Review: Fantasy Life (Nintendo 3DS)

Fantasy LifeFantasy Life
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Genre: Roleplaying
Release Date: 10/24/2014

Many were looking forward to Fantasy Life when it came out, including me, but I didn’t get a chance to pick up the game when it came out. The game has since been described as, essentially, the MMO that isn’t an MMO, and after having quite a bit (read: over fifty hours) of time with it myself, I can definitely see why someone would call it that. The game has everything you might look for in a standard MMO, other than being multiplayer and always-online: quests (especially fetch quests), crafting, combat, and a storyline you can go through at your own pace. It also does have a multiplayer component, though that might be more limited than fans of multiplayer gaming would want it to be. But essentially, the game ends up being an MMO for people who hate (or are at least okay with not) playing with other people, and as weird as that sounds, it works for the most part.

There are twelve “lives” or job classes that you can take on: four combat-related Lives (Paladin, Mercenary, Hunter, Wizard), three gathering-related Lives (Miner, Woodcutter, Angler), and five crafting-related Lives (Cook, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Tailor, Alchemist). You can switch out of each life on your own terms (with the rare exception of when you’re in the middle of an important story event), and you are not required to get to a certain level in any of the Lives in order to beat the game, which surprised me. Each Life gives bonuses in various stat attributes. For instance, as a Paladin, you’ll get a boost in HP and Vitality; as a Woodcutter, you’ll get a boost in Strength and Dexterity; and as an Angler, you’ll get a boost in Focus and Intelligence. You’ll also face different challenges in each Life (some of which you can do in any Life, and others that you have to be in that Life in order to get credit for it), which will grant you stars, which you can use to get to the next rank. Once you get to Master rank, your Life Master (the person “training” you) will throw you a party which amounts to a cute cutscene of other people in your Life celebrating with you.

Fantasy LifeI tended to work on all my gathering Lives, then my crafting Lives, then my combat Lives, in that order, in a cycle. It made sense to me: gather the materials you can use to craft better weapons, armor, and tools. Then craft those items. Then wear them as you go to the next area, which has stronger monsters (so you need those better weapons and armor) and better materials. Repeat ad nauseum. I expected to get bored with that formula, but oddly enough, I didn’t. I don’t know if the quests managed to break up some of the monotony or if it didn’t get boring because I didn’t insist on leveling up every combat Life at once (they have a lot of overlapping quests, except the caveat, “As a Paladin,” “As a Wizard,” etc., meaning generally speaking they’ll ask you to kill the same creatures but in different Lives), but I managed to keep pretty entertained when I wasn’t going through the main story. If anything, you’ll get bored with the initiation quests for each Life, because they tend to be similar within sub-classes (e.g. the crafting Lives’ initiation quest lines basically all play out exactly the same), but thankfully you can skip those after you go through it once. Still, while I didn’t have this problem, a lot of the game might feel repetitious to some, which I suppose one could argue mirrors “Life” more than “Fantasy.”

Speaking of the story, there are seven chapters in the main story and DLC that you can engage with after you’re done with the main storyline. The story itself is fine and has cute moments where the writers clearly made fun of well-established JRPG tropes. Essentially, as the main player your job is to help a butterfly listen to people’s wishes as you try to understand the Doomstones that are falling around Reveria and making monsters go crazy. You meet quite a few interesting characters, go on adventures, travel to new places, and make allies you can invite to travel with you. If you’ve played a lot of JRPGs, though, the storyline will probably feel pretty bland, as even though they do make fun of some tropes, they also make use of their fair share–maybe even more than their fair share. The story feels like it pulls from a lot of places of inspiration, but doesn’t fully understand why those tropes work and doesn’t spend a lot of time fleshing them out in any meaningful way. The phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” comes to mind.

Fantasy LifeOne complaint I have is that there’s a lot of text. I know that many JRPGs have a lot of text; it kind of comes with the territory, so that in and of itself doesn’t bother me. It’s when a lot of that text is unnecessary side-talk and labored set ups for puns that it gets old pretty fast. If you’re fine with mashing A once you feel like you understand what’s going on, this won’t be an issue, as that’s what I ended up doing a lot of the time once the conversations took a turn for the distracted and was generally able to figure out when the conversations got serious again. Otherwise, just be aware that you’re going to be reading a lot of useless information and engaging in a few useless chains of events, like one near the end where I had to leave the castle to look for someone (who apparently knew where someone else was), who told me to ask someone else, who told me to go back to the castle, to the people I had been talking to already, to ask someone else about someone else who knew where that person might be. Despite these minor annoyances, the story was entertaining, if not incredibly original, and alternated between a playful and sweet tone throughout the majority of the game.

Visually, Fantasy Life doesn’t really feel like a 3DS game except during the anime cutscenes, of which there are far too few of in this game (I thought they were the best part of the game, visually), and the only time I really turned on the 3D. Notably, the town, character, and monster designs were charming and well-done, though, which evened things out. There’s a lot that you can customize in Fantasy Life, including each of your houses, your clothes and hair, what pets you have (if you want any), and of course your stats. Some might argue you can’t customize enough with regard to your own looks and how your houses look, but I found myself fairly satisfied with the options available. And while the music isn’t necessarily breathtaking or moving, it is enjoyable and I found a couple of them to be earworms; that is, they got stuck in my head. Taken together, the game is charming and friendly, and doesn’t pretend to be serious or dark.

Fantasy LifeA lot of the game’s charm comes from the ability to explore. Of course, certain parts of the world don’t open up until you get to the appropriate part of the story, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to see new places. Parts of the world change between night and day, with different monsters coming out to play–er, attack you. You can bring up to two people along with you, which makes exploring newer places a bit easier, especially if you haven’t yet improved your gear. As you improve your standing in each Life, you’ll be able to take a wider variety of people (and animals) with you, which keeps things interesting. I think it also says a lot that you could, theoretically, probably beat this game without killing anything. There are a couple parts where it would be difficult, like when you’re dealing with the Doomstones, but I think that it would actually be possible to never pick up a weapon, or at the very least, not swing that weapon. Furthermore, there are male and female NPCs in each life, and there are little things that Level-5 drops in to play on our expectations, like when they say that the stuffed animal on one of the beds at Farley’s Plantation is probably Farley’s, and the dumbbell is probably Jewel’s. It’s these kinds of touches that do the make the game shine.

Fantasy Life doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly well, but manages to do everything well enough, and as a full package, it still manages to be a good game. Everything from the story to the combat is distilled to its most basic elements, and aside from the ability to change Lives, the game doesn’t add much new to the genre. Yet, I still found myself appreciating the game and putting more time into it than I anticipated, telling myself, “I’ll just do a couple more quests to get to the next level in this life or that life,” and before I knew it, another hour had passed. The game manages to be welcoming to all kinds of players, and would likely play best with younger or less JRPG-experienced players. While the game doesn’t master any particular aspect of itself, in this case, the whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts.

Short Attention Span Summary
Fantasy Life plays out like a single-player MMO, without the subscription fees or in-game purchases, mixed with JRPG elements, including magic, cute mascot characters, and saving the world. There’s just enough customization to make you feel like the game is truly yours, and there’s plenty to explore. You’ll likely beat the game within 30 hours, but you will barely scratch the surface of quests and other Life activities that you can engage in. Some of that, however, is going to end up feeling a bit repetitious, but if you can get beyond that or are used to it from other games, you’ll definitely have at least a hundred hours’ worth of things to do. In fact, you’ll likely spend more time on the sidequests than the actual story. Despite the issues with the game, the game manages to be enjoyable. I’ve put in over 50 hours at this point and am still interested in continuing my fantasy life. As a package, Fantasy Life is charming, fun, and addictive, just what I expected it to be.

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