My Life as a Teenaged Girl

The Square Enix game My Life as a Darklord for WiiWare is actually pretty interesting. As long as you don’t let anybody see you playing it.

I really liked Square Enix’s launch game for WiiWare, My Life as a King, because I thought it hit exactly the right balance for a downloadable game: complex enough that you could get a good bit of replay value out of it, and scaled down enough so that it still felt more casual and less like a burden. Plus, it was just a clever idea on a couple of levels: a familiar game type (city building) that put a spin on all the Final Fantasy cliches.

So I was intrigued by the latest game in the “series,” My Life as a Darklord. The last thing I need these days is another game to take up my time, and I hadn’t turned on the Wii in about a year, but in a battle with insomnia last night, I went ahead and downloaded the game and played through the first couple of levels. A couple people asked for my impressions, so here they are.

The two things it’s important to know about My Life as a Darklord:

  1. It’s not a city-building game.
  2. It’s very, very, very girly.

But really: what red-blooded, white-bearded man in his late 30’s hasn’t secretly longed to be a 13-year-old Japanese girl? Am I right? Who’s with me, fellas?

I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was by that: it’s only because we’re so conditioned (at least in the US) to think that guys like games about killing monsters with swords, and girls like games about cooking and reading books and peeing yourself. Even if the guys with swords look a lot like girls, and the “monsters” all have cute marketable plush versions. And there’s a lot of shopping involved. To be fair, I wasn’t able to get far into Final Fantasy X-2 once I realized that so much of the game was based around fashion shows. But My Life as a Darklord is a little more tolerable because there’s no suggestion that they’re taking it seriously.

Still, there are a lot of hearts and rose petals and magical dressers and lady versions of monsters and “Congratulations, Princess!” I look like this but the game treats me like this.

Ignoring all my hang-ups: how’s the actual game? It’s actually pretty neat. Like I said, it’s in no way a city-building game like My Life as a King: instead, you add levels to a tower and populate them with monsters. So it’s literally a tower defense game. It’s funny to imagine that somebody at Square heard that Tower Defense games were all the rage these days, and built a game without understanding what the phrase meant, but dull reality crushes that image. It ends up working much like a standard tower defense game, but oriented vertically and given a Final Fantasy spin.

RPG adventurers head into your tower (it’s implied that they’re coming from the town you were building in the first game) and try to fight their way to the top. The adventurers have different levels and properties based on the standard Final Fantasy job classes and statuses, with a rock-paper-scissors relationship between ranged, melee, and magic attacks. Your monsters also have different abilities and can be leveled up, and the floors you build can give them certain status upgrades. The floors also have “hit points,” and can be destroyed. It’s not an infinitely deep system, but it’s definitely got more than enough complexity to be interesting for the duration of a ten-dollar game.

At this point, Square Enix could slap the “Final Fantasy” name on anything and it’d sell like gangbusters. In fact, I was all prepared to spend $10 on just an “evil” repeat of the first game that I’d already played. So I’m really impressed that they’re not just exploiting that; they really are designing games with an indie game mindset. And then, of course, setting them in the Final Fantasy universe so that they don’t sell like indie games.

And of course, the thematic gimmick here is “cute evil.” It’s not like Overlord, which can’t quite let go of the “cool evil.” It’s more like Disgaea plus Dungeon Keeper plus Yoot’s Tower.

Even if the game weren’t as interesting as it is, I’d still consider it ten dollars well spent, if only to encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing. But I still wish they could do it without making me a princess.