Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King (Nintendo Wii)

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King
Genre: City Simulator
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 05/12/08

There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it is this: pay attention.

I’m a fan of the Crystal Chronicles series of games. I mean, the franchise boils down to hacking your way through dungeons, murdering everything you see, acquiring new and neat items, and generally having a swell time of it. Simple enough, right? So when I heard there was a new Crystal Chronicles coming out for the WiiWare service, I thought, great! I love the series, it’s a Nintendo-specific franchise, and it’s an awesome game to launch the service with. And so, fully unaware of what I was jumping into, I downloaded My Life As A King, and went to work.

And found myself rebuilding a kingdom with no dungeon hack elements whatsoever.

So, yes. Pay attention.

That’s not to say that MLAAK is, in fact, bad; it’s actually fairly amusing all in all, and if you’re a fan of Final Fantasy in general and Crystal Chronicles in specific, it’s an amusing little diversion, certainly. But, well… for a number of reasons, it’s very hard to recommend.

The plot of MLAAK takes place some period of time after the events of the original FFCC: in essence, the Miasma that was poisoning the world has been purged, and your character and his troupe arrive in a barren castle, with the intention of rebuilding the land. The story goes that the main character (IE you) is a master of a technique called “architek”, and while you can probably guess what this means, I’ll tell you anyway: you’re capable of summoning buildings out of magical energy, complete with people. So, your goal is to summon all of the old people back to the kingdom of whatever you choose to name it, purge the countryside of evil monsters, and defeat the (obvious) evil being who shows up later on in the plot.

Since this is a Final Fantasy game, the storyline is clichéd out the hoo-hah, and since this is a modern Final Fantasy game, there is entirely too much meaningless exposition, but for some reason, in this game you can skip the cutscenes, which is a blessing in disguise, as you frankly don’t need to pay attention to the story to accomplish anything in the game. The game actually seeks to balance this somewhat, however; early in the game, you’ll be sitting through a cutscene about every two to five in-game days or so that’ll be about ten minutes long, but later in the game (from around Chapter Three or so) you’ll only see a cutscene about every twenty or so days; conversely, those cutscenes are about twenty minutes long. Now, if you’re a fan of the Square Enix style of storytelling you probably have no idea what I’m talking about and don’t know why I would even suggest such a thing, and to those of you I say that this game has a story you’d most likely love and enjoy, complete with sassy talking animals, evil demons and so on, but for anyone who can’t stand JRPG storylines, this is another one that’s rife with exposition and dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in the typical kid-friendly fantasy anime, and while it’s not particularly offensive or horrendous, you’ve seen it a billion and five times and this game does nothing to make the story any better or worse. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just IS.

MLAAK is certainly pretty, though, that much is certain. It retains the innocent look and charm of the franchise admirably, from the adorable characters to the bright environments and, while it’s not cutting edge, it does look quite reasonable on the Wii and in general. The in-game music is also what you would expect and has the playful fantasy sound to it that a game such as this would require, though it’s appropriately serious when it needs to be. There’s very little voice work in the game, relegated mostly to “Uh-huh” and “Yeah” noises as needed, so it’s cute and functional, and the various effects in the game are cute fantasy spell-casting noise staples that sound good in context and otherwise, so woo.

The gameplay in MLAAK is what’s probably going to confound most people, as MLAAK trades in the standard “go to a dungeon and smear everything” gameplay that the series was originally based on for a weird city-management sort of thing that’s generally rather simple to work with but awkward to explain. Basically, every single in-game day you’ll do any or all of four basic tasks: building facilities, investing in shops, maintaining the morale of your people, and sending out adventurers to clear nearby dungeons/level up/whatever. Running about the town is a simple matter of using the Nunchuck stick, and interacting with things requires a simple press of the A button, so at least the controls are simple to manipulate. More than a few tasks also require that you summon your advisor Chime, which is done either by pressing the Minus button on the Wii-Mote or, more commonly, by wiggling the Wii-Mote, which has the rather disagreeable side-effect of summoning her every time you make some sort of awkward gesture (say, scratching your nose), which is kind of disagreeable, but not a big deal.

Building facilities in town is fairly simple; you ruin up to a patch of green, glowing ground, wiggle the Wii-Mote, and tell Chime you want to build something, at which point she will show you a list of things you can build. The various things you can build are sub-divided into different categories based on their function, but you’ll know if you have something available to build because the block representing it in the selection menu will be filled in; every one of the buildings in the game has a limit to how much you can build of them (though you can increase that limit by clearing out certain dungeons which add larger counts of those building types to your limitations), making identification of what you can build pretty simple. Once you opt to build the building, that’s it; the building is magically built at the very spot you dictated, and it’s then used for whatever function it provides, be is a house for people to live in, a training hall for various job types, a shopping establishment for townsfolk or adventurers, a park, or what have you. You will, of course, need a sufficiently large amount of the material Elementite in order to build the various buildings, which can be a problem earlier in the game, but as adventurers clear dungeons, you’ll find yourself with plenty of Elementite as the game progresses, which makes later building a snap. On the off-chance that you want to restructure your buildings, you can also run up into the doorways of any building (from the smallest house to the tallest guild) and disassemble it; anyone living in the establishment will be relocated to your castle while you choose a new location to rebuild the building on (though the invested resources are still gone), meaning you can redesign your town as needed in case you, say, want to relocate all of your guilds so as to not have your adventurers running around all over town before they go out into battle. The game pays something of a lip-service to the act of building houses closer to certain kinds of facilities, but in general it doesn’t seem to affect things too much, as households built out in the boonies of your town will still be happy enough so long as you properly manage morale.

As noted above, you’ll be building shops and training halls and such, and the game requires that you invest cash into these facilities in order to further progress their ability to supply goods to your adventurers. For a few of the locations (the Guild Hall, the Gaming Hall, etc) you can simply dump in the required cash and move on with your day, but the Magic Guilds and Armor/Weapon/Item Shops will also eventually require you to send adventurers out on quests to slay monsters and bring back materials to further upgrade their gear. It’s a neat mechanic for what it’s worth; you earn cash by collecting a daily tithe from your people, which you can then further invest into developing the gear for your adventurers to take with them into battle, which they pay for out of their own funds that they earn as adventurers, thus simulating an economy in the kingdom to a certain extent.

You’ll also need to maintain the morale of your people, partially to keep their spirits high, and partially to develop your kingdom. Generally, morale is easy enough to maintain; people will be wandering about with little icons over their heads indicating their mood, and by going up and talking to them, you get a little bit of an addition to the morale bar (which you’ll also get randomly if they talk to one another). You can also do this with your adventurers as they prepare for battle, to much the same effect. As morale builds up, it fills the morale bar on the left side of the screen; when this fills up, you are given a bonus in your tithe collections (IE, more cash), and you get a morale ball, which you can either use to further the city or to improve morale even further. In the former case, the city will eventually be upgraded to a larger and more illustrious title, which will in turn allow you certain benefits (calling for morale-boosting holidays, for instance) as well as the ability to talk to more people (and thus earn more morale) per day, while in the latter case you’re imbued with a yellow glow that, when you talk to them, will either improve their familial relations (and the better a family gets along, the later they leave their lights on, which means you can stay up later, no I don’t get it either), or in the case of adventurers, will give them a boost whilst they are out in the dungeon, thus making it useful in both cases.

The adventurers themselves, even beyond what was noted above, have their own special sort of interesting mechanics to them. You will initially have access to about four adventurers, all of whom run out into the fields alone to do battle. Each house you build will spit out new potential recruits, but it’s up to you whether or not you actually opt to hire any of them, and which ones you choose to hire (as any new recruits require gold from the reserves to be made initially active). Once you’ve hired a recruit, each day they’ll check in at the behest boards in town (which is where you make decrees of things that need doing at the time) to see if there’s any work to be done, which can be anything from leveling up to exploring a dungeon to fighting a boss to uncovering more materials and beyond. You can also post behests offering to train them in new jobs, of which there are four; Warrior, Thief, Black Mage and White Mage, each with its own strengths and drawbacks. As you move forward in the game, your adventurers will buy new goods and abilities to make them better in battle, and you can place Taverns in town to arrange them into parties of explorers, which increases their chances of survival (though it focuses accolades on the leader, thus meaning switching the leader of the party around is ideal for optimum reward distribution). When your adventurers complete important missions, they can earn medals which can increase statistics (or, with special medals, change up behaviors), which further make them capable of tearing their way through the dungeons. If they get wiped out in battle, they don’t die; they simply trudge dejectedly back to town and rest up in their parent’s house (and if you stop by to visit, they recover that much quicker) so as to fight again. You’ll have to manage their morale as well; if an adventurer shows up at the behest board looking depressed, it’s better to send them home to rest than to stick them out into battle where they might get wiped out. Eventually, you’ll even be able to build an Inn, which recruits high-powered out-of-town adventurers to visit your town and assist your adventurers in battle, which is pretty amusing.

Now, with all of the above depth to the explanation, you’d think this sounds like a fantastic product, and it’s honestly not BAD and quite enjoyable if you’re of the right mindset for it. That said, MLAAK suffers from several rather major flaws that make it really hard to recommend… for instance:

1.) While MLAAK is certainly enjoyable, it was substantially more enjoyable when I originally played it, back when Natsume published it under the name of Metropolismania. Because, you see, everything in this game (and I do mean EVERYTHING) that isn’t taken from the FFCC universe is ripped, blatantly, from that series of games, from the building up of the town by way of garnering requests from citizens to the micromanagement of your people’s day-to-day gripes and concerns to the “we just discovered a new building” mechanics (in that game it was more of a case where someone would say “Hey, we need a bank” and someone else would say “Hey, I have a friend who runs a bank who would love to move here” and there you go) and beyond. I have no problem with someone taking a concept and making it their own in new and exciting ways, but MLAAK does not do that; the only thing it does that’s functionally new, aside from the FFCC coat of paint, is the “sending adventurers out into the world to kill things” mechanic, and not only does that cripple the originality of the product a wee bit, but also…

2.) The adventurer mechanic is functionally broken in entirely too many ways. Simply put, adventurers are free-spirited and stupid. If you place up two behests, one for low-level leveling and the other for high-level exploration, say, you’ll get the level five adventurer who wants to go to the level ten dungeon and the level ten adventurer who wants to go the level five dungeon more often than not, which is confounding because it FORCES you to only list one behest per day just to be certain that the people you want to accomplish the given task WILL ACTUALLY DO IT. Seriously, I understand the necessity to allow a sense of free will, but this is not a democracy; you pay the adventurers for a hard day of work, and as such you should be able to dictate what you want them to do, period. Also, you’ll often find that your adventurers, when left to their own devices, will make the decision to go to dungeons that are higher level than what they should be taking on, and they will then get wiped out BECAUSE THEY WENT TO A DUNGEON THREE LEVELS ABOVE THEIR OWN, because you can only specify what dungeon they go to by issuing behests and, well, see above.

It’s also particularly annoying when you place up a job change behest because first, you’ll get the guy you just changed to a thief or the girl with insanely high strength coming to you and saying “I WANNA BE A WHM” when you really weren’t looking for them to change jobs (and meanwhile the person you wanted to give a job change to is standing at the other behest board wondering why you’re tearing your hair out), and second, upon being changed over or declined, your adventurers then go running off to a random dungeon, which often causes the above-noted “being struck down in dungeons of higher level than the character is ready for” to occur. Oh, yes, and you can’t fire anyone, so if you recruit someone, you can’t tell them to hit the bricks no matter how much they annoy you, which is really annoying; in effect, once you hire someone, you have little input over their actions and can never fire them… and frankly, while that’s an appropriately simulation-oriented recreation of state workers (ZING!) it’s also very much an annoying and unnecessary design flaw.

Also, you never really need to recruit more than about eight adventurers (two parties worth), partially because you can’t even make parties for more than twelve of them (three taverns means three parties, max) but mostly because there’s just never a need to have that many groups of adventurers running around, especially after other adventurers from out of town start staying at the inn and begin randomly murdering everything in the surrounding areas with no further direction. And on the subject, the party mechanic is annoying as well: the fact that I have to unlock a building that takes about fifty or sixty in-game days to unlock just to allow my characters the option to GET INTO GROUPS OF MORE THAN ONE PERSON BEFORE THEY GO INTO BATTLE is frustrating enough, but the fact that I can only have one personally built party per tavern just seems like intentional crippling on the part of the developers because they could not figure out any further way to screw the player beyond having adventurers come home because halfway into the dungeon THEY HAD AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS and decided to come home. No, seriously, you get “I don’t know what my purpose was, so I came home.” Gee, maybe your purpose is to KILL MONSTERS, seeing as THAT’S WHAT I’M PAYING YOU FOR. And again, since you can’t fire anyone, you’re stuck with these idiots because you cannot hire anyone else. This makes life somewhat less living every single day.

3.) The morale system is absurd. Talking to your citizens improves general morale around town, but the only way to boost your time spent awake is to talk to citizens while under the “Morale Boost” state, which improves their family relations. Look, I know this is only a video game, but think about this for a minute: MLAAK is essentially implying that if you run around morale-boosting everyone in sight, everything is okay, but as soon as you stop doing that people start beating their wives and neglecting their kids, okay? I can understand the need to do this once in a while but the game practically makes you do it EVERY SINGLE DAY, like the townspeople are just predisposed to start abusing their families the exact second you stop giving them the old shining pat on the back. THIS IS LUDICROUS.

4.) Downloadable content that’s released on day one is generally tolerable in one of two cases: if it’s free and if it’s content that does not affect the gameplay in any way. You remember how everyone griped and complained about Horse Armor? Right, well, Square Enix one-ups that by releasing content on day one that IS PRETTY MUCH A NECESSITY IF ONE VALUES THE ENJOYMENT OF THE GAME and IN TOTAL COSTS MORE THAN THE GAME. Want to have Selkies in your parties? Pay up. Want more dungeons so you can unlock things to build and thus not have all of this useless Elementite sitting around? Pay up.

If Square Enix had released the game at $20 and packed all the content in, this would not be an issue. This is, literally, price-gouging the consumer into paying $30 or more for a complete product that honestly isn’t worth that much, enjoyment or no. $1 costume changes, that I get, fine. Want to add in some more dungeons in a few months, go for it. This sort of thing literally screams “WE LEFT OUT CONTENT SO WE COULD CHARGE YOU MORE FOR IT” and that’s utterly abhorrent.

5.) Unless you like society simulation games, MLAAK is god-awfully boring. It’s literally a game where you run about the exact same location talking to the exact same people day after day after day until one hundred and some-odd days later, you’ve completed the game and never want to see it ever again. Now, granted, for some people this is perfectly fine, but for the gamer who bought this on the promise of it being some sort of action or turn-based RPG, well, this is bland, boring, tedious, and requires far more repetition and attention than one would be willing to devote to the product.

And finally,

6.) Even if you DO like society simulation games, MLAAK isn’t a particularly exciting one. If you basically just focus on building and leveling troops, and ignore managing morale, the only thing you lose out on is leveling up your town, and the only thing THAT affects is, wait for it, wait for it, THE ABILITY TO BETTER MANAGE MORALE. If you ignore the entire morale-management system in the game, you can still essentially plow your way through the entire game just by upgrading your adventurers and sending them out to do battle.

And before someone says, “NO YOU CAN’T”, I went one hundred and twenty in-game days before I even started being bothered working on morale at all and I managed to make it to the Dark Lord’s temple, so, uh, yeah, yeah you can. Unless you care about being up late or declaring town holidays, the only benefit from boosting Morale is the extra cash you earn for doing so, and frankly, the whole extra hundred gil you get for running about the town talking to everyone can be considered as acceptable losses for NOT being forced to run around the town talking to everyone.

And this is not even taking into account the fact that the game is essentially the same thing, over and over, day after day, and that after completing it, you’re offered higher difficulty levels that, while they would theoretically make things more challenging, also amount to you continuing to do the same thing day after day, which is frankly not going to get a lot of people in the mood to jump right back in.

All told, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King is not BAD, but it’s not GOOD, either. Some interesting design concepts attached to a cute and interesting franchise don’t make up for the fact that the game is unoriginal, has a lot of stupid design elements that make the game more frustrating than it should be, and is either really boring or really shallow, depending on the sort of person you are. If you were given the full game, DLC and all, for $15, it’d be worth checking out, but as the core game is fairly limited and with the DLC the game costs in excess of $30, it’s pretty hard to recommend this game to, well, anyone; even the most die-hard of Square fan will most likely only play through this once and never touch it ever again.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

Final Score: MEDIOCRE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King is essentially city simulation with the Square Enix touch, only in this case, it’s less “the magic touch” and more “being molested”. The game works and is playable enough, and if one can deal with the rampant unoriginality and odd mechanics it’s a cute city simulation. Unfortunately, that’s a big if; many of the gameplay mechanics, especially those concerning morale and parties, are functionally flawed, the game borrows too much to make it feel like its own product, and it’s either going to be very boring or very underdeveloped depending on if you like this sort of genre in the first place. For $15 the game probably wouldn’t even be that bad, but for the full $30 you have to pay to actually have any sort of an entertaining experience with the game, it’s kind of a shallow ripoff. Only the most hardcore of Square Enix fans need to play through this; the rest of us can either play the DS Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles or Sim City, depending on your preference.

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