Thursday, May 22, 2008

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King review

Okay, the final WiiWare review of the first batch. After this, I hope to take a teeny break from reviews. I've done so many of them lately!

...unless I suddenly get Boom Blox, in which case I'll make an exception...

Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix
Release Date: May 12th, 2008
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
ESRB Notes: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes

Square-Enix is probably best known for the incredibly famous Final Fantasy series. With more than twenty games in just about as many years, it's no doubt that Final Fantasy is a force to be reckoned with.

Each entry in the franchise tends to follow a traditional RPG formula, and that's why people were so surprised at the battle-less Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. How could this possibly be fun? You never fight, you never see the battles, you just send people out to do your bidding. What?! Could this game, against all odds, really be fit for a king, or is it an insult to even the lowliest peasant?

This incredibly unorthodox Final Fantasy starts directly after the first Crystal Chronicles game for the Gamecube. The monster-spawning Miasma has cleared, but it left nothing but destruction in it's wake. A young king, his chancellor, Chime, and a knight, Hugh Yurg, find their castle town entirely in ruins, except for the palace itself. In the middle of the town lies a giant blue crystal. It bestows upon the king the power of Architek. Using this magical power, the king can create buildings seemingly out of nothing but memories. Former townsfolk even get transported directly into their new homes from wherever they are. But the little king soon learns that in order to keep building, he'll need Elementite, a material that's fairly common, but little remains in town. In order to get more to build a larger town, the king must commission adventurers to go to dungeons and bring back Elementite. All goes well, until his adventurers stumble upon organized groups of monsters. What would make them assemble like this? Is someone leading them along? And just what did happen to the young king's father after the Miasma cleared?

I build this town on rock and roll.

When it comes to sending out adventurers to dungeons, players have to issue behests on the town's lone bulletin board (Another can be added later on). When adventurers show up at the bulletin board, you can send them out if you think they're up to the task. If not, you can tell them to go train, or if they don't feel like fighting, you can order them to take a day off. In addition to using Architek, that's the extent of My Life as a King's gameplay. Post behests, build stuff, hit the sack, repeat.

"The word".

To go further into detail on the building aspect, creating structures with Architek requires not only Elementite, but detailed memories of a similar structure. Since the king spent most of his time within the castle walls, he really only knows what a house is like, which is all that can be built at first. In order to construct different buildings, the king needs someone to describe them to him. A local Moogle can help out with this, drawing detailed pictures of new buildings for the king to use instead of memories. And don't ask where the Moogles' arms went, they don't like to talk about it.

"I have no arms, yet I draw, Kupo!"

Strangely, though, new buildings can also be unlocked by defeating dungeon bosses. How does that give the king an image of a new building? Does killing a monster suddenly make the king remember what a tavern looks like? It doesn't quite match up.

All buildings also have a set limit as to how many can exist at once in your town. For example, I'm currently at a point where I can't build any more than thirty houses, regardless of how much Elementite or space I have (Which is a lot). However, this limit can generally be raised by just defeating certain bosses. But why exactly is there a limit? Defeating a boss doesn't exactly change anything about your town's infrastructure... But I'm probably just nitpicking.

As for behests, they can be posted once a day. Only one may be posted per behest board, so at first one's all you can send adventurers on in a day (I've so far gotten it to a maximum of two). Behests consist of either exploration, boss battling, gathering supplies, gaining experience or changing classes (More on that later). Simply hover your cursor over an icon on the map, select a behest, and confirm.

Each area has it's own difficulty level, which allows you to check if an adventurer is ready for it. Don't want to accidentally send your level one adventurer to a level twenty-two dungeon! Usually, though, adventurers who are substantially below the dungeon's difficulty level don't bother showing up at the behest board.

Speaking of not showing up at the behest board, lately one of my characters, Karl, has stopped showing up at behest boards every day. I usually end up hearing that he's off in the middle of nowhere, doing something completely unrelated to either of my posted behests. Perhaps it's because he's incredibly high-leveled or something, I don't know. No matter what the reason, it's a real pain when a bunch of my adventurers get wiped out just because Karl decided to do whatever he wanted.

I used the word "wiped out" just now on purpose, because adventurers can never actually die in My Life as a King. If they lose a battle, a message appears saying "Wilbur was wiped out" (This happens quite often with him), and he slowly walks back to the town, wallowing in self-pity. The next day, the fallen adventurer will retreat to his or her house for rest, effectively going out of action for the day. If you don't visit their house, they'll take longer to recover, possibly remaining indisposed for one or two more days. Talk to them, though, and they return to normal the next day. The king's voice obviously has some sort of magical healing property. Or it's a way to keep you busy. That could be it.

As I said earlier, adventurers can change their class. Each recruit starts off as a Warrior (Unless they're one of the downloadable species, whom have their classes automatically assigned when hired based on their race's specialty), and they can either stay a Warrior, or become a Black Mage, White Mage or Thief. As long as you have the appropriate building (Black Mage Academy for Black Mages, Gaming Hall for Thieves, etc.) Just as stated above, this is done by posting a behest. If you think that one of your Warriors would be better off as a Black Mage, post a behest and hope they reply. When or if they do, confirm that you want them to change, and they'll be a Black Mage the next day.

Robbers and mages and sovereigns, oh my!

You can find out what class an adventurer is most suited for by checking their stats. High Willpower is great for White Mages, Intellect for Black Mages, Dexterity for Thieves and Strength for Warriors. There's also one additional stat: Toughness. This determines a characters defense, and it's a good idea to load up a Warrior with plenty of it.

To make an adventurer gain stats in a particular field, you must reward them medals upon completing behests. Problem is, it's very rare for a weak adventurer to complete a behest, so you'll often find them having to manage their stats on their own. A real bugger if you want to really pump up a low-leveled Thief's Dexterity. You can also give funding to armor, weapon and item shops to increase the quality of equipment available to your adventurers.

Getting new skills for your adventurers requires giving additional funds to their respective schools. In order to obtain these funds, you must collect money from your townspeople. At the end of each day you gain Gil in the form of tithes (Taxes, basically). How much you get depends on how many houses you have and how many people live in them. Gil is entirely separate from Elementite, so having a whole whackload of it won't do you any good if you're trying to build a bakery.

There's one more collectible-like aspect to My Life as a King, and that's Morale. Gaining Morale is really as simple as just talking to your villagers. When you fill a Morale meter, it turns into a Morale Sphere. You can cash in Morale Spheres to raise the stats of your adventurers temporarily, or even improve the relationships of your townsfolk. Just talk to them while the magic is taking effect, and that's that.

You can also use Morale Spheres to upgrade your town. Talking to Chime at the castle brings up this option, then just deposit as many Moral Spheres as you please. At first you can give one at a time, but soon you need to give two at a time, then three, and so on (I assume, that is, as I'm currently at three). The first upgrade has no apparent effect, but the second one allows you to declare a town-wide holiday (In exchange for quite a bit of Gil). On a holiday, adventurers stay home, and Morale increases at double the rate. It's really does a whole lot to relax your subjects, and your adventurers surely enjoy the time off.

Now, that's certainly an extensive list of things to do. But really, does any of it sound fun to you? Looking at it as I write it really makes me wonder just what it is about this game that's fun. I don't know why, but I have a blast playing this. I just get incredibly sucked in, often playing for several in-game days in a row. Something about this game is very, very entertaining to me, but I really don't know why. It's the kind of game that looks very, very boring on paper, but is just too darn fun when you play it. While every single thing seems to point in the opposite direction as fun, I love it. It's really quite perplexing.

There are a few minor control problems, one regarding the camera controls. It's not that it's hard to move the camera with the Wii remote's D-Pad (It's actually quite easy), but the camera does quite often get stuck behind buildings. It eventually snaps back to the king, but it still bugs me. A bigger problem, though, is that the camera often freaks out if changed while running through a narrow area. It usually ends up reversing entirely, making you accidentally run in the wrong direction until you figure out what the heck just happened. A big problem, really, considering how incredibly short each day is (Speaking of day length, it does get a little longer later. My game seems to have glitched out, though, sending me back to the shorter day. Hasn't happened to my sister. Just me. I must be lucky.).

The other control problem is summoning Chime to use Architek, raise Morale, etc. While pressing the minus button works just fine, you can also shake the Wii remote to call her. Problem is, it's a little sensitive. I was adjusting my couch cushion once, barely moving my hand, and she pulled a Lurch: "You rang?". No, no I didn't. Now go away.

To add to the game, players can also download new races, dungeons and more directly through the game, at a cost of anywhere from 100 to 800 Wii Points. So far I've only downloaded the three-race pack, adding Selkies, Lilties and Yukes to my town. Thing is, they act pretty much exactly like the game's default race, Clavats. They talk the same as Clavats, without even a single exclusive line of text (At least they add a bit of visual diversity!). The only real difference is they have to live in special houses, which, unfortunately, count towards the build limit. I had to tear down a few houses to make room (Homeless townspeople move into the castle, by the way), and that was a bit of a pain. If they had their separate limits of, say, five per house type, that would be a little more fair.

The only other minor difference is that their classes are pre-determined. Every Lilty will be a Warrior, every Selkie will be a thief, and every Yuke becomes a Black Mage. The upside, though, is that their stats are genetically geared towards the jobs they take. Each Lilty has a high Strength and Toughness, each Selkie is very dexterous, and Yuke's are quite intelligent.

As you can surely tell by the above screenshots, My Life as a King is an amazingly good looking game for WiiWare. Townsfolk even bow in your presence! Of course, it doesn't really take that much to make just one map look good, does it? Nonetheless, it looks really great, with just a few exceptions.

Firstly, all the characters look almost exactly the same. Each and every Clavat has almost the exact same face, and the other classes aren't very diverse in range of appearances, either. There are about three different character models each for Yukes, Selkies and Lilties.

They all. Look. The same.

Second, although somewhat related to what I said above, characters only ever have one facial expression: Moderately happy. "What's that? The monsters are organizing? That's so terrible! I can do nothing but smile!" A few additional face textures really wouldn't have been too much to ask. And how about mouths flapping while they talk? Even something as simple as the mouths present in Animal Crossing would be fine. I somehow doubt everyone's a ventriloquist in my town.

Finally, when creating large structures with Architek, there is often some graphical slowdown, and it's quite noticeable. So while making buildings is really cool to watch, it doesn't go without it's downsides.

The audio in My Life as a King is quite different from what you'd expect from most games. After all, there's no sword-clashing, no explosions, nothing like what would be present in a traditional Final Fantasy. The sound effects mostly consist of short sound bytes on menus and the almost musical string of sounds when using Architek. It is worth noting, though, that the bell ringing sound when summoning Chime is played through the Wii remote speaker. I always appreciate it when developers actually use that.

Unlike the sound effects, the music is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Final Fantasy. Whimsical, medieval fare, with some more dramatic songs during the cinematics. It's all very nice, to put it simply.

I've been plugging away at My Life as a King for a few hours almost every day since last Monday, and I'm only now just before the final fight. Additional dungeons downloaded for a small fee will also add a bit to the longevity, of course, but I don't know if I'll be doing so myself. If I do find myself with a few spare Wii Points one day, though, I may go ahead and try it.


Storyline: 9.0/10
A unique game with a unique story. A world emerging from chaos, monsters banding together, and a young king determined to make everything as it was before the destruction. A pretty solid storyline with a handful of twists to keep you coming back.

Gameplay: 9.0/10
I don't know what it is about My Life as a King that's so darn fun. It's just one of those games that is inexplicably entertaining. Add this to the list with Chibi-Robo and Animal Crossing.

Graphics: 9.25/10
There's no doubt at all that My Life as a King is one of the best looking titles available on the WiiWare service. If only there were a few more facial textures and a slightly more diverse character model set, it'd be perfect.

Audio: 9.0/10
It's somewhat hard to judge the sound effects in a game that has so few of them, but those that are there are of pretty good quality. The music is one of the only truly Final Fantasy-like parts of this game, and that's in no way a bad thing.

Longevity: 9.5/10
My Life as a King is not only one of the best looking WiiWare titles, it's also quite likely the longest. I estimate I've played for about twenty hours and I'm just now at the end of the game. I can also see myself playing again in order to optimize the layout of my town with my game-beaten knowledge.

OVERALL: 9.25/10
My Life as a King's surely not for everyone. The unique structure and incredibly un-Final Fantasy gameplay make it a hard game to recommend. If I had to take a guess, I'd say this is best suited to those who enjoy games such as Sim City and the like, but with a bit more of an adventurous feel. As for me, I enjoyed it greatly, and I look forward to more games like it. An in-store, disc-based sequel would be a dream come true for me.

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