JRPGs are often a dime a dozen in Japan but late last December, Level 5 released Fantasy Life for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan (which experienced shortages in its first week on sale). And what is it about Fantasy Life that sets it apart from the crowd?
It’s that the game mixes the adventure of an RPG like Final Fantasy with the freedom and social aspects of Animal Crossing.
Fantasy Life is a game with 12 different player classes—eight of which are non-combat. Perhaps the greatest strength of the game is that, when it comes to leveling up, the non-combat job classes are as useful as the combat classes. So while in the vast majority of RPGs you play as either a magic user or a melee/ranged fighter killing every living creature you come across, in Fantasy Life you can as easily grow strong fishing or cutting wood as you can thinning out the world’s monster population.
In my personal experience, it was nearly four hours before I killed my first monster—and it wasn't because I decided to job change into a combat class. Rather, it’s because the monster just wouldn't let me fish in peace!
Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of Final Fantasies I through XI, also composed the score of Fantasy Life. While none of the tracks live up to the most memorable of the Final Fantasy series or Chrono Trigger, it is still a solid and enjoyable soundtrack with more than a few catchy tunes.
Of the approximately fifteen hours I spent playing Fantasy Life (in which I got nowhere close to beating it), I spent only about a third of that time pursuing anything remotely plot related. Instead, I was far too interested in trying out each class, playing the numerous crafting mini-games, talking to villagers (to build better relationships), and building furniture for my room. On top of that, each job class has its own unique thirty-minute starting quest.
This freedom that simply left me to explore on my own is both one of the game’s greatest strengths and most profound weaknesses. While there most certainly is a plot with party members to gain and new areas to unlock, it’s ridiculously easy to get distracted for hours by the discovery of a new type of tree to cut down or a new cave to mine in.
Much like Animal Crossing, Fantasy Life’s art style is very cutesy and is clearly aimed to appeal to the child and female demographic here in Japan. As such, everything is covered in bright colors with a cartoony art style. The characters (and monsters) are super-deformed with giant heads and their costumes are wild—the starting costume for the fisherman even includes a hood that makes it look like a fish is eating your head.
While the Uematsu score is enjoyable, the rest of the aural side of the presentation is lacking. Voice acting in Fantasy Life is completely absent, making it feel like a step down from other recent 3DS RPGs like Bravely Default: Flying Fairy.
Personally, Fantasy Life is not the game for me. For my tastes, it was too free with too much I could possibly do. Thus it was hard to stay invested in. So if you, like me, want a more directed experience in your JRPGs, this might not be the game for you. However, if you like Animal Crossing and games like it or are interested in an RPG where non-combat classes are of equal footing with combat classes, this game could very well be right up your alley.
Fantasy Life was released on December 27, 2012, for the 3DS in Japan. While the name “Fantasy Life” has been trademarked by Level 5 in both the U.S. and Europe, there has yet to be any official word on an international release.
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