Level-5 has built a fairly typical cutesy RPG with a fun new twist - find your calling and take up a job, buy and decorate (and redecorate) your house and create your own goods-based trading system with your friends as you progress through an unfortunately non-interactive story with a talking butterfly by your side. The very same-y feeling of the more standard inclusions in this game are contrasted against what happens to be an excellent gameplay system where you can, if you so choose, beat the bad guy and save the world as a powerful Paladin or a humble Cook. These aspects create a surprisingly addictive yet easy to put down portable RPG.
+Surprisingly fun and addictive blue-collar job system
+No job limitations - pick up as many as you want
+Classically adorable Level 5 design
+Online multiplayer encourages turning your craft into an entrepreneurship
+Very detailed character customization when making your avatar
-Story is very typical dialogue is fluffy
-Combat classes pointless at start of game
-Story missions almost non-interactive
Over the years, Level-5 has sat on the throne for a very niche concept - build an otherwise typical game and throw in just the right gimmick or twist to make you never want to put your controller down. From Dark Cloud 2's crafting system to Professor Layton's ...Layton-ness, to building a neat RPG concept and then having Studio-freaking-Ghibli animate your cutscenes, this studio has been aces at developing fun and unique games for all audiences. Once in a while, a portion of the game has to suffer for innovation. This makes it extra unfortunate that in Fantasy Life's case, it falters on the story.
Fantasy Life's gimmick is blending a medieval-style, simple RPG with sort of an Animal Crossing concept (loathe as I am to throw out an overused example, it just fits). You fight monsters, craft weapons, armor and tools, and wander across a fantasy landscape while increasing your stats. However, you always do your fellow townsfolk favours, buy and decorate a house for yourself, and spend your time (if you so choose) fishing.
In Fantasy Life, you are a standard citizen just start out at your job. You come across a talking butterfly in distress at the town square and rescue it from a couple of brigands trying to capture it, and from that point on it becomes your companion throughout the game. It plays an important part to the story, and as you progress you learn the true purpose of Butterfly's arrival. As you do a couple of favours for the King, you learn of the imminent destruction of your world, and now it's up to you and your verbose insect to save it all.
The game starts when you choose your Life. There are twelve to choose from, included four combat-primary classes. I opted to start with Blacksmith to get a feel for how I think the game was intended to be played, and true enough, it definitely turned out that the game was much easier for me at the beginning than a friend of mine to opted to start as a Mercenary. I spent my time in front of the forge churning out weapons and armor and steadily levelling, whereas he seemed to stall while being resigned to level up by going out and killing things like sheep and carrots. His income was dependant on fighting and helping townsfolk with favours, whereas I was making gear in bulk and selling it at the local vendors for some serious cash. The nice aspect of the Life system is that you can pick up licences for any other job as well. You could be a Carpenter who is also a Mercenary, or a Wizard that really enjoys selling fish at the market. Be a Paladin who is also an adept cook and likes to make pretty dresses! The sky is the limit.
What I actually found was more of a chore in the game was actually progressing the story. I can swallow fluffy, unnecessary dialogue as much as the next RPG gamer, but where I was more disappointed was the actual story-based missions; your partner Butterfly ( a talking butterfly) has a specific set of Quests that you can access that vary from "Run Across Town, Talk to That Guy" to "Sit Through the Pet Adoption Tutorial" and the like.
The first great big story mission I did, running up to a mountain zone to help a dragon, included only one thing besides travelling to locales on foot and simply speaking to people and that was to spend seven seconds beating up a rock. The non-interactivity of the story contrasts greatly against the fact that as this is a Level-5 developed game I would've hoped for maybe the odd puzzle I had to solve to progress, but no such luck. Regardless, I have plenty of fun focusing on other aspects of the game, and am content with only doing through the story missions when it is necessary to progress to the next town for new crafting materials.
All in all, the vast majority of the complaints I have about this game are very minor nitpicky points. I am still playing, and will continue to play, even if it means having to run to the next location to sit through ten more minutes of dialogue just so that I can continue to level up my Smithing and make my friends shiny new swords.
Review is based on a 3DS download code provided by the publisher.