When we pick up a game, it is generally to either play our dreams and aspirations vicariously or to escape from reality, suspending our disbelief in the fantasy worlds within. Would you want to play a game where you grind out a job, have to pay bills and look after yourself? Probably not, as it is too close to home. Fantasy Life manages to include all of these ostensibly mundane elements, but make them fun and compulsive. It manages to do this by wrapping up the idea of being employed with a healthy dose of RPG whimsy, some fun combat and a mixture of influences as heady as the many weapons, potions and spells you can concoct in the sprawling game world.
Your Fantasy Life begins by designing and naming your own super-deformed avatar, before being thrown into the action via a fairly rudimentary sequence of plot events. Being a Level-5 title there are obviously some beautifully animated cutscenes, and in a splendidly par-for-the-RPG-course touch, there is obviously an Uematsu soundtrack. Not one of his better scores, admittedly, but there are some nice tunes. So far, so good.
Early on you get to select from one of twelve “Lives”, or options for gainful employment. There are a wide range of diverse professions to choose from, and as long as you are not embroiled in a segment of the story, you can visit the local Guild Office and change jobs at any time. Some of the Life choices are standard role-playing fare: a Paladin is a sword-wielding warrior who levels up by undertaking monster-hunting missions; a Magician can learn and cast spells, whilst the Blacksmith will hammer out new weapons and armour in the workshop. There are other more interesting roles to tinker with, such as the Angler who comes complete with a brilliantly cute fish head hat, or the Woodcutter whose job it is to seek out rare and valuable trees to hack into lumber.
The aim of each job is to level up and gain new skills. This is done by completing tasks allocated to you by the sensei-like figure who teaches you each skill, and racking up Stars. In a nice twist for the RPG genre, you could play through most of Fantasy Life without killing any monsters, should you wish. It is a pleasure receiving plaudits for catching a kick-ass fish, performing incredible deeds of haberdashery, or tracking down a rare piece of fruit. Each Life features pretty simple methods of carrying out your duties, which get spiced up by the addition of charge-based attacks and special skills when you reach certain levels. Woodcutters hit a button to swing an axe at the trunk, but you can encircle your leafy target and find a sweet spot that will enable you to take down the tree in quicker fashion for a nice bonus. Fishing involves balancing out reeling in and monitoring tension on the line. A super-charged strike manoeuvre allows you to deplete the “energy bar” of your catch significantly, but like every special action in the game, including the always-available dash ability, it will drain your precious SP bar.
Combat is something you can always engage in, regardless of your class, although like all of the jobs on offer you can only level up the role you are currently employed to play. If you have previous for chopping wood, fishing and mining, you can always take out your tool and carry out the actions associated with your former career. You just won’t level up or complete any of the tasks for those roles until you revert back to your previous Life.
Fighting monsters is carried out in real time, and is a fast paced, satisfying affair. From the start of the game you will encounter the full menagerie of beasties in each explorable area. Some different foes will only appear at night, and you soon learn that you begin woefully ill-equipped to take down some of the larger creatures, which is why it is handy that you can show a clean pair of heels to that murderous giant anthropomorphic carrot, or screen filling dragon you have just inadvertently awakened from its dormant state. Having said that, once you are suitably strong enough to start taking on the larger beasts of the field you get handsomely rewarded with Bounty chests which, if carried back to a nearby Bounty Clerk, will grant you oodles of the winningly-named in-house currency Dosh, as well as cool and rare items.
The secret to a better Fantasy Life experience is to ensure that you become a true Jack of all trades. Becoming reasonably proficient in any one Life takes on average an hour or two to accomplish, and will reward you in many ways. Money makes the world go round, as we all know, and things are no different here. Just like Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing, Fantasy Life allows you to purchase your own gaff. But these things are not cheap. Furniture is very expensive. Weapons and gear are pricey too. But learning skills help to pay the bills. Miners can extract valuable deposits from the earth, and sell them. But if you happen to be a Miner who previously worked in the Blacksmith industry, you can be canny and mine your own materials for a later switch back to beating out some new gear over an anvil. A Woodcutter can reap similar benefits for a later turn as a Carpenter, particularly given the soaring cost of furniture! It is very clever, and annoyingly addictive.
As if your Life tasks were not enough, there are numerous bounties and fetch and carry tasks open to you by talking to NPCs around the world. Flutter will also dish out commands which allow you to earn “Bliss” – effectively the in-game measure of happiness. Bliss allows you to purchase lifestyle upgrades like larger item pouch capacity, the ability to ride horses, and access to keep your own cat or dog.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear off the bat, though: you aren’t playing this one for a rich and rewarding plot. In fact, a lot of the time, the story exists solely as a mechanism to unlock and introduce new skills and areas. That isn’t to say there aren’t some tremendous characters. Flutter is your textbook Navi-esque companion to the silent hero of the piece, and is a talking butterfly who naturally doubles up as a bow tie at certain intervals. King Erik is a diminutive regal figure who has some genuinely funny moments. I loved the way that you pick up fishing tips from the piscine-savvy cats.
There are hours of fun to be had with Fantasy Life. The free-play nature of the time you will spend in it gives you freedom to develop your lifeskills, and learn all of the trades that it has to offer. It is certainly rewarding doing so, and the more experience you gain, the further you can reach, the bigger and more satisfying the rewards. If I had to criticise what is otherwise a brilliant value package, it is the woefully disappointing story and the way it doesn’t warrant much emotional investment. Luckily the desire to max out your character and become a master of the many fun and diverse occupations more than makes up for it.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.