- Format: 3DS
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Level-5
- Players: 1
- Site: https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-3DS/Fantasy-Life-899654.html
When you think about it, RPGs tend to have a very narrow view of the world. Generally speaking, you’re the guy or gal (but usually guy) who goes out and kills things, and… that’s about it. Fantasy Life takes a more holistic world view. You can just be the person who goes out and hits things with a sword – or, indeed, bolts of magic – but you can also be the person who makes the armour and the weapons; the person who makes clothes for townsfolk; the person who makes all those HP and SP potions that tend to lie around in helpful places; the person who makes the food that everybody eats; and much more. Although the common description is ‘Animal Crossing meets Final Fantasy’, the ability to be an ersatz adventurer means it actually has more in common with Monster Hunter.
There are twelve Lives to choose from in all, and whether you want to be a mercenary or a miner – or both, or all twelve, or any other combination – really is up to you. It’s best to think of each ‘life’ as a character class rather than anything else. Skills you learn in one Life can be used in any other; but you can only have one Master at a time, meaning that you have to change Lives if you want to rank up (by reporting your completion of specific challenges) in any discipline other than your current one. More importantly, each Life gives you small, passive buffs to certain statistics – and not every Life can make use of every type of clothing or armour. Generally speaking though, most unlocked options are open to you at any time. So it was that our Tailor ventured out to the Grassy Plains, used his magical staff to shoot fireballs at enemies and sheep alike (producing mutton for cooking), mined a few materials for smithing, gathered a few herbs for alchemy, then went back to town and made a pair of curtains. Then another pair to sell.
The wealth of challenges and mini-quests is immense, and certainly dwarfs what’s available in the main storyline (perhaps 10-13 hours on its own). As a result, the presentation of tasks here is almost on its head; you stumble upon, and are encouraged to follow, NPC requests and Life progression almost constantly, with the story almost given as something to dip in and out of as a break from the side quests rather than the other way around. That said, you can only unlock the full (relatively small) game world – and thereby the full range of materials, monsters, challenges and so on – by progressing through the main storyline. Nonetheless, the simple yet oddly engaging minigames required for the more prosaic tasks can – surprisingly – not only suck up hours of your time, but provide an undeniable sense of achievement.
No matter how you mix up your Lives, sooner or later you’ll have to venture out of town to kill things until they’re dead. Combat is in real-time, but strikes are limited by your SP. When it runs out you either have to dance around as it slowly recharges, or take a swig of a good ol’ SP potion. Those who don’t often dabble in RPGs will do well to avoid sword fighting, which is awkward and clunky. Whatever your weapon of choice, however, it pays to be wary of the slightly erratic way in which enemies are empowered. After a dozen or so hours of levelling up, our character (customisable, by the way) was able to dispatch about three quarters of enemy types within just three or four hits. A new enemy we came up against killed us within three or four hits; the reason this is an issue, is because there’s no indication – such as a level rank, for example – of how troublesome a foe might be. Given the fact that combat is for the most part a formality more than anything else, however, this can be forgiven.
Indeed, given the cutesy aesthetic, you might well think this is a game ‘for kids’. While the younger gamer will certainly find this an easy game to get into, the hugely generous volume of set tasks and variety in narratives means that this can be enjoyed by people of any age. In fact, the script is at times genuinely funny, surprisingly and impressively so; but unfortunately, the story never even begins to punch at an emotional level. It’s a curiosity rather than an incentive to play.
You can play with other people either online or via Link, but these weren’t modes that we were able to properly test before release. A shame, as this could potentially add another dimension to the experience, and we’ll update our review after release if we feel it makes a significant difference. It’d be nice to have somebody to ask for directions, in fact. During story quests, a big red arrow is always on hand on the bottom screen’s map to tell you exactly where to go; but the rest of the time, you’re pretty much on your own. The idea seems to be to encourage players to familiarise themselves with the game world, memorising people and places as they pour hours in. Fair enough; but when you have two dozen NPC requests on the go at once (you can have a maximum of 30), each of which gives you only a vague idea of who gave you the quest in the first place and where the heck they are, completing the simplest of tasks can sometimes be more complicated than it needs to be.
Fantasy Life squeezes an awful lot of content into a little cart. Even though mechanics are shared between Lives, and ranking up in your disciplines essentially boils down to grinding, there’s much happiness and satisfaction to be had here. And isn’t that what any Life should be all about?