I was skeptical about the new(ish) 3DS game Fantasy Life back when our own Jason Schreier praised it as "the best to-do list I've ever played." Too many games feel over-stuffed with too many chores as is—too many-no-fun-fetch-quests, too many collectibles, etc. But I've come around with this game.
I explain my change of heart in a piece I recently wrote for the New York Times (it's in today's paper, if you'd like to get some ink on your hands), and it boils down to this nice twist in Fantasy Life's presentation of 12 different playable jobs, from alchemist to lumberjack to mercenary:
That brings me back to Fantasy Life, which initially struck me as the most frank and yet most tedious collection of video game chores yet. As I played, however, I discovered a twist. As a carpenter, I was bored, but as a lumberjack I was energized. I was thrilled to search for rare trees to chop. I was excited to realize that I could use those logs to make tools as a carpenter.
I realized all 12 jobs were linked, and I recognized a new fantasy — one in which I am every member of the work force, where I depend on me, where I can juggle a dozen professions and make myself a better suit of armor because of it. A single job might be real life. But 12 jobs that feed into one another? That might be video games' weirdest and most enticing work fantasy yet.
To what extent, I wonder, do we see games as a weird sort of work fantasy? One in which we know that if we apply ourselves, we will level up, receive better rewards and therefore feel like our dedication was recognized? Is that why we willingly let games ask us to do the same things repeatedly?
These days, I find myself drawn away from games that lull me into doing repetitive and tedious things. I've always been suspicious about the merits of, say, grinding in role-playing games. And I find myself leaning Patricia Hernandez's way in disliking much of the "filler" in the new Dragon Age. I think, of all things, it may have been playing the near-mindless Cookie Clicker this year that helped wake me up to how often games can fill our time without asking much of us other than to click the same buttons or do the same routines.
I've become more acutely aware of games that ask me to think on my feet, to react and to do things I've not done in games before. And yet I've also appreciated how Fantasy Life, a game that asks for little more than a willingness to play comfortable, familiar routines, has found a way to stitch it all together into something that feels new in its own right.
If you are intrigued by Fantasy Life, note that you can start with any of the game's 12 jobs, though I recommend Paladin for a start, just to get some combat in, and then switch to Woodcutter, since searching for the best trees to chop down is fun. Then go Carpenter and go crazy from there.
Fair warning: to like this game, you'll have to tolerate a lot of talking. Sadly, the job of dialogue-trimmer is not offered.