One of the launch titles for the WiiWare service and still one if its highest profile releases, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King was certainly a strange way to kick off the service. While I am a fan of both Final Fantasy and its Crystal Chronicles subseries, My Life as a King was a huge departure from the norms of the series, eschewing the RPG and action genres in favor of what looks at first like a city builder. If you are going into this game expecting a fantasy take on SimCity though, you’ll find that it doesn’t even feel like it fits into that genre very well, but don’t fret. While the game seems to be its own little thing, it isn’t so out there that it defies understanding.
While My Life as a King does have city-building elements, it’s all in service to the game’s larger focus: sending heroes on quests. The game positions you as a young boy king who has inherited the now empty kingdom of his missing father, and through the use of crystal magic called Architek, you can gradually begin adding buildings to your barren kingdom. You will very quickly hit a wall though as you require special resources to continue adding structures to your budding castle town, so you begin recruiting incoming civilians as adventurers to explore the monster-infested lands outside your territory. However, this game actually injects a bit of logic into the affair, as the boy king can’t just go risking his life in these dangerous quests, so your days will be spent working around the kingdom as your recruited heroes have all of the exciting adventures. Here is where I feel the game genre really emerges, as the city-building feels too slow to be the focus and almost everything you do is in service to building up your adventurers with new skills, jobs, and equipment so they can better gather resources.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King pretty much takes the elements of a sports management sim and adjusts them to fit a magical fantasy kingdom.
Much like a football management sim, you don’t actually get involved in the action that takes place but instead affect it through indirect actions. You can help your heroes become more capable and view reports of their activities afterwards, but you never get to actually view or participate in the quests. The story line of the game likes to nail in why you can’t journey off and risk your life, but it does at least have an interesting mystery behind your father’s disappearance and the rise of the Dark Lord of monsters to drive the game forward. Your daily activities are sadly a bit simple and limited. You set up behests for your adventurers and then approve the characters who sign up for them, sending them off to do their thing as you are left in the city with very little to do as you wait. If you have the resources, you can build new houses, shops, training areas and so on that will benefit your adventurers or increase the population, and you can spend some cash on upgrading the equipment and training these places have to offer. The systems you interact with are at least fairly straightforward and well contextualized, making it a lot more accessible and visually stimulating than something like reading spreadsheets or data tables.
The kingdom is fairly small though and the new buildings doled out quite slowly, with your income equally drawn out so that on any given day, you’ll probably do everything you need to in two minutes. You can also talk to the populace to boost morale, but morale has only a few uses and its hardly worth the time investment outside of those few moments. Thankfully, the game does have a way to immediately end the day, an option you will want to get used to using quickly if you don’t want things to move far too slowly. Ending the day early has no real negative repercussions as the next morning you will get reports from your adventurers on how they did. The reports can mostly be skipped as well, the useful info like successes and leveling up immediately apparent and the details of their battles only really needed if you want to figure out why things went wrong and how to improve your facilities. This can certainly read as a dry experience to many players, and in a few ways, it is, although the art style helps to disarm it a bit. If you could speed up time during a day or were given some additional important tasks to do, then you wouldn’t feel constantly compelled to wrap things up quickly and move onto the next day. The early game is particularly slow, mostly because the game withholds vital tools like the ability to dismantle buildings and the ability to construct taverns where your heroes can form adventuring parties to make them more effective on their quests.
When things do find their stride though, if you think a fantasy kingdom management game could be interesting, you’ll settle in and find a good rhythm to things. The gradual growth is pleasing to watch, especially when you can finally start plonking down buildings more frequently to really give that feeling of progression. It’s a far slower rate of progress than most city builders, but there’s still that feeling of satisfaction when you look out upon the once empty land and see it filled with bustling citizenry. It’s not hard to get attached to the characters that help you, such as the stuffy old warrior Hugh Yurg or your ever faithful assistant Chime (even though the game experiences some really bad slowdown whenever she magically appears). There’s even a few emergent stories to find in the behavior of your adventurers. I couldn’t help but laugh at a trio of thieves who would always team up and run off into battles they weren’t able to handle, and one of my scrappier adventuring parties went from my worst team to my most reliable squad thanks to constant unexpected successes. This also came with a bit of annoyance though, as my strongest warrior was surprisingly lazy, going only on quests that were too easy for him or running off to train whenever there was an important quest he should be participating in. It would have been nice to be able to compel him to do something, but a few mechanics in My Life as a King seem to come up a little short in that regard. The king has to suggest tasks to his heroes rather than properly picking adventurers for the task, which can lead to a bit of frustration when no one capable wants anything to do with the day’s agenda.
The ample amount of DLC is certainly worthy of note, and while it can add a lot of flavor to the game, it does seem like there is enough going on in the basic game that it won’t feel empty. Other than the costume DLC, most of what is added makes the game a richer experience, with new fantasy races, tons of new dungeons, and a few special building types to add variety to your kingdom and your heroes. It certainly feels like a more complete experience with them, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the game either, only adding more interesting parts to an already solid enough whole. Segmenting it off was likely done to get hesitant players in the door with a lower initial price point, but the downloadable content is an obvious purchase for anyone who thinks they will enjoy the game.
THE VERDICT: Video games that involve management over action often draw only a certain crowd, and if you don’t think you want to guide things through menus and reports, then Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King isn’t going to win you over despite its cute visuals and storyline. While things start slow and you have very few tasks to perform each day, you can eventually find a rhythm to the process that will make things enjoyable for someone who likes to watch numbers rise and cities grow. It’s a pretty passive experience for the most part, but its not bad to play in small bursts and its rewarding to see the fruits of your planning, even if you can’t see the actual labors that get you there.
And so, I give Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King for Wii…
A GOOD rating. Although My Life as a King requires a particular mindset to get invested in it, for those who are interested, it provides a very unique take on fantasy city-building by way of a disguised management sim. To ease some of the early game dullness it could have certainly added more for you to do and not withhold pivotal skills and structures, but once things finally get rolling you’ll find things have a nice relaxing pace where you certainly won’t be overwhelmed by the duties of a king. With the DLC, My Life as a King becomes even more robust, but even if all you have in your kingdom are the human-like Clavats and the default structures, you can still enjoy the steady growth of your castle town, your employed heroes, and your progression through the game’s simple story.
It certainly feels like the life of a king could be a lot more interesting, but once you’ve figured out the game systems and start seeing all your work pay off, you’ll still see that it’s good to be the king.