Fantasy Life doesn’t speak to fantasy or life. If anything, it should have been called Routine, as the beginning of the game recalls the creation of a Mii, often a virtual version of a real person, on the Nintendo Wii. Its silliness notwithstanding, the Mii set the stage for Wii Sports, a game that encouraged people of all backgrounds to get off their couches and create memories through competition. But as is the case with other modern games, the character creation in Fantasy Life merely appeals to audience demands for customization and diversity, where the latter amounts to imagining oneself performing tasks in a colorblind world that barely resembles our own.
Fantasy Life makes the player into yet another silent protagonist, the laziest cliché in role-playing and adventure games. Condescendingly, the game offers a talking butterfly as a constant companion and guide. Although Fantasy Life allows you to choose a job (what the game calls a “Life”), it insults you by pretending that the butterfly’s checklist of demands is somehow “role playing” or “simulating” life. According to the know-it-all insect, simply walking into a shop for the first time and talking to a clerk is completing a “quest.”
Although it allows you to choose a job, it insults you by pretending that the butterfly’s checklist of demands is somehow “role playing” or “simulating” life.
Some will try to excuse this nonsense by claiming Fantasy Life is for kids, but this cynical explanation implies we live in an age where we should lie to everyone, including our children, about what “adventure” entails. And if the game is for kids, why do adults go out of their way to point out that the soundtrack is composed by Nobuo Uematsu, an artist best known for Final Fantasy soundtracks that most kids don’t care about? If nothing else, Fantasy Life proves Uematsu still knows how to write memorable music, but his work is reduced to a selling point for this wretched game, in stark contrast to how Final Fantasy VI’s story of human vulnerabilities complemented and required Uematsu’s genius.
Even if you excuse Fantasy Life’s hollow customization and non-quests, the game pales in comparison to the SNES simulator Harvest Moon and Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life. Even though those games limit players to performing one job, the tasks one performs throughout capture working-class intelligence and experience, where mistakes and lessons lead to efficient practices and where community relationships and responsibility require balance for success. Fantasy Life’s tasks—fetching an arbitrary number of items for characters with dialogue balloons over their heads, gaining quantified “Bliss,” vanquishing or running away from bland enemies—trade in working-class concerns for a lack of imagination.
Much of the game’s hollow approach to characterization, simulation, and adventure could be forgotten if its world and ideas weren’t so limited and falsely advertised. The chapter-by-chapter story makes the touted freedom of the game a lie. The urge to discover more of Fantasy Life’s world is often rejected by roads being blocked, meaning that you have to follow more of the butterfly’s demands. The guild office, where you set your job, says this about switching jobs: “It’s completely up to you!” But if you’ve activated, for example, “Chapter 2” of the story, the office won’t allow you to do anything but keep your current job. Only a money-grubbing game company could claim this robotic, bureaucratic design is a fantasy.