Tiny Impressions: Fantasy Life is going to ruin my life ⊟
[Tiny Cartridge contributor Francesco Dagostino dipped into Level-5’s Fantasy Life before its release and found himself well and truly hooked. Here, he offers his impressions, explaining the ways Level-5 dropped him into a two-day Fantasy Life fugue state. Ahab screen via Pillolife.]
I’ve played Fantasy Life for 18 hours in less than two days. When something like this happens,
my body sort of flexes and a strange force takes control of it and makes me write long articles, hoping people will read them and buy the game and experience the same level of amazement I am experiencing.
I like sharing good things.
So what is Fantasy Life?
Let’s start with a little bit of history.
Fantasy Life is a life simulation RPG for 3DS developed by Level-5. The game launched in Japan in 2012 and was very successful, to the point that it was followed by a meaty expansion called Fantasy Life Link!, available both as DLC and as a retail “version 1.5”.
Link! added new areas, quests, monsters, items and features, including a friendship system for recruitable party members, the option to play the game online with friends and a chat system similar to the one used in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Since it was developed by Level-5, yes, it has a circus and clowns in it.
Some might say Fantasy Life inherited the spirit and some ideas included in the first, unreleased action-y version of Dragon Quest IX, others think that its roots burrow deeper in the history of Level-5, going all the way back to the canceled Xbox MMO True Fantasy Live Online.
What we know is that Fantasy Life was initially conceived as a stunningly beautiful pixel-art DS RPG, co-developed with Brownie Brown. That prototype seems to have mutated into London Life, the extra mode included in Professor Layton and the Last Spectre, but was otherwise abandoned.
This is not to say that the “new” Fantasy Life doesn’t look good. Sure, the pixel art was dropped for 3D graphics, but if you’ve played any recent Layton games (or Inazuma Eleven GO!, if you live in Europe), you already know Level-5 is a little wizard when it comes to pushing and squeezing the 3DS’ potential. The game looks great, and the art direction is excellent.
Imagine a Dragon Quest world populated by those weird, quirky Layton characters. It’s quite the mix!
Oh, and let me just drop a couple of names included in the development just to make things interesting: Nobuo Uematsu (the soundtrack is just wonderful) and Yoshitaka Amano.
So what’s in the western release?
The western release of Fantasy Life includes the communication mode added in Link, so you can chat and play online with friends! But not the additional areas, monsters, pets, etc.
Those will need to be purchased separately via a DLC called “Origin Island”.
A word of warning, though: apparently, after the DLC is purchased, you will only be able to play with friends who have purchased the DLC as well.
Enough dillydallying, tell us what the game is about!
Before playing, I imagined Fantasy Life as the spawn of Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. This is actually not true: the game does share a lot with Dragon Quest IX, but not as much with Animal Crossing. Yes, you can create and customize your own character with a huge variety of clothes, and you can buy a house and fill it with a lot of furniture that you buy or craft, but that’s about it. This game focuses on a completely different kind of gameplay and interaction with other players and the game world in general.
In short, it’s not about managing a town and making friends with its denizens. Fantasy Life is more similar to Rune Factory, Radiata Stories and, to a degree, modern RPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s about exploring a huge world, battling monsters, collecting items and mastering one or all of the 12 available Jobs, called “Lives” in this game.
The first town you get to explore, Castele, is huge and incredibly realistic: every store and building is in the right place and, thanks to the presence of 12 guilds, one for each Life, you can interact with different characters with believable professions and professional relationships.
The inhabitants of the world are all well characterized, and by listening to their requests, solving quests and advancing ranks in your guild of choice, you’ll be able to get to know them better and sometimes even recruit them for your party. Castele is also surrounded by a variety of environments that range from forests to plains to lava caves to mountains and lakes.
It will take you a loooong time to explore everything. Since the game’s focus is not just fighting, but also mining, crafting, cooking and so on, every location offers a lot of interaction and different things you can do. The richness in content is what brings the world of Fantasy Life to…life.It’s a vibrant, believable and fully functional world where characters are not just flat NPCs, and every interaction with the game is meaningful. It’s easy to lose yourself in a world like this!
Like most RPGs, Fantasy Life follows a fixed Story, divided in a number of chapters. There’s a twist, though: depending on what Life you choose, you also get to experience subchapters entirely dedicated to its guild. You can also switch Lives anytime in the game, which means that the amount of story (and gameplay) you want to subject yourself to is entirely customizable.
One reason I spent almost 20 hours playing the game and I’m not even done with chapter two is because I wanted to try as many Lives as possible.
The story itself is not particularly amazing, but Fantasy Life is not a game that takes itself too seriously, and its light-hearted tone contributes to a lovely atmosphere. Who needs a heavy fantasy story when you can just have unpretentious fun?
A lot of RPGS have Jobs. Why is Fantasy Life special?
Fantasy Life is not a very hard game, but it’s a very deep one. The 12 Lives are divided into three categories:
- Fighters who specialize in combat and gain special moves and abilities to protect party members and, in general fend off monsters more effectively
- Crafters who create a variety of items, from healing potions to stat boosting food to furniture, weapons and armor, and finally
- Looters, who gather and refine materials used by the Crafters.
Each Category depends on the other two, and all three are very different from each other. Each of the four Jobs included in each category shares a lot of basic mechanics, with different purposes: a Cook and a Carpenter, for instance, both craft items, but different ones.
From combat to crafting, all the basic actions in the game are performed in simple ways. Imagine Zelda’s battles, add some simple crafting minigames similar to the ones seen in Weapon Shop de Omasse. At a superficial glance, the game might in fact seem too simplistic, but I think it’s actually very well thought-out. It’s accessible, immediate, and fun, and there’s an astounding variety possible with these simple actions.
It also encourages people to play with friends, though it’s also entirely possible to stick to one lonely Life and, say, adventure as a brave Cook, if you want. Or you can slowly master all the Jobs by yourself, which can be really fun, though a little repetitive — but I didn’t mind playing around with the 8 I tried at all, honestly.
How did you end up playing this game for 18 hours straight?
I think what impressed me the most about Fantasy Life is its scope. I’ve never played something so fulfilling, especially not a portable system. You’re constantly achieving something, you’re constantly rewarded with significant results.
And some of the 12 Lives, the way the work and the purposes they serve, are so different from your usual RPG classes that the game feels addictive, original and refreshing. I can’t wait to play it with my husband and friends!
I can see people treating this game as an Animal Crossing clone or as a regular RPG and sort of belittling how it deals with some specific aspects (building your house or combat), but I think that’s completely missing the point. I’m not even kidding when I say this is one of the best portable games I’ve ever played. So good that I spent 18 hours playing Fantasy Life with Smash out.