Before I got my hands on Fortune Street, I really had little knowledge of its premise. Seeing as the Itadaki Street series (one consisting of several games since 1991) has only been existent in Japan up until now, my first impressions of the series came at E3 earlier this year in the form of a promotional video that looped on the screens at the Nintendo booth. As I waited in a few of the lines to play some of the many games there, I and Steve would notice the game and both thought immediately “not another Mario Party game…” seeing as it looked like just another version of Mario Party, but this time with Dragon Quest characters and the ability to use your Miis as characters.
Once I popped the game in, I immediately noticed the game’s opening sequence was extremely underwhelming. The FMV featured poor looking graphics and a low frame rate, spitting out something that looked like one of the lower budget titles from the GameCube. And, though the music also sounded less than great in terms of quality of instruments, I at least had the hope for something better in the game as it was composed by the great Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama (after all, the first 2 Mario Party games did feature stellar soundtracks from none other than Yasunori Mitsuda, the great Chrono Trigger composer). I could only hope that it wasn't just another in a Mario Party series that's been stale for far too long.
After having played some of the game, I quickly realized though that despite its board game status, it was much less comparable to Mario Party and more resembled Monopoly in its style of gameplay. Buying properties, making trades, and attempting to hit it big are all parts of the game and initially, I really fell in love with the premise (I used to spend countless hours of my childhood playing Monopoly with my brothers, as any game with numbers is always a treat for me).
The similarities to Monopoly are countless. Players take turns rolling dice as they move around the board. You can land on properties, buy them, and if others land on them, they must pay you rent. The more properties you own in an area, the more potential for building up the properties to increase rent dramatically. There are Venture Cards that can be picked up that do a specific thing (good or bad) to your character or your finances.
However, though the basics of the game are very similar to the classic board game, there are many complicated premises that make the game much more enticing. First of all, the first main extra dimension to making money is the ability to invest in stocks of certain districts. Thus, you can buy stock in a district where you own much of the properties to boost their value and thus the value of the stocks you just bought, or you can even buy stocks in districts where you don’t own any property to net from others’ gains. Owning properties are integral to winning the game, but buying/selling stock in the right districts at the right times is arguably an even more important factor towards victory.
Next, there are evolutions to other parts of the game’s design as well. There are several boards to choose from, each of which has its own unique layout (this reminded me a lot of Mario Party). Though characters start with initial cash to spend, the way to gain steady money around the board is not just to reach the bank square but to also collect each of the four suits around the board (so it’s important to move in a fairly linear direction around the board to collect these but it’s not necessary in case there is a temporary change in strategy such as trying to collect all of the areas in a district quickly).
Victory in Monopoly usually happens when all of the other players are bankrupt. Though bankruptcy is an end-game feature in this game (if someone goes bankrupt, the game ends and the person with the most money wins), the most common form of victory occurs when someone achieves a predetermined value of net-worth. After you surpass the amount for the victory condition and get back to the bank, the game is over and you win.
Unnecessarily Lengthy Gameplay
These are the main features of the game and clearly for board game and strategy fans alike, this game has many factors that should entice them. However, the biggest problem in the game is not in its rules or gameplay but rather in the game’s overall functionality and pacing. Take this into consideration: the shortest rounds, typically finished when someone achieves 10,000 in net worth, take a few hours to play in a 1-player game with all of the settings set to the fastest, with character dialogue turned off. The longest rounds, on the other hand, require a player to reach 20,000 in net worth and though the boards may be larger and allow for more opportunities to grow your money, it takes even longer to finish the rounds. This is merely with one player playing against 3 computers (which take their turns faster than a human) and not against other human opponents.
Since the real draw of the game comes from playing against other humans, it’s important to note that rounds will last far in excess of a 2 or 3 hour bout. If you ever played board games when you were a child that lasted for days, this is the kind of game that has that potential. If it’s difficult to grab a friend or two that are willing to play in such a mathematical game of manipulation all in person, then you likely will not be able to experience what the game does best. There is online functionality but it suffers from the problems that have plagued board games for years that have tried online gameplay (before the release of smart phones and other portable devices with constant internet). Thus, it seems almost impossible to finish a game of Fortune Street via friend code with over 2 players considering that this game happens on consoles only and it’s difficult to get all of your friends on their consoles at the same time. There were PSP and DS versions of the game released in Japan only a few years back, so maybe we’ll see the same here in the States in the coming years (I feel like a portable version of the game might mitigate many of the problems I had with the console version).
If you’re looking for a 1-player experience, Fortune Street has little to offer in this department due to a few factors. First of all, rounds are unnecessarily long for a 1-player experience, not because of the amount of turns but because the game’s interface is too slow. Even after speeding up the game to the highest possible pace (fastest animations, no dialogue), the computer players still lagged through their turns. Other parts that made it even more unbearable were some of the AI during property trades. For instance, if one of the computer players really wanted to trade properties with another player, he would try to do so and always the trade would not go through (because he wasn’t offering enough to entice the other player). However, instead of stopping, he would almost always continue to ask for the trade at the beginning of his turn and get shut down (so I’d have to watch this each time). Other lagging factors are the fact that the game stalls a few seconds before paying out dividends or rent each turn; thus you can’t quickly speed up the game through your opponents turns and things really lag.
The other problem with 1-player experiences are that there isn’t a way to choose the difficulty level for the AI. There are rankings for the AI players you’re competing against but even the weakest characters (D) were very difficult in my opinion. If you’re just starting the game, it’s difficult to really grasp the economics required for victory. Thus, the first 3 rounds of play, I came in dead last because the computer players were very good at what they did and I didn’t have an option to make them easier based on the round (this was surprising because I’ve got a very mathematical mind). As you can imagine, losing 3 rounds that were each 1-2 hours long wasn’t very encouraging for me.
Short Lived Experience
The other problem with 1-player mode is that there really isn’t much incentive to playing the Tour mode available in the game as the unlockables aren’t very enticing. You can unlock more characters to play as but seeing as they’re only avatars and don’t have any real impact on the actual gameplay, it made it very difficult to want to play through more than a few of the levels by myself. If, however, the characters actually affected the style of gameplay, such as character specific benefits (i.e. Wario has the ability to passively receive 1% more money or the slime gets more money from dividends, etc. etc.), there not only would be a totally different gameplay mechanic that the character can choose, but there would also be an incentive to unlock new characters. The only tangible benefits to playing through the world tour are that you can unlock more levels if you finish off enough of the available levels (but this requires probably around 20-30 hours of single-player gameplay to actually unlock them).
Finally, the other major fault I had with the game was the generic licensing behind the game. I had several issues but the first was that though the Mario characters are obviously iconic towards their games, the Dragon Quest series is certainly not one that banks on iconic characters (I am a HUGE fan of Dragon Quest but I don’t find any of the human characters memorable, only the monsters from the series). Secondly, all of the characters feel out of place in the game seeing as the properties don’t actually match anything from their respective series. Sure, the boards are all based on Dragon Quest or Mario themed levels but the actual properties and districts are generically named “sports store” or “circus”. Monopoly games with other themes are a dime a dozen but at least everything in each iteration is based around the theme and even has rule changes accordingly (for instance, Pokémon Monopoly had Pokémon to collect rather than properties and there were Pokémon battles you could have to change up the rules).