I am a huge fan of last year’s WiiWare launch title, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. This title’s gameplay featured objective and strategy-based army building with some construction elements thrown in for good measure. The result was an incredibly fun game that could keep you sucked in for hours. Understandably, I was excited about this year’s follow up, My Life as a Darklord, when it was announced at the year’s GDC. Although the game takes several hints and themes from last year’s title, the gameplay here is a completely different experience.
While King left you in charge of a town and its armed forces; Darklord puts you in charge of a tower and allows you to summon various minions to fight off invading good guys from the kingdom next door. The story is a bit more flimsy this go-round, involving a 16-year old darklord who wants to conquer the world… because she can. The main character is pretty one dimensional: she’s perpetually evil, loves fashion, and has some daddy issues. Pretty simple, right? Still, the main focus of Darklord does not seem to be the story, so I can forgive the paper-thin plot.
What really shines in Darklord is the strategy-based gameplay. Unlike its predecessor, this title belongs very firmly to the tower defense genre, relying on your ability to plan for enemies (or in this case, heroes) that come in waves. As a less-than-omnipotent darklord, you aren’t able to attack the do-gooders storming your castle directly, but you can instruct your minions to build trap-laden floors and fill them with enemies that will attack any heroes brave enough to enter your tower.
The action is completely 2D, and you’ll start each level with a very short tower. As good guys approach, you’ll have to add levels to the tower using the game’s currency. There are different types of rooms, including offensive rooms that allow for multiple monsters and traps, defensive and support rooms, which have less room for monsters but offer added protection, and special rooms that come in all shapes and sizes and can rigorously affect battle. As you destroy heroes that enter your tower, you will be able to gain more currency and purchase more levels and monsters. You will also gain access to new types of levels and monsters after gaining bad karma, which is the game’s meta-currency. After beating a few levels you can purchase raised monster levels and greater building ability within your tower.
The battle action once a hero and enemies engage is fairly paced. Each character, both good and evil has a status bar that will only allow them to attack once it has filled, which results in a turn-based spectacle. However, the good guys can only fight on each level of your tower for a fixed amount of time, and if your monsters don’t defeat the hero, they will move on to the next level.
In addition to the things you can buy to help your strategy, there is also a considerable amount of things you will need to unlock. Completing specific challenges will unlock different types of monsters, which is useful in the game’s class-based battle system. The game notes early on that not all monsters are created equally, and certain types are stronger against other types. For instance, a monster who has ranged attacks will be very effective against a magic-wielding Yuke, while a melee-focused monster will not.
Overall, I found the strategy in My Life as a Darklord to be very satisfying. The race and job-based elements allow for quite a bit of flexible strategy, and the building elements are also very satisfying. The depth of this game is actually quite impressive, especially since basically every facet of the strategy is self-directed. If you want to focus on room quantity you can purchase tower extensions, or if you want to improve the specs of your monster army, you can purchase new upgrade levels. The way you defend the tower is entirely up to you, and playing with different strategies is very enjoyable.
As far as production is concerned, My Life as a Darklord is right up their with its predecessor. The visuals are great, with fun character and monster designs. Although the game takes place on a 2D playing field, all the character animations are in 3D, and everything mashes together quite well. The sound in Darklord is also very good, with some familiar Crystal Chronicles anthems accompanying each stage.
However, before I wrap this review up, I must mention the downloadable content for this game. Unfortunately, My Life as a Darklord features some pretty hefty downloadable content that makes the game easier for the less strategy-inclined players. At present, there is only 600 points worth of content for purchase, but this content adds extra spells and currency bonuses that are invaluable to players who find success elusive with the game’s default options. Although I was able to successfully play through without the added help, this extra $6 purchase may be a necessity.
There are also plans to expand the DLC to include more bonuses and levels, and if the Japanese model is any indication (My Life as a Darklord has over 5000 points worth of extra content there), there is a lot left to come. Although having some DLC is a good thing for any title, once you add up the cost of the game and the presumed DLC, this downloadable title will cost more than a retail release for the Wii. Although none of the DLC is necessary to play through and beat the game, having those extra spells and power boosts available only as DLC doesn’t seem very fair to those who want to play this game on a lower difficulty level.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord is a must-buy game if you are into strategy. Its vertical take on tower defense is unique and fun to play with, and even though the difficulty can be maddening, it is definitely worth your time to check out. Although My Life as a Darklord does not resemble its predecessor in any way in terms of gameplay, it is another great entry in the WiiWare Crystal Chronicles series, and is a lot of fun.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The visuals are on par with my life as a king, but the 2D environments and character models have a bit more pizzazz. 4.0 Control
Using the Wii-Mote NES style makes the stackable towers easy to navigate. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Familiar-sounding tunes from the Crystal Chronicles universe sound great. 4.1
There are plenty of levels to explore, and though the story is not as intriguing as My Life as a King, the tower defense structure is much more replay-friendly.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.