I am someone that generally enjoys Level-5 games, the studio behind Professor Layton, Dragon Quest 8 & 9, Inazuma Eleven, Ni no Kuni and a whole bunch of other great games, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when Fantasy Life gripped my soul to an almost obsessive degree. I downloaded it the midnight it came out, thanks to good reviews from its earlier European release, and started my Life off as a Mercenary, since I usually prefer straight-forward melee combat classes. And off I went!
Fantasy Life is a very Level-5 flavored whimsical take on Harvest Moon / Animal Crossing / Rune Factory style games for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s like an MMO-lite similar to how Dragon Quest 9 was, where you’re tasked with monster bounty quests, resource gathering, gear crafting, and an epic storyline nudging you along to new locales. But the game doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, which has made it all the more endearing to me. The localization editing is top-notch and I have had to pause the game from laughter many times. The game is chock full of Eurocentric fantasy RPG tropes that it goes out of its way to subvert with its snappy writing. I was pleasantly surprised when the game originally bestowed upon me the cringe-worthy task of “Defeating the Dark Sultan” that it was very much not horrible like such caricatures can be, and the game played off these expectations.
While unfortunately the balance of gendered power is about what you’d expect from a high-fantasy world, as demonstrated by women Master NPCs only overseeing typically feminine professions such as Tailor, Archer, and Mage (the nine other classes have male Masters), there are a lot of demonstrably powerful women who act as the brains and muscle behind the operations—something my partner interestingly labeled as “sitcom feminism”. I at least appreciate the effort put in to make the girl Apprentices and Princesses of Fantasy Life dynamic characters and for the storylines taking the time to flip the expected outcomes on their head. It’s a little weird when later you are able to recruit royal ladies into your party who when partied with you before had worn tomboy disguises but now run around with you in full-out Victorian dress regalia—but it’s also kind of cool to have them kicking butt with you while all femmed out. So I’m torn. I do miss one of their pirate outfits, though.
As for job classes (or your Life, as they are called in the game) you can teleport to the Guild Hall and change it at pretty much any time. Your Life determines your stat bonuses, what special active and passive abilities you have access to, ability to complete some specific quests, and the bestowal and rate at which certain skills rise. So once my Mercenary went through the Miner starting quest and was given the Mining ability I was able to mine ore even when I was running around as a Mercenary. I would lose out on the bonus ore my Miner Life would earn me at every node and certain quests can only be completed while you are maining that Life, such as the mining of specific rare ore targets, but you aren’t really forced into one Life or another to make progress. The main story quests even give the option to opt out of combat if you find you’ve been focusing on a crafting-oriented Life. You also keep your ability to equip some types of gear as long as you’ve initially earned them from their associated Life and as long as the item itself allows it. So my Mercenary originally could not use Shields but since I later went to level up Paladin I gained access to some of them as a Mercenary. If you’re a completionist like me you’ll find yourself wanting to master every Life.
The crafting classes utilize simple timing mini-games in order to determine if you successfully complete a recipe. It also raises your skill level which helps determine how easy it is to make higher-quality items, which some quests request specifically. Items needed for crafting can either be gathered yourself, earned through side quests, or bought through NPC vendors who can be later upgraded to carry higher tiers of resources needed. You can make everything from weapons, crafting tools, armor, and even furniture for your home or vacation homes.
The game has a few usability issues that I wish they would have taken further cues from MMOs to tackle, such as not visibly changing the overhead quest icon of an NPC if you have a completed quest to turn in to them, and the world map downright sucks in any detail needed for finding pretty much anything. But the travel systems the game provides are very nice. Between rental and personal mounts, planes, airships, teleportation NPCs, and the ability to warp to one of your purchased houses, you can get pretty much anywhere in the game world rather quickly, which helps when you’re trying to suss out exactly where a quest target is.
I’ve clocked 36 hours into Fantasy Life already and I still feel like I could play it a lot more, and I haven’t even tried the expansion DLC yet. My friends on Twitter seem to have become quite enamored with it as well! I recommend it if you have a public transit commute that you’d like to grind away on (the game got me through two 4+ hour bus rides to NYC and back quite easily). You can purchase it at retail stores, order it off Amazon, or download it on the Nintendo eShop.