When I opened up my package containing Fantasy Life, Bayonetta 2 was tucked right underneath it, as part of the same shipment. Just weeks prior, I’d picked up Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. And just a few weeks later came the Holiday 2014 deluge of titles featuring everything from Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire to Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX. As of now, there are even other life simulation games around like Story of Seasons! Determined to give the game a fair chance, I started things off, got a Life, and dredged through a lengthy tutorial. During my first few hours with the game, I decided it was middling at best. I was ready to let it wash out to sea among the wave of new releases seemingly destined to overshadow it.
As of last month, I’ve spent forty-two hours with the game...well beyond what I ever thought I would. Let me just say—Life has a way of proving you wrong sometimes. And I’m going to spend the next little while hopefully convincing some of you to change your tune, if you have doubts about what Fantasy Life has to offer. While the pedigree of Yoshitaka Amano (known for his designs from Final Fantasy VI, among other games) and Nobuo Uematsu (renowned Final Fantasy composer) may be enough to pique your interest, there’s certainly more to the game than what’s on the surface level.
Fantasy Life takes place in the world of Reveria, where the player—a fledging young boy or girl—must take up a Life for himself or herself and go on a carefree, whimsical adventure to find out what Life has to offer. And there are twelve different Lives to lead: Four are combat-based, like Mercenary and Wizard. Three focus on gathering, like Miner and Woodcutter. And five feature crafting, like Alchemist and Blacksmith. Regardless of the one the player chooses, the story plays out the same. And my goodness, does the game’s tutorial make it seem like the pacing slows to a crawl there in the beginning.
But if you’re willing to look past the monotony of the first two hours or so, you start to realize that things pick up a little bit. The world of Reveria starts to grow on you! The graphics and designs of the world as a whole and the things (whether townspeople or gruesome beast) that populate it show off a unique charm that fans of Amano will pick up on over time. In terms of its design sense, imagine a world whose environments are as refreshing as Final Fantasy IX or Ni No Kuni (also from Level-5). Everything is colorful, and whether we’re talking in-game scenery or the beautifully hand-drawn cutscenes, it’s all immersive and whimsical. The soundtrack isn't necessarily Uematsu at his best, but all the music absolutely suits the world. And none of it felt dull or repetitive.
I played through the entire main story as a Paladin, and stuck with that Life until I Mastered it. But the way I played through the game isn’t necessarily the set, correct way. After the initial tutorial, the player is given the option to change to whatever Life he or she chooses on a whim. You can skip the meaty introductory tutorial for each Life and build multiple stats and characteristics as you see fit throughout the game. Or you can stick with one Life throughout the game, and switch to another after you’ve Mastered its challenges. After spending almost twenty hours in a combat-based class, switching to Miner felt more natural than I thought it would. A lot of the game’s overall mechanics don’t necessarily change, even though one’s Life is never set in stone. Whether I’m tackling a powerful foe as a Paladin, or a powerful... chunk of rock as a Miner, the various themes of the game, and the ambiance of adventure, are always consistent.
I knew Fantasy Life was growing on me after a while, but I still had this sort of internal struggle trying to decide whether the game was just decent, or if it had qualities that could let it stand on its own instead of being drowned by its contemporaries. One of those good qualities has to do with the fact that the game lets you move at your own pace. Want to spend twenty hours building your perfect home (with all its furnishings and the like) as a woodcutter instead of going through the main story? You’re free to do so, and the game won’t ever penalize you for it. The quests of your Butterfly companion (which aren't really demanding, mind you) are required to advance the main story and open up the world of Reveria to you, but it’s not as though the world will end if you take your time with Life.
Want to go through Life with friends instead of doing it all alone? You’re free to do that too, as the game has online and local multiplayer that’s available not long after the dreaded beginning tutorial. It’s more than a little hidden, but once you get the ball rolling, everything is pretty seamless. You could choose to participate in Ally Mode, which broadcasts your achievements to your friends, who you must go into a menu and individually select...and hardly anyone will have this feature turned on because it’s not done for you automatically. Or you could get in on some Multiplayer, when you and a buddy probably do a lot of talking offline before agreeing to jump online together. Companionship is definitely there. But it’s not as seamless as it should be, for a game that could benefit from going through Life together.
Still, the aspect of Fantasy Life that impressed me the most is the care, attention and humor given to its script in North America. The story may not be some epic adventure that’s destined to change your life forever. But its sense of humor is definitely there... and will surely appeal to the handful of you who have found my constant allusions, puns about Life, and the like entertaining so far. It’s so cheesy, I think it belongs in Wisconsin. Absolutely awful figurative language and puns like the one I just told are littered throughout the script, and will hit you when you least expect them to as you advance through the game’s main story. I found myself chuckling for some of the beginning, and almost rolling on the floor laughing by the end. Fantasy Life expects you to embrace some of its tropes, and absolutely turns others on their heads. The script and story are fun and phenomenal—far more than icing on the cake for me.
At the end of the day, because of its charm, I can confidently say I was wrong about Fantasy Life. If you’re expecting it to be lost at sea among this year’s other heavy-hitting releases, it very well could be. But I hope those of you on the fence about Fantasy Life give it a chance in due time. The tale of Reveria may be one of the most charming adventures I’ve experienced this year. Life as that game presents it has definitely left a positive mark on me at the end of the day, instead of taking its toll.