Let’s talk about games that have been removed from sale. Final Fantasy is a lucky series as these things go, since all the main series games have generally remained in circulation in some way or another for the better part of the past three decades. In fact, if FFI and II would finally show up on PC (and who knows why there’s a delay at this point), the entire main-numbered series would be on the same platform for the first time since the Famicom days! The series is also lucky enough to say that almost no games had been outright lost except those that require active servers (Before Crisis, FFXI on consoles, FF Airborne Brigade) or the unusual case of Flash game Dive 2 Hunt. I briefly covered some of these games in an filler post several years back.
But when it comes to spinoffs, sequels and other appendages, things haven’t been so certain on the sales front. Some of these losses are quite recent, and the fear that even offline games might be removed is a constant worry at the back of my mind. The Marathon has taken, and will take, years to complete. A decade so far, and who knows how long to go! And that means a lot of time for Square to fuck up and bury something else! Digital platforms are especially vulnerable, since they can’t produce used hardcopies, and smartphones are the worst: a platform infamous for remotely deleting titles without any warning, and disqualifying old software with OS updates. Indeed, the Marathon has already lost one server-free smartphone game: Final Fantasy Crystal Defenders: Vanguard Storm, which can only be played via emulation these days, so don’t expect to see it from us unless they choose to re-release it!
Today’s subject isn’t a smartphone game. With the shutdown of the Nintendo Wii’s Shop Channel in 2018-19, two more Final Fantasy games were removed from shelves and have yet to return in any legitimate manner: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles spinoffs My Life as a King and its narrative sequel, My Life as a Darklord. But thankfully: we already owned a copy of each!
(Alongside these two FFCC spinoffs, Square Enix also sold FFIV:TAY on WiiWare, an overpriced version in comparison to later releases that is also no longer available for sale. Being based on the equally unavailable cellphone version, it has relatively unique – read: crappier – overworld maps, and a lower drop rate for the Calca and Brina rescue items. Definitely not a version you’d actually want to play compared to the PSP or 3D incarnations, but historically interesting.)
Since these games can no longer be acquired by any legitimate means, Kyle and I decided that we would bump them up the line in the Marathon schedule, lest my aging Wii crap out on us some day. Oh, I could transfer my data to a Wii U, but it essentially zeroes the old console and that seems extreme to me. Maybe someday. We started talking about bumping these games ahead during the Persona 2 playthroughs, but felt bound to complete the two Persona games before we jumped ahead, and that made us feel obligated to finish FFIX, which you may recall we had already started at the time! But once FFIX was over, we weren’t going to let anything else stop us! The two My Life games were going to be next, hell or high water!
Unfortunately, I had been in a poor financial situation when the Wii Shop Channel was being shut down, and while I already owned the two games and had about $5 worth of Wii Shop Points lying around, I wasn’t willing to spend any additional money. I spent those five bucks on the bonus chapter for Darklord, since it was the only bonus storyline DLC for either game (although I’m fairly certain I had already bought it in the past, but it was gone when I went to look?). Unfortunately, missing out on the remaining DLC will cost us some significant stuff, and suffice to say I’m disappointed by their absence.
This is going to be our first coverage of a simulation game on this blog, and I’m excited to see how it goes, especially since I hope to do some coverage of Kyle and my beloved Heroes of Might and Magic series someday. This game was completed in one session, so there’s no need for me to give you a cut-off point.
Some technicalities before we get started. As you probably know by now, once the Marathon hits the first game in a narrative series, we play the entire series in internal narrative order. But if you’ve been paying extra-close attention, you’ll know that doesn’t apply to games that merely share a setting, or else we’d have had to play every Ivalice game alongside FFT! In other words: the other Crystal Chronicles games are going to have to wait their turn. This is actually a confusing example, because the two My Life games are a narrative duology in their own right, but hopefully this otherwise makes sense to you.
Lastly, I’ve decided the abbreviation for “Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King” will be simply “MLK.” I admit, I keep looking at “MLK” and thinking “Martin Luther King Jr,” but to abbreviate the whole title would give us “MLaak,” which sounds like Quina Quen licking you in the face, so I’ll take my chances with MLK.
Let’s get started by talking about the setting (paragraphs I will probably copy and paste to the FFCC Journal at a later date). Thanks to reader MarissaBlackwing for some clarifications! Prior to the events of FFCC itself, the world of Crystal Chronicles was covered in a FFIX-style “miasma” that overcame the planet and made it a den of monsters, with only the areas near Crystals safe for habitation. Thankfully, the events of FFCC see you winning the day and clearing the miasma for good (which I’m sure isn’t surprising, “good guys win” and all that). This game covers the fallout of those events in one territory in particular.
The playable races of the FFCC setting are split into four tribes, which doubles (in the OD&D/D&D Basic tradition), as both “Race” and “Job.” Tribe #1 alphabetically, the Clavats, have a fairly standard human design, but only ever have real-world human hair colours (sometimes including that dark blue shade that substitutes for black in anime). They lean towards Warrior roles, but aren’t divorced from magic. Tribe #2, the Lilties, are shorter than the other tribes, and have heavily stylized hair that gives their heads the appearance of a chestnut. They’re basically the predecessors of similar “short” races from the Final Fantasy MMOs, with a fairly clear line of descent to the onion-haired Tarutaru of FFXI! Lilties are 100% warriors, with no magical potential whatsoever. Tribe #3, the Selkie, also have a fairly standard human appearance, but their hair colours are largely restricted to anime colors, although blonde is also an option for some reason – maybe we’re meant to see it as yellow? (This also includes anime-red hair, not to be confused with actual red hair.) Most of the differences between Selkie and Clavat are cultural, like with clothing, or in the Selkie’s case, the lack thereof. The Selkie are glass cannons in both physical and magical spheres, and (as a natural extension of this stat layout) they sometimes get bonuses to missile attacks depending on game. Lastly, the Yuke are lanky and birdlike humans, and are never seen without their armour, which is mysterious and may literally be a part of their body. Despite the inseparable nature of their armour, they’re actually dedicated casters.
The game begins with a pan over our gameplay centre: a set of presently-empty castle walls. Our central cast of three arrives and we’re told this was their former home before the coming of the miasma from FFCC, and they’re only returning now… or, is that the case? The localization actually seems confused! Evidence seems to flip-flop from saying that this city was their home but they barely remember it, or that the city is new to them but they have a connection to it that I’ll discuss in a minute or three. I think the game was trying to imply the latter based on the general weight of evidence, but the former isn’t without its own, so I ultimately don’t know!
The nominal leader of their expedition is the player-character, named King Leo by default, who was only a child when he left this place… though he’s still kind of a child, to be frank. Preteen at best, generously. As a completely, even comically-silent protagonist, the real talking gets done by his half-Selkie, half-Clavat advisor and chancellor, Chime, whose name was absolutely chosen to make it seem appropriate that you can call on her for advice by shaking the Wiimote like a bell. Chime keeps posing during this opening sequence, as though the developers wanted her to be in motion rather than just idle, but only realized at the last minute that she doesn’t have any appropriate animations. Not that all these hip thrusts have much of a natural home in any part of the game, mind you, but here she just seems to be doing it just to jazz up a dead scene! By the way, the game is going to spend literally its entire run time with NPCs telling us how hot Chime is (like Rosa in TAY and Garnet in FFIX), so at least the developers weren’t lying to themselves about their aim here. Also present is the heavily armoured Lilty master-at-arms, Hugh Yurg, a pleasant fellow happy to spend his days working for king and country, even when everyone else is on break. He is never seen outside of full plate armour, and I keep mistaking his name as “Hurg Yurg.”
A crystal lies at the centre of the city (MarissaBlackwing informs me that while Crystals are related to holding off the miasma, they have to be “recharged,” and it seems this one ended up failing) and the party, fuzzy on the memory front after so long away, decides this means this is their abandoned kingdom. Their pristinely clean and immaculately mown abandoned kingdom. The crystal has a little chat with them, as these things are wont to do, and says that it can grant Leo the “crystalline art of architek.” Basically, it’s got construction magic, and we’re going to try it out in a tutorial. I think the idea of construction magic is interesting, though as a rule I’ve only ever seen it in video games, never other media like novels. This is a shame, since video games aren’t likely to explore the concept, just to use the magic as an excuse to do what strategy and tycoon games were already doing as an unexplained gameplay abstraction. Today is a case in point.
The game forces you to build a small house in a certain plot, though I took this opportunity to test a few controls. Despite being a strategy/town builder game, the game doesn’t have pointer controls, because you largely control it from ground level! The game is instead controlled Nunchuk-style, as you move Leo about castle grounds in over-the-shoulder 3rd person. While this sort of thing has been done in the past with combat-driven games (Sacrifice, Giants: Citizen Kabuto), it’s not very common in town builders, unless you count those two expansion packs Maxis made for SimCity 2000 while they were floundering to death in the 90s (Streets of SimCity and SimCopter), but I don’t know if you should, because neither allows you to actually build in those modes! The Wiimote’s D-pad and the Nunchuk’s Z button control the camera. The Plus button allows you a bird’s eye view, but only a view: you can’t do anything up here beyond seeing and pointing to NPCs to identify them by name. The cursor moves very slow in this mode, so slow that, even through to the end of the game, I kept instinctively holding down certain buttons in expectation that it would speed the cursor up! Where did I learn that? The bird’s-eye view can be rotated, which is critical for seeing around buildings, but only by a few degrees. It’s like they wanted to curb its power to force you to walk around, and it’s kind of frustrating that they bothered!
You’re probably chomping at the bit to learn what this early Wii game did to abuse waggle, like every other one of its ilk, but we’ll get to that later. It’s not even that bad, and if you don’t care for waggle, you can use the Minus button to the same effect! Good job, Square! To round out the Wiimote, the 1 and 2 buttons do nothing, even though I can think of a few features accessed in-universe that could have been tied to them without much fuss!
You have two currencies in MLK, and your new construction magic is only concerned with “elementite,” a blue stone that Kyle and I completely forgot the name of inside of ten minutes. After struggling for a while without any name at all, we started to refer to it as “magicite,” only to discover the game already has magicite in a minor capacity, and it’s completely unrelated! We’re a bit of a mess. When you want to build, you have to pick an available spot in the perfectly mown lawn with at least one edge facing a street. For simplicity’s sake, empty lots are divided into square grids, with a small house taking up one square, larger structures taking up 1×2 or 2×2, and the game’s biggest structures chewing through a 2×3 combined patch! The lots are irregular and permanent, and I’d even go so far as to say their irregularity “has character,” especially in how you have to bear in mind every building’s proximity to every other, as well as to the castle’s three gates and, to a lesser extent, your starting daily point in the castle keep.
Leo creates the first house, and much to Kyle and my alarm, a woman steps out. Oh shit, shit, we’ve created a life. We’re responsible for this. Motherfucker! This is your fault, Hurg! Okay, okay: no, this is not a magically created being straight out of FFIX. But it takes the game a while to explain! The first delay comes because of a decent joke from Hugh (“Why, it’s the epitome of generosity to include some residents with the houses!”), which is followed by some understandable confusion on the part of the new NPC, and then finally an independently confusing part where the NPC knows who you are! But once that’s all over, you gradually come to learn that these people used to live in city a long time back, and have since become scattered and nomadic. Your magic is apparently calling them right to the spot! One hopes they found a way to write back to their fellow wanderers, or they’d be lost in grief!
One thing I should stress early on is that all of the town’s residents are going to be Clavats in the base game. This is a Clavat city, end of story. The DLC allowed you to hire Yukes, Selkies and Lilties by building their specific houses in town, but we didn’t have that, and a lot of the game’s depth goes out the door with it. I’m of mixed minds as to whether this DLC was created after the fact to give the game much-needed variety, or if these buildings were removed to create the DLC? The game sort of hints in both ways and never very strongly, so it’s hard for me to slap on a blanket accusation or guess. Personally, I think a randomized population would have been more tactically interesting and given the game more replay value, but that’s not available in any version of the game! We’ll talk more about this later.
The game has you set up three houses in total before finally revealing the existence of the magicite—wait, shit, I’m still doing it, that was a legit typo. The game reveals the existence of the elementite supply, and the fact that it’s now empty. But before we go too far, I’ll give you some details about the construction segment itself. You’re also given free reign of the map and the full interface for building, including the fact that you have to call on Chime to build something, nominally by swinging the Wiimote like a bell, though also by pressing Minus, like I said. She’ll serve a few other functions that we’ll get to in good time, but this is it for the time being.
The Crystal recommends we find some fresh elementite at a nearby dungeon, but Hugh and Chime refuse to let Leo go marching off with sword in hand. Sire, look at all your innocent, untrained citizens! Make them go marching off with sword in hand! In fact, fuck the sword! And sure enough, that’s exactly what you do! Each house comes with two citizens, a parent or guardian and a young adult child, and you can hire the latter as an adventurer. And yes: I’m pretty sure they your newly-hired adventurers don’t start with any equipment!
So yes! In this game, you don’t command the parties, you’re the quest-giver! Similar games have experimented along the same lines. The idea dates back to partial implementations like Dragon Quest IV, but a more fully-realized examples include Recettear, Evil Genius after a fashion, and especially the Majesty games, which are very much in line with what MLK is trying to do. In fact, just think of Majesty as a top-down version of MLK and vice-versa, and you’ll get the general idea of both series as we go along, with the added bonus that Majesty is still available for sale.
The adventurer system is the game’s central mechanic, so I’ll try to parcel it out as elements come up instead of describing it all in a huge block. For starters, it’s already sunset in the game world, so after our first randomized adventurer, Franklin, volunteers, we all had to go to bed anyway and he couldn’t get started! So you can see why I might be eager to break things up a bit.
During the night (presumably after removing dust and cobwebs from the castle with snowshovels), the central cast had a chat in the courtyard of the castle, with Leo running, playfully yet childishly, away from his bedtime. Chime was left behind, reminiscing about Leo’s father, King Epitav. God, what a name. They just fuzzed up “Epitaph” a bit. Is it because he’s dead? Is Leo’s father named “King Deadguy”? What Ace Attorney nonsense is this?
First thing in the morning, Hugh and Chime decide it’s time for Leo to give their town a name, and the default is “Padarak.” I was glad there was a default, because we had already panicked at the prospect of having to name Leo. Kyle and I really have run out of names to give our characters! I suppose if we did have to name Leo, we could have drawn on names we had used in the past, but a city? We can’t use older names for that! Imagine Sorrowville? Killbotopia, ancestral home of the Killbots?
Rather than bother you with a tutorial for directing your adventurers first thing in the morning, Franklin is ready to go on his own. This is fair, since you only really had one option for him to do in the first place and I guess the devs figured they’d take it out of your hands! Our “party” (Leo and his staff), as well as Franklin’s mother, go to see him off out the west gate. At this point, three Moogles arrive, coming the other direction, and are identified by Hugh as “the Moogle Brothers.” Crystal Chronicles’ Moogles follow many of the core design rules for Moogles, but they don’t have any arms and barely any necks. They’re basically sassy, furry little eggs. These three introduce themselves as informants, and are supposedly responsible for the prompts you’ll see during your day, explaining what your adventurers are doing in the field in real-time, though how they accomplish this is a mystery (maybe FFCC moogles are psychic like FFV’s, and they work with agents on the scene?).
At this point, you’re allowed to wander around and do… urm… well, frankly not a whole lot! Even the default town gameplay systems aren’t active yet, so all you can do is get used to the controls and get some early NPC chatter while you wait for Franklin to return. I imagine the developers didn’t want you to use the game’s systems until you could already see what they could do, but that’s not normally how we do things! And it’s for this exact, boring reason!
I have a feeling Franklin’s first trip is rigged, and he returns with elementite, and announces that he thinks there’s a boss monster in the dungeon (yes, explicitly referred to as a “boss!”). At this point, a second would-be adventurer asks for a commission, ours being a young woman named Dana. Everyone agrees to hire her, but Hugh points out that they’re out of their reserve cash at this point, so you’ll need to start gathering money from the populace in the form of daily “tithes.” At last, all the pieces are in place for most of the game’s major systems to start churning, but that will have to wait until tomorrow! In fact, you don’t even get the elementite until first thing in the morning! Have fun with your last minute or two of pacing around an empty city!
You’re let loose for the last few second of daylight, but if you’re paying attention, you might notice a man pining away in front of the Crystal. Talking to him reveals that he’d like some better food around town, and he asks for a Bakery. Unfortunately, Leo is an almost comical combination of too young, too introverted, and too sheltered, and it turns out that he’s never even seen a bakery, or a number of other number of structures you could imagine in a town, and so can’t summon one with architek! The villager suggests you talk to one of the Moogle brothers, Mogtillo, who’s a talented artist. We went looking for him. At one point in this section, we talked to one of the other brothers, Mogroe, who got angry that Leo had mistaken him for his brothers, and insisted that he wasn’t the artist. No, he’s the one who knows “the score, the scoop, and the poop, kupo!” He knows the poop.
We eventually found Mogtillo with the help of the bird’s-eye view, walking around on some extremely limited AI down a tiny crack of an alleyway between sections of the town. This was odd and arguably even misleading, as most of these town sidequests requires you to sleep in between steps in the quest (i.e. most quests would only spawn Mogtillo starting the next day), and this was an exception that taught you the wrong lesson! Mogtillo gave us a drawing of the place and added the Bakery to our construction list, not that we had any elementite to build with!
From this point in the game on, it’s possible to call Chime and then go straight to bed instead of waiting for the end of the day, when she otherwise manifests out of thin air to drag you kicking and screaming to bed like a sort of extra-mile boogeyman. Initially these bedtime kidnappings happen before the sun has even started setting, though she gradually extends your bedtime during the game, even if we’re not sure what prompts this (story progress? total population?). By the way, design sensibilities suggest that the “Let’s go rest” command should have rightly appeared at the bottom of Chime’s command list, but someone chose to put it second-last instead, and it’s easy to select it by mistake!
The day’s not actually over, however, as there’s still a scene to go. After some messing around on the part of the main characters, what should appear but a penguin, who claimed this was his land! Oh, good! Colonialism! …With penguins! The penguin kept light on his feet, and this started a minigame to chase and tag him for a few scraps of elementite. The penguin sticks to the streets to avoid colliding with your whole three buildings, which is good of the devs for all it seems excessive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the devs had at one point intended you to make this a recurring minigame (starring the penguin or maybe even others) to mix things up from time to time, and it’s a shame that they didn’t. Eventually, Chime catches the penguin by teleporting, and he reveals his name is Pavlov. Pavlov claims to know you, and the party eventually works out that he also knows about the late King Epitav, but that’s all they get out before they choose to leave it be and go to bed. Honestly, the conversation just sort of peters off, and I have to assume Pavlov bolted from the scene off-camera? Our cast, ladies and gentlemen! On a new, Final Fantasy epic!