Review: Fantasy Life - Life is But a Dream
Level-5, 1-Up Studio, h.a.n.d.
Action RPG, Japanese RPG
Review copy provided by the publisher
In Reveria, its citizens strive to find the perfect Life — an occupation that not only represents that person’s culmination of talent and skills, but also fulfills their dream. Dreams are a vital commodity in Reveria as its continued prosperity depends solely on the people’s ability to not only accomplish their own dreams, but to use their unique and further honed talents to fulfill each other’s dreams.
For instance, a Paladin must valiantly fight and best monsters to protect its citizens from harm. But what is a Paladin without powerful swords to wield and unyielding armor to shield from attacks? They must rely on Blacksmiths to make such tools. Blacksmiths, in order to craft weapons, armor and their own tools for work, must purchase lumber from Woodcutters, animal parts from Hunters and metal ingots from Miners.
Such symbiotic relationships are vital to the lifeblood of the world, but recently certain events have throw the order of things out of whack. This is where your character comes in: through your own hard work, dedication and kindness in helping others, you’ll inspire the same passion in others and restore balance to the land.
All stories start somewhere; and in Fantasy Life, it begins in character creation. The customization options are simple, yet offers surprising variety in the kind of hero you want to make, and the artstyle retains the adorable quality of most Level-5 titles.
After your hero is given life, you choose what kind of life they lead in the form of Life classes. There are 12 classes to choose from (Woodcutter, Carpenter, Wizard, Paladin, Miner, Alchemist, Tailor, Mercenary, Cook, Angler, Blacksmith and Hunter), which are all available on the onset — no unlocking necessary.
Each class comes with a unique skillset and stat bonuses and some classes, such as Wizard, level up more slowly than others. However, unlike other titles, you’re never locked in a class. If you find that you’d much prefer another Life, switching is as easy as going to the License Office and picking a new class. Even better: you retain already acquired skills when making the switch, which opens up all sorts of sub classing possibilities.
Once your Life is in order, you’ll report to your Life Master and learn skills and begin to complete Challenges to gain special blue Stars that increase your Life rank, as well as allow you access to superior stat bonuses and better skills. Sometimes Challenges can also be directly tied to your source of income (for instance a Blacksmith’s primary source of income is through the selling of forged equipment), so these objectives are imperative to complete.
Outside of your job class is the main story, revolving around a cute talking butterfly who’s learning more about the world by accompanying you on your journey; naturally the plots moves forward as you fulfill Butterfly’s Requests. As in any RPG worth its salt, there are plenty of sidequests as well: Other Requests that are aggregated from the townspeople, class specific Requests and the aforementioned Butterfly’s Requests.
Completing Butterfly and Other Requests net you Bliss. Bliss works like experience points and when you collect enough, you receive a Bliss Bonus that goes toward a nice reward such as increasing storage size, owning a pet or even getting a license to ride a horse. Collecting tons of Bliss is mostly optional but, as the name suggests, makes your life that much more enjoyable.
There are a couple Bliss bonuses, however, that can be vital to progression: obtaining a license to ride an animal and expanding the variety of goods in a given area. The former is necessary since the Dashing skills expends SP continuously, SP needed to activate other abilities, and hitching a ride with an animal grants fast travel across large expanses without the steep cost. The latter is quite important for getting access to better items and equipment later in the game without being forced to take on another Life.
Controls, like the title itself, are simplistic no matter which Life you choose. Combat oriented Life classes such as Paladin or Mercenary require rapid “A” button taps to execute combos while Wizard requires the player to switch between several different elements with the D-pad and cast spells; there are also special Life-exclusive skills that can be activated in a variety of ways, such as holding down “A” or pressing the R button. Some skills cost SP (points used for special skills and magic) to activate and/or maintain.
Monsters are varied and have great designs. Combat is easy to learn but very refined and requires skill to master. Players that merely stand and slash will get bombarded with attacks very quickly, so strategic play such as constant movement and rallying members to help absorb damage are key to survival.
Meanwhile, classes such as Blacksmith, Miner, Angler and Woodcutter use equally simple control schemes in the form of minigames. When forging, Blacksmiths must run between three separate tables and alternate between several kinds of button presses. Woodcutter players must hit the weak points of trees to cut them down, with boss tree featuring regenerating health and shifting weak spots. Anglers need to whittle down the health of struggling fish caught on their line, making sure the line itself doesn’t break.
When your character defeats monsters, completes a Request or completes a class specific action, they receive experience points that level them up. You also receive skill points per level that can be used to increase one of several stats: Strength, Vitality, Intelligence, Focus, Dexterity, and Luck. On top of the obvious status effects, the increases also affect certain classes, such as Intelligence strengthening your magic spells.
What’s interesting to note is just how different each class feels from each other. Playing as Paladin, Wizard or Mercenary will give you a decidedly great advantage in combat but means that you’ll have to buy every single piece of equipment and every item you need for your journey.
Those that choose non-combatant Life classes will lose the specialization in battle (and must rely more on teamwork from recruitable allies) but can create and obtain their own supplies. This mechanic makes you consider what kind of classes you may need to combine to play more efficiently; a Blacksmith may want to become a Miner, Woodcutter or Tailor in order to garner necessary work materials outside of your immediate expertise.
Just as in the process of choosing your Life, you’ll have the same level of freedom in exploration. Once the game gets its formalities out the way, players are completely free to do anything and explore the vast world in anyway they choose. Do you want to play by the rails and follow the plot faithfully? Do you prefer to level your Life class up aggressively and hold off on the story? Or do you simply want to focus on side quests and pure exploration as you take down monsters?
The beauty of Fantasy Life is in its pure, true freedom. There’s no time limit, no invasive calendar ticking away and no constant narrative pushing to hurry up and get to the next plot point. The pacing is relaxed and almost lazily fun, coupled with the full customization choices of the class system. While there is a day and night cycle, in no way does this negatively affect your experience and you can freely choose how to spend your entire day.
Life’s story is your standard fare “chosen one saves the world” but the surprisingly smart, interesting plot twists and snappy writing partnered with great characters is what really sells the tale. You find yourself caring about the ongoings of the world not because the game tells you to care, but because you form a sincere bond with the citizens and genuinely want to help them achieve their dreams and save them from a terrible fate.
Interacting with others doesn’t end with in-game character interactions, however. Level-5 added Link Mode and multiplayer mode to the title. Link Mode allows you to exchange messages and valuable tips during gameplay; it also contains a notification setting to communicate achievements, and “Applaud” important ones reached by others.
Multiplayer mode let’s up to two players on your Friend’s List travel to your game and vice versa. It works similarly to Dragon Quest IX‘s multiplayer mode and retains the same level of fun, with characters being able to join your party on the fly and aid in exploration and monster hunting. The game even boosts a simple chat feature for easy communication.
There’s also a Streetpass function that registers the profiles of those that pass by with their own copy of the game. Once you’ve saved these profiles in your game, that character will appear in your save file and you can then bond with them to eventually receive a gift.
Graphics-wise, Fantasy Life exudes the full adorable charm that is practically trademarked to Level-5. Interestingly enough, the game was originally to be in 2D when it was first primed for release back in about 2009, but then was held from release at the last moment and reworked into the 3D version released this year. Below is how the game used to look:
Compare that scene with the current 3D graphic one:
The studio really shows their skills in artistic design in the natural way they retained the full charm of the visuals when making the switch.
Scattered throughout the game are moments in which the camera will pan back to let you enjoy the view of some of the more intricate level and dungeon designs. The panning is done rather subtly, yet highlights the lovely detailing that goes into the 3D backgrounds, as well as giving them a sort of interactivity to pull the player into the world.
Meanwhile, the music in this title is excellent, thanks to the incredibly talented (and undoubtedly famous) Nobuo Uematsu at the composition helm. Much of the soundtrack is sweet and cutesy, but there are some truly stand out pieces that can really shock you with its complexity and power.
An expansion pack called The Origin Island can be downloaded as well for $7.99, and it adds a new island to explore, relationship levels for companion characters, new kinds of pets, an additional storyline, extra character customization options, a higher level cap (up to 200), and more. The requisites for being able to access it are pretty high, requiring you to be level 50 or higher and have beaten the main storyline.
For those not in the know, this expansion pack was included in the original Japanese version but was locked out due to the development team adding in the online multiplayer feature. Purchasing the DLC merely unlocks the content from the actual cartridge. This may seem bad at first glance but the game offers so much content already that you may not even feel the need to buy the DLC, unless you’re truly interested in the post-game content.
Fantasy Life is truly an amazing achievement: well-rounded gameplay, great writing, a vast and open world to freely explore and a wonderfully deep class system that manages to double as one of the best in-game economies I’ve come across in a long while. If you have a 3DS and are a fan of JRPGs, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not picking up this title as soon as you can.