Japanese developer Level-5 has made a name for itself with a good variety of games from numerous genres, from the Professor Layton puzzle series to RPGs like Dragon Quest VIII and Ni no Kuni. Fantasy Life, their latest title to reach North American shores, skews closer to their RPG side, but with an interesting twist, that being the fact that numerous class-based play styles are available to switch between at any time, and a heavy emphasis on Animal Crossing-like social simulation and customization is promoted.
All of these elements come together to form an undeniably charming and perfectly competent whole. The downside is that so many different gameplay aspects that could have easily been spread out across several titles are all crammed together into one package. Conversely, the upside is that there’s plenty of variety, although repetition still manages to develop. Still, it’s a game that makes it easy for players to shake things up a bit when they want, and also boasts a terrific localized translation, so players willing to deal with gameplay that can be a bit bland at times may find this title worth their time.
The game primarily takes place in the medieval town of Reveria, a bustling community surrounded by numerous other areas that open up based on players’ progression. When first starting the game, a fully customizable character can be made, via an impressive amount of options that will make fans of custom character creation happy. One of the last aspects of your character that you select is their Life, which is essentially the game’s term for a job. These range from action and exploration-based jobs, like the sword and shield-wielding Paladin, to more tranquil and item-based jobs, like the Carpenter and Cook options.
I primarily played as a Paladin, both because it was the first option the Job menu gave me and because it sounded the most similar to a traditional RPG experience, and after a few early missions that set things up and provided some tutorials, I was off to the fields outside of town to engage in some relatively simplistic real-time combat. As time went on, I also tried out the Cook job for a change of pace.
Different Lives provide different play styles. Starting out as a Paladin gave me combat options akin to a more stat-based Zelda game, complete with a spinning sword attack that I could charge up. The Cook class is naturally more akin to something like the Cooking Mama series, which sees you doing timed button inputs to make each dish as well as possible.
Both styles of play work fine in terms of functionality and accessibility, but there isn’t a huge amount more to them. Paladin boss battles are pretty straightforward, and the different recipes I tried as a Cook didn’t seem to offer unique types of input or controls. I have a feeling that Level-5 may have purposefully held back on making each Life more robust to make players more likely to try different ones, but it’s still rather unfortunate in terms of gameplay.
The Animal Crossing similarities I mentioned earlier are what you’ll be doing most of the time while in Reveria. You can unlock and purchase many different clothes, weapons, and accessories that both boost your stats and personalize your character’s look. Stores in town carry many items, but you can also get them through completing side-quests for random NPCs. These side-quests are very numerous and often revolve around slaying a certain amount of enemies or collecting some items, all of which give off some heavy MMO vibes. The ironic thing about that is the fact that Fantasy Life does offer both local and online co-op, but the online functionality is strictly limited to players on your friend list, greatly diminishing the ease of accessing Wi-Fi cooperative play.
The one thing Fantasy Life unexpectedly excels in is its writing. Not so much the relatively straightforward plot, but more-so with its characters and dialog. There are a lot of genuinely clever and funny lines packed in here, and it really helps add to the whimsical and inviting vibe the game gives off as a whole, so props to whoever was in charge of the translation.
While Fantasy Life‘s unique Lives system can lead to fatigue when played in long chunks, switching between them every now and then makes for a more varied and fun experience. The same goes for playing in shorter bursts, which is fitting for a handheld exclusive. If the idea of light RPG gameplay mixed with fun character customization and a novel take on class systems sounds interesting, you’ll probably have a good time with this. Just don’t go in expecting anything revolutionary.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
Fantasy Life won't blow you away with its relatively simply gameplay, but it does make up for it with a healthy amount of variety and charm.