Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King
Release Date: 5/12/2008
Wii Ware launched on May 12th, with the most anticipated title being Square’s latest spin-off to the Final Fantasy Series. The odd thing here is that this is a spin-off of a spin-off. The original Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was a odd but fun little game for the Game Cube that involved using the Game Boy Advance as a controller and allowed for up to four people to play at once. However, it was a pretty expensive game that involved needed four GBA’s, 4 GBA to GCN connectors and the fifty dollar GCN disc. It was yet another drop in the “grey area ethics issues” that Squaresoft is known for by industry insiders like the blatant obscuring and lying about the fact Quest actually made Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSX and then burying Quest as a company and the Ogre Battle franchise. If you ever wonder where my utter lack of respect for Square as a company comes from, do a little digging into their business practices. They’re only a hair above EA in my book.
But I digress. The FF:CC game for the DS received fairly decent reviews. It, like the original, was a co-operative action RPG where the emphasis was on hack n’ slash gameplay over story. Which is what makes this third game in the Crystal Chronicles franchise so interesting. It’s is neither a multiplayer game, nor a role playing game, even though it takes place firmly in the continuity and world of FF:CC. Instead the game is a combination of SimCity and Metropolismania. The concept intrigued me, and I loved that Square has finally been trying to break the FF series out of its boring clichéd rut. Last time I reviewed a FF game was back in November 2006, with which was the first FF game in 9 years I could actually recommend, the first since 1990 if you count FF games actually made by Square. Can Square strike gold twice in a row with me?
Like most Square games, plot is thin, characters are shallow, and development is sparse. However, this is a city building simulation game and compared to titles like SimCity or even Dark Cloud, My Life As a King is amazingly deep.
The game begins with your unspeaking protagonist and his two retainers travelling to the location of where your city will begin to form. You are given the back story that the miasma (which is not explained. The game expects you to have played the other FFCC games in order to understand the reference) has receded and you have come to claim land your father, the late King has left for you. Here you encounter a giant sentient crystal that gives the king the power of elementine, which allows the young King in training to magically create buildings and structures. Once a home is built, it is instantly filled with a family of your father’s previous subjects. If a commercial building is built, it comes with its old shopkeeps. This is a little silly, but it works in the context of the game.
The majority of the game involves you sending out citizens that you have commissioned as adventurers into the surrounding areas playing Manifest Destiny. Sometimes you’ll be exploring, while other times you’ll have specific goals such as trying to kill a boss or track down a specific item for making new spells or weapons. Once you’ve cleared an area, you unlock something new for your city.
The plot does eventually gain some substance. Passing certain areas with a check by them initiates new plot points and will often begin or end a new “act.” The eventual story involves your Kingdom and a “Dark Lord” that now wears the visage of your late father. Or does me? MUHAHAHAHA!
No characters have any real personalities. The villages are all generic and will generally say the same thing over and over again for no real reason. Your protagonist has no personality AT ALL. Only three characters have the most basic semblance of depth and that’s your two retainers and a snippy sarcastic talking penguin that follows you around.
It’s nice to see a story sim that gives you somewhat of a story, so that’s a plus. If you’re looking for something epic though. You won’t find it here. This is a game where the story is tacked on to showcase the gameplay.
Story Rating: Mediocre
This is Square’s forte. If there is one thing they are universally complimented on, it’s the graphics. MLAAK is no exception. It’s a pretty game. It’s certainly not up to their usual standards or at the quality of titles on the Wii like NiGHTS but it’s still able to go toe to toe with a lot of the disc based games for the Wii. That’s pretty impressive for a downloaded game.
There a limited amount of character designs. Open up several house and 95% of the residents will look the same. Only when you give your adventurers a class will they start to differentiate, but two black mages of the same gender will look alike, and so on. Again, the King, his retainers and his penguin are the only real characters that stand out physically. You CAN buy new outfits for the characters if you choose, but that’s $1 for the King and Chime apiece.
In all, the game looks good, but not great. There’s only so much you can put into the visuals of a downloaded game after all.
Graphics Rating: Good
This is another area where Square generally outdoes itself. Not here though. There is only one main track to the game and it loops CONSTANTLY. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if it was a quality piece of music, but it’s merely mediocre and thus is grating at times.
There’s no voice acting. Characters generally don’t make noise at all except for the occasional sound effect during cut scenes.
Speaking of sound effects, there’s a not a lot in the game itself regarding little blips and bleeps. When you talk to someone or receive a rewards, but that’s it. I was very shocked at how nearly noiseless this game is. Considering Square soundtracks generally are quite popular, this was a big disappointment here.
Sound Rating: Poor
4. Control and Gameplay
This is the meat of the game and I won’t lie – I really liked it. I love simulation games and this was no exception. The problem is that if you were expected an RPG or a game that you have a lot of control over, this will no doubt irk you. It’s also a game you have to keep constant watch over even though it seems pretty autonomous from your playing. That will definitely trip you up if you don’t watch every little thing that happens. Again, it’s like SimCity. Half the fun is building things and then the other half is watching things take a life of their own.
Here’s what happens. Each day you get a report of the prior day’s events. You see what each adventurers did, and if they accomplished a goal you set for them or not. Then you check the finance screen where you can see how much money you have received from villagers or what your current collection of crystals are. After that you can set one or more “Behests,” with the amount you can set being based on the amount of message boards you have unlocked. Each message board can hold a single behest and you have total control of the goal. Look at the map and see what the reward is for each goal and plan your day accordingly. Once you’re done, the actual day’s events begin, but you’ll find this is where you lose almost all your control.
First, your adventurers decide on which behest you will try for. This may vex you, but as a tabletop gamer, it makes sense. In most pen and paper RPG worlds the lords of the land don’t force the PC’s to do a quest. They CHOOSE TO. So it is here. You can then let them go on the behest, tell them no, tell them to stay home, or tell them to go earn more XP by tackling a smaller dungeon filled with weaker monsters,
After you give each adventurer or party of adventurers their orders, you’re left to your own devices. You do not go to the dungeons and in fact, you will never see a dungeon or monster in the game. This is because you are the king and thus are managing the town.
So what do you do all day? Actually…lots of stuff. You can talk to villagers, which raises their own individual morale and the overall town morale as well. You can stop in at stores and see who is buying what and also donate money to fund research of newer and better items, potions, spells, or what have you. Raising townspeople morale to the max gives you a morale sphere to improve anyone you talk to’s standing in the town and with their own family. This is important because when a family’s internal morale is maxed out, you get a medal. More on those later.
You can also erect new buildings if you have enough crystals. If you build a White Mage Academy, not only will you be able to turn adventurers into White Mages from the default Warrior class, but all those living near it get a Willpower boost. You can also build houses, and the type of house you build depends on what they pay in daily taxes. Spacious homes give the most, but take up more room. As you only have a limited amount to build, it’s your call what to make. As mentioned before, you can also fund new items and spells. If you do this enough the shopkeeps will give you a medal as well.
So what are medals for? Well they raise the stats of your adventurers. You have an unlimited supply of ones that boost stats like strength or dexterity. Ones you get from villagers though have special properties, such as bonus XP when they use swords or fire spells, or even the ability to haggle with armour dealers. There are also personality affecting medals as well. An adventurer earns a medal for completing a behest. This is how you shape and control your adventurers and with intelligent planning, you can design some very powerful characters. My Warrior Hank just kept receiving strength medals from me to the point where he was one hit killing everything he fought, including bosses. Meanwhile I also powered up another warrior named Boris with Strength medals and then as his second highest stat was Willpower, I turned him into a White Mage and because his strength was so high, he was a brutal attacker as well as a healer. Little things like that are what make up the actual playing of the game.
As for controls, there’s not much to speak of, but they’re very solid. You run around and press a button to talk to some one, shake the wiimote to summon your aide, Chime and that’s about it. It’s not very deep control-wise, but they are solid.
The gameplay in and of itself is super. It’s is well designed, it’s easy to learn, but you really have to be an excellent strategist to master it. As we will see later on, not being able to will affect your perceptions of the balance of the game.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
This is a pretty long game for a $15 price tag. Even without the add-ons that you pretty much HAVE to buy, the game goes on forever. You advance the plot by doing specific quests, so if you purposely avoid those, the game will be longer for you. As well, you can have multiple saves and no matter what, the game will unfold differently. You’ll never get the same townspeople twice, and all you have to do is put up a building in a different place or not at all and BAM! The game will play totally different. It’s that level of customization that will keep you coming back to the game multiple times, to see what works and what doesn’t.
Replayability Rating: Good
Depending on how you play and what you are looking for, you’ll either think the game is a horribly unbalanced out of whack piece of crap, or you’ll be babbling about the intricate small details other people are missing to where you sound one of those creepy guys that recites baseball player statistics.
Morale is HIGHLY important because if you don’t talk to people, their morale slips and so does their family morale. Yes kids, when you snub Joe the villager, his life goes into a tailspin and he accuses his kids of being on heroin. It’s how the engine works. This means, you spend a lot of time talking to whoever you can. When morale is high, you can stay up past sunset and get more done. This might seem annoying or excruciatingly repetitive to do, but the benefits are great and what the hell else are you going to do while your noble heroes annex land belonging to goblins and trolls and what not. It’s like giving smallpox blankets to Native Americans all over again. USA! USA!
I suppose you could build buildings, but there comes a time when you have a ton of crystals left and no place left to build. All you can do is talk, talk, talk! So if micromanaging the crap out of your town doesn’t interest you, you’re going to find the game pretty out of whack FAST.
Then there are the battles. I’m sure many of you reading this with you had control over what the characters bought or how they fought or what the hell made the Fighter go into the dungeon that is full of monsters that can only be hurt by magic. Well, I suppose this would be frustrating because you just want to go “Boris – Why the hell are you level 17 and still don’t have a sword or armour?” Bottom line is, you’re not the PC here, you’re the Dungeon Master. Anyone who has run a tabletop game will tell you horror stories of PC stupidity. That’s that this game is. You’re watching your PC’s blunder around on occasion.
However there is a way around this. Each dungeon gives you clues as to what type of character is best suited. If you see the boss is a Fire Goblin, don’t send a warrior by himself who lacks magical protection. Send in a mage! If you can’t get a mage to take the quest, then issue it again tomorrow. Again, this is annoying, but it’s REALISTIC. Sometimes when you put a help wanted ad in the paper, you have to wait a while to get the quality response you desire.
That’s why people will no doubt have a HUGE disagreement in balance here. People not used to the old school way of RPG’s will be flummoxed or angry at the little control they have and that the game often feels like you have a spectator role. Those that know what they are in for will no doubt be amused by all the wacky little events that occur in your town or the gobsmacking retardation of your level 1 warrior wanting to take a mission for level 10 characters.
The balance is only as good as the skill level of the player. Bone up with the SimCity game on the Virtual Console before you hit this and you’ll be fine. If you lack patience or have never done a city sim before, mail me a recording of your profanity.
Balance Rating: Above Average
This isn’t the first crossover between RPG and city builder simulation that we’ve had before. The mediocre Dark Cloud series has done it, the amazing Actraiser has done it, and in a way Populous was the originator of this idea. However, this is the first game to featuring full on RPG characters, parties and dungeon crawling (that you can’t see or take part in) in such a way that you feel as if you are the Dungeon Master. As Mark would like me to point out, Square has pretty much emulated Metropolismania and given it new graphics and characters. I honestly have never played the game, so I can’t take that into effect when scoring this, but there you go.
City Sims have pretty much been beaten to death by Sims games (Another reason to hate EA), but as much blood has been squeezed from that stone, Square-Enix has given us a slightly new take that is a lot more fun that the recent DS version of SimCity
Originality Rating: Poor
Okay, I REALLY got into this game. Like I said, I love city building games. Of course, I got into it more because of my own macabre imagination and desire to see if I could make an entire family fall apart or what would happen if I segregated the town by race. Weird things like that. I loved seeing the parties come back each day and I actually read the blow by blow fight recaps like it was an old game of TNM7. I loved collecting medals and wandering the town and agonizing for (game) days over the best place to put a building in terms of locale and speeding up questing times.
It’s rare these days for me to play a game more than an hour or two without getting bored. With MLAAK? Five hours flew by before I knew it. I had over 15 hours logged on this thing in 3 days. That’s pretty damn impressive.
I can’t deny I was really into the game, even with the lack of story. Each day is so short that I kept saying “Oh, I’ll play another one.” And then another. And then another. I wanted to see the new item or what new abilities and weapons were found. I wanted to see who would choose which quests and which characters were dumb asses and which were solid investments. Things like that.
I got addicted to this game pretty quickly, but just as quickly the enjoyment left. After 20 hours or so you’ve done all you really can with the title and then its just a lot of repetition. Still, this game had me glued to my coach for long stretches and even had me delay watching LOST. Anyone who knows me will tell you that’s huge.
Addictiveness Rating: Unparalelled
9. Appeal Factor
Square fanboys will buy anything with a Final Fantasy logo on it, no mater how awful the game is FFVIII and FFTA are proof of that. Still this game is decent and it will no doubt have a decent amount of crossover appeal, if only because of the developer and logo. Simulation fans will no doubt enjoy it, but people expecting an RPG dungeon crawl will no doubt loathe it.
With all that in mind I still see this being one of the most downloaded titles for WIIWare, or for the Wii in general. It’ll sell, but as we’ll see in the next category, as much as I’ve praised the game it shouldn’t be allowed to.
Appeal Factor: Above Average
So remember how I started this review with a rant about the lack of business ethics that Square has. You thought it had no bearing on this game and was just me being a cranky pants, right? Well you are WRONG. My Life as a King is a perfect example of the kind of crappy behavior Square is known for and thankfully for me, they’ve made it so blatant with this game, damn near everyone is taking note for once.
You see, MLAAK is not only the most expensive title in the Wiishop area, but it also has purchasable extra content. Now you’re probably saying, “What’s wrong with that? LOTS of games have extra content you can buy.” This is true. Everything from Folklore to Oblivion gives you this option. It’s HOW and WHAT Square offers that is the big kick to the genitals.
First off, Square is charging 15 dollars for this game. The add content costs MORE THAN THE GAME if you buy it all. Sure it looks cheaply priced. But let’s add it up. Would you like a race other then honkie humans? Three bucks a race please or all three for 8. Right there, just adding new races to the game has increased your purchase price by over FIFTY PERCENT.
Would you like new costumes for the King and Chime? $2 total please, bringing the total to 10. Then there are all those extra quests you can buy which are the only way to get important events and locations. By the time you are done, the game costs $30+, OUCH. Especially when there are far better Wii titles out there for that cost, like Endless Ocean.
As well, the fact is the game is designed that you NEED to buy some of those packs to keep the game even remotely interesting. I’m sorry, but races should have been automatically built into the game. That’s just cheap and crappy of Square to pull this.
Next is the fact the add-on content was available from Day One. ALL of it. This means any of it could have been, and should have been part of the main game to begin with. For Square to withhold content as add on that every other game out there would consider basic content, that’s just as unethical as you can get. But Square did it because they knew they could get away with it. They have their legions of mindless fans so brainwashed that god help anyone who points out the flaws in one of their games. Logic and reason have no place with the proper Square fan. Only mindless obedience and an open wallet.
As much as I enjoyed this game, this is exactly the sort of chicanery that is ruining this industry and making it a “Screw the gamers” mentality amongst a lot of publishers these days. I enjoyed this game, but purchasing it tells Square-Enix that they can get away with this sort of crap, and the only way to hurt them is by not buying it.
Honestly, if any employee of Square is reading this, and I know you either are or will be, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’d love to hear one of you explain just how you came up with such a rip-off scheme and why you think so little of your fanbase.
Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless
Control and Gameplay: Great
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Above Average
Short Attention Span Summary
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is a neat little game with a lot of charm and interesting ideas. However, the business plan and the outright disdain Square shows for gamers with this game makes me unable to recommend this game without having a dirty conscience afterwards. Without the add-on content, the game loses a LOT, but with the add on content you’re into the $30 realm and that’s far more than anyone should pay for this. Avoid the game and maybe Square will finally wise up. But of course you won’t.