|Dev: Level-5, 1-UP Studio|
|Release: October 24, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
When people think of life simulations, they often picture games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, which focus on daily chores and repetitive social interactions with local characters. Fantasy Life is not that kind of game. It's much more of a role-playing game with a few life simulation elements thrown in. The result of this mix is a charming, gentle game about saving the world while mastering one or more character classes, called Lives in the world of Reveria.
As a newbie adventurer come to the town of Castelia, the customizable main character is quickly ushered through the game's basics, then turned loose upon the world with the option to work on their Life, follow the main storyline, or just wander around doing fetch quests and seeing the sights. The various Lives are focused either on combat, which is a simple real-time affair; gathering, which involves searching the wilderness for resource nodes and performing simple mini-games to exploit them; and crafting, which involves creating everything from swords to stuffed animals via a manufacturing mini-game.
Most of Fantasy Life's activities have a far more structured purpose than you'll find in the average life sim. The four combat Lives work like most RPG classes, crafting Lives largely create items with a practical rather than a merely cosmetic purpose, and gathering Lives involve collecting raw materials useful for crafting. All of these Lives are highly structured, giving players a list of challenges that can be completed in order to progress towards the next level of Life mastery. This will please players who find traditional life sims to be too aimless, but may annoy life sim fans who prefer a more casual setting.
Thanks to its RPG roots, the adventure in Fantasy Life is far more wide-ranging than that found in most life sims. There are three major cities to explore, full of colorful characters to meet and mini-quests to complete. A plethora of wilderness and dungeon areas invite players to conquer their local beasts, strive to hook their rare fish, or search their depths for magical ore deposits. These areas are diverse and interesting to explore—the cities ooze personality and the wilderness is crammed with goodies and mini-dungeons to find. It's all packaged nicely in an attractive and consistent visual style. It even boasts a nice 3D effect that doesn't slow down the frame rate.
Where Fantasy Life struts its life sim stuff is in its flexibility. You don't need to play a combat Life to complete the storyline, which involves very little combat. Players are free to practice any single Life or attempt to master all of them. While they complement each other, no particular life is strictly required, as raw materials and other necessary items can be purchased as well as gathered or crafted.
There are downsides to that flexibility, however. The story, sweet and full of adventure as it is, feels rather disconnected from the focus on mastering Lives that primarily drives the gameplay. It also suffers from the common RPG ailment in which the characters are always being told that they're running out of time to save the world, but the player is allowed to dink around fishing or sewing pretty princess dresses at their leisure. It would have been more logical and more in keeping with the spirit of the game to remove any hint of urgency from the main quest.
Surprisingly, considering the involvement of beloved composer Nobuo Uematsu, the music design is another low point for Fantasy Life. There are some lovely pieces found in individual story scenes, and the celebratory musical performances that you hear upon mastering a Life are delightful. Sadly, the tracks that form the backdrop of most of the game remind me of the kind of music you hear piped in the background while wandering through the older parts of Disneyland. They're cute but kind of clunky, often featuring a rather dated um-pah beat. You're guaranteed to get tired of at least one of them by the end.