Tag Archives: Level-5

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo

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I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.

You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.

A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.

Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.

Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.

Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.

Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.

First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.

Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.

All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.

At last, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy comes full circle

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I wanted to see Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy end many times since picking it up and putting it down for the last two-plus years, but it seemingly refused to do so. It kept pushing its closing moments and credits further away. The game continued warning me that there was no turning back only to then reveal that, yeah, you can totally turn back to find those hint coins and last remaining puzzles or just meander aimlessly from region to region. I will freely admit that I didn’t help thrust this story to its resolution after I discovered what the whole World Times side quest was all about–don’t worry, I’ll explain more a few paragraphs down–but man, this was all a little drawn out.

First, a refresher on the story. Trust me, I needed one after frequently walking away from Layton’s sixth adventure, and the game even provides you a short summary each time you return, to get you back to speed. Right. The mysterious organization called Targent wishes to use the ancient civilization of the Azran’s mystical power for itself. Targent’s rival and everyone’s favorite mask-wearing, self-proclaimed scientist Jean Descole also wants to harness this power. Neither should wield it, naturally. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy begins with Layton, Luke, and Emmy boarding the airship Bostonius and heading for a place called Froenberg. The three of them received a letter from Professor Desmond Sycamore, an eminent archaeologist, who believes he has found a so-called living “mummy.” Upon arrival, they meet their mummy–Aurora, a girl frozen in ice, closely connected to the Azran civilization.

The story has its moments. I particularly liked searching after the five Azran eggs and seeing where each egg was hidden and how to get it in our meaty paws. For instance, in the jungle village of Phong Gi, the chief of the tribe is only willing to give up his egg to the gang if they can make him laugh. Contrary to that tone, in the windy village of Hoogland, the group learns of a tradition where young women must be sacrificed in order to appease a wind god; thankfully, they discover this is not actually happening and that an Azran machine was creating the stormy winds. Each egg-acquiring section are good, interesting accounts, with many memorable characters taking center stage when Layton isn’t solving a puzzle or two. I will quickly say and not get into spoilers, but the last act of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is one twist after another, to the point of ridiculousness. It was the closest the game has come to basically being a TV soap opera’s series finale, and no, not in a good way. Sorry, the Emmy thing was too much. I understand this is the last game to star the top hat-wearing gentleman and they probably wanted to go out on a bang, but there was too much bang.

Okay, now let’s chat puzzles. Mmm. If you’ve played a Professor Layton game before, then none of what is here will surprise you. There are mazes, math equations, general deducing, and some guess-work. I hated the ones where you have to recreate a picture using colored blocks and layering them on top of each other, but those are few and unessential. Of all the entries I’ve touched, which include The Curious Village, The Last Specter, and The Miracle Mask, I have to say that this one had the least exciting mini-games to engage with, and that’s saying a lot because one of those mini-games is basically playing dress up, the only thing I cared about in Grand Theft Auto V and one of the main driving forces behind my time with Disney Magical World 2 now. Anyways, there’s Nutty Roller, Bloom Burst, and Dress Up–I completed none of them, but came the closest on the last item. As always, there’s plenty of hint coins in the environment to pick up and use at your discretion; I haven’t felt shame using them for many years now.

So, this whole time, as I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, one of the sections in Layton’s trunk continued to update with new details–World Times. These are newspaper clips, often popping up after you finished visiting an area, telling some strange side story of an event or character. I swore I thought they were merely cosmetic, there to make the world feel realer, bigger. Nope. They are basically side quests, which lead to more puzzles and unlockable clothing for the dress-up minigame. See, the problem is that I never went back to any of the story locations after completing them, assuming they were good and done, drained of every hidden object, hint coin, and character interaction. Well, I was wrong, and so a large part of my going back to this game involved tracking down every single World Times quest and completing it, which added to its length for sure.

The animated cutscenes continue to be beautifully done. Every time one came up, I’d get real excited and hold the Nintendo 3DS firmly in my hands and slightly closer to my face. They are heavy on action and scenery, which is a great break from the more stilted, and sometimes overdrawn, dialogue-heavy sequences where Layton is trying to get Luke or Emmy to figure out what he already knows. I really should, at some point, track down Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva simply to marvel in these moments for longer than a few minutes. I mean, if truth be told, the puzzles sometimes are just the means to another gorgeous cutscene.

Well, that’s that. I played the very first game in the series, and then the entire trilogy of prequels. Which is rather fitting, as the end of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy goes right into Professor Layton and the Curious Village, bringing everything full circle. That connective tissue between the two games feels really special, and makes me think about that first adventure differently, knowing what I now know about Layton, Luke, and even Emmy, though she’s obviously not there for their trip to St. Mystere. I have no immediate plans to find copies of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, especially since a GameStop employee rudely spoiled how the final chronological game in the series concludes. Still, obviously, the best game in the franchise is London Life, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

Sadly, Crimson Shroud’s too difficult to grok and master

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At long last, after years of grinding, following along with a spoiler-heavy walkthrough, then switching to a spoiler-free walkthrough, and grinding some more to defeat the final boss, I rolled a critical hit on Crimson Shroud. It is a complicated victory, one that I basically had to force myself to see because I am my father’s son and do not like to waste things, especially things I’ve bought with hard-earned digital cash, without experiencing them fully–or, to this point, mostly fully–but I am glad to have the large, 1,965 blocks-big application removed from my Nintendo 3DS. For many reasons, which I’ll get into later.

Allow me, one more time, to tell the tale of Crimson Shroud, as best as I can remember it because, for me, the last third of my progress on this game has been nothing but turn-based battle against goblins, one after the other. There was a short scene before the finally boss fight that was probably supposed to be revealing and satisfactory, but I had lost the narrative thread long before then for it to matter. Anyways, you control a party of three people as they make their way through the palace of Rahab. Giauque is a money-driven mercenary hired to retrieve the Crimson Shroud, the game’s titular McGuffin. He is joined by Frea, a Qish-descended mage, and Lippi, a stellar archer despite only having one eye. You might as well forget their names and know them by their classes: Tank, Healer, and Range.

It’s perhaps telling that I’ve actually never played any of Crimson Shroud‘s writer and director Yasumi Matsuno’s work, namely Ogre Battle 64, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. After Crimson Shroud, I’m not sure if I would or will like them. The systems in this one really do sound great, on paper, such as creating combos through similar spells or rolling to clear away some accuracy-reducing fog, but I found their implementation confusing and clunky. For instance, you want to find gear you like and then grind out for more of those same items, feeding them into the one you have equipped so it can grow stronger. Fine, fine. I’m all about feeding. However, finding those same items is–excuse me for the saying–a roll of the dice, because the loot is random, and the fights take a very long time to get through, even when you seemingly have the upper hand. The way stats are shown is also difficult to decipher, and I eventually gave up trying to compare weapons and armor and stuck with what seemed okay, leveling it up as much as possible.

Crimson Shroud has been described as a bite-sized RPG. Perhaps it is too small. Not in scale, but in screen. All the combat action takes place on the top screen of the Nintendo 3DS, with menu selection and dice rolling on the bottom, where touching matters. Still, cramming all the fight details and characters in just the one screen above with a lot of text on top made it extremely difficult to follow who was doing what and the turn order. I often simply waited until the enemy finished attacking to see who was next in line for commands and went from there. I also never really understood why, if you killed all the enemies before they got a turn, the fight would be over, but if you didn’t then replacement goons would show up, making the whole ordeal last even longer.

Yes, the combat is strategic, but it is also immensely slow, as well as occasionally random. There’s also an unseen element of luck–obviously not just when rolling dice to use spells–that gives off the feeling that you are never truly in control of things. By the end of it all, I still did not have a strong grasp on what weapons and skills and spells worked against what type of enemy, or how new spells and skills were getting added to each character despite there being no XP won after each fight. Instead, you pick through a list of loot to take back to your inventory, but are limited in what you can take by some number cap.

After taking down the final boss and watching the credits do their thing, I was prompted to start everything all over again in New Game+. Curious, I tried to look up if anything greatly changed on a second playthrough, and enemies seemed tougher. No thanks. Anyways, I really do hope this is the last time I have to search for a usable screenshot of Crimson Shroud that can be manipulated to meet Grinding Down‘s strict standards because it is slim pickings out there, if you ask me.

With Crimson Shroud removed, I was finally able to download updates for Pokémon Shuffle, Nintendo Badge Arcade, and Mii Plaza, as well as the freemium Pokémon Picross puzzler, so there’s a plus in all of this. I even have room to spare for more stuff. See you never again, big, blocky game that, I guess, in the end, I really didn’t like all that much. I’ll think of you the next time I roll some dice.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #54 – Crimson Shroud

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Grind for better gear
In this cramped, crowded dungeon
Table-top tribute

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Exploration is the name of The Legend of Legacy’s game

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Yesterday, during my lunch break, I did two things: one, I picked up a copy of The Legend of Legacy, which is a new JRPG from Atlus, and two, I put down some cash money on a pre-order of the forthcoming Xbox One bundle for Fallout 4. Now, of those two, one is certainly more exciting than the other, but I’ll talk about my decision to go with an Xbox One as my entryway into the current generation of videogaming at a later date. For now, it’s all about mapping and grinding, sometimes simultaneously.

Some of you might remember a wee unassuming game back on the PlayStation 1 called SaGa Frontier. In fact, I used to own a copy. Anyways, despite not sharing the franchise name or even having a unique, catchy title of its own, The Legend of Legacy is a spiritual successor from Furyu, in conjunction with former staff members for Square Enix and Level-5. Namely illustrator Tomomi Kobayashi and designer Kyoji Koizumi of the SaGa series, Masato Kato, writer of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, Masashi Hamauzu, Final Fantasy XIII‘s composer, as well as ex-Level-5 staffer Masataka Matsuura as its director. Yup, it’s got quite a pedigree of creatives behind the wheel.

I’m going to hit you with a truth bomb right from the start: I don’t know the plot. I might not ever know the plot. It’s seemingly going to be told through poetry and over-dramatic descriptions of things done in the ancient past. At the start of The Legend of Legacy, you get to pick one of seven characters to play as, and I went with the default swordsman Meurs, though there are a bunch of other traditional tropes like the girl with amnesia or the ambitious, smarmy treasure hunter. After that, stuff happens, and the fellow who first discovered the island of Avalon and now goes by the uninteresting title of King of Adventurers has sent you and two others off to discover…um, I have no idea. There’s a rock that sang to my party of heroes, and then I filled in a map of a forest. Yeah.

The Legend of Legacy‘s combat is turn-based, which means it has to have more to it than just that to stand out in the crowd. Bravely Default allowed you to either burn later turns or store them up for extra actions at the risk of not being able to do anything later on if you didn’t kill the monsters right away. Paper Mario: Sticker Star requires precise button presses to deal extra damage or survive a bit longer. Some games can get by on simple turn-based combat, but not all. Anyways, The Legend of Legacy takes its leveling system from the classic SaGa games of old, which means characters don’t gain levels per se, but rather parameters and abilities based on how they acted in a fight. Ideally, this means that your sword skill levels up the more you attack with it, you gain more HP by taking damage more often, and so on, though it can feel random as it dishes out these upgrades. One nice touch is that your party is automatically fully healed after each fight.

I will say, while I abhorred filling in maps for the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV, it seems kind of fun here. Heck, I suspect that if one is fast enough they could fill in the maps quickly while still avoiding on-screen enemies in pursuit. I’ve not done this yet, but once you complete a map and all its sub-areas, you can return to town and sell it for big money, which is st in The Legend of Legacy. I know not what st stands for–stitches, perhaps–but it is an acceptable currency, and that’s enough for me.

Visually, The Legend of Legacy is pretty. It has a pop-up storybook element to its dungeons, with trees and rocks and strange, singing structures lifting up from the ground as you get closer, filling in the world around you. Not quite to the snuff of Bastion, but the idea is the same. Back in town, the game uses that zoomed out trick from Bravely Default, pulling the camera in closer as you move around and explore the inn, shops, and local inhabitants. The character designs are neat, and I almost selected the strange frog warrior because, c’mon, it’s a frog warrior, but decided to go with Meurs, which the game defaults to. Either way, I managed to recruit the frog warrior to my team in town later on, so I guess it doesn’t ultimately matter who you start with if they all team up in the end.

I’ve only put an hour and a half into The Legend of Legacy, and I’m seeing a lot of reviews call it a slow grindfest with no incentives, which is worrying, but we’ll see how things progress from here. As one knows, I’m okay with a game heavy on grinding, though I do like to be constantly working towards something in the end. If it’s just more singing rocks, then this legacy might not last very long.

One Fantasy Life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it

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I never thought this day would arrive, but, yeah, I’m totally playing Fantasy Life. It’s not some fever dream; I’m actually running around Castele, raising skills, unlocking Bliss, gaining Dosh, earning XP, doing quests, and having a really grand, relaxing time. As of this writing, I’ve logged just about 12 hours in the game, which is akin to maybe gaining your first dragon shout in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’m not exaggerating.

If you are wondering why I would open on such disbelief and/or are new to Grinding Down…well, Fantasy Life is a game I’ve been pining after and trumpeting for a good long while now. Let’s see, let’s see–boy, am I thankful for the “search” function on this ol’ blog of mine. I first wrote about it in August 2009, back when it was originally geared for the Nintendo DS and was all about them sprites. After that, not much word surfaced until July 2012, when the game took a big visual shift to be more accessible for the Nintendo 3DS. And then time marched on some more, though gamers in Japan got to see it released while everyone else waited with collectively held breaths. With zero to even zero-er fanfare, a North American release was announced during this year’s E3 after Nintendo finished announcing all the things they felt were cooler and more worthy of air time than a multi-job cartoony life sim. Well, let’s put all that behind us, because the game is out, the game is mine, and the game is good.

For those that really ate up Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, you’ll immediately notice a lot in common here. Let’s first touch upon the story, or rather the overarching story. See, each Life has its own set of main characters, problems, and resolutions, but the main path is different. One day, the ever-peaceful Reveria is shaken when a meteorite falls into your character’s house, setting off a chain of events foretold in an ancient prophecy involving the land’s goddess and the moon Lunares. Castele’s King Erik asks the main player to investigate these strange occurrences, and he or she is joined in this quest by Flutter, a strange glowing butterfly that has the ability to speak. Later on, you learn that the butterfly is really the daughter of Celestia, the goddess of Reveria, and she fell from heaven to help people. Not exactly Stella–but it does sound a little familiar, yes?

At the beginning of Fantasy Life, you get to customize your character a bit and then must select what Life you’d like to start on. I picked Alchemist as I’ve always been a big fan of alchemy pots in previous Level-5 games, and I wanted to see how addicting it would be here. There are twelve Life types in total. The Alchemist is a mix of gathering items and some light combat out in the field, though I actually can’t remember many story details from the early Alchemist-only quests. After eleven hours of this, I finally decided to switch over to a new Life–you can freely switch between Lives when not on a main path mission and learn universal skills–but I made the mistake of picking Cook, a Life that is perhaps too similar to Alchemist to feel different. I mean, they both use the very same mini-game for creating items. I suspect I’ll try for a Woodsman or Paladin next to get out into the wild more.

So far, at least for Alchemists, combat is real simple. You have a three-hit combo by mashing the attack button, but no dodge or twirl away from danger like in Disney Magical Castle‘s dungeons, which often leads to getting stuck in the combo animation and taking a few hits from enemies. I found it works well enough to hit twice, back off, and repeat, though it doesn’t make for exciting combat. However, many quests are of the MMORPG ilk, meaning kill X wolves or X bandit leaders, and your list will eventually fill fast just like that miscellaneous quests tab in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that you have to get out there and kick some monster butt. In addition to these side quests, you also have Life challenges to complete and Bliss objectives to move the story forward. There is always something to do or work towards in Fantasy Life.

Great news–the writing is funny. Very amusing, but then again, just about everyone in the game is speaking my language. Even when it isn’t diving into puns like a fiend, it handles everything else lightly, but still in an entertaining fashion. Even the quiet moments that Flutter has to herself are soft and poignant, with a pinch of fun. I’m not deeply invested in the world or its characters yet, but just about everything they say is interesting. Oh, and animals talk and say the silliest of things, so make sure you speak to each and every cow, chicken, and cat you come across.

I don’t doubt I’ll be back to write more about Fantasy Life, but probably not until I’ve tried out a few more Lives and figured out which is my true calling. Alchemy is good fun, but I need a little more adventuring under my belt.