By Janelle | September 20, 2012 at 8:40 am
Fantasy Life, on paper, seems like a perfect fit for plenty of JRPG fans. It’s co-developed by rising star Level 5 and old standby Brownie Brown, featuring music by Nobuo Uematsu, character designs by Yoshitaka Amano, and features a lighthearted tone that washes away the gritty, angsty funk of Serious Business JRPGs. But TGS tradition seems to require that I rail on a promising game for having a disappointing demo. This year, Fantasy Life is that game.
The best way to describe Fantasy Life, in look and feel, is “Animal Crossing, the RPG.” Fantasy Life sports the same vibrant colors, the same sort of rounded foliage shapes, and the same sort of character models: deformed, caricatured, and cute. It’s not necessarily a great comparison (Fantasy Life doesn’t run in real time, and Animal Crossing doesn’t have a job system), but it’s an easy one to make to capture the mood of the game. But after setting the cutesy mood, Fantasy Life‘s demo leaves the player hanging. This is cute…now what?
First, I had to create an avatar. It was cool seeing just how many different customization options there were for both genders of avatar. It’s not The Sims, but there are a respectable number of eyes, mouths, hairstyles, face and body shapes to choose from, with a wide palette of skin and hair colors to choose from. It’ll be rare to see two avatars who look exactly alike once Fantasy Life is released.
My new avatar was plunked down by a castle, where a soldier extolled the virtues of life. Life is great! What kind of life do you want? There were two “types” of lives to choose from: a life of fighting, or a more casual life. The former had classes like Warrior, Mage, and Hunter, while the latter had classes like Lumberjack, Fisherman and Miner. Afterwards, the demo directed me to visit the master of my chosen profession to learn its basics. No matter the profession, the quest given by the master seems to involve going to the wilderness, killing or gathering something, and then returning.
Combat in Fantasy Life is feature-bare. Tapping the A button would start a chain of attacks, and sometimes the A or X button could be held down to use a skill, but there is no evade button, which, coupled with the wonky long-distance targeting, made taking on a Black Panther with my fledgling Hunter a little tricky. In this way combat was at best tricky but not fun, and at worst, kind of boring.
The largest problem is that demo didn’t do a great job of showing off how the game’s systems could interact. Rather, it played heavily on the “create a virtual you” angle, prompting the player to customize an avatar, and then shoehorning him into picking a first job to try out. This gave a good slice of several features, like avatar customization, combat, hunting/gathering, and walking around town; it didn’t, however, show how the game’s pieces come together coherently.
Sure, it’s cool that I can chop down trees, but why do I want to do that? What happens when night falls on the town? Are there other types of quests in the game? Why can’t I even open the menu? The promotional material emphasizes a “live your own life” angle, but what does that even mean? HOW do I live my life? The demo created more questions than it answered, and the small amount of gameplay shown didn’t wow me at all. If you’re looking to fight monsters, there are better RPGs for that. An open world? Fantasy Life supposedly has an open world, but the demo doesn’t show us what that looks like. A job system where switching jobs FFXIV-style is important? You could only select one job in the demo. The game is simple enough. I wish the developers would dispense with the tutorials and show the big picture already.
Maybe I’m being a bit too hard on the demo because I want to like and care about Fantasy Life. But developers, for the love of Buddha, if you’ve only got a 10 minute window to show off your game, a ten-minute slice of the game’s opening is not always the best way to go. Fantasy Life‘s promotional hook is on it being deep, open and laid-back. The demo, with ample room for customizing my avatar’s eyebrows but no leeway for exploring the game’s features, gave me the opposite impression entirely.