Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King
The RPG Simulator
The ‘Crystal Chronicles’ series comes off as a half-hearted attempt by Square Enix to reinvent the ‘Final Fantasy’ series for Nintendo’s audience. Little do they seem to realize that Nintendo’s audience is what made their two component corporations successful in the days of the NES and especially the 16-Bit Golden Age of the SNES. So instead of complex RPGs with diverse casts, compelling plots, and intriguing game mechanics (and it’s not like they’ve been making very many of those lately, either), Square Enix gave Nintendo a series of over-simplified multi-player titles that require insane amounts of hardware and don’t even qualify as RPGs.
Yet with their first timid steps onto the WiiWare platform, Square Enix dropped all the multi-player and changed genres completely, presenting Nintendo with “My Life as a King” (“MLaaK”), a game from the ‘sim’ genre, something Square Enix hasn’t exactly been known for. Since it’s a single player game and weighs in at a mere 1500 Points ($15), I decided to throw caution to the wind and see if Square Enix is still capable of producing anything worthwhile.
Despite the fact that this is a downloadable title with extremely small size limitations imposed upon it by Nintendo, “My Life as a King” is one of the nicest-looking polygonal games on the Wii. The graphics are very clean with no notable jaggies and crisp textures. The character and environmental designs are both extremely nice. The only real drawback to the graphics engine is that characters don’t have facial animations. Everyone in the game constantly walks around with a dopey smirk on their faces. Some of the more dramatic game-engine-rendered cutscenes lose most of their impact because everyone is smiling like a simp.
The audio is quite good as well, though more limited than the graphics. There is no real voice-acting to speak of, with several important characters possessing only a brief vocal grunt to designate that they are talking. The other sound effects are decent and get the job done. The soundtrack is incredibly small (the Official Sound Track shows only two tracks, but there are actually a few more than that), but is very pleasant and never becomes annoying.
The only real presentation flaw that is impossible to ignore is the enormous amount of slowdown that creeps into the game as it progresses and the town fills up with buildings and people. Just walking around and talking to citizens isn’t affected much, but summoning the royal chamberlain to perform any of her tasks almost brings the game to a halt. It’s possible that this slowdown is caused by the game’s large amount of downloadable content (which I purchased all at once along with the game).
Square Enix seems to be the only company to take advantage of Nintendo’s ‘Pay & Play’ option for WiiWare titles. Personally, I find it very annoying. When I buy a game, be it retail or digital, I expect to get the complete game. Selling a stripped-down basic game with a bunch of ‘optional, but not really optional’ DLC is ridiculous. While most of these add-ons contribute a significant amount of depth to the game, they also contribute to raising the game’s total cost to within striking range of a retail disc title: 3900 Points ($39)!
“MLaaK” apparently continues the storyline started in the earlier ‘Crystal Chronicles’ games, in which a monster-creating Miasma has engulfed various parts of the world. One of the areas destroyed by the Miasma was the home kingdom of the main character, Leo. Leo’s father, King Epitav, sent his son; his chamberlain, Chime; and knight protector, Hugh Yurg on a long journey to a town that he had previously set aside as a place to restart the Kingdom of Padarak (unbelievably insightful on Epitav’s part). Upon arriving in this deserted town, Leo and his assistants discover a huge, blue, talking crystal in the middle of the town square. This crystal bestows Leo with the power of ‘architek,’ which allows him to create buildings with nothing more than his memories and a magical mineral known as ‘elementite.’ Soon after, Leo and his retinue discover that the town isn’t entirely uninhabited after all, as a trio of arm-less moogles and a talking penguin appear to round out the cast of important characters.
As the kingdom is reborn, it is revealed that the town was once inhabited by monsters and ruled by an individual known as the Dark Lord. It also becomes apparent that the fate of the Dark Lord and the fate of the missing King Epitav are more closely entwined than anyone would have suspected.
“MLaaK” has a solid plot that provides ample motivation for the game’s happenings. Unfortunately, some of the major plot points seem a bit muddled and don’t really make sense. I don’t know if it’s due to translation issues (I thought we had moved past that, Square Enix!), but I had a difficult time following the details several important premises and motivations.
“MLaaK” is completely unlike any other game I have ever played. True originality is a rarity from Square Enix, nowadays, so I appreciate this game’s uniqueness even more. While I was expecting something along the lines of “SimCity” or a variety of popular Real-Time Strategy titles, “MLaaK” goes in a completely different direction. Instead of simulating town management, economics, or large-scale combat, “MLaaK” simulates playing an RPG.
“MLaaK” does combine some traditional sim elements in rebuilding the Town of Padarak, such as placing homes in proximity to shops and upgrading technology levels. However, the vast majority of the gameplay revolves around recruiting adventurers and sending them on ‘behests.’
The game functions on a daily cycle, which repeats as long as the player desires. There is a definite ending to the game, however, which unlocks a New Game+ mode with higher difficulties and a few other bonuses. The game auto-saves every night when Leo goes to bed (or is forced to go to bed), and every morning begins with a textual Report of the previous day’s activities.
Once Leo has recruited a few adventurers, each day he is free to post a public behest(s) and hope that one or more adventurers is interested in it. Behests typically involve exploring the numerous dungeons that dot the map surrounding Padarak and defeating the dungeon bosses. Each dungeon is marked with a difficulty level and some useful info, such as the kinds of monsters that appear there.
While his adventurers are out fighting monsters, gaining experience, and doing all of the stereotypical RPG activities, Leo must stay in town and raise morale. By talking to the citizenry of Padarak, Leo fills his Morale Gauge. Once full, this gauge turns into a Morale Sphere (more of these spheres become available as the town gains more infrastructure, like Bakeries), which can be used for a variety of things. Trading-in Morale Spheres at the castle upgrades the overall level of the town, while using a Morale Sphere causes Leo’s Morale Gauge to turn red and allows him to make citizens even happier and boost the stats of adventurers before they leave town for the day. Making citizens happy is a key aspect of the game, as happy citizens donate more money to Leo each day.
While Leo runs around town chatting-up the citizens, he receives simplified, real-time updates on the progress of his adventurers, letting him know where they are, when they engage bosses, and whether or not they succeed, flee, or are wiped-out in battle (the details are all reserved for the daily text Reports). No adventurers actually die, no matter how badly they are beaten, but instead spend a day recuperating instead of adventuring. When the adventurers manage to take down a boss, Leo’s Morale Gauge goes into hyper mode, filling incredibly quickly as the citizens take national pride in the defeat of a dangerous foe. Defeating bosses is also the key to expanding the town, as many bosses grant access to new types of buildings or additional copies of already-available buildings. Dungeons that must be cleared to advance the story are marked with a white flag icon.
And that’s basically all there is to it: Talking to citizens and reading Reports. Yet this simple gameplay has an addicting quality to it, as the small daily accomplishments accumulate into great achievements.
The only negative things I can say about “MLaaK” are that I wish there was a bestiary and that the economy of the game world doesn’t really make sense. While the player is only required to worry about the money given to Leo to commission adventurers and create infrastructure, it is kind of baffling that the citizens actually have money to give, considering the only citizens with jobs are the handful who work in the King’s shops.
Playing “My Life as a King” is a lot like giving instructions to someone else playing an RPG. Yet this abstraction of the RPG experience, combined with an ultra-simplified city-building sim, has somehow resulted in the first truly unique and engaging experience to come out of Square Enix in years. Despite the somewhat repetitive gameplay, the constant progress in exploring the map and its many dungeons keeps the game from becoming boring, even during marathon game sessions. Anyone who has been disappointed by the previous ‘Crystal Chronicles’ titles or the recent main line ‘Final Fantasy’ titles should consider giving this game a try. It might renew your faith in the former King of RPGs.
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5