At this point, it seems almost certain that Square Enix is using an AI to randomly generate new titles in its “Underlined Serif Title” RPG series. Triangle Strategy already felt like it was pushing the limits, but we’ve now been graced with the delightful Various Daylife. After an initial exclusive launch on the Apple Arcade subscription service, this new, low-key RPG from Team Asano has made the jump to Switch for the low (but still kinda high…) price of thirty bucks. Offering up a bite-sized take on the kind of gameplay that catapulted titles like Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler to success, Various Daylife proves itself to be a decently fun experience, but it also demonstrates that the phrase “less is more” applies to playtime, too.
The story of Various Daylife begins with your character arriving in the city of Erebia on a new continent. As part of an ongoing colonization effort, Erebia is full of opportunity and promise, and there is still quite a bit of untamed land and mysteries beyond the city's borders. To help in the effort of expanding the city, your character joins an expedition team and begins fulfilling various odd jobs between excursions, making friends and allies along the way. The narrative, then, is not defined by a larger plotline as such; rather, it’s the mosaic of smaller intersecting stories that comprises the bulk of the Various Daylife experience.
Spending time with your allies in events not unlike Persona’s social links will progress those characters’ individual stories and fill you in more on their histories. One example is of a priest who struggles with a drinking addiction because of the weight he feels from being the listening ear for members of his beleaguered congregation. Another example is a jolly warrior who recounts his experience of forming a ‘found family’ for himself after being alone for so long. You’ll find with time that each of your party members has much more to their personality than the stock tropes they fulfill may indicate, and this more character-focused direction for the plot ultimately proves to be satisfying.
The gameplay in Various Daylife is a little bizarre, and it often feels like a JRPG that’s been stripped down to the absolute minimum. This isn’t to say this makes it a poor game overall, but it does require a certain adjustment of expectations to get the most out of it. The bulk of your experience will be spent picking up various jobs for your character to complete, such as waiting tables at the local tavern or culling the tiger population that is attacking merchants. You don’t actually do these jobs, however, you just select them from a menu and your character instantly does them while time jumps forward another half day.
Even though you’re just selecting options from a menu, there’s a surprising amount of strategy that goes into how you live your work life. Each job will not only net you EXP to level up your character, but it will also grant EXP to your individual stats, which will jump up massively if you can manage to level them up. Every job has a different mixture of stats that it bumps up and, crucially, there are usually one or two stats that the job will take EXP away from. To further complicate things, every new day, two stats will be randomly selected and granted EXP multipliers for gaining and losing. Picking your next job, then, is a fraught process of balancing multipliers and trying your best to maximize the utility you get out of them while minimizing the losses you face for those stats.
To add even more to the mix, you have to also consider a job’s stamina and morale cost. Both decrease with every job, and both can have increasingly negative outcomes if you don’t tend to them. Lower morale raises the likelihood that you ‘fail’ a job, which means you don’t get paid as much. Decreased stamina raises the chance of an accident happening, which will require you to be on bed rest for a couple of days and suffer huge losses to your stat EXP as a result. Choosing to rest will raise your stamina while spending time with friends will boost your morale, but picking either of these options means that you aren’t working and thus will miss the stat multipliers for that day.
The jobs you choose to work will also directly inform the classes you unlock and use for your character in battle. Every party member comes with their own class and set of skills, but your character has the ability to learn every class with time. New abilities often come about just from working the right jobs related to that class, and while it feels like you max out most classes’ growth relatively early, there’s almost always another one waiting for you to develop a little further. It’s nowhere near the class-hacking system found in the Bravely series, but we enjoyed this simplified version of it all the same. Growing your character into a powerful and diverse jack of all trades feels satisfying and gives you a greater sense of being capable of meeting the various foes that roam out in the wild.
When you feel ready, you can grab three party members and head out on expeditions to carry out some quests, and this is where things start to resemble a traditional JRPG a little more. A quest consists of your party walking from left to right in a straight line while a progress bar fills up, but this will often be interrupted by monster attacks. As you continue your march and the bar fills up more, your characters’ max health will continue to tick down, raising the stakes further depending on what you’re doing. Sometimes you’re sent out to investigate a disturbance, which requires the bar to reach full capacity. Other times you just need to retrieve three of a given item from felled monsters and can return to the city as soon as you have what you need.
Combat unfolds in a traditional turn-based style, with the welcome inclusion of the ‘cha-cha-cha’ combo system. To start a combo, a character needs to ‘change’ an enemy’s status, such as by getting them wet or setting them on fire. After an enemy has been affected, they can then be ‘chained’ by other characters also changing their status with attacks of their own. Every new status change will add one to the ongoing chain, and this is then finished with a ‘chance’ attack that does more damage the more you’ve built up the chain. Common enemies don’t really last long enough for you to get a good feel for this combo system, but the bosses and mini-bosses provide plenty of opportunity to see the importance of building chains and maximizing damage here.
Managing stat growth and doing the occasional expedition run is satisfying enough in the short term, but Various Daylife's gameplay loop feels like it has a critical lack of interactivity. For example, you’re merely told about the myriad jobs your character partakes in, while the player’s level of involvement here is relegated to a single input. When you go on expeditions, you’re essentially just watching a loading bar fill until an enemy encounter starts again and brings up the battle screen. The town is literally a straight line that you run along to visit various shops or locales. Rather than actually getting to go on a grand adventure, it feels like you are perpetually one step removed from the adventure; the kind of immersion that most RPGs can manage to create simply isn’t as present here.
Now, this release did begin as an experimental, budget, mobile game, so it doesn’t feel entirely fair to compare it to an excellent full-fat release like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 or even something smaller like Jack Move. Clearly, Various Daylife is aiming for a much different kind of experience, and though it feels like that experience is inferior, the sheer effort to strike out into something unconventional is admirable and worth considering. Genres only grow and evolve over time when developers feel empowered to try out fresh concepts--even if they don’t nail the execution every time, it’s worth reflecting on what did and didn’t work. Various Daylife may not prove itself a must-buy title, but enthusiasts of the genre may want to give it a look just to see something that’s not afraid to be different.
In terms of presentation, Various Daylife appears to be using a modified form of the visuals and art style seen in last year’s Bravely Default II, characterized by somewhat chibi characters with a slightly toy-like sheen. Unlike the gameplay, no risks have been taken here, but we were overall satisfied with the visuals, though not especially wowed. For instance, we noted many instances where a cutscene began and it took a few seconds for all the textures to fully load in for the new environment—it’s not an egregious technical mishap, but feels a little distracting given the simplistic visuals on display.
Various Daylife is the epitome of an experimental RPG. This is the kind of game that you’ll have a much better time with if you limit yourself to only fifteen minutes or maybe half an hour a day. Stay within that time frame, and the daily stat management, quick quest runs, and the simple class system will just about hit the spot. Play for much longer, and you’ll soon realize how relatively shallow the gameplay loop really is. We’d give this one a very light recommendation for anyone who’s obsessed with the work of Team Asano or for those who want a simple and light RPG for their Switch—if neither of those describes you, you’re not missing much by choosing to pass.