Fantasy Life: You’re getting better all the time

October 23, 2014


Fantasy Life is a game about filling up bars. A collaboration between Level-5 (Dragon Quest IXNi no Kuni) and 1-Up Studio (Mother 3Professor Layton and the Last Specter‘s London Life mode), it’s filled with fetch quests, grinding up skills and crafting items and equipment. These aren’t ways to pad the game length or diversions from the main attraction — they’re the reason you’re here — and it’s not ashamed of that for a second.

And that’s okay, because Fantasy Life is a really good game about filling up bars.

In Fantasy Life, you take on one of 12 “lives,” which are essentially classes, and go about tasks related to that as you explore the world and start filling up those bars. These can be easily split into three categories: combat Lives (Paladin, Hunter, Mercenary and Magician), gathering classes (Miner, Woodcutter and Angler) and crafting ones (Cook, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Tailor and Alchemist). The hook here is that you can change classes at any time, and you’re encouraged to do so to make the most of your efforts. You can head out to a nearby cave to gather ore as a Miner, head back to town to craft a sword as a Blacksmith and take that sword into battle as a Paladin and enjoy the extra damage your craftsmanship offers.


The abilities are split among the support Lives so that all are helpful, but not vital, for everyone, so you can get going on big adventures without starting every Life first, but it’s not a waste of time to head back and pick up one later. Some classes are similar, so if you get experienced as an Alchemist and want to start being a Cook (which shares crafting mechanics), you can skip the tutorial with no problems (which is definitely a welcome feature). And while you can certainly switch back and forth for variety’s sake, you really only need to specialize in one combat Life, so choose one you like and get going. You can use other Lives’ abilities even while you’re doing something else (though without a few stat bonuses), but you’re limited to equipping weapons of your active Life, so it’s best to be in combat mode when you head out questing.

When I say everything you do fills up bars, I’m not kidding: running around increases your Sprinting skill, letting you run for longer without tiring. Killing enemies gets you standard experience points, but it also raises the weapon level of whatever you’re holding. Completing quests gets you cash, experience and items as rewards, but there’s also another meter to raise, Bliss, that is done through completing objectives and unlocks various perks of your choosing. Each Life has its own set of skills to raise, and it’ll be a long time before you max out any bar, much less all of them.

Combat isn’t quite as nuanced as something like Monster Hunter, but it’s not a braindead endeavor. Enemies have various weaknesses, and some are best with a stick-and-move approach while others are beaten easily from afar. If you want the most combat options, choose the Magician, as you’ll have four classes of magic and various options for weighing speed, power and damage radius. If you’re adventuring as a gathering class (for fishing and mining bonuses or something), you’ll still be able to wield a dagger and fend off smaller foes, but you’re better off avoiding anything challenging.


DLC deliberations

There’s an expansion pack of sorts for Fantasy Life, called Origin Island, allowing for more stuff and new areas. Since these were part of a new edition in Japan, development complications mean buying it cuts you off from multiplayer with those who haven’t bought it. While this is a world worth the time investment, you should probably hold off on picking this up until you explore the world’s content (since the extras are postgame-only anyway) and coordinate with your play group.

You can be joined by two partners, either humans (both locally and online) or AI partners. (You can even bring your pet buddies along!) There are occasional bosses that could use three fighters, but the best use case for this is to have bodyguards for dangerous gathering expeditions. There’s team revival and a heavy combat emphasis on drawing enemies’ attention away from the casters and archers, making for a fairly standard feel, but Fantasy Life benefits from its open-ended approach. If you’re using AI team members, we found it best to stick to basic melee units, as they don’t seem to manage much in the way of strategy or staying out of harm’s way. The game’s at its best with real friends, though.

About those real friends: you can gather in one place with your party if you’d like, though you can also play online. You’re not limited to staying in the same spot and can explore the host’s world as you wish, but there’s little point in that as worlds aren’t really different in any way. Still, you can run things back to town or complete a few errands without ending your multiplayer session. The good thing about Fantasy Life is that, since everything you do raises bars, there’s little downside to not completing things in your own world; guarding your miner friend isn’t just charity, as you’re raising your combat skill, and there’s no worry about raiding friends’ worlds of resources, since everything regenerates fairly quickly and can be collected again later.


When you’re not out fighting, there’s no shortage of ways you can spend your time. The crafting Lives all use minigame-like challenges to create items, and you can do that at special stations in each town. You can decorate your house with various furniture, floors and walls, or move to a new location entirely. If you’re itching to get back out and fight, you can talk to people around town and take on quests to make them happy and get rewards.

It may sound like these things are distractions from the main quest itself, but, well, the main quest is nothing special. It’s a way to gate progress and introduce new elements and towns, but completing it shouldn’t be your main goal, as the game only gets better when the story adventure is over. That isn’t to say you won’t enjoy the story; the writing and localization are as charming as you’d expect from Level-5 and Nintendo, managing to be kid-friendly without being dull or annoying.

Fantasy Life isn’t a game to rush through. You’ll spend dozens of hours in the world, just living and taking on productive tasks of your choosing. There’s more of a real game here than something like Animal Crossing and more of a cohesive world than Monster Hunter, and it’s all put together with a polish that bests anything we’ve seen from Rune Factory. If you like getting absorbed by games like those, though, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

Pros: Addicting progression, charming world and characters, well-done cooperative combat
Cons: DLC splits player base, may not be for the impatient

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.