Monday, December 29, 2014

[REVIEW] Fantasy Life

Fantasy Life
Platform: 3DS
Genre: Action-RPG, life simulation
Developer: Level-5 / Brownie Brown / h.a.n.d.
Publisher: Nintendo

As a fan of deep, customizable role-playing games, I’ve always been enamored with the MMORPG concept. Alas, the “online” part of the genre brings with it something I just can’t stand when it comes to gaming: social obligations. As much as I love extended sessions of Smash Bros. and Mario Kart with friends on my living room couch, I prefer to experience my RPGs on my own pace, playing whenever I feel like and not having to hastily log on after work to join a guild raid. With Fantasy Life, Level-5 gave me the best of both worlds, providing a sizeable MMO-like adventure with an almost intimidating number of things to do, and allowing me to play it entirely on my own if I so choose.

In the game, your custom-made avatar is just starting to face the harsh reality of life: eventually, all of us have to start paying them bills. Because of this, you’re immediately tasked with choosing one of twelve possible occupations (or Lives, with an uppercase, in the game’s terminology). Some of them are combat-oriented, such as the Paladin or the Mercenary. Others focus on resource collection, such as the Woodcutter or the Miner. Finally, others are minigame-based crafts, such as the Alchemist or the Blacksmith.

Wanna be a carpenter? Better get good at slamming that A button, kid.

You can change between occupations at will on the world’s various Guild Offices, and this marks the true beauty of the system: each Life fuels the others, meaning you’ll want to be experienced in at least a few different jobs if you want to take the most out of the game. A miner, for example, is able to gather ore, which a blacksmith can then turn into armor and weaponry, which a paladin can then use to hunt down monsters, and so on.

If there’s a problem with this setup, it’s the way similar lives feel too close to each other: making potions as an alchemist, forging weapons as a blacksmith, and crafting furniture as a carpenter, for example, all make use of the same mini-games. By the same nature, chopping down trees and mining gemstones use the same basic mechanics. Even so, the amount of different gameplay options on display is certainly impressive, and there’s a good chance you’ll be spending dozens of hours immersed in the incredibly addictive available activities.

Perhaps there are some boos waiting to be vacuumed up inside?

The general storyline puts your avatar in the middle of a world-spanning plot that feels very similar in places to Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS, another Level-5 masterpiece. Often, it will get a bit too dialogue-heavy, but you’ll soon realize you can mostly button-mash your way through lengthy conversations you’re not really interested in. It’s refreshing how there really aren’t any bad guys on the game: you’ll travel around several city-states, each with their own beliefs and way of living, and even though they don't always get along, your many epic battles will be waged against wild beasts and mythic monsters, not against incarnations of pure evil set on world domination. This plays into Fantasy Life’s life simulation aspect, and the result is pleasant and fresh.

My pickaxe will take good care of you, ominous-looking huge stone.

Of course, for all of my praise of lonesome role-playing experiences, Fantasy Life also offers something for those obsessed with online multiplayer, allowing you to pair with a friend and take on quests together. I didn’t really try this mode (you know, because of everything I’ve said about my MMORPG turn-offs), but it’s nice to know they took the time to add that option to the final package.

Yep, those are pretty much my thoughts, too.

Certainly not a game for the impatient, Fantasy Life is an impressive effort to trim down the basic MMORPG formula and confine it neatly to offline play sessions on Nintendo’s handheld. It’s filled with charm, cute graphics and great music, and, if you allow yourself to be immersed in its peculiar reality, it will certainly eat sizeable chunks of your free time. It’s the kind of game that could be expanded into a wonderful new franchise, and I hope Level-5 seizes the opportunity to do just that. Until then, I’ll be relentlessly working my ass off in the daily routine of Reveria. Those “Legend” ranks on each occupation won’t earn themselves, you know.

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