter job. Once you know how the jobs influence each other you can plan ahead in a very specific and satisfying manner, and pretty quickly, days of the game's day-night cycle will have passed while you toiled towards one specific goal.
Fantasy Life looks quite pretty and makes solid use of the limited processing power the 3DS offers, even if it offers no novel or interesting use of the 3D visuals themselves. The game has a strong sense of identity and style - just another element that shines throughout play. It's no surprise when you look at the credits - there's some incredible talent on this team, including some of the Secret of Mana team on staff and Final Fantasy alumni Nobuo Uematsu and Yoshitaka Amano contributing music and art.
While Fantasy Life does have a more traditional story structure in place, it's one that is lacking in both substance and execution. Somewhere it almost feels like this fell by the wayside. Buried deep is your typical world-ending RPG panic, but by the time it really surfaces fully, it was difficult to bring myself to care.
Such a story seems to go against the entire point of a game with a plodding, methodical plot such as Fantasy Life's, and mostly feels out of place.
The story can be hand-waved, but some of the issues that make the story stumble also run over into side-quests too, such as poor sign-posting that doesn't really point you where you need to be going or what you need to be doing to advance a quest stand, and that's unfortunate.
It is also strange that the story is so malnourished when much of the rest of the game shows such polish. There's a ton of options and features that all work just fine and are well-built individually, but nothing quite seems to slot together as well as it should. As charming and as fun as the game is there's something nebulous and difficult to explain missing somewhere.
A ton of well-designed, fun mechanics work well and are truly engaging for the player. Good-looking visuals and a wonderful whimsical charm top that off - and yet Fantasy Life ultimately feels almost muddled in a sense. It's a selection of excellent and rather compelling mechanics that never quite pull together into one cohesive whole.