Fairy Fencer F
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: 9/16/2014
So, let’s get this one out of the way up front: I’m not the first person who would have been likely to volunteer to review Fairy Fencer F. Compile Heart is hit or miss as a developer, to me, as Cross Edge and the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise are solid, while the Agarest series is somewhat less so, and a lot of their games are stereotypically cheesy in all the wrong ways. Meanwhile, while I love Nippon Ichi as a publisher because they’re willing to take chances on games that would otherwise not come out in the US, outside of the DanganRonpa series, I’m not a huge fan of what they actually publish, generally. That said, Fairy Fencer F seemed like it was building on the mechanics of Hyperdimension Neptunia, and looked like it might be interesting (if cliché), and honestly, with several of the “must have” games that came out this year leaving me disappointed, I figured this might be worth a try. Well, oddly enough, it ended up being a lot more than that; while it’s certainly overly cliché and underdeveloped in parts, Fairy Fencer F is a surprisingly good experience overall, and I dare say that if you like Japanese RPG’s, even a little bit, it’s well worth checking out.
Sometimes… I wonder what it’d be like to have a backstory.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the plot of Fairy Fencer F is a mish-mash of clichés, because… it kind of is. Our hero, Fang, starts off the game essentially as a drifter who is looking for food when he happens upon a magic sword stuck in… something. A town local helpfully explains that pulling out said sword will get him a wish, so Fang, having nothing better to do, pulls it out, and of course it works. Instead of a wish, though, he ends up with… a sword, as well as a talking Fairy companion named Eryn, who wants Fang to help her resurrect the Goddess (which he hilariously wants no part of), hijinks ensue, and you’re off. This leads into the rest of the plot, which involves meeting a wacky cast of characters, including Tiara, a snotty noble woman who secretly has a masochistic fetish, Harley, a huge-chested scientist who has a wacky problem with basic personal hygiene and staying dressed (and perverse lust toward female Fairies apparently), and other zany cast members. Along the way you also run afoul of a “presented as good but secretly eeeeeeeeevil” corporation, fight lots of scummy dudes and one “noble but misguided” dude, deal with a little girl who’s super greedy but has the best information (because of course), and fight to save the world by resurrecting the Goddess with lots of swords.
That said, the plot works for one very important reason: at the halfway mark, the entire plot gets flipped on its head through a series of completely reasonable events that change the entire concept of the game, as well as a good amount of the character interactions and motivations. On its own, the first half of the game is fine enough; while a bunch of the characters are both stereotypical and have no character development to speak of (IE half your party members), the important main characters either learn enough to grow or show enough interesting hidden personality traits to make the plot acceptable. Once you hit the halfway point, though, things kick into gear and the plot goes from passable to enjoyable in a hurry. Several character motivations are expanded or developed, a few characters almost become completely different people, and the whole experience becomes a lot more meaningful and manages to work around the obvious stereotypes without falling into a rut. A bunch of the characters still never grow or change beyond this point, mind you, and you still have to get through the quasi-stereotypical stuff to get to the cool mid-game content, but for the most part, it’s worth it, and the plot ends up being far better than it had any right to be as a result.
Fairy Fencer F is an artistically pretty game, of that there’s no doubt; the game features some really interesting looking environments and makes excellent use of bright colors and special effects to make the game come to life. The game also goes all out with the crazy anime-inspired special attacks, and puts a lot of personality into the various special moves and animations that can be performed by your allies and the named enemies you face. The character designs are a little silly, especially Tiara’s Gothic Lolita wear and the numerous amount of buckles and zippers rocked by some of the cast, the game is absolutely silly with breasts (not that this is a surprise), and there are some framerate issues in larger battles, so the visuals aren’t all they could be. Overall though, the game looks good and no one’s dressed to a Final Fantasy level of improbability so for the most part the visuals work. Aurally, however, the game is mostly a home run. The music is stellar, and there are a lot of tracks that are either amazing on purpose (several of the dungeon songs) or because of their sheer absurdity (the first transformation theme), but they’re a joy to listen to either way. The voice work is also generally top notch, as, again, the voices are either great on purpose (Fang, Harley) or great in spite of itself (Galdo), and you’re offered both Japanese and English language tracks if you’re so inclined. Finally, the audio effects are also pretty great across the board, from normal combat noises to special attack effects to monster grunts and groans and beyond, and nothing sounds awkward or out of place.
Oh! Have you finally decided to embrace a life of baldness? Well you’ve come to the right man!
At its core, Fairy Fencer F is a semi-interactive dungeon-crawling turn-based RPG. You’ll alternate between the overworld map, town and the various dungeons you have to navigate to make progress, and while each has its own unique play elements, none is terribly difficult to understand. When in town, you’ll navigate menus to visit different locations, shop, take on missions and talk to your party members or other random NPC’s. When in the overworld, you’ll generally place Furies (more on that in a bit) and select the locations you want to visit as needed. When in the dungeons proper, movement takes place from a third person perspective, allowing you to run around as needed, jump over obstacles and strike visible enemies to give yourself a combat advantage. In battle, everything is menu-based and turn order is assigned individually, so you select actions for the current party member, said actions occur, and the battle rotates to the next character until battle is over. Finally, you can also access a menu whenever you wish to check character stats, reorganize your party, change equipment and other fun things. Much of the basics of Fairy Fencer F work exactly as you’d expect, and genre fans in general and Hyperdimension Neptunia fans in specific will find that a lot of the systems here make sense more or less immediately.
Fairy Fencer F does a lot to try to be its own beast, and a lot of that starts out with the combat systems. When you’re in battle, you have a couple of options, most of which make sense off the bat, such as the ability to use items, skills and magic as needed. Normal melee attacks are a little different from what you might expect, however; when you select an action, you’re given a green circle that represents the range your character can move on that turn, and a darker amber circle that represents the effective range their action can reach, whatever it might be. With most other actions you simply press the button and the effect goes off, but with attacks you can press the face buttons as many times as you have combo points left to perform different attacks as needed. Combos can be set in advance relative to what you want to do in battle, and you can have up to three sets created (though you can alternate attacks from any of them), which are mapped to the Triangle, X and Square buttons for each combo (Circle cancels the combo). Further, while each character has a default weapon armed, they can learn different combos that allow their Fairy weapon to transform into another weapon type, so long as they can use it, so for example, Fang wields a sword by default, but his weapon can also become a fist weapon, a gun or even a bazooka, so long as you load the relevant combo attacks. This is used to exploit enemy weaknesses, as each enemy is weak to one or more weapon type, allowing you to deal even more damage if you’ve chosen the correct one. You also have a chance, when triggering attack weaknesses, of setting off what’s called an Avalanche Attack, where anyone else who has a turn free before the next enemy acts will also pile on the enemy and unleash combo damage, allowing you to inflict a world of hurt on an enemy before they can act.
Further, as you lay into the enemies and take damage, you also build up a Tension meter that fills up above your character portrait. On its own, this meter influences your ability to take and deal damage (the lower it is the worst off you are) but once it turns green you can kick on a skill called “Fairize” if you wish. This skill essentially involves your chosen character impaling themselves with their own weapon in some way, which then transforms them into a sort of mecha version of themselves in an effect straight out of Power Rangers. While in this state, your attacks deal way more damage, you take far less, and you have access to special skills that do a tremendous amount of damage, at the cost of a lot of skill points and about forty percent of your health (though Fang can learn a skill that takes as much as sixty). When in Fairize mode, however, healing and enemy damage drops your Tension gauge (though attacking still boosts it) so you’ll eventually drop out of it unless you’re way more powerful than the enemy, meaning that this is only a temporary boost, and knowing when and how to use it is a big benefit, especially in some of the more involved battles. It also bears noting that, in addition to their unique Fairize options and skills, each character also has their own unique special commands that can earn you more money, deal more damage at higher SP costs, deal more damage albeit with lower accuracy and so on, so you have some added risk/reward systems there to work with.
Further, you have a few more tools at your disposal to help you get into top enemy fighting shape. For one thing, as you lay waste to your enemies, you earn experience points and weapon points for doing so. Experience points work as you’d expect, where earning enough of them boosts you a level, giving you higher stats and better abilities to lay waste to your foes while surviving longer in combat. Weapon points, on the other hand, are more fluid; when earned, they are put into a pool that you can use as you see fit to level up your weapon. They can be put into various categories, allowing you to level up your stats, buy new skills and spells, learn bonus skills and even learn additional weapon combos for several different weapon types. You’ll also get the odd money and crafting drops when enemies are defeated, which you can use to get gear of various sorts. Money can be used to buy things from the shop, while the randomly dropped consumables can be used to craft additional goods with no cost from the vendor, assuming you have enough. There are also various treasure caches spread throughout the levels, both obvious and hidden, that you can hunt for that will give you items of various sorts which can be used in the same fashion, so really, you have a lot of options at your disposal for building your team as you see fit.
Finally, you also have the ability to find and work with secondary Fairies, which are locked away in Furies you can find as you go through the game. Fairies can be found by completing the plot, as well as through various sidequests, and come in various grades and element types. As to what you can do with Fairies, the short answer is “a whole lot,” as they have several useful skills that change the game significantly. For one, Fairies can be equipped to your party members, which can improve their statistics and impart elemental boosts as well as other useful skills. For another, Fairies also level up as you earn experience points, up to a level of ten, which further boosts their stats and learns them new skills, and they reward you with presents after they’ve participated in a set number of battles. You can also use your Fairies for the act of Godly Revival, where you use the associated Fairy to unlock a Fury that’s stabbed into either the Goddess or the Vile God; doing so brings you into a battle with an enemy of a level relative to the level of the Fury you’re unlocking, and if you win, the skill imbued in that Fury is attached to your Fairy. Each skill also comes with a set of stats that can be used in World Shaping, which is literally the act of stabbing your Furies into the world map to influence the environment. Each Fury has a set of modifications associated to it, some positive (pluses to experience/damage/defense/Weapon Points/money), some negative (added damage/increased SP usage/inability to heal), and if the sphere of influence for the Fury (which increases in size based on the level of the Fairy) touches a dungeon, that dungeon gains that effect. You can use this to modify your dungeon experience, so you can increase your performance in a dungeon or improve the payouts for grinding said dungeon as you wish, and since multiple Furies can affect one dungeon you can really set it up as you wish, so long as you can survive the negative effects. Also, the more Furies in the map, the larger Shukesoo’s Tower, a crystal tower in the center of the map, becomes, which you can challenge for loot and challenging encounters at your own pace.
How dare you! My sword isn’t compensating for anything!
If you just plow through the plot, you can probably get through Fairy Fencer F in around forty to fifty hours total, with some minor grinding here and there to make sure you can plow through the bosses as needed. If you do, though, you’re missing out on a whole lot of content, the whole of which could carry you to easily double that time spent, if not more. There are forty Fairies throughout the game, between story missions, sidequests and other random acquisition paths, and you’ll have to spend a good amount of time investigating if you want to acquire them all. There are also quests you can take on from the Inn to earn consumables and decorative equipment, various side conversations you can have with your party members, two hidden characters you can unlock and three different endings, as well as a New Game Plus mode that lets you carry over your levels, Fairies and gear to make unlocking everything easier. If you like to spend time with your JRPG’s, or you just want something with a good amount of meat and depth to it, Fairy Fencer F is definitely worth looking into on that front, as it’s got plenty to offer and handles itself rather well.
Outside of the aforementioned plot and framerate issues, the most obvious issue that comes to mind with the game is that it has some fairly obvious pacing issues. The difficulty of the game starts off as “you’ll want to grind for a bit” early on, but once you have a few useful Furies and three party members the challenge tapers off, and by the second half of the game you’ll find there’s not much of a challenge at all if you pay even a little bit of attention. You can find some challenge in Shukesoo’s Tower but even then you’ll have to fight enemies five or ten levels above your own to get it, while having multiple difficulties would’ve extended the life of the game a bit more than an optional tower does, especially on subsequent playthroughs. Further, a bunch of the hidden content either requires you to do wholly irrational things to get it (like going to places you wouldn’t go to instead of advancing the plot) and there’s literally one hidden character you only unlock right before the last dungeon, and they’re so underleveled in comparison to you that there’s no merit in even using them. I’m all for hidden content, but at least let me play with it a bit without forcing me to spend hours making the toys you give me useful in the first place. The game is also a bit derivative, either from other Compile Hearts games or from other games in the genre, and while that doesn’t make it bad, it does mean that there’s a certain feeling of déjà vu as you play that makes the game feel like you’ve seen it before on some level or another.
All told, Fairy Fencer F is definitely a game JRPG fans will find a lot to love about, as casual fans will find it simple to work with and diehards will enjoy its variety and structure, and even though it could use some tweaking to make it a truly great experience, it’s pretty fun on its own. The plot gets really solid past the halfway mark and most of the characters are likable enough on their own merits to carry things until then, the game looks interesting and sounds great, and the core gameplay is easy to grasp and does a good job of teaching you its intricacies. There are a lot of deep systems available to play around with to level up your party members and customize dungeon exploration to your liking, and there’s also a whole lot of content to see if you’re into getting everything out of your games to keep you coming back for more. However, the first half of the game could have used a bit of punching up in the plot department, the framerate can get a little dicey at times, and the game could’ve used some more consideration spent on pacing between the difficulty drop in the latter half of the game and the way some of the hidden content is set up, time and occurrence-wise. Overall, though, you can chalk up Fairy Fencer F as another quality piece of work published by NIS this year in the US, as it’s fun, interesting and well put together, and if you can overlook some pacing issues and a cliché first half, it’s well worth your time to check out.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Fairy Fencer F is one of the better JRPG’s released this year, overall, thanks to fun mechanics and a strong late-game plot, and while it could use some pacing correction and a stronger early-game plot, if you can see it through it more than pays itself off well. The plot ultimately ends up being pretty strong, the game is overall quite pretty and sounds excellent, the gameplay is easy to get into but full of depth and diversity, and there is a lot of content to the game that will keep you coming back for more even after you’ve completed it. The early plot could use some touching up, there are some framerate issues at times and the game could use some pacing correction in terms of difficulty and event placement, but these issues don’t hurt the game enough to detract from the good. If you can get through the early plot and can forgive the pacing and technical issues, Fairy Fencer F is a game no JRPG fan should be without, and it’s another strong release for NIS in a year full of them so far.
Tags: Fairy Fencer F, Nippon Ichi, Sony PS3