Across the grassy plains, the wind dances playfully among the trees
I spend my days with a fish hook dangled aimlessly in a stream, it’s the angler’s life for me

That’s how my life began and a terrible attempt at a rhyme aside, at some point it may very well be the life you choose to lead too.

Or not.

And that’s totally okay.

This is Fantasy Life. The latest JRPG from Level-5 is the sort of game that’s not ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve—right next to its charm, cheese, wit and heart-warming messages. It’s a game for the adventurous, the fighters, the gatherers and the creators where no dream is too big or small, and life can move at the pace at which you are most comfortable, while rewarding and celebrating even the most seemingly mundane task. It’s a game that understands the importance of every action having consequences and is a case study in co-dependency both on the microcosm and macrocosm spectrum. It’s the game that asks you to understand and appreciate life as well and to take pride in all you do.

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So Much to Do, So Much Time

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Navigating through Fantasy Life’s world of Reveria can be overwhelming at times. There’s a story to be told about goddesses, the moon and the stars; and one with hints of an evil presence lurking, poised to cause destruction to a quiet life. Fans of Brownie Brown’s (now 1-UP Studio) and Level-5’s London Life which was released as a bonus game in Level-5’s Professor Layton and the Last Specter will recognize the base similarities in Fantasy Life—most notably through attaining ‘bliss’ points which contribute to furthering the narrative. Fans will also definitely get a familiar sense of an overall feel good story with underlying darker elements.

The other stories to tell are those that involve your chosen Life (think job class), and the people that affect it. This is best demonstrated in the introductory tutorials that accompany each Life. When initially changing a Life, the game will ask if to skip this tutorial. Doing so means you can get your license to the specific Life faster but at the cost of getting an earful about rushing through life without giving it any real purpose (at least that’s what my Woodcutting Master greeted me with when I was experimenting).

Skipping the tutorial also misses the opportunity at witnessing an engaging mini-story that better acquaints you to the personalities that occupy and are instrumental in that specific Life. You really get a glimpse into their lives and a better understanding of each character’s motivations before they become a step up from a colorful NPC. Later on, as you become better at your given Life, you will also be able to recruit some of these and other Life members to join your party to aid you in questing.

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Apart from those cases, there’s also your growth as a character. There are requirements that need to be met to advance mastering your Life; challenges that range from crafting to hunting to gathering a certain number of items or animals, or executing moves a certain number of times. There are also times when you could embark on fetch quests to satisfy the demands of many of the townsfolk (should you so desire).

There are 12 different Life classes to choose from and while unnecessary to play them all, there’s extreme joy in watching the cogs of a giant machine fall into place. Every class is connected to another. For instance, a Woodcutter’s Life provides the raw materials for the Carpentry Life, which in turn provides carefully crafted items and better equipment for the Angler Life. The Angler Life can benefit a Cook’s Life and so on and so forth. Intertwining these relationships leaves for a satisfying experience that can ideally set you back a great number of hours just to complete every single thing Fantasy Life offers.

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You could, of course, ignore these finer points to the game and buy leveled up equipment from the store, spending all your hard-earned dosh the traditional JRPG way and live the life the way you’d want. The game does not really punish you for progressing the main story to your liking instead of investing heavily in another or all classes and crafting your own items.

That’s what’s interesting about Fantasy Life: choices. It’s really all up to you even during those times where you’d think you HAVE to switch a class to proceed. Experimentation is alluring, and the game makes it really easy to do so. So enticing is this game though that it’s easy to get hooked enough that you will want to try every single Life or at least branch out and try a couple others.

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This engaging aspect of the game is in part greatly credited to Reveria’s citizens and its colorful world.

Reveria is Stunning

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A part of what makes Fantasy Life so wonderful is that its world encourages exploration. Your base town is sprawling with a staggering number of shops and things to see. There’s a mini-forest where spirits dwell just on the outskirts of the town (but still considered as part of the town and therefore not a more dangerous sort of experience) that’s an important starting point for your Wizardry Life. There’s a spot that’s the center for the mining operations. A library for all your alchemist needs, shops that cater to every Life including restaurants, produce stands, fishmongers, curiosities shops… I could go on.

As huge and self-sustaining as your home town of Castele is, what lies beyond is bathed in traditional but gorgeous fantasy decorated by landscapes painted with a certain vibrancy and brimming with a grand sense of adventure. Spooky forests, grassy plains, snow-capped mountain peaks, a seaside town, a harsh desert with a booming city... These are the things you can get in any standard JRPG but none so cute as Fantasy Life where monster designs and animations are built to match the overall aesthetic.

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Seriously. The monsters are overly dramatic when you slay them, twirling around on one foot in a grand display of showmanship.

This game will play to all the nostalgia and things that any long time fan of the JRPG will be acquainted with—and has a lot of the reasons they probably fell in love with the genre to begin with. There’s love and magic in this game’s creation that breathes life into every little detail and aspect of its world...so much so that it’s bursting with this sense of excitement and discovery. It’s also a great place to start for those who wanted to get into JRPGs but never did. Basically, I’d want all the charm of this game to be my first...it certainly feels as though it’s a first in all the sentiments it captures. I sometimes feel as though games like these just aren’t made anymore. It’s refreshing that it expresses all that wonderment with enough personality to be hailed as something special in its own right while being pleasantly familiar.

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Humor and the People That Live Here

It’s not just the animals’ theatrics or exciting areas that make this game unique. Its citizens are pretty damned lovable too. All personalities are present in Fantasy Life: from the carefree, to the ruffians, to the hard workers, to those unsure of themselves, to uhh… the ones who fancy spending their time at the bar getting sloshed. And yeah, many of the key players all have names that are blatantly expected (hey there, Esmerelda the Witch). But Fantasy Life keeps all these tributes—and that’s what they are, these are tributes to your favorite JRPG tropes— interesting through use of its incredibly engaging, sharp writing.

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There’s a lot to read in Fantasy Life but conversations are far from dull. Some of the best insults are tossed in snappy, fast punchlines and rapport between characters and you might miss them if you’re on a text tapping spree to get ahead. Doing so will have you missing clever lines, self-aware humor, hilarious comebacks, and lots of dry wit. The fantastic dialogue adds to everyone’s personalities and keeps Fantasy Life from being too wrapped up in that nostalgia that I spoke of. It’s extremely modern in its approach to the written lines of character interactions while maintaining that tribute in its aesthetics. It’s an amazing balance that works to build that rich, engaging world and characters’ responses expressed through their animations also help keep the game grounded and funny.

Music Just Right for Adventuring

Fantasy Life is a little bit Dragon Quest VIII, a touch of the Legend of Zelda, some Rune Factory, and some parts Final Fantasy IX. It’s the last one that becomes pretty evident through your Paladin Life or just wandering around Castele but also shines, of course, in the fairy tale like, complex score by Nobuo Uematsu.

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I’m not necessarily talking about a “You’re Not Alone” level of epic but its more subtle in its approach and its brilliance can be missed if you don’t take a moment to listen to the calming presence of violins nestled beneath layers of piano, or trumpets playfully announcing the start of a new day while simultaneously putting some pep in your step to tackle all you choose to do.

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Each composition effortlessly tells stories of their own. There are easy going tracks that upon listening conjures tales of knights and wizards in your mind. Music that furthers your desire to explore? That’s here too alongside perfectly created sounds that will have you just a little bit on edge (as you should be!) while daring to traverse forests at night. There’s the zany music to accompany moments of a fever pitch when crafting, or the circus act inspired track that plays when encountering a silly situation with silly characters. The music captures all of these moments well including the one that signals a boss battle. It’s got the right amount of intensity while still calming the mind and allowing you to focus.

This is the game where everything truly works in sync and the soundtrack contributes to this overall feeling as any great score should.

Customization

There’s a fairly robust and super cute character creation editor. It’s completely fun with hairstyles that can be applied to any character. It makes no distinction between boy or girl when it comes to choosing a hairstyle and that’s just welcoming and progressive. It is a tiny thing but wonderful all the same.

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But hoo boy, those hairstyles. There’s nothing incredibly insane as to what you can do to your characters but I do appreciate a good beehive or pop star hairstyle. I also love a scar on the face, or a star. I appreciate the vast color palette that can be applied to eyes and hair color with designations the likes you can get in one of those giant box of Crayola crayons. And later on, if you decide to become a Tailor, there’s just so much style to craft and wear. Goodness knows it should always be fashion first, stats second. One should never have to compromise fashion for practicability. But really, why not both?

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That Pesky Attack and Collect Button

Designating the attack, collect and craft specific button as one can sometimes tie me up. Like say I slay a beast and try to collect my bounty but accidentally slash it instead. The game is very specific in that you have to hover over the item for a prompt to occur before you can execute the command when collecting. It’s a minor annoyance at times and won’t completely spoil the game but it happens once in a while to be noticeable.

It’s a Relatively Simple Life

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Fantasy Life is not a very complex game when it comes to gameplay mechanics. Mini-games largely make up how you craft weapons, furniture, clothes, and how you cook. They’re absolutely fun in their own way but they all follow the same sort of pattern though the game does mix up the sequence of commands for three specific actions.

Simplicity is not necessarily a terrible thing by any means in a game that’s already so chock full of things to do but be aware that this simplicity is there when it comes to battling, fishing and crafting. Especially when techniques in fighting are left to be really basic with no real strategy involved in planning how to tackle enemies. It’s a matter of watching movements sometimes and dodging or defending (think non-boss, overworld battles in the Legend of Zelda in that regard, if that’s a series you’re familiar with). The most planning one might engage in in that aspect is that certain enemies are stronger against a particular class than others, for example magicians will injure Spookys (ghosts) while a sword-based fighting class may do little to none at all.

Multiplayer Mode

There are some pros and cons to this mode.

  • The Pros: you can run wild with two of your friends all over town and the world of Reveria. Enlisting the help of a friend means if they’re further along in a Life than you are, then you can ask them for help whether by bringing you crafted items, raw materials (like fish) or helping take down tougher monsters. Of course, the same goes for you. There’s a neat little chest at the Guild office in town (the Guild Office is the hub for seamlessly changing “Life” classes or changing your settings for Streetpass options and Multiplayer options) that allows players to exchange goods.
  • You can also keep track of where everyone is as the game flashes little messages that keeps tabs on their whereabouts, while also pinpointing their location on screen with little arrows.

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  • The Cons: The keyboard chat. It’s not the most efficient way to communicate. It certainly will do its bit for infrequent conversation but it’s not ideal for planning long conversations and strategies. It took forever to just communicate to a friend to ask if he wanted me to leave some eels for him while he was trying to tell me he left a Highland beret and cape in the chest for me.
  • Extended save times, lots of text dialogue before a bit of a connection wait time makes actually getting into each others’ worlds somewhat of an annoyance. My friends and I experienced some lag for a short period of time during one play session while another play session went incredibly smoothly.

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Less Animal Crossing Than You Think

I’m an Animal Crossing junkie. 500 plus hours and going, I’m still in love with that game. I’ve seen people constantly compare the two games, sometimes even being on the fence about purchasing this for being too Animal Crossing like. I think it is worth mentioning that the two games are less similar than you think.

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In Animal Crossing, a major part of the game is a true life simulator where some of the greatest emphasis is in customizing your house, expanding and matching furniture. You can choose to buy a house or do those things in Fantasy Life as well but it’s not detrimental to your enjoyment of the game. It’s a very small fraction on the things you can do to love the game even more but it’s not the central focus, and it’s really about if you care about doing those things to begin with. It has “Life” in the title but it’s not that much of a life simulator either, at least not in the way The Sims or Animal Crossing brands their specific style of play.

Your “Life” is your Class but it’s also tied to an overall, scripted narrative whereas Animal Crossing is a true life simulator with open-ended play, friendships to maintain and no scripted story to follow. Make no mistake, Fantasy Life is more JRPG than anything with light life simulator elements. You can have a pet or two, and your pets can even fight for you. You can have a horse. And these might seem like life simulator things and sure they are to a degree but they’re also add-ons that enrich your adventuring life, not necessarily your home lives. So don’t miss this game because you may have a rocky relationship with Animal Crossing. Fantasy Life just isn’t that.

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So Much Stuff, It Can Feel Overwhelming

I’ll admit it: I’m a video game hoarder. It’s rare I go around selling things and sometimes I have multiples of every item at the end of any JRPG I play. Fantasy Life can be a hoarder’s nightmare (or blessing...I guess). Between crafting and gathering materials, I quickly found myself with no room in my bag of 100. Luckily as you attain those “bliss” points (which really are just quest fulfilling tasks that are important to the main story), you can use these points to upgrade your storage among other things. In the meanwhile I was forced to do some careful organization.

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Again, this can be a little bit overwhelming for the more materialistic players among us because it’s easy to just lose sight of what you want to do with all the stuff you have. Don’t be discouraged though. If you’re going to switch classes, you’ll find that you’ll be using all of your items in various crafting things or even giving them to people to fulfill their quests. It’s more a fair warning here to just relax, craft, experiment and don’t fret too much.

The advice of taking it easy applies to the overall game as well. It may seem terribly overwhelming at first, particularly, if you approached the game as I did by unlocking all the Life classes at the beginning. But again, don’t despair. The laundry list of quests you have to do and decide to take on are easily fulfilled and you’ll find they’ll be fulfilled as the fun things you’d probably do anyway even when you’re not actively seeking to fulfill them, or even when you’re not currently playing in that particular Life.

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In other words, you could totally chop down trees even if you’re playing as a miner, as long as you’ve unlocked the skills in the Woodcutting Life. You can equip tools of every Life and use them on your journey once they have been unlocked and leveled. Not to mention for harder parts of your adventure, the story may automatically pair you with another member to help you through but for times when you’re exploring alone, go ahead and recruit NPCs to your team to help you fight. You may want to consider bringing Nox the young rival (and slightly obnoxious) mage with you, if you so please. Or maybe that Odin character who lives in Al Maajik—the paladin of few words who is totally bad-assed (a trait that seems prevalent to people blessed with the name). The game puts these checks and balances in place for you; don’t forget to use them.

The same goes for your friends. Use multiplayer mode if you have a friend to play with!

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It may have started as the Angler’s Life for me but with so much to do—so much I was encouraged and wanted to do—I soon reveled in being a Cook, a Wizard, a Paladin, an alchemist and just about every other Life the game offered... there’s a Life suited to everyone’s sense of adventure or support. A storybook tale and a game that pats me on the back with a little nudge to keep going makes Fantasy Life an upbeat, rewarding and enticing experience.

Sometimes it’s nice to visit a world that is tailored to going to at your own pace without sacrificing that love for adventuring and exploration.

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Sometimes it might be nice to be a tailor.

I think that’ll be the focus of my next Life.

What will yours be?

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Follow N. Ho Sang on Twitter at @Zarnyx if you’re feeling adventurous, or you can read her articles here.