I’m going to be complete up front, here: Fantasy University is the funniest social game I have ever played.
The game is a text-based parody RPG, with gameplay similar to Mafia Wars or Kingdom of Loathing (or MUDs, for the oldschool gamers out there). Games like this live and die by the quality of their writing. If you’re anything like me you cringe a little when you hear that a game is intended to be a comedy. When it works and the writing is good, it is awesome. When it doesn’t, it is disastrous.
Luckily, the team behind F U (natch) seem to be pulling from a bottomless well of humerous pop culture, fantasy fiction, and game design tropes. Within the first 10 minutes of gameplay, I spotted references to Pirates of the Caribbean (or more accurately all Johnny Depp movies), World of Warcraft, Spongebob Squarepants, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and plenty, plenty more.
No single moment is laugh-out-loud funny, but all the little details add up, and create a very charming package. Players’ lodgings are the Mordorms. As a “Mathamagician” character class, my character deals Abracadamage. Your best friend and neighbor is named Ron Wheeezy. And on and on it goes.
Comedy is a sensitive and subjective thing, and I sometimes felt that FU was trying a little too hard – players take the “Hellevator” up to their dorm room, for example. But I found the writing to hit much more often than it missed. For every very obvious, hit-you-over-the-head joke, there are two more subtle references slipped in.
Besides the writing, the gameplay & game design itself also has a great attention to detail. Your character portrait changes to become more beat up as you take combat damage, for example. The gameplay itself is quite simplistic, but there is more to it than Mafia Wars-style “push button to win.” When in combat, players will have multiple attacks to choose from, and will also have the option of consuming HP-replenishing or stat-boosting items. So far, the combat is about the same depth level as the opening of any standard console turn-based RPG.
FU could do with a little streamlining. Navigating the game world involves a lot of clicking around different icons, and screens like your inventory or character sheet are a little too cluttered and unfocused. But these are side effects of the game being an actual game and not just a treadmill, so it is tough to complain too much.
I went in to Fantasy University with a huge dose of skepticism, but the game absolutely won me over. It’s smart, deep, and has a great attention to detail. Below we’ve reproduced the “disclaimer” gamers have to click through, as an example of what we mean.
Your application to Fantasy University has been accepted!
We are looking forward to having yet another bright young mind take advantage of the unending knowledge of the country’s finest and foremost Adventuring College (that we know of)!
We hope you are looking forward to the challenges presented by a Class-A Adventuring Education, and hope that you will meet any and all challenges with the same kind of fervor and optimism we exhibited in preparing this form letter!
Before you are actually accepted, there is one formality that will be taken care of by this magical letter. It contains a disclaimer form that must be accepted before enrollment becomes final.
Agreement: I, Justin Davis, do solemnly swear that I will do my best to uphold the traditions and integrity of Fantasy University and will always remember that I become the property of Fantasy University and that any accidents or punishments that may befall me up to and including death, dismemberment, depression, apathy, illness, decapitation (real or imagined), fraud, theft, delusions, nightmares, food poisoning, Rapture, stolen organs, borrowed organs, hallucinations, leg trauma, lupus, being burned alive, water torture, tickle torture, plain old torture, spasms, night sweats, day sweats, pant sweats, restless leg syndrome, restless elbow syndrome, poverty, canings, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, plain stroke, extortion, blackmail (which is technically different from extortion), blindness, deafness, loss of an ear, loss of one or more shoes, dew crotch, being forced to watch bad comedians (you know, the really bad ones where half of you wants to feel sorry for them, but the other half can’t stop laughing at how awful they are), and jury duty are all considered perks of the University and must be enjoyed as such. Furthermore, it remains the right of the University to… Geez, does anyone even read this crap? I spend 24 hours a day down here in this well, shackled to this printing press, writing up legal documents for you people BY HAND, and for what? A few half-hearted chuckles? My humor is all I have to give, and I try so hard, but what’s it all amount to? You’re never going read this anyway, and that’s okay. My wife will probably run off with some romance novelist, who she’ll fall in love with after he writes her into every single one of his best sellers. That’s cool, I’ll chill down here, with the rats, and the constant trickle of dank sewer water. No really guys, it’s fine. I’ll just keep making you laugh throughout this entire game, as you never once question where such brilliant humor stems from. You’ll never realize that every joke you read is really told by one lonely guy trapped in the bottom of a well, and that’s a fate I’m willing to accept. Bye forever.