Presenting His Highness, the Teeny Tiny King.
I might be the only man alive who enjoyed playing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on the GameCube by myself. I actually built multiple characters on the off chance I'd find somebody who actually wanted to play it with me. It happened, once. For a brief moment, I was happy.
Being a bit of a "planner," when it comes to video games, the idea of a city-building Crystal Chronicles title has had me excited for some time now. It turns out that my excitement was justified. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is a great addition to what is becoming a budding sub-franchise.
My Life as a King takes place after the events of the first Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles title. The members of the legendary Caravan (your party in FF:CC) have driven back the Miasma. With it, the dangerous monsters have disappeared from most of the world. People no longer hide in the shadows of protective crystals and adventurers are free to travel the world.
It is this world that young Prince Leo, his chancellor, Chime, and his Lilty knight Sir Hugh Yurg used the two years prior to the start of the game to go exploring. They wandered the land, searching for the Promised Land left to Prince Leo by his missing father, King Epitav. This land, The Young King's domain, turned out to be a cursed land. When King Epitav first built upon it he discovered a mysterious power, the Power of Architek. The power, provided by the city's crystal and fueled by the mineral Elementite, grants its wielder the ability to spawn buildings out of the air.
When the trio finally finds the lost city, it is abandoned. All that remains is a castle and the city's crystal of protection. Leo, King of this new land, is granted the power of Architek, and begins to rebuild the town.
It's a good story, but it isn't told particularly well. It is very nice that Square Enix extended the story of FFCC, though. Even if you haven't played the previous game, the story is capable of standing on its own. There are a few twists that provide intrigue, and the characters drive the action. However, some of the story scenes are not well assembled. There were multiple plot points where I was lost until one of my villagers talked to me about it after the fact.
Gameplay is surprisingly deep. There was a lot of concern that this game would just be "build a house," "train an explorer," then "send them out." While you do all of that, there is a lot more nuance. For example, if you recruit an explorer, whose house is next door to the Magic School, they will develop a natural affinity towards being a black mage.
Similarly, the layout of your city is important. I made the mistake of putting large structures wherever I had space. This worked fine when all I had was an item shop and a weapon smith. However, when I added an armor smith, some special class-specific buildings, and a tavern, building placement became an issue. The problem was that every morning your explorers move about town to get ready for the day. When there were only a few buildings for them to visit, that was fine. However, when there are more buildings to roam through it takes them a longer time to get ready. They waste a lot of the day doing so, and often have to come home without completing their goals because they've run out of daylight.
The construction elements have lots of little tweaks like that. Likewise, your interactions with your subjects can completely change the dynamics of your city. Talking to subjects will generate morale. The game has a morale meter, and when you fill it you get morale spheres. If you accumulate enough of them you can upgrade your city and increase your tax income. You can trade morale spheres to enter "raise morale" mode, during which time the itty-bitty King radiates an aura. When you talk to a regular citizen they get "along better with their family." That means, by the game's logic, they leave their house lights on and the young king can stay out later. (Yes, the king has a bed time. He is ten years old, after all.) Talking to explorers while in this mode will buff their stats up. The buff can make a difference between a mission's success and failure.
Every morning you review your reports. The reports include the income and expenditures of your kingdom, detailed listings of everything each explorer did the day before, and a screen to issue behests on. Behests are your daily orders to your adventurers. They are posted on boards around your town, and your adventurers pick the one (or none) they want to attempt that day. It's up to you to approve their request to go on a behest. This can be annoying when your strongest party decides they don't want to go explore the next dungeon, but it's just something that you learn to deal with.
One problem is a lot of game depth is locked up in downloadable content. MLaaK is the first Wii title to offer micro-transactions. The problem is many of these transactions aren't so minor. FF:CC sported four races, each with distinct talents. MLaaK offers you access to that same depth, for a price. To use the stout Lilty knights, the evasive Selkie thieves, or the gifted Yuke mages, you have to buy them separately via the online store. There is a "value" pack that contains all three races, but it only removes a dollar from the combined price. Beyond denying the player access to the races, many structures are tied up in DLC. For example, there is a shrine that spares the Little King from having to manually buff his explorers. It's a useful building to have, but it's not free. It is another example of downloadable content.
Overall, the game is a joy to play. It proved to be a real time-sink. There are times when you've got nothing to build, and you're waiting on your adventurers to progress, that the game slows down. However, the breadth, depth, and plot of the game generally keep everything moving.
The control options are surprisingly diverse. The game allows the use of the GameCube and Classic controllers, and the Wii Remote + Nunchuk. I chose to play with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and it worked well. Movement was controlled with the analog stick, camera control was done via the D-Pad, interactions were triggered by the A Button, and cancel was done with the B-Trigger. The game made no meaningful use of the Wii Remote's functionally, besides ringing a bell to summon Chime.
The graphics are surprisingly good given the game is a download. The development of My Life as a King was expedited because they reused many assets from Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. The character models are all really gorgeous, but I would have liked for there to be fewer "twins" among your villagers. The town itself is very impressive. The buildings all mesh together, and the city is fun to just explore. The adventurers run through the city, during early morning preparations, and the citizenry strolls around going about their daily business. The city feels alive. That’s impressive, since the layout was all my doing. It could have felt spartan but instead feels fantastic.
The sound is somewhat neglected. The music is good quality, but there aren't a whole lot of tracks. The sound effects are subdued. There are chimes and beeps from navigating menus. The sounds of pages rustle as you move through reports. Armor clanks as your adventurers walk by, and your footsteps sync nicely with your animations. However, that is pretty much it.
Overall, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King is a deep and engrossing title. The biggest problems come from emphasis placed on DLC. If you enjoy city building, planning, or organizational games there is no reason to skip MLaaK. If you're a fan of the original Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles the extension of that game's lore makes this worth a purchase. Everyone else should at least consider it. It is a great game.