JRPG Journey 2022: Various Daylife (March)
Winter bonus game: Final Fantasy IV
April’s game: Final Fantasy VII Remake
File Various Daylife under the weirdest games I’ve played lately. Developed by none other than Square Enix—who else, with a title like that?—and released in 2019 for Apple Arcade, this conundrum of a mobile title is a town building sim mixed with a JRPG. This results in an experience that will only appeal to a certain kind of player with lots of free time and plenty of patience. If that’s your thing, there might be something here for you.
Various Daylife accommodates its low budget first by making the most of said budget and second by oozing charm. Characters speak in a pleasing gibberish that seems to be a mix of English, Japanese, and German, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. That’s because you play as a new resident in a colonial town, with the overall goal of expanding the colony to conquer the entire continent. All of this is painted with an old world, German vibe that’s appropriately quaint and cute, well-suited to a JRPG. There’s no heavy themes here; you’re only fighting monsters out in the wilderness, and though the main story gets dark toward the end, the overall tone is lighthearted, casual, and friendly. By the way, I said it’s a mobile game, but it’s available on any device with Apple Arcade-I used a laptop, and it looks pretty good there.
Designed to be played for a few minutes at a time, Various Daylife has you making friends with the various town residents, several of whom join you as party members, training to raise your stats, and taking things at your own pace until you’re ready for a quest. Gameplay draws a clear divide between town and field, with the town containing all the sim mechanics, while fields are where you fight. Yeah, this game won’t fulfill anyone’s appetite for a full-blown JRPG. It leans more toward a town sim with JRPG-esque combat rather than a traditional experience.
Town exploration starts out very limited, with nothing but a single shop and your own house to sleep in. That’s a good thing, though, since your home is where you take on work, actual jobs you can do around town to earn money and raise your stats. Thankfully, jobs complete immediately, but they do take up in-game time as well as drain your stamina, forcing you to sleep every few days to restore it. The problem with this is that sleeping also removes a chain bonus you get from working, which increases your stat gains from jobs. Keeping this bonus as high as possible saves a ton of time, so who needs sleep, anyway? Luckily, you can spend a little gold to stay at the spa to restore your stamina while also keeping your chain intact—I never lost my bonus once the whole game, meaning my character has gotta be a zombie by now.
Befriending new party members unlocks new jobs, and working jobs remains a primary mechanic throughout the game. I spent dozens of hours on grinding jobs alone, clicking the job that gives the best stat boosts on that particular day, repeating a few times until my stamina was drained, running to the spa, and repeating—yeah, it’s that kind of game, although this does get less annoying after unlocking fast travel. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for some mindless grinding every once in a while, the progression offered by Various Daylife satisfies.
In a clever twist—as far as RPGs go, anyway—work available corresponds to the jobs you’ve unlocked. That’s right, more so than in any JRPG I’ve yet to play, jobs in Various Daylife act as literal, real jobs for the characters, as part of the gameplay. Funnily enough, there’s no need to give notice before quitting a job, and you’ll be hired back whenever you want, but hey, I’ll trade some realism for how well jobs integrate into every other aspect of the game. For example, a few hours after meeting a character, they might interrupt whatever you’re doing with a cutscene explaining how they want to try a new job. Soon after, you’ll get another scene where they’ve taken it on, after which that job becomes available to them in combat. On top of that, they’ll eventually offer to train you in that job, which also gives you new work tasks and chances to raise stats. Every new option or addition you unlock is accompanied by a short cutscene with one or more of your friends, which goes a long way toward making Various Daylife feel alive. While the characters are mostly one-note, each has a bit of personal backstory they’ll reveal once you know them well enough. Realistic conversations — for a JRPG, anyway-and snappy humor make these segments endearing, in a simple way, and I missed having most characters in my party once it was time to change things up.
All quests play out as field exploration sections, which are disappointing, glorified auto-scrollers. Your party walks in a straight line to their destination, with random battles, and that’s it. The only interactions available outside of combat are stopping to eat food to restore HP, which depletes as you walk, or camp to eat even better food. With limited pack size, bringing the right kinds of food for the terrain you’re on and managing your resources are deceptively tricky tasks until you’ve got a feel for how quickly stamina depletes (and until you’ve learned healing magic), but overall I wish these quests offered more to do, such as exploration.
Combat, on the other hand, surprised me by its audacity. I had expected basic, crappy mobile game combat, but instead there’s the “Change, Chain, and Chance” system, and it’s more complicated than you might guess. Some character job skills have a chance to cause a status effect, such are burning or rage, which triggers the “Change” state on the enemy. All that means is they’re vulnerable to be hit with a Chain type attack that — you guessed it — can switch them to the “Chain” state. Skills that can Chain are typically only useful for Chaining, though some deal good magic damage-it depends on the job. Once an enemy’s in the Chain state, you can hit them with other Chain attacks to raise their Chain count, which works like you’d expect-the higher the count, the more damage your final attack will do. In Various Daylife, that final attack is called a Chance, and only certain job skills can inflict Chance damage. (Some jobs don’t have any at all!) Unlike similar systems that I can think of, all of these effects usually only have a chance of activated, which can lead to drawn-out, aggravating fights if Lady Luck doesn’t swing your way.
Chains break if you don’t use Chain skills often enough to keep them up, and bosses are brutal, so party planning remains essential throughout the game. Unlike in Final Fantasy, a party of, say, all white mages is hopeless here. They’d have no way to set up Chains, at least, not on all enemies, due to various common elemental and status immunities you’ll encounter. Taking full advantage of the CCC system is the only way to deal significant damage to bosses, and if you don’t have a setup, it’s easy to find yourself in a battle you can’t win. You’ll have to reset, and then you’ve wasted an hour or so that you could have been grinding. The solution, of course, is to plan carefully so you can cover a range of different enemies. After a little experimentation, I was plowing through normal encounters and quickly racking up Chains on bosses. Boss fights are the best part of the game, getting more difficult and throwing new, unexpected attacks and abilities at you with every new region you unlock. At the same time, it’s super fun discovering new combos after trying out different classes, and the game’s design pushes you toward this at every turn.
Various Daylife takes a LONG time to get into. I finished the main story a bit shy of 29 hours, but that’s far from an accurate count of the game’s length. See, the true intrigue begins after the credits roll; that’s where the meat of the story is, so you’re looking at 50 hours at the bare minimum, and probably more like 70. I was having enough fun to take on this challenge and made it all the way to the final quest before finding out that it requires using two fully trained parties at once. Unfortunately, I’d been using a core party of four for most of the game. Since much of the game’s length is from how long it takes to level characters, there’s no way I was going to spend another 20 hours or more getting another party together just for one mission. So, I didn’t finish Various Daylife, but I got damn close and spent over 50 hours doing it.
Now, I’ve been pretty positive so far, and that’s because I vibe with the relaxing, constant progression this kind of game offers. It’s also because I’ve hardly seen anyone talk about it, and it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. But it’s got plenty of problems. Locations are often beautiful, but they’re recycled to all hell. The town is small, even after expansion, and most optional activities aren’t worth the money based on the stats they raise. There’s plenty of cutscenes, but you get the idea after a while, and it’s easy to start skipping them. The menus are weird, burying the most common options, like Save, behind several taps, and equipment management is a klunky, slow process straight out of the 80s. None of this stopped me, but this game’s budget shows through the seams of its 2019 shine.
To finish, I’ll compliment what Various Daylife does best—inundating you with content. I expected a short mobile game that would run out of content quickly, but this turned out to be one of the longer JRPGs I’ve played. Each character has dozens—maybe even hundreds—of short scenes filled with dialogue, and they’re entertaining. For many characters I wanted to read them all, and I was still unlocking new ones by the time I reached the final quest. Some characters don’t even interact with each other until after 30+ hours, unlocking a whole new batch of quests or even a new job for your hero. The restraint shown in holding back the entire story until after the credits is also a ballsy move by the developers that rewards players who stick with the game. While it may be low budget, Various Daylife is far from lazy, and it’s worth a shot if it sounds like your cup of tea.
Bet you didn’t expect Various Daylife, of all games, and I didn’t either, but I couldn’t help but devour every RPG on Apple Arcade. (There’s not many.) Next time, we’ll be getting back to something a little more traditional but just as new when I cover Final Fantasy VII Remake. See you then!