Working Nine to Fivver
One of the beautiful things about subscription services is they can provide eclectic creators a way to make their art without worrying about how well it will sell. For many of these products, they probably wouldn’t stand a chance outside the ecosystem of their respective services. Shows like Russian Doll and Lady Dynamite probably wouldn’t have ever existed if not for Netflix. Thousands of terrible authors wouldn’t be able to make a dime if not for Kindle Unlimited.
This is no doubt true for Apple Arcade as well. While many of the games on the service would have little trouble finding success on other platforms, there are titles that clearly wouldn’t fare as well. That’s not to say they’re bad. Like Various Daylife, some are just too niche to be expected to survive on their own.
Various Daylife (iOS)
Developer: Square Enix, DokiDoki Groove Works
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: September 19, 2019
MSRP: Part of Apple Arcade ($4.99 a month)
Deciding if Various Daylife is a game you want to play will come down to what part of its genre you’re most interested in. Square Enix describes the game as a “Daily Life & Adventure RPG,” and if you’re wanting to play something akin to the “adventure RPGs” you’re familiar with, you may want to put on the breaks. Various Daylife isn’t some meaty JRPG Square Enix whipped up for the Apple Arcade service; rather, it’s a more experimental title that fans of the Princess Maker franchise will find of interest.
You play as a new arrival on the continent of Antoecia, hoping to find your way among the other colonists seeking their own pathways and fresh starts. Very quickly you’re introduced to your guild and a trio of teammates as you set off to discover the secrets of this new land and those who inhabited it many years prior. But before you do any of that, you’re going to have to work.
The central gameplay loop of Various Daylife is designed around simple tasks you complete by just selecting an option in a menu. The title of the game refers to the many jobs you’ll perform as you try to raise money to improve your team’s stats, relationships, and equipment. From your house menu, there is a work tab where you can choose what jobs you want to do during the day and night. You simply select the option you want and the game will tell you if you’re successful or not at the task. There is no direct input here, but monitoring your character’s mood and stamina is one way to help them succeed at their task and avoid failure and injury.
Selecting job options from this menu is how you’ll spend more than half of your time in the game. As more characters join your guild, you’ll get access to new jobs but they’ll always be just a task you pick from the menu. Jobs reward you with XP, money, and increasing or decreasing stats like wisdom, strength, magic power, agility, and more. Some days will have stat multipliers and if you choose a job that gives you an increase or decrease for those stats, you’ll see a great difference when you complete the job regardless of whether you succeed or not. If you are injured, those stats will drop every day until your character recovers but it will never drop them below their current level.
As you complete these tasks, you’ll unlock new abilities for the different jobs or classes you can assign your character. The other members of your guild can also learn new jobs, but getting them to that point is going to cost you. While your character will level up as you complete tasks, the rest of your guild will not. Instead, you have to save enough money to pay for them to level up. Getting an entire team up to the level you need them to be for the adventure portion of the game can take a while and it can be boring to just pick options from menus for long stretches of time.
Adventures are doled out by the guild and each has a suggested level your squad should be before you attempt it. If anything, that suggested level is the bare minimum you and your teammates should be. While the adventure potions of Various Daylife start out easy enough, the difficulty quickly ramps up if you’re not well prepared for the challenges ahead. When you do go out on a quest, your team will automatically travel for a certain number of days. When you run into a monster, it’ll turn into a classic turn-based battle where you’re asked to focus on the three “Cha”s: change, chain, and chance.
Certain attacks with your team can trigger a change in the enemies you face and if that happens, you can follow up on that enemy with chain attacks. These attacks add up and the higher the number of chain attacks you perform, the more damage you’ll do when you unleash a chance attack. Early on this system doesn’t get much use, but in later areas, it becomes a necessity and a bit of a chore to track all the different chains you have going.
I did enjoy the battles once I realized what type of game this actually is, but the early hours can be an unfortunate test of trial and error due to some of the limits placed on characters. Your adventuring party is restricted to just four members and they’re limited in how many items they can carry. Items include health and mana restorers, group heals, and the far more important food and incense. As your team walks, their max HP will start to deplete and the only way to recover it is to camp out and eat some food. If you pack neither food nor incense, you leave yourself open to the possibility of running into a boss character with less than a fourth of your total HP available.
Getting into the groove of doing jobs for 15 to 20 minutes at a time and then venturing off on a quest was easy to do but it did start to wear thin by hour 10. While I was able to break up the monotony by exploring the city, it’s not exactly a palette cleanser from the gameplay. Erebia lacks personality and many of my relationship-building outings with my guild cohorts ended with a simple line of text that read “Spent time together.” With a good chunk of this game devoted to building a rapport with your team, it was disappointing to see my attempts at camaraderie reduced to a three-word sentence.
The lack of personality extends into the world as well. The different areas I traversed while adventuring became rote the more quests I undertook, and the enemy design isn’t exactly inspiring. I do love the PVC figure look of the characters in the game and the music is appropriately stirring, but the rest of it is a run-of-the-mill fantasy world.
Various Daylife is easily the most niche game on a service that’s generally targeting the casual audience. It can be cumbersome, it lacks polish in areas, and it feels underdeveloped. But, it can also find ways to squeeze out a small amount of enjoyment from time to time and as the world opens up, it finds a decent balance between adventuring into the field and the mindless work menus. I don’t know if a game like this could survive outside of Apple Arcade, but it is another example of how the subscription service can lead to some unique and experimental games. And if anything, we need more of that in gaming.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game through an Apple Arcade subscription purchased by the reviewer.]