Level 5 are known for some of the most amazing JRPGs ever created, and the new Fantasy Life for the Nintendo 3DS is no different. Read on, and I’ll take you on a journey that you’re going to not want to end.

Fantasy Life is what would happen if Ni No Kuni (reviewed here), Animal Crossing (reviewed here), and Skyrim had a child. I’m going to be gushing over this game a lot (and I’m still struggling to find anything actually wrong with it), so prepare yourself. It’s that good. It features the artwork of anime artist, Yoshitaka Amano, famed for his work on Speed Racer, Gatchaman (known here in South Africa as “Battle of the Planets”), and Vampire Hunter D. The music is by Nobuo Uematsu, the composer famous for his work in the Final Fantasy series of games. Two of my favourite people in one game! What could go wrong?

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Fantasy Life is both a life sim and an RPG, and you’ll easily get sucked into both sides of the game. You start out by creating a character to your liking (human, so no strange races to figure out), and then choosing a starting Life (in this case, Life means occupation). These range from paladins to hunters to cooks to tailors. You can change your Life at just about any point in the game, and you’re in fact encouraged to try all of the twelve different Lives. What’s interesting is that the encouragement is not even overt. You can take requests for favours from various people in the kingdom, and how you fulfil their requests is up to you. One person, for example, might ask for some fish. You can very easily go and buy the fish at the fish shop, but then you could also take the Life of an angler, and go catch it yourself, meaning that you have more money (or “Dosh”) at the end of the transaction. It’s up to you, eventually, to decide how you want to accomplish these tasks.

On the topic of NPCs, the world is so FULL of people that it’s a delightful change from the sparsely populated worlds of most JPRGs. The city of Castele itself has more people than I could want to count. The main square, for example, has about a dozen people alone, and they’re all ready to be chatted to or to hand out requests. There are so many shops that it’s a bit dizzying at first, but in the course of trying out all the Lives, you’ll eventually get to comfortable familiarity with them all. Or disdain them in favour of making and gathering your own supplies—it’s your choice.

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Aside from the usual experience points for levelling up, HP for health, and SP for stamina (and of course the requisite strength, intelligence, and other stats), there are also stars and bliss. Stars are earned by completing Life-specific objectives. For example, as a miner you could earn stars by mining a certain type of ore for the first time, or by mining a certain amount of a type of ore. As a hunter, you could obtain stars by hunting down certain creatures. The thing about stars is that they apply to that Life only, and are used to upgrade your station in that Life from fledgling to adept to expert and so on. So the stars you earn for mining ore will be used to upgrade the miner Life, and no other. Bliss, on the other hand, is earned by completing very specific tasks, and is tied very closely to the game’s story.

The story itself isn’t the biggest part of the game, so you could be forgiven for having difficulty in actually finding where the main plot is among the life sim bits. There’s just so much to do! The game is set in the world of Reveria, and you start your life in the Kingdom of Castele. A kind of meteorite called Doom Stones have been falling all over Reveria and causing the local wildlife to go…wild. Well, wilder. Wilder than normal, anyhow. Obviously, you get caught up in events, and it’s up to you and your companions to figure out what’s going on.

Speaking of companions, unlike many JRPGs, your compatriots are not set in stone, and if you wish you could go almost the entire game alone. You can draw up to three party members from members of the populace of the area, or you can go and get a pet to adventure with. There’s also a multiplayer option where you can meet with other Fantasy Life players and go on missions with them. Sadly, I’ve yet to meet anyone else, so I couldn’t test this feature properly.

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Combat is real time, not turn based, and anything you see wandering around outside the city limits is either killable or going to kill you. Many of the monsters are going to be little to no trouble, and it’s not really the aim of the game to provide a stressful playing experience. This isn’t a hardcore JRPG, after all. Still, that shouldn’t put the fans of such games off, since there are plenty of challenges if you go looking for them.

The other side of the game from combat is crafting, which I’ve mentioned briefly. Among the possible Lives you can choose are blacksmithing, tailoring, and carpentry, and these allow you—via a minigame—to craft anything within your skill level, provided you have the requisite materials. You can gather these from around the world, or make them, or buy them. Once again, it’s up to you as to how to handle actually acquiring stuff. With all the Lives, practice makes perfect, so doing the same thing over again will make you better at it.

Anyone with an eye on the RPG scene will have already picked out Fantasy Life as something to get their hands on, and I’m going to add my voice to confirm just what an excellent choice this game is. I honestly had—am still having!—trouble putting the game down long enough to get on with my real life, so engrossing is Fantasy Life. Level 5 has once again created such an amazingly compelling world to play in that it’s something you’ll be playing for a long long while. Add to the fact that it’s not your usual run-of-the-grindy-thingy JRPG, and you’ve got something here that’s utterly unique and so utterly wonderful that you’ll be left with a smile on your face for long after you’ve stopped playing.

Final Score: 9 Fantasy prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Nintendo
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
RRP: R599
Age Rating: 7+
Website: http://www.nintendo.co.za/Games/Nintendo-3DS/Fantasy-Life-899654.html