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Video Game Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King
Video game titles are getting way too long...
Nintendo’s answer to X-Box Live Arcade has finally arrived in the form of WiiWare. By all accounts here in the United States, WiiWare is a success, despite the Nintendo Wii’s increasingly unforgivable storage space shortcomings. The most apparently successful of the launch titles for Nintendo’s new download service is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, going by the sheer number of people who have downloaded it. But is the game worth it?

The Final Fantasy brand is one of the biggest in the video game industry, right up there with the likes of Mario. Like Nintendo’s famous Italian plumber, Final Fantasy has spawned an overwhelmingly ridiculous number of games—not all of which are good—and has even branched off into multiple franchises. Mario has his core games, just as there are at least twelve core Final Fantasy adventures, but he also has Mario Kart, Mario Party, and a few other prodigious cash cows. Final Fantasy has made a few moderately successful attempts to branch out the same way, but none are probably as noteworthy as the Crystal Chronicles series, Square Enix’s exclusively Nintendo franchise.



GAMEPLAY

This obnoxiously dressed boy-king is you, so you better be secure in your sexuality before purchasing this game
This obnoxiously dressed boy-king is you, so you better be secure in your sexuality before purchasing this game
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King continues the franchise’s emphasis on innovative game design, but completely eliminates the multiplayer aspects of the original Crystal Chronicles title. It is an unusual game, in that nearly all Final Fantasy games are, at their core, basic RPGs. In fact, Final Fantasy is usually considered the standard of turn-based RPG design, but Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is only an RPG in the loosest possible sense.

It’s more of a sim or micro-management game, in which you play as the newly appointed king of a tiny town that you must build from the ground up. You are in charge of placing houses, inns, item shops, and the like, but you are completely removed from the action that happens outside the kingdom’s walls. You hire adventurers and give them the tools they need to have a typical RPG adventure, but all you see of their battles are written reports handed to you at the start of each day.

Knowing this before even considering a purchase of the game, I wasn’t bothered by the central game idea. I happen to be fond of sims and micro-management games, from Animal Crossing to Empire Earth and everything in between, so knowing what the game would be like actually encouraged me to buy it.

Fortunately, logic is not required for a good time
Fortunately, logic is not required for a good time
Still, the gameplay is ultimately pretty shallow. Even with the addition of the downloadable content (more on that later), the basic gameplay usually boils down to running around your kingdom and talking to your citizens over and over again to boost their morale. The days are excrutiatingly short, but there are rarely so many things to do that you can’t accomplish them in that miniscule span of time.

Creating buildings happens infrequently, as your space is limited and the number of buildings you can create is horribly restricted, and there aren’t things like random attacks on the city or weather events to keep you on your toes. You initiate all of the action, but never witness it, and after the novelty of the game wears off, this is probably the game’s weakest aspect.

Still, you can dedicate a lot of time and energy to the game, and it is not without a rewarding sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, though I think the gameplay could be much deeper, it is a novel concept that I dearly want to see explored in future titles.

[Gameplay: 12/20]


STORY

The most surprising aspect of the game is its story. While not nearly as complex or involved as a typical Final Fantasy game, the slowly unfolding tale of King Leo and his somewhat trippy little kingdom is engrossing. When cutscenes are initiated, they quickly go from an annoying interruption to an interesting evolution of the plot. There is a central mystery, an evil villain, a morally relative quandary, and ultimately a resolution, and all of it flows naturally from the gameplay.

Adverbs and adjectives will get you nowhere, Owen!  Now go, kill in the name of Stupid!
"Adverbs and adjectives will get you nowhere, Owen! Now go, kill in the name of Stupid!"
You play as King Leo (though you can rename him, of course—I named my protagonist King Stupid just to see his citizens chant “All Hail Stupid!”) immediately following the events of the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Even if you didn't play the original game, though, you won't have a hard time following the events of this one. You set up shop in an eerie ghost town with a magical crystal standing alone at its center. The crystal talks to you and gives you the magic of “architek,” which allows you to build homes and bring citizens to your town.

The citizens appear quite suddenly, confused but amusingly resigned to live in this new town, and before you are even given control of the game, your first adventurer is hired to explore the surrounding area. The question of why you should continue to build the city and what you are working toward are central to the game’s story, and without spoiling too much, your missing father, a dark evil, and moogle messengers all come to play a role. Though it is never in doubt that you should continue to build—as that is the only way to advance the plot—the uncertainty about what’s really going on does seem to warrant some caution.

Though seemingly complicated, the story is simple, just like most Final Fantasy plots. The characters are pretty one-dimensional and cartoony, but as should be painfully obvious from the screenshots, that’s what the game designers were going for. It’s all very kid-friendly and easy to follow in the end, but there is a bit of intrigue for those interested in it. While nowhere near as involved as it would be in other games, the story is far deeper than you would expect from a sim.

[Story: 19/20]


PRESENTATION

If this were a full-sized game on a disc costing $49.99, I’d complain a lot more about the presentation. However, considering the fact that there are many full-sized games out there that aren’t given half as much attention to presentation as this $15 download, I can’t be too harsh.

Pretty and colorful environments
Pretty and colorful environments
The first thing I will say, though, is that the music becomes grating before long. It isn’t exactly bad music, but it is extremely repetative, and there is no option to turn it off. I couldn’t play the game with my wife around—unless I wore headphones—because her complaints about the music were almost as annoying as the music itself. Not having a basic sound option, even in a WiiWare game, is hard to forgive.

And the rest of the sound is far from great. There are lots of poings and blips, but as there is no voice acting or really critical sound effects, the game could be played with your television on mute, and you wouldn’t be missing much. I don’t care about the lack of voice acting—in a downloadable game, voice acting would take up most of the space and would take away from everything else the game could offer—nor do I really care about the lack of interesting sound effects. Still, it is a drawback.

The graphics, though, are fantastic for such a small game. Though far from pushing the Nintendo Wii’s capabilities—something too few developers are doing—there is a great deal of care put into making the game look good. Sure, there are drastic framerate issues (especially when you try to build; don’t build two things at the same time unless you want to take a short break), and sure, the lack of facial expressions is downright creepy at times, but the castle, the horizon, the buildings, and the floating airship that occasionally brings in extended families are all rendered with polish and attention. It may not be as stylized as other upcoming WiiWare games (see World of Goo), but the cartoonish look works for this game.

[PRESENTATION: 18/30]
[Graphics: 8/10]
[Music: 5/10]
[Sound: 5/10]


VALUE

I decided to mix up the ratings a little in this review. I’m still working out exactly how to break down my number system for video game reviews, and a game like this is tricky. Normally, I include things like extras and replayability in the presentation section of my review, but for a game like this, it makes more sense to talk about them in terms of value.

Buying new outfits for your subjects might not be the best use of your money, even if they are speaking Japanese
Buying new outfits for your subjects might not be the best use of your money, even if they are speaking Japanese
This is because the game costs more than you probably think. The core experience can be purchased for the advertized cost of 1500 Wii Points ($15), but that doesn’t include any bells or whistles. Due to size restrictions (not to mention capitalism), many aspects of the game can only be found through downloadable content, a first for the Nintendo Wii. I’ve always been against downloadable content for games (with the possible exception of game patches when absolutely necessary) because they drive up the price of an already expensive hobby, they cause games to be created with minimal extras out of the gate (or worse, they cause games to be released before they're even complete), and they decrease the rewards for skill and persistence.

This is certainly true of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. To put it simply, if you are not willing to fork out extra money, don’t bother buying the game. Currently, if you purchase all of the downloadable extras, it will add up to over $30, and that’s getting into the realm of full-priced games. Though not all the extra content is necessary to enjoy the game, the more expensive additions will greatly increase the replay value. In short, expect this $15 game to cost you $26, which is still—just barely—in the realm of good value.

This is because the game will definitely last. If you were to play straight to the end without digressing into the extra content, the game would still run at least ten hours, which is a good length for an inexpensive experience (compare that to, say, two hours at a movie theater). There are also harder modes unlocked once you beat the game, and the other downloadable content, though silly and frivolous, might be entertaining enough for a measly 100 Wii Points here and there.

And really, the game is a lot of fun, if you’re into sims or micro-management. Therefore, even though I take issue with the cost of downloadable content that, in my opinion, should have been part of the core game, I still think Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is a good value and worth your time and money.

[Value: 27/30]
[Price: 8/10]
[Extras: 10/10]
[Fun/Replay: 9/10]



FINAL TALLY
GAMEPLAY: 12/20
STORY: 19/20
PRESENTATION: 18/30
VALUE: 27/30

TOTAL SCORE: 76/100





-e. magill, 05/26/2008








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