HIGH Toppling a ferocious dragon with a massive, exhilarating combo.
LOW Long-winded conversations.
WTF Each song that plays when a job is mastered.
Why is it that so many people—me included—pine for RPGs that allow them to spend at least some amount of time in the shoes of a shop owner or weapon maker? Is it because we've played so many by-the-numbers examples of the genre that we're tired of controlling sword-wielding warriors, bow-carrying thieves and wand-whipping magicians?
I wouldn't say that's my main reason for wanting to go off the beaten path JRPG-wise now and then, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a smidge interested in being able to do something new in a genre that generally treads the same ground over and over again—which may explain why I've been keenly interested in Level-5's Fantasy Life since it was first announced way back in 2009.
The game finally hit North America late last year, and it certainly promises players something different—the hook is that it allows folks to follow as many as 12 different career paths, with a good number of those employment options being far from typical. After all, not many games allow players to take up the tools of blacksmiths, cooks, miners, tailors, woodcutters and more.
Although each of these jobs (they're called "lives" in the game) are considered unique, they're not as distinct as they initially seem. For example, the combat classes like the Mercenary and Paladin are awfully similar, and too many of the crafting classes like the Alchemist and Carpenter revolve around mini-games that are nearly interchangeable. As a result, only a handful of Fantasy Life's career opportunities—such as the Angler, Hunter, Miner and Woodcutter—feel truly fresh.
In fact, I spent the bulk of my playtime with Fantasy Life becoming adept at the four jobs I just mentioned, and had a blast while doing so. Of course, who wouldn't enjoy whiling away a few (or more than a few!) hours on the sandy shore of a sun-drenched lake, poaching fish from the waters? Chopping down the land's trees and extracting minerals from its rocks proved similarly enthralling for me.
As much as I enjoyed those jobs, it's hard not to feel a bit let down by how samey Fantasy Life's other professions often seem. Specifically, it never really felt like I was living the life of a Cook, Carpenter or Blacksmith, I was just completing a bunch of lukewarm mini-games over and over again in order to make food, furniture, weapons and other equipment. It's better than the traditional random battle grind found in most JRPGs, I guess, but that doesn't make the general lack of imagination here less disappointing.
Unfortunately, apart from the similarity between professions, Level-5 also stumbled a bit when it comes to the annoying, obsessive chattiness that accompanies the title's story elements. None of Fantasy Life's characters believes in being succinct, and every single one seems to make it the goal of their existence to blather on until the player's eyes bleed. This penchant for patter got so bad that after just a few hours I got in the habit of hammering the A button to avoid as much of the chatter as possible.
Despite my general negativity so far, I have to say that Fantasy Life's highs outweigh its lows.
I mean, it's hard to deny a game that features a shimmering, Nobuo Uematsu-crafted soundtrack, and the bright graphics look like they're from a Saturday morning cartoon. The combat was also fairly entrancing, especially when I was able to pull off a combo on one of the many lumbering beasts that wander its grassy plains.
Ultimately, it may not have delivered as much variety as I was hoping for, but with the right expectations there's still a good amount of job-flavored questing to be had.
Disclosures: This game was purchased by the reviewer and played on the 3DS. Approximately 92 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: comic mischief, fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes and use of alcohol.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing All of this game's conversations and cut-scenes feature subtitles.