Monday, May 25, 2009

Enough of My Life as a King

I finished playing through the story of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King on WiiWare a few weeks ago, and I'm finally getting around to writing up my impressions.

I like the idea behind the game -- instead of putting the player in charge of a party of adventurers, the game centers around a young King who acts as a city manager. His responsibilities include developing the town, ensuring that weapons, item and spell/ability training facilities are available; encouraging people to move into town by building homes and amenities to grow the tax base; and sending adventurers and parties out on quests to support these goals. It's an interesting take on the classic RPG structure -- what exactly DOES the local authority do after issuing a quest, while waiting for you and your party to return victorious with the magical gewgaw/monster head/captured princess in tow? Apparently, he runs around town building stuff and raising the morale of the townspeople, keeping the shopkeepers happy, helping random citizens find lost items, and waiting for your party to return if you make it back before his bedtime.

I like the graphical style of this title -- the characters have a warm ceramic-doll look to them, and the town has a storybook quaintness that's impressive given the size limitations of downloadable games on the Wii. It's set in the Final Fantasy universe, which has a certain geeky, familiar appeal, and character conversations have some humor and character to them. There's a storyline, too, about the young king's missing father and the history of the reconstituted kingdom, but it's fairly thin and linear -- there aren't any branching points, and it's not difficult to finish given a little patience.

And therein lies the rub -- I have finished the storyline, but there's still more gameplay available, thanks to downloadable content. There are dungeons I have left unexplored and levels of development no adventurer in my kingdom has attained. But I am finding I don't care much at this point. The storyline was a motivator -- at least it gave me a reason to keep playing. Now that the credits have rolled, the game's fundamental flaws are more glaringly apparent.

FFCC: My Life as a King is extremely repetitive. Every day of gameplay is more or less the same -- wake up, review the reports from the previous day, pick a quest or two for adventurers to take on, and run around town doing this and that. When one quest is completed, other ones open up. But once the primary storyline is finished, the game's most interesting secrets have been revealed. Yes, there are tricky missions none of my parties has managed to conquer, because none of the adventurers have reached high enough levels to do so. And yes, once they level up enough to complete those missions, there will be a few other things for the King to do. Like build a THIRD tavern, or fund additional training abilities at higher levels, or construct another handful of houses on whatever dwindling real estate plots remain within the kingdom's walls.

But the only real challenge remaining at this point is having enough patience to let the adventurers keep working towards these goals, day after similar day. And frankly, that's not a lot of fun now that the story's victory conditions have been satisfied.

As a player I can only provide the environment to facilitate success by the NPC adventurers -- I can't control how they gird for battle, what equipment and spells they purchase, or whether they just get scared or tired and give up early. Nobody really dies in a lost battle, so there are no great stakes -- a "wiped out" adventurer is just out of commission for a few days, and the town goes on as before. There's much talk during the game of threats from monsters lurking in the outside world, and parents are always worried about their warrior offspring fighting the kingdom's battles out in the wild, but these dangers never really come home to roost -- there's no sense of danger, just the passage of time without pressure, and we don't get to SEE the battles take place, just textual reports about their outcomes. While the names of the battles and enemies are evocative, they're really just items on a checklist, and the King is too far away from the dramatic battles that make an RPG an RPG.

So while I enjoyed this title in the early going, it has worn out its welcome with me personally. I may go back to it someday and wrap up the remaining quests, just for completeness' sake, but I suspect I will not be motivated to do so. By the time the credits rolled, I was ready for the game to be over, and going back to mop up isn't appealing at this writing.

I am still looking forward to the upcoming pseudo-sequel, FFCC: My Life as a Darklord, in large part because it is not just a mirror-image of this title. The gameplay appears to be more tactical in nature, and provides a much better view of the crux of the matter - the dungeon battles between (in this case) the invading adventurers and the young Darklord's traps and minions. Being a King is fun for a time, but at such a great distance from the action, royal ennui soon sets in. I hope being a Darklord proves more entertaining.

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