My Life as a Shut-In

lifeasakingmoogles.jpgNintendo’s WiiWare service went live last week. To help pass the time until the release of SBCG4AP, other companies have graciously agreed to release their own games. One of those games is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, which I downloaded to “check out for a few minutes,” to see how the whole WiiWare business worked.

That was my first mistake. This game is pure digitally-downloaded evil. You play as the annoyingly foppish child-king of a village, staying at home to rebuild your kingdom while non-player characters run out to explore dungeons, fight monsters, and do the kind of stuff you usually do in a Final Fantasy game.

You wander around the castle, building houses and shops, talking to the villagers, and hiring adventurers to go out to explore dungeons. The adventurers bring back money and magic crystals-or-whatever, which let you build more stuff and hire more adventurers. Talking to the Sims villagers gives you money bonuses and helps your adventurers perform better. Unlocking new buildings opens up more of the Final Fantasy job classes, which in turn open new buildings. The game is divided into short “days” of about 10 minutes each; the game saves itself at the end of each one, and then presents you with a set of tasks for the next.

For anybody reading this who’s not familiar with videogames, the gist of that last paragraph was this: imagine someone taking a deadly grizzly bear, a man-eating shark, laser beams, the Ebola virus, and Hitler’s brain, and combining them all into one hideous creature. For this game, Square Enix has taken all of the most insidiously addictive game systems in existence; combined them in their most raw, unrefined form; and unleashed it on the hapless, obsessive-compulsive populace.

It’s city building + dungeon exploration (without having to actually explore anything) + Final Fantasy job systems + leveling up + a light Sims-style social game. All wrapped up with the Harvest Moon savegame system, which is itself a masterpiece of evilly manipulative game design, in that it makes it impossible not to play “just one more day.”

I couldn’t begin to explain to another human being how any of this is “fun,” but still I’m looking warily at the TV in the next room, thinking how it wouldn’t hurt to get up and play just a little bit more. This is pure stimulus/response type stuff — I might as well be a monkey with electrodes attached to the pleasure centers of his brain, pushing a button over and over again.

You do get new buildings every once in a while, and occasional story moments, but 90% of the time, your “reward” for doing stuff is a simple text message saying that you did it. But still, it always feels like there’s a big reward just over the horizon. I’ve been thinking that I’ve just got to clear out a certain dungeon in the game, because that will open up this next area, all without realizing that the “reward” for opening up the next area is nothing more than a flashing dot on a map. It’s a little bit like reading a debug log of someone else playing a Final Fantasy game.

I need to learn to avoid these games that have you doing city building, or gardening, or leveling up, because it always ends the same for me: I go on automatic for a week or two, then suddenly snap out of the trance and wander around, Lost Weekend style, with nothing to show for it but a level 15 watering pail or a city with a 5×5 skyscraper or a Sim who’s reached the top of the journalism career.

But on the other hand, this game does have a character named Hugh Yurg, and you gotta respect that.