Fantasy Life is a role-playing game that attempts to streamline the different tropes of many hardcore JRPG classics. Taking a lot of influences from titles like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the game is a package of a cartoon styled world encasing a deep class system. Yet with what Fantasy Life does so well, it still falls short in getting right the most important aspects about true role-playing games; having an engaging story made to keep gamers coming back. This does not completely kill the experience of playing the game, but it does hold it back from being the kind of game it surely wants to be.
The world of Fantasy Life revolves around its exact namesake, choosing a life to follow through within the game. Comparable to class systems found in games such as Final Fantasy 3 and Final Fantasy 5, you create a character and choose a Life to pursue as you play the game. There are a variety of different lives to choose from at the start, each with their own abilities and attributes that will change up the way you play. At some point, you will find yourself flipping through different lives to gain and utilize their different bonuses. This is very important as you get into the meat of the game, which is unfortunately more than a few hours in after starting up.
This is where Fantasy Life starts to fall short, with its slow start up and failure to really keep the player invested in a story and payoff that normally comes from playing a JRPG. The story itself centers on a kingdom with a growing threat on the horizon, which turns the land’s inhabitants partially evil through corrupt magical stones. The setup seems interesting, but the dialogue and events that take place never have that sense of urgency or drama you find in the games Fantasy Life is trying to emulate. Things don’t really begin to pick up until well over 4 -5 hours into the game, which even then still feels subpar compared to other titles in the genre.
The gameplay is where Fantasy Life begins to establish itself better. Despite some stiff controls, combat is done in real time and can change depending on the Life chosen. You can execute physical attacks as a Paladin and use a sword, or play as a Mage and use a ton of power magic against enemies. Other lives have variations on combat that cater to that specific Life, with some being more ideal for combat than others. Outside of fighting enemies, some lives have different mini-games that allow you to craft weapons, make items, and gather resources to help you on your quest. The diversity and Life-hopping is a definite plus that doesn’t feel mandatory in early sections of the game, but will become so later on.
Graphically, Fantasy Life is very stylized. Many of the cutscenes and in-game models look very much like a mixture of Dragon Quest, Bravely Default, and Animal Crossing. The environments look whimsical and fantastical like they should, as do the creatures and enemies that populate them. Different maps are wide and have a ton of places to explore with many dungeons and secrets to discover. One great thing Fantasy Life does have is the option for Quick Travel between areas very early on in the game. You don’t have to feel the drag for traversing a map for a long time just to find one small item, only to have to make the long trip back where you came from. The Quick Travel allows you to go from key area to key area and place you near areas with an objective. You still have to run/walk to some spots, but it’s not overbearing and boring.
Fantasy Life also has a leveling system for just about every action in the game. You gain levels for constantly sprinting on the map, blocking attacks, using a sword, and many other actions. This is a bit old-school tedious and really will resonate with hardcore RPG fans, as you have to do repeated actions for a while to fully level up a character. Skills like Blacksmithing, Lumberjacking, and Mining, however, can definitely pay off well as you play through the game more. Gaining experience and leveling up skills and actions bleed over into other lives and can make them better to use.
As a standard role-playing game, Fantasy Life does have some positive things going for it. The combat and Life Class-system are interesting and have plenty of room diverse gameplay. Yet the main reason gamers play role-playing games is for the story in which they can have an important role in what is happening. Fantasy Life just doesn’t provide a strong enough story or incentive to keep people invested for hours before it starts to pick up the pace. Hardcore RPG fans may find something here to love in the gameplay, but there needs to be something more in order for Fantasy Life to be the awesome game it deserves to be.
Fantasy Life is available now for the Nintendo 3DS. This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.