Trying to understand how games work

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It was a huge shame when Nintendo decided to shut down their Wii Shop Channel, removing easy access to many games available on the Wiiware platform. Some of them still haven’t made it onto other systems.

Wiiware games were of a time when downloadable games meant something a little different. This was a time when downloadable games existed as a separate platform on the same console. Because of internet quality and storage space available on the Wii, the Wiiware file sizes were limited to 40MB, which resulted in them being much smaller in scope. They were much cheaper too.

It was a novelty that allowed for little games that wouldn’t as easily make it anywhere else. Games such as Bonsai Barber, Muscle March, and Let’s Catch wouldn’t have gotten out as boxed retail products, but they suited Wiiware perfectly. Now for a game of this scope to come out today, it’s usually from a smaller team putting something out on Itch, or a company releasing a promotional tie-in phone app (Chocobo GP’ on IOS and Android is a recent example I can think of).

Downloadable games go all over the place in terms of prices now, as they now include the same big releases that get put on brick-and-mortar shelves, but the smaller titles are expected to compete for quality and quantity. It’s why so many roguelikes have come out over the last decade, as it allows for content to be randomised and repeated.

To go back to Wiiware, Square Enix ended up releasing a fair few games on the system. Some of them were ports of mobile game releases, but there were also some original games, two of which I will be covering here. They’re games I had a good time playing, but I want to be careful not to oversell them.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King

In the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, the world was covered by a poison that made most of the land inhospitable to humans. By the end of that game, the world was cleansed and the world could then be freely explored again. My Life as a King is about one town’s efforts to rebuild after that.

I don’t have a lot of experience with city-building games, but this one certainly did a great job of conveying a livable space. While the player character is a king, they spend the whole game being able to walk around the town, visiting houses and businesses. To build anything, the King must be standing next to where they want it to go. 

The townspeople go about their own routines and don’t directly follow what the King tells them to do. They will walk around to shops on their own time, and simply tell the King about their day. Adventurers don’t simply perform the tasks that the King asks for, particular ones will volunteer of their own free will to take part in quests set by the King.

Initially I didn’t like how the game depended on walking around the environment in order to get stuff done. However, over time more buildings and townspeople filled up the place, and it began to feel bigger and more lived in. It felt nice to talk to them and see how their day was going, even if there was only a limited amount of lines they could say. 

This city is built to last, and at the end of the game it is displayed over the end credits. It showcases that the King has built a home for all those people to stay in. Parts of this world that were previously destroyed have now been repaired and will hopefully stay there.

There’s not really much action here and there’s nothing that puts the player in a game over state. A lot of time is spent waiting for adventurers to come back, while checking in with how things are going across the town. It sounds like it could get boring but I found it rather relaxing. I was surprised to find that it evoked a nostalgia I had for visiting MMO cities, and seeing other players who were much more powerful than me go off on their own adventures.

A game that’s this sedate can be perfect to wind down with at the end of a long day. Though sometimes a game that has the opposite effect can be good.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord

To contrast with My Life as a King being about building a town that lasts throughout the game and beyond, My Life as a Dark Lord is about making many disposable towers that don’t last at all. In fact this whole game is engineered to be very different from its predecessor, in that the whole thing is menu-driven, creating a sense of distance from the action.

The sort of distance that’s somewhat common in the tower defence genre that this game belongs to. There’s a crystal at the top of the tower that needs protecting from adventurers, so traps are set and monsters are summoned to do so.

And that’s right, those adventurers are the sort the King would send out on quests. In this game the player character is the titular Darklord, who orders monsters to do her bidding (though turns out is good-hearted as they don’t really want to make you play an evil character).

The way the game works in practice, is that the player must build floors which contain traps on them. Most of them will include spaces for monsters to be summoned. Adventurers will go through these rooms, and take on the traps and monsters in ways that look like standard RPG battles. They won’t stick around until one side is defeated, as they each come with a timer, and when that runs out they move onto the next floor. If an adventurer comes up to a floor where a battle is already taking place, they will just skip that and go to the next encounter. Enough floors have to be built to ensure the monsters can collectively defeat them. 

I mentioned distance in the emotional sense earlier, and that’s true of how this game feels to some extent. Monsters the player summon will be disposed of often, and it’s best to just keep bringing more in. It all helps to sell the cartoonish bad nature of the main character. Every time an adventurer is defeated, they are thrown from whatever floor of the tower they reached like in a comedic anime scene, which never stopped being funny to me.

However, this game does require some fairly active participation, unlike the waiting in the other game. Since the crystal only takes one hit to be destroyed, there’s a lot of “plate-spinning” to be done, which can get very stressful. It’s anxiety-inducing when an adventurer is about to make it to the top. It’s even more so when five of them are almost on their way there. Having said that, I didn’t find it to be a difficult game, it’s just good at playing with tension. It helps to create a sense of relief when each stage is finally won. 

It may not have been the best thing to play at the end of some days, but My Life as a Darklord ended up being a fun time.

Final Thoughts

There’s an allure when a game isn’t as easily accessible, but you own it. It’s possible to fall into a trap of overselling a game’s qualities, because there’s some fun in being a “champion” for a game that “deserves more recognition”. I did have a good time with these games, but I’m never going to put these out there as hidden gems or secretly incredible experiences. They were just neat. That doesn’t mean I think they don’t deserve to be more accessible, they really should be.

Being particular games of a certain platform, they help illustrate a particular time in videogame history. That’s true for almost every release anyway. With these games I was able to recall my own experiences with the Wii, and what games were like back then. Taste is subjective anyway, but even bad and middling games deserve some amount of preservation. This isn’t coming from nostalgia, because I also remember the restrictions that came back in those days, and I don’t think we need them again. I just think it’s useful to have perspective on what things used to be like.

Screenshots sourced from Mobygames.



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