Credit: Square Enix / GamersGlobal.de
The Final Fantasy series has taken on many forms in its myriad releases and spin-offs over the years. Included are action RPGS (Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest); tactical RPGs (Final Fantasy Tactics); rhythm and music games (Theatrhythm Final Fantasy); collectible card battlers (Final Fantasy Trading Card Game); kart racers (Chocobo Racing); dungeon crawlers (Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon); party board games (Chocobo Land: A Game of Dice); MMORPGs (Final Fantasy XIV); fighters (Dissidia Final Fantasy); and in-app purchase generators (Final Fantasy: All the Bravest). The results have been… mixed, at best.
Among all these side-stories, half-sequels, and shameless cash-ins, we find Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – My Life as a King. Unique not merely by virtue of being a spin-off of a spin-off, it is the only city builder title in the entire series, offering players a bit of role reversal and digging a bit into the meta-core of RPGs in general.
To oversimplify a bit, My Life as a King places the player in the role of an NPC from the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles series. No prior experience with the Crystal Chronicles games is needed, nor need one be familiar with Final Fantasy at all. This is a simple map planning / resource allocation game, with dashes of RPG and RTS elements tossed in to create a surprising and fun experience.
Let me back up a bit. The Crystal Chronicles games, exclusive to Nintendo platforms, are Final Fantasy in name only. They have little to do with the mainline FF series, though they are tied together with an arcing storyline taking place in the same world. Many races, enemies, and items familiar to Final Fantasy can be found here, such as Moogles, malboros, adamantoises, and so on. The similarities more or less end there, with the games mostly taking an action-RPG approach, distinct from the classic FF battle sequences.
Credit: Square Enix / Nintendo
My Life as a King takes place some time after the events of the Crystal Chronicles series, focusing on the aftermath of those games’ good-vs.-evil showdown. There is a simple story here: Leo, the prince of an unnamed kingdom, finds himself in charge after his father’s apparent death. Surrounded by his retinue and a handful of loyal subjects, you take the role of Leo and attempt to rebuild his kingdom from the ground up. Conveniently, Leo and company begin the game having found an abandoned castle and surrounding fortress, at the center of which is a giant cluster of the titular crystals. The crystal unexpectedly grants Leo the magic of architek, giving him the ability to instantly create buildings around the new castle town.
As the game progresses, Leo develops the ability to summon more complex and useful structures — all of which should be familiar to longtime Final Fantasy fans. Just as in most towns and cities in the main series, your castle town can include a weapons shop, an armory, a potion shop, and an inn, along with citizen shops and bakeries. Also available as your city grows are academies for white and dark mages, and training halls for warriors and thieves.
These four archetype classes reflect the series’ long-running jobs system, and that’s where the proto-RPG meta-game kicks in. As you build houses, more subjects return to your growing kingdom, and some of them want to join your small army. As such, you assign them jobs and issue daily edicts, here known as behests. Essentially, in this role, you’re sending these adventurers out to do Final Fantasy while you stay behind and run the kingdom. Their quests include gathering crystals and other raw materials; clearing roads and landmarks of monsters; fighting bosses; and ultimately defeating the game’s antagonist.
None of this is shown in anything other than the most abstract manner possible: a daily briefing prepared by Chime, your adorable young chancellor. As each in-game day passes — about five minutes in real time — your adventurers either successfully complete behests or fail at them, and the game progresses accordingly. This is where resource management and some very light strategy come in, as you decide which adventurers are best-prepared for the needed quests. By providing funding to your town’s shops, you enable the shopkeepers to develop progressively stronger weapons, armor, and items; likewise, the mage academies and battle hall desire funding for improved spells and fighting techniques which are taught to your adventurers.
Credit: Square Enix / GamersGlobal.de
The game is easy to learn and doesn’t do too much holding in the opening days, which serve as a built-in tutorial and establish the story. I found building my kingdom (which I named Midgar) to be enjoyable and relaxing, with interesting things to do in each in-game day. It does get repetitive in later phases, and once your town is built out, with the maximum number of structures in each genre, there’s not much left except grinding your adventurers until they are strong enough to take down the final boss.
This is where the game’s biggest weakness lies. In order to build beyond the standard limits, players were invited to purchase DLC through the in-game store. It is not at all invasive and in fact I didn’t even know this was possible until much later in the game, so I appreciate Square Enix not hitting me over the head with it. But I don’t like having what amounts to not-very-meaningful content locked behind a paywall. DLC can only be purchased by using Wii Points, another reason I didn’t get to experience everything the game has to offer.
If any of the above interests you, act fast. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – My Life as a King is an endangered game. The only way to play legally is to download it from the Wii Shop Channel, either on a Wii or a Wii U via Wii Mode. While the Wii Shop is still functional as of this writing in June 2016, it will undoubtedly be shut down by Nintendo at some point, and the fate of WiiWare titles after that remains uncertain. Unless Square Enix decided to re-issue an HD version of the game in another digital storefront, My Life as a King will be lost forever.
Considering how much fun I had with it, that would be a real shame.
AT A GLANCE
- PLATFORMS: Wii; Wii U (via Wii Mode)
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
- DEVELOPER: Square Enix
- RELEASED: May 12, 2008
- ESRB RATING: E
- FRANCHISE: Final Fantasy
- DESCRIPTION: City builder with light tactical RPG and strategy elements
- WHO WILL ENJOY THIS: Final Fantasy fans; anyone looking for a unique sim-type experience
- WHO WON’T ENJOY THIS: RPG fans looking for a challenge
- SIMILAR TITLES: SimCity 2000; Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – The Crystal Bearers