Knowing what to do with your life can be a bit of a bind, whether you're a teenager about to embark on a journey through college - and perhaps university and beyond - or simply trying to decide on a career that'll make you happy. Fortunately, things are never set in stone - some of us have done science degrees and end up reviewing games for a living, for example (*cough* Er, nothing to see here). Yet in most games, particularly of the role-playing variety, what you choose is set in stone from the moment you open the character creator and select a class, even if you later decide that perhaps life as a Cleric wasn't the best choice. But in Nintendo's latest 3DS game, Fantasy Life, a fantasy role playing game with a smidgeon of career swapping, chopping and changing is the name of the game, with 12 different 'careers' to choose from, as you try to reunite the world of Reveria and save the sky from falling.
Your 'Fantasy Life' begins with a character creator, which does exactly what it says on the tin, with a pretty impressive range of options on offer, from hair and skin colours, to facial features and hair styles. The problem is finding a hairdo that can effortlessly go from lumberjack to hunter to cook and back again - in the end we went for a pair of fairly bog standard pigtails, which fitted quite nicely under our witch's pointy hat. We were also sorely tempted to add the aptly named 'glorious moustache', but decided it was perhaps best not to - after all, people seem to be uneasy enough around wizards as it is, let alone of a female one sporting a bushy moustache.
Like all good days, we kicked off our life in Reveria by falling out of bed with a loud bang. After picking ourselves up and brushing ourself down, a quick trip to our letterbox revealed an invitation to see the king - and having only just set foot in the fantasy land, that was an offer we couldn't refuse. Setting off as soon as we could, it didn't take long before we'd bumped into our first Reverian resident, a talking butterfly called Flutter, who soon becomes a companion, conscience and occasional bow tie to our silent protagonist. After a short stop at the castle to meet with the king - who looks like he's all of about eight years old - we'd got our bearings, and ended up being tasked with heading off in search of our 'Life Master' to help us get to to grips with the wizarding world, a magical talking cat called Jinx.
Living in an impossibly brightly decorated shack in the east of Castelle's town centre, Professor Jinx, along with her pink-haired human assistant, Hazel, explains that being able to cast spells isn't something you're born with, but something bestowed upon you by befriending various elemental spirits - something which you manage in all of five minutes in the magician tutorial. And it's after here that the game begins to really open up, with several different types of quest you can complete.
From your life master, you'll be given a laundry list of 'life challenges' to complete, from the more quest-like exorcism of ghosts from the choir hall, to simply dispatching certain enemies, or using various spells a number of times. Each challenge you complete rewards you with a certain number of 'stars', and when you collect enough, you rank up in your chosen life, and unlock new abilities - which, in the case of the magician class, is a more powerful charged spell attack.
Stars are just one of Fantasy Life's 'currencies', though - solely related to your performance in your chosen life, they track your progress through the blacksmith, angler or alchemist classes (or whichever path you choose). Along the same lines is 'Bliss', earned by completing various objectives that fall outside the specific life classes, such as visiting various landmarks of Reveria, working your way through the game's main storyline and reaching a range of level and life class milestones (your character also gets more powerful generally as you play, independent of their class). Bliss can then be exchanged for all sorts of fun and funky upgrades, such as letting you keep pets, expanding shop inventories or getting you a bigger bag to fit all those foraged apples into. The third and final currency is the most straightforward - Dosh. Money, essentially, which can be exchanged for stuff in shops, services and other such every day things.
Most of your Dosh will come from completing the various Quests strewn around the world of Reveria, for helping out the locals with their troubles. Some are simplistic 'Fetch me 10 Castelle Apples', some ask you to defeat a number of enemies while others are fairly job-specific - such as a cat on a roof that wants a certain number of fish that only an apprentice angler can catch, or a Castelle guard who wants a specific shield to protect himself with, suggesting that a blacksmith of a certain rank would find it a breeze to make one.
But the beauty of Fantasy Life is that, just because you chose to start as a cook, it doesn't mean you have to stay as one and skip over all these quests. If anything, being indecisive about what you want to do when you grow up is encouraged, and swapping trades is as simple as heading over to the Guild Office and talking to the guy behind the counter - and you can always switch back again if you're not as much of a fan of being a hunter as you first thought. You'll retain everything you learnt in your previous lives when you switch too, so, for example, you may choose to gain a few ranks as a miner, move onto a blacksmith, then segue into a life as a mercenary. Then, while out and about adventuring, you can gather materials using your miner skills, and smith them into some new armour or weapons when you get home. And a cook that's done some time as a magician can still cast spells in combat too (and a fire spell could certainly come in handy for a spot of emergency flambéing!). You don't necessarily have access to the best or most powerful techniques you learnt in a previous life, but you certainly retain enough to be useful.
While a number of Fantasy Life's character classes are distinctly non-combative - such as the cook, tailor or angler - playing through the main storyline will likely require you to do a bit of monster-bashing at times. Fortunately, even the least combat-ready professions can wield a few weapons, and combat is a simple button-mashing affair that rarely poses much of a challenge, especially as you often have an accomplice or two during the game's main quests (and if not, you can always bring a pet along!). About the only time we ever struggled was when we got cornered by a giant carrot monster who had an annoying healing move - but the issue was less about him being too tough, and more about us running out of fuel for our magic attacks, and so having to spend a while running round in circles while we waited for the bar to recharge.
And while we enjoyed most of our time with the game, we should mention that the fact the game has a downloadable expansion ('Origin Island'), available from day one, at £7.19, does leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. Day one downloads are bad enough to begin with, but considering the game was out almost two years ago in Japan, and the content is clearly ready for launch day, it really should have been on the cartridge to begin with, or at least offered as freebie to make up for the two year wait. We were hoping Nintendo wouldn't stoop to the same levels as other companies, but this, and the way the Mario Kart downloads have been shoehorned in to every menu on that game have us worrying.
Still, with some 12 different lives to play through, specific quests for each one, and a bevy of challenges and achievements to work through, Fantasy Life has no shortage of things to do - and that's before you get drawn into the whole Animal Crossing-esque interior design. For fans of similar games such as Rune Factory and Harvest Moon (albeit without the romancing), Fantasy Life it's sure to be a hit, with its cutesy and laid back feel, mixed with a bit of light role-playing - just don't get confused by the name. Fantasy Life this may be, but it's more Dragon Quest than Animal Crossing - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.