Fantasy Life will eat your real one if you're not careful.
Imagine the job system of Dragon Quest mixed with Skyrim's 'learn by doing' skill advancement and Animal Crossing's obsession with collecting stuff. The three most addictive, if not necessarily the best, bits of each genre thrown together into a single adorable JRPG.
You'll set out into a compact fantasy world and find your place in it. Whether you want to be a greatsword-swinging mercenary, heroic paladin, bragging fisherman, skilful tailor, deft hunter, renowned blacksmith, clever alchemist... and more... and any combination of the above... there's a career for you here. You'll kill monsters one minute, then make armour out of their hides the next.
It's grind, pure and simple, but the kind of wholesome 'gamey' busywork that makes minutes turn to hours and chores feel like a job well done.
After creating an avatar from a surprisingly comprehensive editor (though why it wasn't designed to support Miis baffles me), you'll step out into Reveria: a clichéd yet pleasingly dense little fantasy world. From your home in the centre of the map, Castele city, you'll gradually explore dangerous ancient forests, lofty mountains, mesas, deserts and shorelines, encountering increasingly tough monsters and enemies along the way. It's classic JRPG fare with an action twist, boasting effective and simple combat whether you wield a sword, claymore, dagger, bow or magic. Lock-on mechanics make combat a breeze, while every swing of your weapon increases your mastery with it.
Several city hubs allow you to buy items, sell loot and gear up, while talking to a selection of townsfolk who all have various quests to undertake and change position depending on the time of day. Level-5's excellent localisation makes for quirky and interesting dialogue makes the setting feel alive and fleshed-out (brilliantly, money is called "Dosh" in the UK territory, as their superlative localisation team makes it feel like a UK-developed title!), with what feels like a restrictively small play area gradually opening up into a vast yet digestible open world. All the while, you'll have the option to customise your character and houses to your personal specification, much like a light version of Animal Crossing.
So far, so good, but Fantasy Life really finds its legs in the class system. Or more accurately 'Life' system. At any time, you can change your trade to one of a dozen careers, each of which boasts unique skills and ways of interacting with the world.
Paladins wield shortswords and shields. Mercenaries swing greatswords with timing and skill. Wizards blast out elemental spells. Hunters ply their trade with powerful longbows. Miners hack out raw materials and gems from ore veins. Anglers reel in fish at preset points and do battle with legendary aquatic mammals. Cooks fry up delicious meals out of collected resources and rare ingredients. Lumberjacks cut down trees, they skip and jump, they like to press wild flowers [stop that RIGHT NOW, Jon - Ed]. Blacksmiths create armour, tools and weapons out of collected ore. Alchemists concoct potions and jewellery. Carpenters make furniture and wooden weapons. Tailors sew up new clothes and decorations.
Each has their own specific minigames, challenges and skills to master. You'll learn the basics via an entertaining tutorial quest chain and hilarious skits before going forth and practising your craft. Brilliantly, once you've learned a skill, you can then use it and level it up regardless of what Life you then switch into, as your current class only affects your experience gain rate and you unique special ability. You're therefore encouraged to tinker with numerous Lives to create a well-rounded character, and appreciate how they and the world all link together. Kill a creature to complete a mercenary bounty. Cook its meat and sell it, or eat it while sewing its hide into a pair of boots. On the way back you'll mine some ore, which you'll then use to create a more powerful axe, which then lets you cut down taller trees.
What follows is dozens and dozens of hours of addictive if repetitive content as you complete challenges and increase your mastery of each Life, earning ranks, new skills and new conversation options with NPCs all over Reveria. You'll slay monsters, mine metals, cut down trees, catch and cook fish, make furniture for your holiday homes, make armour, make weapons, make collect kill cook fetch make create kill collect make sew fetch fish cook seriously it's unbelievably addictive. Multiplayer options are on hand for multiple heroes to get involved, and make items for each other to boot.
Eventually, though, you'll find yourself asking a dangerous question. Maybe after thirty minutes, maybe after thirty hours. "What's the point?"
Erm. About that. See, Fantasy Life drops the ball in two key respects by not giving you enough context for all the grinding. Firstly, the overarching storyline is disappointing: a boring and derivative tale that lacks interesting characters, decent pacing, challenging boss encounters or anything remotely memorable. It's inoffensive guff, pure and simple. The problem is that there's no real conflict to give your grind any meaning: you're just collecting stuff to create better tools to collect more stuff, not becoming more powerful for an important cause. It sometimes feels like doing the peripheral sidequests for a more robust RPG that never appears.
There's a bigger issue, though, in that Fantasy Life ultimately doesn't deliver on the 'Life' front. It might as well be called 'Fantasy Freelance Jobs,' because it always stops just short of making each career path feel fully fleshed-out. Sure, you can become a blacksmith or tailor, but you can't set up a shop. Mercenaries aren't tasked with epic quests from their leader or bounty boards, just citizen requests and 'challenges.' Paladins aren't given a heroic destiny to follow. Wizards can't set up an academy.
You can't really live the life. You just act out the most basic yet entertaining parts of it, watching skill bars increase, undertaking hundreds of fetch quests and becoming increasingly well-heeled in the process.
"What's the point?" My answer to that dangerous question is a resounding "because it's really fun. Now please stop bothering me as I'm about to capture a lordfish with my new Whirlpool Rod." And that's probably enough.
- Sensational class system, skills and and exploration of a dense open fantasy world
- Simple and effective combat and job minigames
- Exceptionally addictive customisation and crafting
- World feels dynamic and interesting
- Doesn't go far enough to make Lives feel authentic and unique (you can't set up shops etc)
- Terrible main story hollows out the game
- I hope you like fetch quests
The Short Version: Fantasy Life is an astonishingly addictive blend of JRPGs and casual simulations, offering dozens of hours of exploration, construction and levelling throughout a dozen classes. It's also incredibly repetitive and desperately needs a stronger storyline, but by the time you notice, you'll already be thirty hours deep.