Fantasica: Soulless Free-to-Play and Pay-to-Win Garbage
Here’s a working business model: Take the proven success of the hamster wheel method of gaming (slow progression through tedious busywork), add timers to make players come back every day instead of spending a lot of time at once, and then offer to remove the restrictions in exchange for real money. It’s pretty effective, and it can dress up your bare-bones JRPG/RTS with the trappings of ceremony and decorum. Next, institute a variety of in-game currencies to obscure the fact they can all only be earned at a reasonable rate by getting players to go into debt, create a series of time-sensitive “events” to keep the players busy (replace them with near-identical ones immediately after), and plaster the screen with advertisements for purchasable in-game items. Fantasica is exactly that.
If you want to create a free-to-play game that is appreciative of its player base and rich with frequently updated content, you could learn a lot from Kingdom of Loathing. But that’s not where the real money is. Cast aside your conscience and your consideration for your player base and you can take in heavy amounts of money from manipulating the masses. It’s the same principle that made BBS door games so addictive, except that it’s being applied to blatant cash grabs rather than attempts to create something memorable or worthwhile.
So what about Fantasica itself? Some say that tower defense games are a dumbed-down version of real-time strategy. When you strip away the veneer of shiny animu and actually play Fantasica, you get an even more simplistic and banal tower defense for babies. It has incredibly basic maps, lack of diverse units, and no upgrades or even player input available or required during combat. The only real factor in whether you win or lose is the numbers your characters have, and these numbers can go up slowly through grinding or exponentially by inserting money into it and watching it all vanish.
Aside from the insultingly dull tower defense part of the game, there is an assortment of other ridiculous mini-games (none of them involving the slightest amount of skill) including card collecting, roulette wheels, pressing a button repeatedly to walk along a path (seriously) and cycling past all of the ads begging for your sweet dirty dollar. I can’t overstate how much the ads permeate the fabric of this game to promise you bigger numbers and more loot if you simply bare your wallet’s throat and let Mobage glut itself like some crazed money vampire. Fantasica isn’t just a poorly-made game, it’s the barest skeleton of something resembling an interactive experience. And no, I’m not asking all of my friends to play, either. Get out.
Everything about this game is a transparent attempt to vacuum your pockets clean of valuables. Want more in-game funds? Give them money, it’s too slow otherwise. Run out of daily quests? Either wait with blue balls or give them money to reset the timer. Want the strongest “cards”? Grind for months or give them money. It’s both shameful and very, very effective from a business standpoint.
You might ask why I’d even bother with trash like this. What first caught my attention to this stupid game was the character designs by Hideo Minaba, one of the guys behind the excellent art of the excellent game Final Fantasy Tactics. My attention lasted about as long as a pine air freshener in an outhouse. He did his best, but what can you do when you’re asked to copy the characters from Dynasty Warriors?
This isn’t the first time I’ve covered a greedy low-content game using sex appeal like this. Have you noticed that all of these free-to-play games that heavily advertise themselves with cartoon tits always have surprisingly bland in-game graphics? A couple good-looking static images accompanied by a lot of cheap sprite work, none of which renders the game playable or even watchable. What could people possibly see in this anime drivel?
For most of its gameplay, Fantasica looks like a TurboGrafx-16 game, and a particularly lazy one at that. The ads (inside the game and elsewhere) swear they will provide the finest waifus to satisfy a nerd’s base urges, but once you play the thing it’s as bland and forgettable as any Zynga castoffs. How embarrassing. I hope Minaba got paid for his decent characters, because there’s no way the programmers or anyone else involved in this schlock’s sweatshops (except the CEO of the company) is making decent pay. This better not be the future of gaming or… or I’m going to keep ineffectually ranting.
Aside from the occasionally interesting art (some of the monsters and male characters even look decent) there is nothing to recommend within the confines of this game. If you like video games of any genre you will regard it as base, stupid, and useless. From a marketer’s point of view, however, it probably makes a delicious profit, and you should study it and emulate it if you don’t care about the direction video gaming is headed. Don’t do that, though, or I’ll say something mean about your game, too.