As a launch title for the WiiWare service in all regions, the long-titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King was highly anticipated by fans of the famous series and city-building enthusiasts alike. Having received positive critical acclaim from the gaming world, which appeared to enjoy the new direction the series undertook, it was inevitable that Square Enix would release a sequel. But does this follow-up, aptly named My Life as a Darklord, build on the success of the former title and provide an original experience or is this sequel overkill?
First and foremost, My Life as a Darklord is nothing like its precursor, despite being a so-called sequel. Those who have played My Life as a King will know that in the game the player takes the role of King Leo who is entrusted with restoring his father’s barren kingdom using a special power that originates from a large crystal. The gameplay in the title mainly consisted of sending adventurers out to the real world to accomplish particular tasks, as well as constructing the various buildings and businesses that make up the land. The setup in My Life as a Darklord couldn’t be more different.
Taking the role of the cute (but obviously evil) Mira, the daughter of My Life as a King’s antagonist, you are tasked with defending the tower in which she lives from ‘adventurers’ – the good guys. This assignment is carried out by building the tower upwards through adding individual floors, which Mira’s monster buddies (told you she was evil) are then placed onto. Action takes place within the same tower, the main formula for every stage being to lay down a floor and position your chosen monsters on it. From here, you can only watch as your loyal minions scrap with the ‘do-gooders’ whose mission is solely to reach the tower’s summit and destroy the crystal atop it. The enemies themselves stroll into the area from the right side of the screen either in groups or alone; however there’s always a set number for each stage, and although only one adventurer is allowed on each floor, things can get overwhelming quickly. After some short turn-based battling, your enemy’s counter indicates that he is to move on to the next floor, and the process repeats itself. Overall the game boasts an extremely deep system that rewards strategic thinking and punishes lacklustre planning on the player’s part.
As is typical of Square’s main RPG series, individual attributes/skills play a huge part in My Life as a Darklord. Placing a floor isn’t just a matter of accessing the menu and choosing one – you’ll have to consider the type of enemy that your own monsters will be facing on it. There are four different types of floor: Offensive, Defensive, Support and Special. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire a variety of floors that you can place on your tower, with each having its own attributes that you must take into account. For example, the game denotes that magic units are strong against melee units, so if you see a Gladiator on his way up the tower then you’ll try to seek out a floor that counters his melee ability. This is the same for the monsters you have at your disposal. They are divided into five categories – melee ranged, magic, generic and healer – with each category having its own strengths and weaknesses against other units. This is obviously a tried-and-tested formula that many gamers are familiar with today, but My Life as a Darklord manages to add an additional level of depth to proceedings that really goes down well.
The stages in which the action takes place are accessed from a handy overworld map, with the next stage within a chapter being opened after the previous one has been cleared. This map is also the screen in which you accomplish all of your behind-the-scene duties: namely upgrading your monsters and expanding the maximum number of floors that your tower can hold. The former simply involves advancing the level of the troops while the latter does exactly what it says on the tin. However, both of these procedures come with a price as you must spend Karma anytime you want to carry them out. Karma is given to the player at the completion of a stage – you even get Karma if you fail a level (albeit not as much as if you succeeded in defending your tower) and in many cases you’re rewarded for completing a stage.
All of these gameplay features mean that My Life as a Darklord excels through its tremendous level of depth, ensuring that even the most experienced of strategy fans have plenty to think about. Really, there’s pretty much no letup from when you start a stage to when you complete it. There are more things to consider during the main gameplay too, of course. Although the actual levelling-up process, that costs Karma, takes place in the overworld map, you must apply this new level during the game using Negative Points, adding yet another job for you to carry out. In addition to this, special items can be made use of after being given as rewards from other stages, with their purposes ranging from attacking your enemies on each floor to simply adding to your Negative Points at the start of every battle.
If you’re going into the game expecting the inclusion of various funky, radical (or whatever they’re calling it these days) Wii remote gestures you’ll definitely be disappointed. Surprisingly, My Life as a Darklord doesn’t even utilise the controller’s IR-pointing capabilities and instead asks the player to hold the remote on its side. As you’d expect then, the d-pad navigates the many menus throughout the game, with the remote’s ‘2’ button being employed to select options. Aside from these functions, you can also open up a very useful guide during any stage that reminds you of the effectiveness of particular monster types on your enemies, among other useful info. Additionally, you can also zoom-in slightly on an individual floor to have a closer gander at the detailed sprites and pleasant floor design. Whilst the control system undoubtedly functions as it should, we can’t help but feel that a more involving experience could have been achieved if the developer had decided to take advantage of the Wii remote’s unique capabilities.
My Life as a Darklord contains the usual high-production values that you’d expect from a Square Enix game. Although the action takes place in an identical tower for every single stage, all of the sprites – both monsters and adventurers – are presented in the same style as you’re accustomed to within the Final Fantasy series. The background also changes slightly as battles rage on, but apart from that there’s little to discuss in the visual department. In the audio side of things the game excels with the usual upbeat tunes dominating the proceedings – really the norm for Final Fantasy titles. If we have one complaint about the presentation it’s Mira itself: her role during gameplay is little more than a small corner on the side of the screen in which she shouts random dribble that can become infuriating quickly.
As a Square Enix downloadable title, many will be aware that already My Life as a Darklord features a plethora of DLC. This extra content amounts to a grand total of 5700 Nintendo Points, but to be perfectly honest unless you’re a Final Fantasy veteran in need of nostalgia most of the game’s DLC isn’t worth the money. Nearly all individual downloads simply make the game easier by offering Negative Point-boosts at the beginning of battle or give you a set of items. However, there are two extra stages that can be purchased if you’re desperately in need of more levels to play (note that the former stage can only be played after the completion of the game’s third chapter and the latter after all chapters are finished).
One word sums up the gameplay in the latest Final Fantasy spin-off for WiiWare - deep. There’s absolutely no way you’ll be disappointed with the sheer number of things to consider throughout the game. If you are, at least you should be satisfied by the large number of individual stages and polished presentation in My Life as a Darklord. Although the game is extremely addictive and represents great value for money (the less said about the generally-unnecessary DLC the better), the same general formula does exist for every level, so repetition may be an issue for those not captivated by the genre, and more intuitive controls could have easily been implemented. Nevertheless, we’re more than confident that you won’t regret giving WiiWare’s latest strategy title a spin.