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The Wrong End of the Sword!
It's time for another round of simple, yet addicting gameplay from Square-Enix, and boy did they come up with a gem this time! My Life as a Darklord is a colourful, humorous, real time strategy game set in the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles world. Players take the role of Mira, the daughter of the dark lord of the world's monsters. Mira's father has bound himself inside a dark crystal, leaving her in charge of a moving, expandable, heart shaped tower. One quickly discovers that Mira doesn't know the first thing about taking over the world, and is forced to rely on her minions to guide her in her conquest. Talk about an embarrassing start to world domination...
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The objective of the game is simple enough: build up Mira's tower floor by booby-trapped floor, placing monsters on each floor to trounce would be heroes in their quest to destroy the dark crystal at the top of the tower. Many types of adventurers are introduced as the game progresses, and each stage sees more and more adventurers thrown at Mira's tower. The player is gently, yet swiftly, coaxed to learn how to set floors and monsters to deal with different parties and increasing numbers of adventurers.The first couple of stages guide the player through a tutorial designed to quickly teach the basics of the game. The tutorial can be opted out of if one is already familiar with the game, in which case the player will start on the third stage with one floor type and one type of monster to summon.
At the beginning of each stage, the player is given a set number of Negative Points or "NP." NP is the resource used to build floors and summon monsters, and is awarded each time an adventurer is knocked off of the tower. NP can be used at any time, but must be used wisely. Placing too many floors and monsters too quickly can leave the player without the resources to make a proper defense.
Battles in the game are simple, relying on a rock-paper-scissors style to provide some variability to the skirmishes between adventuring parties and summoned monsters. Melee attackers deal more damage to ranged attackers, ranged attackers have the upper hand against magic users, and magic users usually trump melee attackers. There are a couple other types, generic and healers, that don't have any advantages or disadvantages to the three main types. Placed floors confer bonuses to summoned monsters, or will contain traps that deal damage to any adventurer that reaches that floor.
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Gameplay Part 2
Along Mira's path of conquest, the player will move the tower through several areas, coming across castles and side paths. Castles will throw plenty of adventurers at the player, finishing up with a much stronger, named character that will possess strength and abilities unlike what the regular good guys are capable of. Side paths are stages that are typically much tougher than regular stages, but offer special rewards for completion, such as a new monster to summon, or a spell scroll that can be used once a stage to cause some additional damage to the enemy.
Each completed stage rewards the player with Karma points to be spent on upgrading monsters and expanding Mira's tower. Initially, the tower can be built up to a maximum of five floors, and each expansion allows for an additional five floors to be built. Upgraded monsters cost a little more of Mira's NP to power up, but will fare better against the hordes of would be heroes.
The stages are very well paced, giving the player plenty of time in the early stages, and forcing the player to make quick decisions in later stages. The action pauses when the menu is brought up, however, giving the player as much time as is needed to set new floors, summon monsters, and use items. When the menu is closed, the action starts up again.
FFCC: My Life as a Darklord relies on a simple control scheme free of any of the Wii's usual motion detection style of gameplay. Players use the Wii remote tilted sideways, like a classic NES controller. On the map screen, the "-" button opens up a help screen that will contain more pages as the game progresses. These pages offer tips, basic strategy, and provide references to such things as type charts and status effects.
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My Life as a Darklord features colourful settings and characters typical of the Crystal Chronicles series, yet manages to retain the feel that the player is controlling the villain this time around. Mira's ensemble is a multicoloured affair that's half dress and half armor separated vertically down the middle, though this comical display doesn't hide the fact that the young lady is bad to the bone. While the top of the tower resembles a heart, the rest of the tower manages to keep a dark presence to it. Despite the theme of the game, cuteness and h umour abounds.
The menus are simple enough to navigate, and the layout of the game during each stage is pretty straightforward. Square-Enix has done a good job of providing the player with the means to quickly identify invading adventurers and the types of traps and monsters he has just by looking at the miniature model of the castle sitting on the left hand side of the screen. When the player is in danger of losing the stage or a floor, the game is very visual about its warnings, throwing up flashing red lights and red and black caution tape.
The scenes depicting the game's story are all done with still images, and the few times that Mira pops up during a stage are also still images. This lack of animation is mildly disappointing, but not a huge loss.
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As expected of the Crystal Chronicles series, and Final Fantasy in general, My Life as a Darklord features a soundtrack that fits perfectly with the theme of the game. Cheerful music with noticeably dark undertones follows Mira in each of her scenes, turning frantic whenever humour is afoot. During stages, the game gives the player the feel of a typical Final Fantasy adventure, with heroic music accompanying the adventuring parties. The music speeds up and grows more intense when stronger heroes suddenly show up, and becomes totally hysterical when a daring adventurer is too close to the tower's peak. A victory fanfare complete with cheering minions is a rewarding touch for completing each stage.
There is really no voice acting to speak of, though for a WiiWare game that focuses on gameplay above all else, that's not really surprising. The game is just fine without spoken dialogue.
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I cannot help but be reminded of Popcap Games' "Plants vs. Zombies" whenever I play this game. My Life as a Darklord offers simple gameplay, with enough variation to provide a challenge. The game saves itself after each stage, allowing the player to set down the game whenever necessary; however, the game can quickly eat up hours of your time.
Square-Enix has plenty of downloadable content planned for the game, spanning to the end of September '09 at least, though I'm sure there'll be plenty more. Content offered includes costume changes for the game's beloved villainess, new stages to challenge the player, packs of floors and monsters to add to the player's repertoire, and items to grant more resources at the start of a stage. Prices range from 200 points to 600 points. Some of the content -specifically a spell pack already available- may make the game far too easy, but some may be too tempting to pass up. Fans of Final Fantasy IV will want to download the Kain and Palom content, allowing those two characters to be summoned to Mira's tower.
My only real problem with this game was a lack of a means to return to the title screen. After loading a file or starting a new game, the only way to return to the title screen (and the DLC list) is to first return to the Wii menu, and start up the game all over again.
All in all, FFCC: My Life as a Darklord was well worth the 1000 Wii points spent on the game, in my own opinion. For fans of strategy games, or Final Fantasy games in general, I wholly recommend this title.