On Christmas Eve, 2014 I received a present from my sister’s current boyfriend. Inside the wrapping paper was a 3DS game I had put on my Christmas list despite knowing very little about it. I knew it was produced by Level-5, who I only know because of the Professor Layton games. The only bit of it I saw was a trailer on YouTube which, looking back, was just the game’s opening cinematic. Despite the odds that I was in for a terrible time, since I had no idea whether I would like the game at all, it ended up being one of my favorite games of all time. And since beating it multiple times, I have begun the titular hunt to find a suitable replacement.
It’s worth noting that I definitionally have a difference between “my favorite” and “the best.” When I claim something is the best of something, I’m claiming that from an objective perspective, I think it succeeds fantastically, and that it’s something anyone would enjoy. On the other hand, “my favorite” implies subjectivity. It’s something that appeals to me personally. There are many people in this world that I wouldn’t recommend some of my favorite things to, simply because I understand my tastes are different than theirs. Fantasy Life is one of these situations, in which I love the game entirely, and yet it’s not ever near the top of my list when anyone asks for game recommendations.
There’s a lot of reasons why that it. For one thing, it’s a 3DS game, and some of my friends tend to view portable-only gaming as lesser, an opinion I do not agree with, but understand where they’re coming from. Secondly… the game itself isn’t anything superbly amazing. It’s not a bad game, and I think anyone would probably call it a good game if they’re being honest. It just so happens that the game ticks every box that appeals to me on a fundamental level. For example, you have a customizable protagonist to play, which I always approve of. The art style is a lovely level of cartoony that I can’t get enough of. The gameplay is simple, which is typically the biggest criticism of the game, but I enjoy the simplicity in this scenario. The game has very funny writing with a plot that doesn’t go too far in over its head, but is far more than an excuse plot. The game allows me to play as an archer, an archetype I adore. Suffice it to say, the game comfortably hits all the soft parts of my heart.
But there’s one aspect in particular about the game that I believe is the true reason I adore it so much. Something that has been ingrained in me since I was literally born. My parents will often tell me of how I played with toys when I was absurdly young, like three or four. I would line up all my toys and then have each one move in a specific manner, one by one, down the line. That’s what I did for fun.
This categorical aspect of how fun is to be had still rings true for me to this day. I think that this is what makes Fantasy Life so engaging to me. You see, the main gimmick of Fantasy Life is that the game contains twelve jobs that the game refers to as Lives. Each one has its own set of characters that have their own story arcs and powers, and each one provides you with different missions and slightly different gameplay. The point of this is to allow players to play what they want. There are four combat classes, for example, so if you’re only interested in fighting things you can choose to exclusively play those. Perhaps you like the fishing parts of Animal Crossing, so you could choose to only be the Angler Life. It also functions so that if you’re playing with friends you can divide who does what, and the game encourages this style of play.
However, the thing that keeps me coming back to replay the game time and time again is just to replay the game, but with a different order of how to play the Lives. Do I start one Life, finish it all the way to the end, and then rinse and repeat? Or do I do each Life one chapter at a time, reaching Apprentice in each one before going on to Adept? And on top of that, I can choose which Life to do in which order. All the lives are interconnected with others in meaningful ways, so there’s always something to mix up and still remain optimal.
Anyway, this part of the game that appeals to me feels particularly niche, so it’s why I tend not to recommend it. That being said, I’ve played the game for so many hundreds of hours that I am always on the lookout for more. I’ve read many lists online of people asking the question: “What other games are there like Fantasy Life?” And there are some answers that I think tend to come back.
One of the most common answers to that question are farming sims that are also RPGs or action games, such as the RuneScape series or Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. While I do enjoy Sakuna for its own merits, these always tend to fall short for me. It’s true that the farming aspect and the fighting aspects complement each other in a way that is akin to how the various Lives mesh well into each other, but it isn’t enough for me. It doesn’t bring out that “putting toys in a line and moving them one by one” rush I am apparently inherently wired to enjoy. Because there are only two sides of the proverbial coin that is these types of game, farming and combat, there isn’t enough to make a pattern out of, and typically the games present them asynchronously anyway. In these games you don’t farm for 30 minutes and then battle for 30 minutes, you spend an unspecific time doing one than the other based on your needs. Which is fine, but not what I’m looking for.
Beyond that there’s been all kinds of suggestions and I’ve tried a huge majority of them. None of them quite fill that hole that Fantasy Life created. Typically they’re similar in an aesthetic or superficial way, but the deep number of Life changing aspects never comes up. The only thing that comes close that’s recommended are MMORPGs, what with all the classes and class changing you can do, but unfortunately those games tend to be too grindy focused, not to mention people-focused. I really like solo-player experiences… not really multiplayer ones (despite Fantasy Life having multiplayer in mind in its game design, it’s perfectly easy and fun to do it solo—it gives you all the necessary tools).
I would be remiss not to mention that Fantasy Life has received a sequel of sorts, titled Fantasy Life Online. It’s a phone game. The problems here is that it came out in 2018 and is still Japan exclusive, which would remove a lot of the original game’s charm, in that I could understand and appreciate all the dialogue. On top of that, from what I can tell, it looks to be a free phone game, which is never a good sign. These typically exist to drain your wallet instead of providing a fun or satisfying experience. I had for a long time fully expected the game to never come Stateside, especially when Level-5 announced that the US branch of their company was shutting down. But recently, the Great Ace Attorney was announced for a release outside of Japan, a game that initially was released for the 3DS in 2015. So maybe… just maybe… if that game can get released, maybe Fantasy Life Online will be translated and ported to another system as well. It’s reignited the possibility in my head anyway. We shall see what happens. I for one, remain hopeful for a true successor, be it branded Fantasy Life or not.
Last year, the Fantasy Life Online mobile game did indeed recieve an English localization and release. I’ve been playing it since release to try to get a grasp on it. It does make some improvements to the original Fantasy Life gameplay that a good sequel should; I particularly like having your computer-controlled companions assisting you in crafting and gathering, allowing the less combat-oriented companions to have greater benefits.
That being said, the game is exactly what I feared. It’s a pretty blatant gacha game. Instead of having your allies level up with the player, as in the original game, they must each be levelled up individually. This single decision adds an obscene amount of grinding. On top of that, any character beneath a 5-star won’t be able to get to a high enough level to assist you in end game content.
The localization for the game appears to have been rushed to an absurd degree. The writing in the original game was one of its defining features and truly allowed me to fall in love with the world. Here, though, the translation is shoddy and painstakingly literal–with numerous grammatical errors. It’s probably the biggest let down of the whole ordeal.
The new game can be fun to play at times. The core essence of what I found to be enjoyable in Fantasy Life is still there, buried beneath swathes of corporate greed attempting to get me to spend an unlimited amount of money on getting the new character, weapon, or crafting item. Despite the offical branding and carrying great remixes of tunes from the original, this has not sated my desire to find another Fantasy Life. I shall keep looking.
The Never Ending Quest to Find Another Fantasy Life.