The final event may have unlocked in Rune Factory 4, but it’s still firmly dropped. Not only that, but the 3DS itself is on an extended timeout. That’ll learn ya. However, I still felt like playing something simulation-like where I can live and work and get married and stuff. I figured this was as good a time as any to get into the World Neverland series I’d heard so much about. And here we are.
A tiny bit of background: the World Neverland series is a franchise of 5 simulation games and one mobile game published first by Riverhillsoft then, upon its demise, by Althi. The gameplay varies widely between games, but the common thread is a life simulation system where you train, fight, grow, do different jobs, earn lots of money, get married, have children and die. Think Fantasy Life, or Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon.
I don’t want to act more knowledgeable than I am, so I’ll stick to talking about the one I’ve actually played – Olerud Kingdom. The first game in the series, first released in 1997 for the PSX and re-released as a 2-in-1 version on the PSP in 2008. None of the main games have been localized, but the mobile game does have an English version if you are so inclined. I really want to play it, but I’ve decided to play the series in chronological order first so it will have to wait.
So! World Neverland: Olerud Kingdom. You start out as a 7-year old emigre to Olerud Kingdom. But… where are your parents and guardians? Did they really let you travel across land and sea by yourself at such a tender age? They certainly did, because in World Neverland you’re a full-fledged adult at age 6 (!). It’s a bit of a shock to talk to 9-year olds and realize they’re all married with kids already, but it helps to pretend that everyone’s true age is “Game Age x 3”. That makes the age of adulthood (6 x 3) = 18, very reasonable. And you’re actually (7 x 3) = 21 years old, just ripe for starting a new life. This also explains why I haven’t met anyone in their 30s yet but have heard lots of funeral announcements for people in their late 20s.
So I’m an adult, and that’s why on the first day of the game, my so-called advisor took me to the town square and abandoned me there, never to be seen again. It took me three days to find my way back home. Good thing I don’t need to eat or drink! In fact you don’t need to do anything in this game, you can just exist meaninglessly from day to day until you keel over dead at the ripe old age of 28. It’s your decision.
But since I’m going through the trouble of playing this game, I decided to make a serious go of it. But a serious go of what? There are no clear goals in this game. You’re not the chosen one, you’re not specially talented, there’s no overarching story or big bad, there’s no threat to the kingdom, there’s just the everyday grind of NPC life in an ordinary kingdom. Surrendering and dying in obscurity is very much a valid life choice. Your life is meaningless, so it’s up to you to find a reason to live for.
Thus I decided to at least try working like an honest citizen. Every citizen in Olerud Kingdom must join one of three organizations, the Ban Org, the Yurius Org or the Peat Org. The Ban specialize in fist fighting, the Yurius in magic and the Peat in sword fighting IIRC. And there’s a weapon triangle of some sort where fists > swords > magic > fists. Or something like that.
As an Org member, you start out as a non-ranking grunt. Slave away in the organization’s fields long enough and you become a D-ranker. Slave away some more and you become a C ranker, where you stop working in the fields and become a glorified gofer. Do that for a while and you rise to B rank, still a gofer. Then A rank where you get to do more responsible stuff, and finally – if you’re able to defeat the other A-rankers in combat, you become the head of the organization. Then, at last, the money cash & hoes start to flow. Or so I’m told. Promotion only happens once a year so I’m going to be D-rank for a long time.
Along the way, you can befriend a number of NPCs and eventually marry and have babies. I’d love to do all that, but the relationship aspect of Olerud Kingdom needs a LOT of work. It is extremely hard tell NPCs from each other because they are very very small with near-identical designs. And they rarely stand still but keep dashing and darting all over the map like their tails are on fire. There’s a free-for-all singles mixer held on the 20th of every year, but 90% of the participants are female. -_- I knew I should have played as a guy. I have a strategy for breaking through this impasse though. It involves my next-door neighbor’s 4-year old son (don’t shoot, officer, I can explain everything).
The main draw of marriage is the cross-generational gameplay it affords. Simply put, you can play the game forever by possessing your children as soon as they turn six. Not only do you carry over your levels and skills but you also get the chance to pick up new aptitudes that you wouldn’t normally have. For example if you’re from the Ban Org then you have good fist growths. Your son could inherit those growths then join another Org to get, say, magic growths, and pass those on and on and on. It would make a nice plot for a scifi novel where a man tries to become an Übermensch by passing his consciousness down through hundreds of generations. In Olerud Kingdom it’s just a way to avoid a game over, or a way of quitting when you get tired of being a life vampire.
The only potential complication in this generational gameplay is something called the “emigration” system. I don’t fully get it, but it sounds like instead of going forward in time, you can back in time with your current stats and character to an earlier generation… And get married there… To your own mother or father. But why would you ever… Oh, it’s a Japanese game. Never mind, carry on.
You work your way up through the ranks and earn money in exchange for your work. Not much money at the start, but enough to buy occasional doping items. As you work and train, you build up tiredness and stress. Tiredness goes away pretty easily by drinking water, but stress only goes away by sleeping – or by using items. There are items that make it easier to raise stats, items that make the opposite sex like you more, items that make good gifts, items you can use to dope your kids, etc. But they’re all optional, so you can just hoard money like a miser till you die.
Last thing I should note is the leveling and battling system. See the training dummies on the right of the screen above? You go up to them and spam X whenever you have the time to slooowly accumulate EXP. Training dummies in different Orgs raise different stats. You also get EXP from running around the map.When you have enough to level up, you go into the level up screen and choose to level up. When you accumulate enough levels, you can also learn new special attacks.
Attacks and levels are only one part of combat, though. The other part is popularity. Before your match, you’re supposed to go round town drumming up support from your friends and acquaintances. As you continue to win, your popularity will grow naturally and you’ll find it easier and easier to win. In theory, anyway. In practice I haven’t bothered to fight any official battles yet. *shrug* I think fighting becomes more important when you reach the higher ranks. As a grunt it’s better to just keep your head down and keep tilling the fields.
So them’s the basics of World Neverland: The Olerud Kingdom Stories. Now for why it sucks, in point form:
- Relationships are hard to build because NPCs are hard to identify. They’re so small on the screen!
- There needs to be some kind of color distinction or other marker so you don’t waste time talking to married men when you’re single. Shoo! Go away!
- The screen itself has too much wasted space on the sides. The Save, Map, Help, etc. icons shouldn’t be that large.
- There isn’t much to do besides work and train all day. Later games supposedly have various job professions and fishing and farming, etc. but as the first game in the series, Olerud Kingdom is really rough.
- Work is boring. You’re just doing the same thing day after day after day with no autonomy. It’s too lifelike!
- Training is also boring. Either hold R to run forever or mash X for hours on end. Inb4 “Just like all other RPGS.”
- Nothing against properly-designed auto battle systems, but this is just tedium. A popularity contest? For realz?
- You can’t change your clothes, you can’t decorate your room, you can’t buy weapons or armor or furniture, you can’t do nothing. I like my life sims to be more customizable.
- People have no personality at all. They say the same four or five lines forever. This makes friendship and romance pointless. This is my biggest complaint because it’s the one thing a life sim has to have – fun and meaningful interactions! Or as meaningful as a video game life can be, anyway. Agh, you know what I mean!
…If I didn’t know this was a whole series and if I didn’t have hope of better games down the line, I would condemn Olerud Kingdom as the most boring thing I’ve ever played… Which it probably isn’t but it’s up there for sure. Sorry, this review is a bit all over the place. The game itself is all over the place and it’s hard to pull my thoughts together. The TL;DR is that it has some good ideas and the concept is pretty neat, but this first game isn’t really playable. I’m going to play one or two other things then dive into the sequel to see all the improvements they made and why this series is so enduring.