The Final Fantasy games have sometimes differed wildly from one another in terms of gameplay and look, but they've tended to have one thing in common: a group of adventurers ends up charged with a Very Important Task. With this latest installment, however, you're the one doing the charging. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King turns the whole formula on its head by placing the player in the role of a king who must rebuild and reclaim his country, and the result is the most unusual Final Fantasy yet.
My Life as a King is about just that: the tasks a ruler must undertake in order to build up his kingdom. Upon your arrival, there's nothing but walls and a castle, and it's up to you to create neighborhoods, train warriors, and master the surrounding terrain, all from the comfort of your cobblestone streets.
And yes, that means you don't fight a single battle. My Life as a King isn't an RPG and there isn't any action. This is strictly a city-building-and-managing sim. You've got a wide-open area, though you can only build in certain glowing areas. At the beginning, you'll wonder how you'll ever fill all that space. A few hours in, you'll be wishing you had more.
The story here is simple: you are the young king Leo (or whatever you choose to name him), and as you learn how to master your new power, architek, to construct buildings, your city grows as well. As you build houses, new inhabitants appear. Build a Gaming Hall and start turning your fledgling warriors into thieves. Your adventurers go out, discover new areas, and you direct them to kill bosses and collect the loot. All the while, the looming mystery of your father's fate unfolds. It's not much, but it's deep enough for several hours' worth of gameplay, and that's without touching the DLC.
But is it good gameplay? For the most part, yes, it is -- if you like city building and management. But there are some issues that must be addressed.
Normally, I wouldn't be so nitpicky about menus in a game, but since you spend so much of your time in My Life as a King navigating menus (to select various command and tasks), even the smallest issues here bear some weight. There's very little consistency across the menus; sometimes you can back right out of an option, and other times, there's an extra confirmation screen, and sometimes, you can select something without the confirmation screen, while other times you can't. This doesn't seem contingent on whether or not you've actually done anything, either; the menus are just different, for no immediately apparent reason. Why is this an issue? Hit the wrong button and sometimes it doesn't matter. Do it at the wrong moment, however, and you send your strongest warrior off to be a black mage.
The only other nitpicky problem is the command to summon your advisor, Chime. To call her up, you shake the Wii remote ... which means if you shift on the sofa, she's probably going to show up, and you're going to navigate a menu to get rid of her.
Unfortunately, these aren't the only issues with this latest Crystal Chronicles, and the last one is a bit bigger. The gameplay seems all over the place here; in the beginning, you have nothing in the way of resources and are forced to wait around, while later on, you've got a glut of elementite for building and nothing to use it for. If you buy the extra race packs, you have to unlock them, and that takes effort. That means you have a choice: keep only a few adventurers in the beginning and unlock the extra races very slowly, or expand as quickly as you can to get them faster, and be limited in the number of adventurers you can hire from the Yukes, Selkies, and/or Lilties. The number of adventurers you can control caps at 16, and while you gain some extra later through another building, you don't have any choice with them. You can't decommission adventurers once they're hired, either. If you end up unhappy with those you selected, well, too bad. Later on, you can form parties, but then if the whole party completes a task, you reward only the party leader, rather than everyone (or even just choosing someone who needs the boost). My Life as a King is filled with these little balance issues that combine into one big gameplay issue. The result isn't a huge annoyance -- you adapt -- but it did make me somewhat wistful for the game this could have been, but just isn't.
Despite all of this, I felt compelled to play My Life as a King more than most games I've picked up lately. The days are so short, and you can accomplish everything so quickly, that it's easy to become glued to the screen, muttering "just one more day, then I'll stop." Part of this is probably due to the auto save system. At the end of each day, the game saves. That's when you stop, right? Here's the problem: right after the save is complete, you're thrust into your morning reports of the kingdom's goings-on. You could turn the game off, or you could just go ahead and look at those reports. And after you've done that, you might as well issue some behests to your adventurers and see what they can do ... and then go donate money to the White Mage Temple's research fund ... and two hours later, you finally convince yourself not to look at that next report.
But the thing everyone wants to know about is the DLC. First, it's not as expensive as some have said, because you can either buy the extra races separately, or as a pack, and some "totals" seem to be including both of these. Buying all of the DLC currently available will cost you either 1600 or 1700 Wii points, depending on whether or not you buy that three-in-one pack. So, game plus all DLC is, at most, $32. My Life as a King is a full experience, and one that's meant to be repeated in different ways, so that isn't a bad price for a game. Further, none of those packs are essential at all, and two of them are just horse armor outfits for the king and Chime. Definitely don't buy any immediately, unless you are completely sure you'll love the game and will want the extra races; you'll have your hands full enough with the first few hours of gameplay, and other than the races, you won't be able to use any of the non-outfit DLC in the early stages of the game.
The DLC here doesn't feel like a ripoff (except for the outfits), either; you can have a short, simple game similar to ActRaiser or the more recent MySims for not-much-money, or you can have a deeper game for more money. Both are beautiful, both have their issues, and either way, the extra content is only ever an option.
Final verdict: 7/10 -- I desperately wanted to score My Life as a King higher, because it's certainly enjoyable and more than worth the price, but there are some flaws that simply can't be ignored.