Level 5’s Fantasy Life is a game with a relatively long and storied history, with quite the pedigree behind it. The last game developed by veteran RPG Studio Brownie Brown before their name-change to 1-Up Studios, Fantasy Life had a rather long 3-year development cycle for a handheld game. This is because it was originally designed for the old DS, before being ported and revamped for the 3DS. Billed as a life simulator, Fantasy Life is much closer to a classic action RPG but with far more class variety and fluidity than is typical.
Fantasy Life starts out with a pretty standard character creator with a decent amount of depth; it has many similarities to the Mii maker and as such I spent a mildly embarrassing amount of time tweaking my character. Once you’ve finalized your look it’s time to choose your “life,” which is basically this game’s term for class. There are several life paths to choose from—12 in all—including hunter, paladin, alchemist and even more workaday classes like tailor, blacksmith or woodcutter. Don’t fret if you think you made the wrong choice, though—Fantasy Life’s central mechanic is that you can eventually change your life path and explore something completely different, and ultimately master all life paths if you so choose.
The first thing you’ll notice as you set out into the world of Reveria is just how charming and cute it is. Fantasy Life has a winking, almost irreverent cuteness to it in that it plays up and pokes fun at the conventions of other RPGs. Coming from Level 5, the game has a similar art style to the Professor Layton series, but with a stronger anime influenced that slightly de-emphasizes Layton’s roots in French cartoons. Characters are goofy and exuberant but their dialogue is often tongue-in-cheek. Triumphant item-collection or level-up fanfares start out with bombastic horns and end with kazoos and slide whistles. Fantasy Life is a game that knows exactly where it comes from (I’d expect no less from longtime RPG masters like Brownie Brown) and it isn’t afraid to play the genre’s staple motifs for laughs.
Once you choose your starting life (mine was hunter) you’re assigned to a mentor, who gives you class-specific quests and tasks. Completing any task will net you basic XP, which levels up your regular character stats. Finishing quests particular to your current life will gain you stars, which rank up your life path and unlock talents and abilities exclusive to that life. These abilities are usually special attacks or powers that only work for that life path. The final leveling stat is called bliss, and represents a general “happiness” with your life. Bliss is awarded and tracked by Flutter, a boisterous butterfly companion who is an affectionate parody of Link’s Navi. Flutter will provide you with bliss quests that further the game and unlock special bliss bonuses, like the ability to ride a horse, increase your inventory size or own a pet.
If you like, you can stick to one life path and max it out. If you want to go all the way through the tailor class and clothe the entire town in luxurious finery, knock yourself out. It’s hard to go too terribly long in a path, however, without it getting a little repetitive. That’s not a knock on the game, but rather the way it encourages you to play as a well-rounded individual. You’ll want to switch career paths fairly early and often, because as you grow your skills you become more capable and formidable. Why buy swords and armor when you can make your own? Out of potions? Brew up your own that work better than anything you can find in a shop. Even the game’s tailoring interface will satisfy the fashion conscious who might spend ages collecting hats in Team Fortress 2 or Animal Crossing.
The main weakness in Fantasy Life is that is tries to pass the more utilitarian classes off as being just as engrossing as the more action or fantasy-oriented ones. Sadly, this just isn’t true. Being a blacksmith or alchemist sounds like a lot of fun and in real life, smithing is pretty awesome. However, in Fantasy Life these jobs are presented as simple button-matching minigames that tend to get repetitive, even between classes. Adding more depth to these tasks would have given them more life, but it would’ve been a tradeoff for the game’s overall pacing. Learning a trade is a pretty cool investment in real life, but in Fantasy Life, hunting monsters or casting spells is always more interesting.
This primary gameplay weakness leads to the game eventually feeling like a lot of busywork. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it turned me off a bit because I already dislike similar gameplay styles in titles like Animal Crossing or The Sims. Building relationships and alliances has always been more interesting to me than mowing my virtual lawn or finding the perfect chair for my virtual room. Fantasy Life has a very serviceable action RPG at its core, but building the skills to explore all it has to offer gets too rote after a while. The adventure is perfectly fine, but without deeper meaning to the characters, the world made less of an impact on me.
For me personally, this left me feeling that Fantasy Life was missing an important layer underneath. The social aspect of a life sim would have really buoyed the work aspect and balanced the gameplay perfectly. When I initially heard the title “Fantasy Life” I imagined a Harvest Moon clone, but the actual game, being more of a straight RPG, is unfortunately lacking the social aspect that makes Harvest Moon work. Fantasy Life would have benefited from Harvest Moon’s friendship-building, or its “dating sim lite” marriage system.
The ability to build a family, establish deeper relationships with the people of Reveria, go into business with a partner and even take on apprentices of my own would have added a much-needed subtext to the game. It also would give multiplayer a whole new dynamic. While Fantasy Life’s online mode is robust and allows friends to complete quests, jobs and non-story missions cooperatively, again a social aspect would have been awesome. I know many couples who game together and would love to make a life together, so to speak, in Fantasy Life (one couple I know recreated their whole family in Star Wars Online before it went defunct), and I’d enjoy building up a blacksmith business with my brother.
In the end, Fantasy Life is a very competent action RPG that tries something unique. Adding a job system this deep really encourages you to become a jack of all trades and ultimately a master of all too. The charming story, endearing characters and infectiously cute sound and art design go a long way to keep this game from feeling too generic or repetitive. Even if the gameplay is tried and true, the aesthetics will leave an instant and lasting appeal on anyone who picks this game up. The framework is so strong and well-made that I just wish there was more soul in the gameplay.
Fantasy Life is very good, but not great. The developers have kicked off one of the most promising series I’ve seen in years, I just wish there was more social gameplay baked into the rock-solid mechanics. With such a strong foundation, I look forward to more adventures Reveria.
Fantasy Life is a charming action RPG mixed with a surprisingly deep job and class system. These aspects will keep you busy for some time, but a social relationship system similar to Harvest Moon would have added lasting value and meaning to the already endearing characters and the world they inhabit. Hopefully, these ideas will find their way into sequels.
I've been gaming off and on since I was about three, starting with Star Raiders on the Atari 800 computer. As a kid I played mostly on PC--Doom, Duke Nukem, Dark Forces--but enjoyed the 16-bit console wars vicariously during sleepovers and hangouts with my school friends. In 1997 GoldenEye 007 and the N64 brought me back into the console scene and I've played and owned a wide variety of platforms since, although I still have an affection for Nintendo and Sega.
I started writing for Gaming Nexus back in mid-2005, right before the 7th console generation hit. Since then I've focused mostly on the PC and Nintendo scenes but I also play regularly on Sony and Microsoft consoles. My favorite series include Metroid, Deus Ex, Zelda, Metal Gear and Far Cry. I'm also something of an amateur retro collector. I currently live in Westerville, Ohio with my wife and our cat, who sits so close to the TV I'd swear she loves Zelda more than we do. We are expecting our first child, who will receive a thorough education in the classics.View Profile