Did King Lorik do anything besides sit around Tantegel castle, waiting for you to ask him how many EXP until you level up? Why did Corneria have such crappy items and weak magic spells if it had the temple of fiends sitting in its backyard? And how does a blacksmith in some remote jungle hut manage to craft an infinite supply of a game’s most powerful weapons? Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King — possibly one of the most confusingly over-branded titles since the ill-fated Colecovision New Coke Firestone: Edsel Raceway — is a game for people who worry about these things.
My Life as a King is set in the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles world, so the three people familiar with Crystal Chronicles will appreciate the game’s background. The story is otherwise forgettable: it’s a tale of two homeless minors, a talking suit of armor, and a city they build around a huge glowing rock. It’s got the richly detailed graphics of a Square Enix game, the familiar character class designs of a Final Fantasy title, and the fast-paced excitement of a 10-Q quarterly SEC filing.
The Fantasy Kingdom Sim
For fans of the Final Fantasy games (or fans of most traditional RPGs), the action in My Life as a King is painfully indirect — as the king, your life is too valuable to risk in combat with the realm’s enemies. You never leave your settlement, but every morning you read detailed reports explaining what your adventurers bought, learned, and killed the previous day before you give them new assignments and walk around your city deciding what to build next.
For economists, the game is a playground of applied incentives and perfectly functioning markets in a fantasy realm. You place buildings so adventurers don’t waste time crossing the city, and you choose whether to spend your resources on training halls for stronger heroes or houses for a larger tax base. You also need to steer adventurers towards monsters that are a suitable match for their skills and make sure that they earn enough money to afford the new equipment that you’ve had your merchants research.
This “adventures in middle management” gameplay will be familiar to fans of Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, but it has a few added twists. You need to give pep talks to adventurers who have gotten one too many beatings in the outside world, and speaking directly to your subjects will boost their morale or give them a combat bonus.
The Waiting Game
The early stages of My Life as a King are frustratingly restricted — your heroes strike out on their own until midway through the game, repeatedly getting outnumbered and limping home crippled. Creating buildings is the only thing you can do to affect their actions, and the useful ones (like the one they need to form groups and team up for protection) are only earned after your adventurers defeat powerful monsters.
Luckily, there’s no way to fail hard enough to end the game, and your progress is automatically saved at the start of each day. It can get bleak at times, sending adventurers to their deaths for weeks at a time, but attrition works in your favor — heroes earn experience with each outing and should get strong enough to do the job eventually.
The tough part is the rigid limit on the number of buildings you can place, which only loosens slightly as your heroes progress through the game’s dungeons. You end up with a lot of empty space marked for future development.
Buy Now, Pay Later (But You Also Pay Now)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King has an option on the title screen for spending Wii points and a prompt when you visit your castle. It doesn’t always have its hand out, but the game isn’t shy about asking you to pay money for downloadable content, either.
It’s debatable whether the downloadable extras are necessary to enjoy My Life as a King. Kevin Van Ord himself called it “a bona fide rip-off,” but that seems a little excessive. The initial download tells you everything you need to know about this game: if you’re not happy with the basic model, then paying for downloadable content throws good money after bad.
Never Look Back
My Life as a King is a well created title that satisfied a bizarre compulsion of mine, but I’d hesitate to tell people that it’s fun. While the developed part of my town didn’t seem very big, I liked exploring it — the buildings have an authentic, Square Enix charm, and they are populated with individuals who go shopping, get into fights, and complain about their spouses.
Unfortunately, you can see everything there is to be seen pretty quickly, and there are some huge, gaping sockets in the game that look like they’re waiting to be filled by… something, you’re just never quite sure what. I thought at first that it was reserved for downloadable content, but it turns out that you can go back and play the game on harder levels if you want to be able to use more buildings.
I’ll probably come back to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King later to see how it plays on the harder difficulty levels, but it seems like an awful lot of work to put into deciding whether or not the game is any fun.