Fantasy Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Fantastic

Fantasy Life is an RPG developed by critically acclaimed developer Level 5, and was released in Japan on December 27th, 2012. In four short months it sold over 300,000 copies in Japan alone, as well as a throng of eagerly waiting RPG lovers the world over who would have to wait for the game to arrive in their region for a long two years.

Released this year in first Europe and Australia, Fantasy Life finally arrived in North America on October 24th. It stood up against some tough competition in the coming quarter, with Super Smash Bros. 3DS having arrived October 3rd, and Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Remakes not far off. For many this game has fallen in the cracks of a budget stretched far enough as it is. I’m here to help you decide if this title is worthy of your hard earned cash, holiday gift list, or if it’s just not for you.

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First and foremost, Fantasy Life is an RPG that borrows many of the popular themes of Major RPG’s(such as The Elder Scroll’s Skyrim) with elements of the MMO genre it was originally created be a member of.
Many also attribute the Life-Sim tag to it as well, but take that with a grain of salt, the Life-Sim elements involved are more of an afterthought than a core of the gameplay.

Summary

Fantasy Life begins with a pretty standard character customization menu. There’s enough options here to make your character truly unique, but it isn’t quite as adjustable as Mii Maker. There are many options for each facial feature, and you can adjust the size/spacing/length of the features, but only by one unit in either direction.

Once your character is made, you must choose a Life to begin with. Lives work exactly like classes, there are twelve to choose from: Paladin, Mercenary, Hunter, Mage, Mining, Woodcutting, Fishing, Tailoring, Blacksmithing, Carpentry, Cooking, and Alchemy. Once the introduction to the game is over you can acquire any and all of these, in fact you may make it a goal to master them all, though this is not strictly speaking the objective of the game.
After you have finalized your character options you will begin life in Castele, where you live in the attic of a landlady named Pam. You will quickly encounter a mysterious butterfly called… Butterfly. Butterfly is the real driving force for the story and dialogue, because the player character is a silent protagonist. You’ll soon be off to the Guild Office and Castle to meet the King, and the adventure begins.

At the core of the gameplay is the class system, but it does require some clarification: You can only be one class at a time, BUT, you can use any of the skills you have gained through other classes at any time (you can be a Paladin, but still mine for ore, cut down trees, etc.) You can also accumulate Stars(class experience points) for any class you have joined before, but you cannot redeem stars to rank up unless you are the class you want to rank up in. Each class also gives a stat bonus and armor proficiency, but only while you are currently that class, so you will want to switch to the class that will help you most efficiently reach each goal you want to achieve.

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In addition to stars there is general experience which levels you up and give you points to increase stats permanently. There is also Bliss which is like “story experience”, you get from progressing in the story or by ranking up in classes. Bliss can be redeemed for  a variety of bonuses from pets that follow you and help attack, to mounts, to bigger storage space and more. In fact, unlocking a Bliss bonus makes the next bonus available(unlock one pet, and then unlock a second on your next Bliss bonus). There are enough Bliss bonuses to create a really unique experience for everybody.

Impressions

Immediately I noticed the dialogue is very lively, often engaging and very funny(or at least, full of puns and self-aware humor). I was impressed by the localization effort on this one, the dialogue is reminiscent of Animal Crossing, with a bit more dramatic emphasis. That being said, one of my biggest complaints about the game is that the story-related dialogue can run on and on, longer than you want it to. Rather than showing you, the characters tell you everything through long text conversations, which the player has no control over whatsoever. There is a remedy, however: holding the X button for a moment will quickly display the text, and holding it longer will fast-forward through the dialogue. Occassionally I was given a choice in dialogue, but no matter what I chose the outcome was the same, which seemed to me a bit of a wasted opportunity for a more unique story experience. If you don’t enjoy reading the fluff at all, you can still play the whole game, fast-forwarding through all the dialogue and just following the marker on your mini-map.

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The story is written to be accessible to wide audiences, so if you’re a seasoned RPG player you may find much of it predictable. It does make for a good introduction to RPG’s though, which makes it a little easier to recruit a friend for multiplayer.  The biggest annoyance fans of the game have, however, is the mediocre story’s stranglehold on the gameplay: you must progress through the story to unlock new areas of the game. Playing just through the story, you can beat it in about 10-15 hours, and because combat is not the focus you can do it without leveling up very much at all. This is the optimal way to play because once the story is beaten you will be free to collect materials from all areas of the game and rank up through the classes as quickly as you like.

The music and environments obviously got a lot more attention. The music was primarily composed by Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy, and though some tracks may sound a little mediocre,  much of it is extremely memorable, such as the Main Theme and the background song for the desert town of Al Maajik. There isn’t very much you can actually interact with in a town aside from talking to the townsfolk, but the nooks and crannies of Castele and each environment after are far from copy/paste dungeons you might find in sub-par RPGs. There are many details that you might not notice on your first pass through an area, and a convenient mini-map(always on the bottom screen) keeps you from getting lost, and never fails to show you your objective.

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Because the game features a great variety of ways to play, the combat and crafting are not quite as fleshed out as I’d have liked. You still get different power attacks for each combat class and you can use each class’s tactical advantage well enough, but combat is never very dire unless you’ve avoided combat classes altogether. The crafting also falls a little flat at first. Each craft uses the same three button commands in different combinations(hold A, press A rapidly, and press A in time with a rhythm). But, doing the button commands well can lead to higher-quality crafts(a crafted sword may gain +2, or even +5 on it’s power.)

In the starting town there are a handful of residences you can move into(after an early point in the story.) You can also buy/craft and place furniture in your home. As you progress in the story you will also be able to buy vacation homes in the other cities, which you can place furniture in and fast-travel to.

Multiplayer

With the robust class-system, multiplayer becomes almost necessary to completely enjoy the game. The various gathering and crafting classes often use materials you can only get from ranking up in the other classes or by knowing someone who has. Diversifying your classes between a few players to maximize trading benefits is a great new layer of gameplay if you can find one to two friends to play with you. Only three players can play together at one time, but it does offer both local and online play(friend codes required), and the drop-in, drop-out delay is nearly no time at all. My only real complaint about multiplayer is that you cannot switch classes while hosting or visiting, but because of the only slight delay in connecting and disconnecting from a friends game, and the ability to fast-travel to your allies’ positions, it winds up making little difference.

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The Bottom Line

Fantasy Life’s greatest strength is also it’s weakness: accessibility. It goes really far to please a variety of audiences and in the process limits itself to casual-leaning gameplay. It is probably the greatest example of this flaw being successful that I have ever played, though. The variety of goals creates a unique experience for every player, and gives the hardcore gamer many, many hours of gameplay to anticipate. It plays best with a friend, but you won’t miss out on any of the content if you play it all solo. It even has a screenshot feature, if you want to take pictures without posting to Miiverse, which is why all the screenshots provided come directly from my own game.

The DLC offers a little bit more of everything: a new area, new Life ranks, new quests, new recipes, and a companion leveling-up system, all of which serve to give it a really meaty end-game. For the price, it’s a great value.

Fantasy Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Fantastic
Quality8
Gameplay10
Story4
Multiplayer9
Pros
  • Good Multiplayer
  • Well layered gathering and crafting elements
  • Great variety of goals to achieve
Cons
  • Bogged down by story text
  • Can't switch Lives during Multiplayer
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
10.0
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About The Author

Reporter/Reviewer

Hey folks! I'm Nick. I live in Atlanta and have been playing Nintendo games fervently for over 20 years. I also keep tabs on Sony, and Steam for PC games. My favorite games are adventure/RPG and platformers, and my favorite console is my 3DS. Thanks for reading, keep gaming! Current recommendations: Fantasy Life, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, and Mario Kart 8.