Review: Fantasy Life
Posted 21 Sep 2014 at 15:24 by RedShell
It's been quite the wait for Level-5 and Brownie Brown’s ambitious RPG/life sim, Fantasy Life (released in Japan way back in December 2012), which features the talents of illustrator Yoshitaka Amano and composer Nobuo Uematsu (both involved with the Final Fantasy series). The title was incredibly well received in Japan, completely selling out during its first week on sale. Now it's finally time for European 3DS owners to get in on the life swapping action and find out what all the fuss is about.
At first glance, Fantasy Life could appear to be nothing more than your typical JRPG, you're the hero of the story, accompanied by a sidekick (in this case a talking butterfly named Flutter) and various allies as you explore the world, level up, fight monsters, and save the day. But there's more to Fantasy Life than meets the eye, and an extraordinary amount of content awaits dedicated players that are prepared to invest the time required to experience it all, and that will definitely be a lot of time (you know you're in for a long haul when the playtime counter displays five digits right from the start). However, the scope of this game shouldn't deter those with less time for gaming, as it's designed in a way that gives the player a lot of freedom and control over their experience, it truly is your Fantasy Life, and you can go about it pretty much however you want.
Character customisation is quite intricate and even allows for some Mii-like feature modification.
The big thing with Fantasy Life is how you can play the game as a variety of vocations, and are free to change between them as and when you like. There are a total of 12 different life types to choose from, all of which are available from the very beginning of the game. So you can jump straight in with a more conventional role like a paladin or hunter, but if you want to start out as a carpenter or a tailor, you can. And although certain occupations possess an advantage when it comes to combat, all life types can engage in battle. As for battling itself, well there are no random encounters in the game at all, enemies are always visible roaming the environment and can be easily avoided or confronted as you see fit. Furthermore, all fighting is handled in real-time, with a simple but effective control scheme, Circle Pad for character movement, A button to attack, X to defend and Y to toggle your lock-on target (there are some additional moves that can be achieved by combining Circle Pad directions and button timing, as well as special moves that can be unlocked for specific life types).
Upon defeating standard enemies your character will earn Exp and occasional item rewards, but defeating larger monsters will result in a bounty crate being dropped. Bounties can be traded in for even greater rewards, but must first be transported to a bounty clerk (usually found in towns some distance from the enemy locations). Fast travel and even running are not permitted while carrying a bounty, and to make matters worse, other enemies in the surrounding area will attack the crates to try and destroy them! Multiple bounties can be in your possession at once (up to 3) and getting them safely to a bounty clerk is an enjoyable and rewarding aspect of the game.
Losing a bounty is frustrating, so you'll need to take care when transporting them.
Another neat aspect to the gameplay is how your character is almost constantly earning Exp and improving skills just by performing standard actions. Make use of the B button to run around a lot, and your dash ability will gradually level up, allowing you to run further. Equip and use a shield in battle and your shield skill will increase, enabling you to utilise better shields and take less damage. This system also carries over to specific life skills, where the more you perform the tasks associated with your chosen life, the more they improve. Each life also includes a list of challenges that can be completed to earn stars which ultimately increase your rank, allowing you to learn even more advanced skills for that life. A little notification will appear on screen whenever you clear a challenge, side-quest, or reach a certain milestone, it's a nice touch and can also serve as a reminder to return to an NPC in order to claim your rewards.
The beauty of the life system in Fantasy Life is that you don't need to be continually changing your life to make use of its skills, once you have taken on a life and learnt the associated skill, it can then be used while playing as a different life type. Meaning that you won't need to head back into town and change to an angler every time you want to go fishing, or a woodcutter whenever you come across a tree that can be cut down. Nevertheless, using the right life for the right job does have its perks, for example, fishing as any life other than an angler will limit you to the standard fishing skill, but as an angler you'll be able to use special moves exclusive to that life which make fish much easier and quicker to catch. Another benefit to experimenting with different life types is being able to make more efficient use of the materials or skills from one, when playing as another. Wood that's been gathered as a woodcutter can be used as a carpenter to create furniture, blacksmiths can use ore collected as a miner to forge weapons. The various life types intertwine beautifully, creating an interesting and addictive gameplay mechanic in the process.
It's possible to lose hours performing simple tasks in Fantasy Life. Addictive stuff.
The unique skills and challenges for each of the life types can almost make it feel as if you're playing 12 games in one, but the diversity doesn't end there, Fantasy Life also allows you to purchase and furnish your very own home (several in fact) and although the feature doesn't have the depth of something like Animal Crossing (you're limited to a single room, and there's much less variety for furnishings), it's still a nice addition to the game and one that could see players spending a lot of time collecting and crafting furniture to decorate their virtual house.
There is of course also a story to Fantasy Life and it's certainly an enjoyable one, you'll meet many weird and wonderful characters and visit increasingly interesting locations as you progress through the game. Unfortunately however, you're highly unlikely to feel challenged at any point during the main quest, it's very much on the easy side. Even towards the later stages of the story, the difficulty level remains pretty much consistent throughout. Furthermore, the conclusion of the story is somewhat anticlimactic, although it's possible that this will actually help players continue on their virtual life without an ultimate goal in mind. And you'll certainly want to keep playing once you've finished the story, as there's a lot more to enjoy after the credits have rolled, thankfully that includes tougher enemies to battle, giving the difficulty level a considerable and much needed boost.
Connecting with Link Mode enables some very useful online tools.
As if there wasn't enough to Fantasy Life it also offers some great multiplayer options, including a robust online mode packed with features (potentially the best on 3DS). There's co-op gameplay where you can have a couple of friends join your party, useful for taking on some of the more challenging post-story monsters. It's possible to communicate using customisable gestures, short messages or text chat, players can also exchange items by making use of a special storage box in the Guild Office. Even when playing the game alone, you can activate Link Mode enabling you to see when friends are online and keep track of their progress or achievements via pop-up notifications. StreetPass can also be activated, adding user created characters to the town as NPCs, and a way to acquire even more items.
Still need more? Well then, you might be interested to know that there's DLC on the way too! The Origin Island expansion pack is set to provide an entirely new island to explore, additional quests, player customisation, extra homes, pets, plus new decor and items. It's worth noting, however, that any players who purchase the additional content will be segregated from those that don't, limiting the multiplayer opportunities somewhat.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Fantasy Life is an interesting blend of the RPG and life simulation genres that works very well indeed. It's cute and accessible on the surface, but incredibly broad, addictive and rewarding should you really get into it. Anyone that plays RPG's purely for their story might want to look elsewhere, but players that want a lengthy 3DS title and are willing to endure some repetition in order to explore beyond the credits, should definitely check it out.
Insane amount of content and variety
Excellent online functionality
Some very humorous dialogue
Lack of challenge during the main story
Context-sensitive actions can get muddled at times
All of the crafting life types play in exactly the same way