Hands-On Preview: Fantasy Life – A Surprisingly Unique Blend of RPG Classics
When Fantasy Life was first announced at Nintendo’s E3 event, my interest was peaked — mainly due to the adorable artstyle and the development team of said game. Getting a hands preview of the new IP, however, turned that simple spark of interest into a near full blown fire of curiosity.
Fantasy Life, developed by Level-5 (Yokai Watch, Professor Layton series, Dragon Quest IX), retains the charm and cuteness of most titles created by the team while doling out a unique blend of life-sim/JRPG gameplay and mechanics.
Your character, who is fully customizable, can choose from up to 12 different classes. Each class (called a “Life Class”) has its own abilities to master; these abilities are retained when you switch over to a new class. For instance, if you have a Cook but you also want to learn mining abilities from Miner, you’ll keep all the Cook abilities when you make that switch.
What’s more, you can use all previously learned abilities at once with no penalties. This means that players can potentially master every class and use every single ability in the game. Conversely, you can also complete the entire game with one class. I was told that someone actually beat Fantasy Life using only the Cook class, which is a pretty mean feat. Not all classes are made equally, though. Some classes, such as Mage, require a lot of effort to level up and acquire abilities, so players must be mindful of these differences as they play.
Learning abilities isn’t simply a matter of automatically leveling up like in most RPGs, however; in order to rank up in a class, the character must complete “Life Quests” to collect points, then go to the “Life Master” to rank up. You can also choose the exact rewards that you receive after a successful Life Quest, a mechanic rarely used in games.
Certain basic skills, such as mining or running, can also be leveled up simply by performing them repetitiously, like in Rune Factory 4. As skills rank up, their effectiveness increases as well.
Battles themselves are just as simple and easy to learn. Just as in RF4, your hero can move freely in the field and fight enemies in real time. There are of course plenty of weapons to choose from, which are tied to each class. I tried out a massive two-handed sword myself and was pleased that the weapon was appropriately heavy and difficult to control. Although a two-handed sword is incredibly powerful, weapons like these can spell trouble when an enemy drops a treasure chest needed for a quest and you accidentally destroy it (which I naturally did). Foes can and will also target your loot, so dispatching them quickly is key.
The controls for combat were tight and easy to learn: “A” button to unsheathe your weapon(s) in the field, attack in combos and pick up loot; “B” button to sheathe it again. Traveling through said field is done by walking or by acquiring a mount in later missions — a horse naturally being one of the choices. Having said mount speeds up travel time in the field greatly.
Moving right along, item crafting is a staple in life-sims and RPGs, and Fantasy Life naturally has its version of the mechanic. Crafting is done through a fun minigame that requires precise button presses and the rankings for items/equipment are “perfect,” “great,” good” and average.” Players can either make items that can be sold for a higher price than normal, or make equipment for your character to wear and use. Just as in Dragon Quest IX, any equipment is visible on the hero.
Personal space is another thing to be customized, which is done with a plethora of furniture, decors, wallpaper and more. Larger rooms come with a larger storage capacity, boiling down to more trinkets that can be stored inside. Pets, such as dogs and cats, can also be brought into your abode.
All of these features sound well and good but what if you’re feeling a little lonely? As it turns out, local multiplayer will be an option, which means that you and two buddies can team up together and take down monsters. If you don’t have anyone to play with, NPCs can also join your party.
Finally, the graphics are detailed and well suited for the 3DS, while the music is strikingly great — two things to be expected of from Level-5.
Fantasy Life may seem like a superficial copy of other past Nintendo IPs, but it blends together each borrowed attribute into a unique and refreshing take of the two genres. I enjoyed the simplistic yet deceptively complex inner workings of the title and can’t wait to jump into the full game when it finally comes out.