Spin-off games tend not to be very good. As a spin-off of a spin-off, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (MLaaK from this point on) should by all logic be a completely terrible waste of time and money. Somehow though, the development team at Square Enix made it work and delivered a satisfying, charming and completely addictive city building simulation game based on one of gaming’s most beloved and successful franchises.
The basic premise behind MLaaK is that a young king’s homeland has been destroyed by an evil power. The King and his two aides Chime and Hugh Yurg come across a town they call “The Promised Land” after years of travel and find a sentient and powerful crystal when they get there. The crystal empowers the king with “Architek” and tasks him with rebuilding the town using the mysterious skill. Read More...
The game starts out simple enough. As the king, you will start by building simple houses. Every time you do you will also bring back some of the town’s residents who were transported away along with the town when it was destroyed by the evil Dark Lord.
As you progress, you will find that you require “elementite” to continue using architek to build homes and businesses in your town. Elementite can be harvested in dungeons scattered around the land. Because the king cannot adventure outside of the town himself, he’ll have to commission some of his townspeople to become adventurers for him.
After sending your first adventurer out, you will be introduced to the game’s day & night cycle. The king is able to work from 9AM to 5PM every day. During this cycle, about 5 minutes in real time, the king will be able to build structures, talk to his townspeople and will receive updates on his adventurers’ progress as they traverse the dungeons.
At first it seems like there isn’t much to do, but by the end of the game there will be so much going on that you’ll wish the days were even a few seconds longer. Luckily the game clock pauses when the king is engaged in conversation, but by the end managing everything in one day can be quite hectic indeed.
After each day Chime will present you with two reports. The adventurer report details what each one did that day, from menial tasks like going to the bakery to full details of what creatures they encountered in dungeons and whether they were successful in battle or not. The financial report that follows unsurprisingly details the previous day’s finances.
Money (“gil”) is used for hiring adventurers and sending them on missions, as well as for funding weapon, item, skill and spell research at the different shops and academies around town. Gil income is dependant on the amount of citizens you have in your town and can be farmed in some dungeons. At first it will seem scarce but by the endgame gil becomes a non-issue.
The king will learn to build these new structures by having adventurers fully explore mazes and defeat the boss creatures within, as well as at a few points by talking to the right townsperson. Local bakeries keep the people fed and content. Taverns will allow your adventurers to form parties. There are also weapon, armour and item shops, parks and more to build as the game progresses, each providing its own function to your townspeople and adventurers.
Eating at bakeries, accepting behests and having conversations with the king all contribute to each resident’s morale. It’s not something you really need to manage like in a The Sims game; however the collective morale of the town is measured by a meter. Every time you fill the meter you will receive a monetary bonus at the end of that day. You will also be granted the ability to temporarily boost people’s morale even further and if you catch your adventurers on their way out of town, they will have their attributes temporarily boosted.
Each day you can issue orders or “behests” to your adventurers. After viewing your morning reports, you will be presented with a map of all the dungeons. Each one generally has two goals to choose between; exploring the area to fill out its exploration rate and defeating the area’s boss to clear the dungeon. Some dungeons are marked with a flag indicating that clearing them will advance the game’s story.
Every morning, commissioned adventures will check the local bulletin boards for behests issued by the king. You can choose to send them individually and if you feel someone isn’t ready you can have them ignore the behest and go out to gain experience instead.
When an adventurer completes a behest, you are given the opportunity to award them with a medal. These medals act as stat bonuses outside of regular leveling and can help specialize your adventurers. All of your adventurers start out as warriors, but as you go you will be able to have them switch jobs to be a thief, white mage or black mage.
Each job has its own skills and specialties associated with it. Having a well balanced set of adventurers can make completing dungeons a lot easier. Some will have foes that are weak against magic attacks, while some require a thief’s skills to navigate with efficiency.
The game’s complexity ramps up pretty quickly. After just a few in game days you’ll be juggling what seems like and endless amount of details. That’s not to say MLaaK is a difficult game to play, in fact most people agree that this is one game that is quite hard to stop playing. There were many times I found myself saying “just one more day” during my first play through.
People with obsessive gaming tendencies will be completely absorbed by this game. My first play through took me about 20 hours or 130 in-game days. Normally that much playtime in one game would take me about two real weeks, but with MLaaK it was a matter of four or five days. It’s really easy to play this title for hours on end. Be warned.
Though the price may seem steep for a downloadable game, MLaaK is a great value at 1500 Wii Points ($15 USD). The game offers a new game+ option after completing it for the first time as well as hard and very hard difficulties to play through. The higher difficulties bump the level of the dungeons up quite a bit. While the game essentially plays the same at those difficulties, it will take more time for your adventurers to gain enough experience to tackle the dungeons and they are more likely to get wiped out or have to flee from battle.
Adventurers that get wiped out will take the next day off to rest. Keeping your group healthy is the key to getting through some of the game’s latter dungeons and having your top level adventurers rested on the same day will make the game’s final battle much easier.
This is the first Wii game to offer paid downloadable content (DLC). There are several packs available that add new buildings, new races and alternate costumes. The different races give the town a nice aesthetic and offer up some specialized adventurers. The packs that come with new buildings also add a host of higher level dungeons to your map, not to mention hours and hours of additional playtime.
All of the DLC costs a total of 1400 Wii Points ($14 USD). Though it is not needed to make the game enjoyable, it does add quite a bit for those interested in playing through the game more than once and made my new game+ that much more fun. Even after spending almost $30, I felt very satisfied with the amount of game I got and except for the useless alternate costumes I did not feel like I wasted a single Wii Point. As mentioned though, the core experience was still very fun and lengthy on its own.
Square Enix packed a lot into this 36 MB (287 blocks) game. The various character models and buildings are quite detailed. The texture work is good and there are plenty of visual effects strewn about, after all this is a Final Fantasy game. All this detail does come at a cost however.
When a building is being erected, or even when simply summoning Chime for help the frame rate dips to what appears to be single digit numbers. Luckily this is not an action, racing or music game so this performance issue doesn’t affect the actual game play but it can be quite distracting nonetheless. If this were a disc-based game it would be unacceptable, but as a “tiny” downloadable game I’ll let it slide.
The music in MLaaK is very pleasant for the most part, but it does get quite repetitive. The in town music only switches once about halfway through the game. There are a few other themes that you will hear along your way and the game is peppered with a few voice snippets, but for the most part the sound design falls flat. It’s too bad they didn’t have a bit more space to work with. A little more variety would have gone a long way.
There are four control methods available; Wii Remote only, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Classic Controller and GameCube controller. The Wii Remote pointer is not used in this game at all, so no functions had to be awkwardly remapped to the traditional style controllers.
All of the methods control fine, though movement can get a little jumpy when using the Wii Remote only option because of the 8-way digital nature of that controller’s d-pad. Catching up with and talking to townspeople and adventurers can be a bit of a pain, but after a while it became second nature for me. There are enough options that everyone should be able to find one they’re comfortable with.
I was really surprised at how much I ended up enjoying Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. I did not like the first two Crystal Chronicles games very much and the thought of replacing action or turn-based battles with SimCity style city building and management sounded weird and boring when I first heard about it.
After playing through it once and starting up a second game, I can now safely say that this ranks as one of my favourite games of the last couple years. Despite its performance issues, Square Enix has delivered a deep, replayable and addictive experience that I can highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in this type of game. Did I mention this game is addictive?
+ Addictive gameplay keeps you going for hours on end
+ Great value, highly replayable
+ Nice graphics
- Frame rate issues
- Music is repetitive
Game Forward score: 4/5
Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (WiiWare) Quick Facts:
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: May 12, 2008
Price: 1500 Wii Points / $15 USD
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)