hat do you get when you replace a role-playing game's combat and random enemy encounters with city building and resource management? Part Sims, part SimCity and definitively Square-Enix, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King gives players the sort of unique experience which only a WiiWare release could. Although some are bound to write this one off as an attempt by Nintendo to cash in on an established franchise as they launch their foray into original downloadable content, My Life as a King easily transcends the label of "noble experiment" to become one of the freshest Final Fantasy games of recent memory.
And a house is born.Like other titles in Square-Enix's series of Crystal Chronicles spin-offs, My Life as a King is marginally more kid-friendly than traditional Final Fantasy games — female characters lean more towards kawaii than alluring, and play mechanics are simple enough that even the uninitiated may grasp what's going on around them. Players assume the role of a young king who has recently returned to his father's ruined kingdom. By harnessing the power of a magic crystal, the king is able to summon back the structures and subjects of their father's domain. In order to build up resources, one must commission adventurers from the townsfolk who will venture out into the surrounding wilds to obtain energy, items and blueprints for new structures.
At the outset, players are only able to construct a few core buildings. Houses contain a minimum of two townsfolk — parents remain in town as sources of taxable income whilst their children leave the safety of the kingdom in search of fame and fortune. Other early structures include bakeries, weapon shops and parks. Buildings tend to fall into two categories — those which support the adventurers, and those which support the general population. While one structure may boost the morale of your kingdom's citizens, others unlock new character classes and abilities for adventurers to take on.
I will, my fluffy little friend.My Life as a King's difficulty curve is nearly perfect — new tasks and responsibilities are only presented to the player once they've reached a certain level of aptitude with the game's core mechanics. As one's kingdom grows and prospers, they'll slowly begin to understand the importance of a building's location and the game's partying system. For instance, even after unlocking all of the game's building types, there's still a lot of work to be done. Once two or more shops of the same type are built, players will begin to see the formation of a competitive marketplace where various retailers specialize in particular wares — one weaponsmith may excel at making swords while another produces the best maces.
Such is the way of My Life as a King: while casual players will enjoy the basics of kingdom development and exploring the surrounding lands, expert players will devise new ways to take advantage of the game's underpinnings to tailor their kingdom to perfection. The thoughtful placement of a building has a great impact on an adventurer's talents — placing a house near a bakery rather than a temple spells the difference between a good mage and one of legend. Decisions like these are at the core of My Life as a King's complexity, and they're what makes this an experience that's bound to appeal to gamers of all ages and abilities.
With the release of WiiWare, Nintendo is clearly attempting to compete with both Sony and Microsoft to provide unique and engaging games outside of traditional retail outlets. My Life as a King proves their commitment by offering up not just a great piece of downloadable content, but one of the most innovative pieces of software I've seen in quite some time. Complain about the pricing model for the game's downloadable add-ons all you want — even at $30, this is the most fully realized downloadable experience you've ever seen on a console. It's also one of the best games to have hit the Wii to date. Anyway, get thee to the Wii Shop — I've got a kingdom to run.