David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-07-30 23:06:16
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord (WiiWare) - Rank C
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord is a companion piece to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. That game had you managing parties of adventurers tasked to invade monster strongholds, but here you command monster minions to protect your domain from such incursions. It's a delightful flip to play as the bad guys, especially ones as whimsical as Crystal Chronicles villains. Disappointingly, the gameplay doesn't quite live up to the potential of this entertaining premise.
FFCC:MLaaD is essentially a "tower defense" game. This genre involves preventing a stream of enemies from reaching your headquarters by strategically setting up automated defenses. Typically, these defenses consist of towers that fire upon the interlopers. My Life as a Dark Lord takes the phrase more literally, in that the invaders are actually assaulting *your tower*. Through judicious expenditure of resources, you must build traps and assign monsters to repel the interloping adventurers before they reach the top of your tower.
Before each assault, the game informs you how many attackers there will be, and what types of enemies to expect. These are character classes drawn from My Life as a King, such as Bandits and Black Mages. Your defensive strategy relies on establishing proper "rock-paper-scissors" setups. For example, ranged attacks make mincemeat out of mages, but is far less effective against melee warriors. In addition, a system of upgrades allows you to tailor your arsenal to your play style. This is the sort of core concept that has made for satisfying gameplay in countless titles over the years.
The problem is that success in FFCC:MLaaD can feel more closely related to arbitrary luck than with skillful planning. You might know what type of attackers to expect, but not the order in which they'll be assaulting. You might set up to deal with Black Mages only to have Gladiators saunter past your defenses. Success often relies as much on guesswork as actual strategy. This can result in trial and error and level grinding to effect victory. The resulting harshness of difficulty is clearly Square Enix's tactless attempt to upsell their DLC. There's a slew of addons that upgrade your arsenal in various ways, easing the degree of difficulty. They intentionally stripped features from the game in the hopes of charging you extra for them.
My Life as a Dark Lord has the foundation of a solid tower defense game, presented with a pleasing visual design. Even Final Fantasy haters might find themselves won over by this game's charm and humor. (Slapping status afflictions onto the good guys makes me giggle.) It's just that the gameplay eventually wears thin with its repetitiveness and shallowness. And the bits that could have ameliorated this drawback are sold as piecemeal extras. The game only costs $10, but I would have preferred a moderately higher initial price that included these components.