Inside Pulse 12

Review: Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force (Sony Playstation 4)

Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force
Genre: RPG
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Release Date: 07/26/16

Normally, when a remake of an existing game comes out, if I’ve reviewed the original, I tend to copy over the original information, italicized, and spell out the new information in normal text, or use the original as a guideline to edit in the new content, depending on the changes that have been made. This is a policy that’s generally served me well, as most updated releases of games… don’t really add in a lot of new content, and in the rare case where a game does this thing (like with Persona 4 Golden), a simple re-write and expansion of content would be sufficient. I bring this up because, for the first time, this plan is simply insufficient; Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is such a complex and robust rerelease that the easiest thing for all of us is to redirect newcomers to the original review, and address the additions that have been made here. Make no mistake: Advent Dark Force is an absolutely massive upgrade to the original in all respects, and from a sheer content perspective, even if you played the original, there’s so much here that you haven’t seen that it’s worth revisiting. That said, for as much as the game adds in, the experience loses a lot in translation, because frankly, not all of the changes are for the better; the game is still a good experience, but it’s… less of a good experience than the original, for a few key reasons.

First, a quick-and-dirty summary of the original

If you’ve played the original game, or took my suggestion to read the original review, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. Working under the assumption you’ve skipped the original review (or need a refresher), here’s a quick summary of the original game: you play as Fang, a semi-genre savvy jerk with a heart of gold who one day happens upon a Fury, which are magical weapons possessed by Fairy partners who aid their users in battle and act as companions. Despite Fang’s generally poor attitude, his partner, Erin, convinces him to seek other Furies, and with the help of a motley crew of misfit partners, they head off to collect every Fury they find in hopes of reviving the Goddess of this world, who was sealed away in a battle with the Dark God many years ago. The plot comes across as mildly stereotyped in the beginning but manages to be excellent past the halfway mark due to an interesting plot twist, and the game’s aesthetics are just fine on the PS3 all in all. The tech is roughly in line with what you’d expect from a PS3 title, but characters and enemies featured some interesting effects and aesthetics, the voice work and soundtrack sound quite good and fitting to the game, and the game is nice enough to offer the option for English and Japanese voice tracks, both of which are well done.

The gameplay is your standard “party of three fight enemies while navigating dungeons” fare with some extra systems attached, including the ability to attack or avoid enemies in the dungeon rather than being stuck with random battles, and a Fairize system that allows characters to jump into magic suits to deal more damage and unlock new skills. Combat is purely turn-based, and characters move in order of their initiative, while characters move around within a movement circle to get into position for attacks and special moves. You can also level up normally, as well as earn Weapon Points to boost your Furies with added stats and unlocked skills, and complete personal character challenges that unlock more stat bonuses. Your characters can also use the Furies you find in the game world as equipment to give them bonuses or as World Shaping devices that change parameters of dungeons (such as adding to or reducing EXP/WP/Cash payouts, changing enemy layouts, increasing/decreasing parameters and so on) to give yourself boosts when playing. The game is a bit grind-heavy at times but mostly leans toward being easier than you’d expect the further you go, some of the unlockable content is obscurely locked away or only unlocked very late in the game, and a bit derivative from other Compile Heart games, but honestly, at the time it came out, it was quite good, and I enjoyed it immensely, even as someone who isn’t a fan by default.

Now, with that out of the way…

So what’s new with Advent Dark Force?

Oh, there is so much to talk about here, so buckle up.

The most obvious changes made to the game are, unsurprisingly, directly related to the plot. The changes that have been touted the heaviest by Idea Factory through their website revolve around two new alternate pathways the player can take through the second half of the story, based on action performed during the first half of the story (hint: it involves the Vile God). The original ending path is still fully intact in Advent Dark Force, of course, and you’ll definitely want to play through this path regardless, if only to get some levels before trying the new plotlines, but there are two additional storylines that branch off from the mid-point of the game, and all three plots are wildly different from one another. The original storyline, following Fang and Erin as they try to undo the mistakes they’ve made, is still included, and you’ll have to go through this storyline regardless to get some experience and such. You’re also able to branch off into a story path that follows Sherman and Erin in a world that’s wholly alien, featuring versions of their friends who are wildly different from how they remember, as well as a world where Fang and Erin are on the run from enemies they’ve never met, as their party has been reduced to little more than hunted outcasts before a religious cult that controls everything with an iron fist. For those who’ve played through the original, though, it’s also worth noting that the narrative has seen several expanded moments to explain events that needed more explanation the first time around, which is honestly a really good idea. Even if you’ve played through the original plotline, it’s worth going through over again, not only to build up experience and cash, but to see the small but important changes that explain a lot more of the world and why it is the way it is. Characters like Apollonius and Ethel get more character development, plot twists are given more sensible explanations, and on the whole, the core narrative of the game is the best it’s ever been, which is wonderful if you’re a fan of the original, since it gives you things to look out for as you play, which makes the first go-round more exciting than it might be otherwise.

The game doesn’t feature a lot of aesthetic changes in the strictest sense; it’s clearly a game that was ported from the PS3 to the PS4, and you can look at the visuals and see that they still have the PS3 feel to them technically. The artistic style does help to offset this a bit, fortunately, as it’s still as vibrant and colorful as ever and does a lot to keep the game looking pleasant even when it’s not technically up-to-par. However, Compile Heart also added in some elements to the game that push the technical capabilities of the game beyond its PS3 counterpart in other ways, such as by adding in more enemies and allies to a battle at one time or building massive new zones the original version simply could not have handled. Aurally, the game isn’t significantly different from the original PS3 release; the music is functionally identical, the voice work is the same (and Idea Factory even got the same English voice cast back by all indications), and the game still features a full English and Japanese dub that you can swap to whenever you wish. The few new voice cast members added to the game all fit in just fine and turn in performances that feel appropriate to those of their peers, and everything sounds just dandy; it’s not especially different in the strictest sense, but there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken, after all.

So what about the gameplay?

The most obvious change to the gameplay mechanics in Advent Dark Force revolve around party composition. In the original game, you could field a fairly large team of characters, but only three of those characters could be active in battle at any given time, so you had fairly strict party compositions you’d ideally work with in order to make it through battles healthy. In this game, however, you can field up to six party members in combat at once, which not only means you’ll usually be able to field the majority of your team at one time through most of the game, but also that you have much more room to experiment in battle as you wish. The game attempts to balance this out a bit by also having enemy teams feature additional units and boosts the health and stats of enemies as you go; the former only happens in around a third of all battles, and the latter is more noticeable in mid-to-late game content, but it’s a fine attempt at balancing out combat given your part size is doubled.

The game also adds in some new mechanics while changing others to rebalance gameplay a bit as you go. The most notable addition is that of EX Characters; essentially, once you’ve completed the game one time, any characters you’ve unlocked will always be available to you for party usage whenever you wish, even when they would otherwise be unavailable. Not only does this mean characters are constantly earning Experience and Weapon Points, even if you haven’t met them yet, it also means that even if a useful character (such as your primary healer or damage dealer) has been removed from the party, they’re available regardless to make things easier. The game also changes around how enemy drops and Avalanche attacks work for this version of the game. Regarding the former, enemies now have breakable body parts which, when targeted, can allow for special drops or more damage to be dealt, making paying attention to which enemies are vulnerable to what attacks important if you want to collect everything you need. Regarding the latter, Avalanche attacks are now more challenging to trigger, requiring you to hit enemies with weapons they’re weak to repeatedly to trigger the attacks, which can make setting them off more challenging than they were previously. You’re also given a dash move to navigate dungeons now, allowing you to rocker past enemies if you don’t want to fight specific groups or just want to hunt for hidden items, which makes movement much more convenient. Finally, it’s worth noting that the game’s level cap has been dramatically increased from the original release, allowing you to severely grind out characters if you so choose, so those who love having teams that can destroy everything in existence will love this addition.

On the final additions made to the game, you’re also offered entirely new zones to run through, as well as new bosses and enemies to face and even new characters to meet (depending on the path you play through) and recruit for your party. In fact, your very first run-through of the game will see two new zones added in, so you don’t have to get to the new story paths just to see new locales; the game even starts off using a brand-new prison zone to teach players the basics of dungeon exploration before tossing them into the world. The new story paths also add in dungeons that utilize some solid puzzle solving, including key hunting and switch hunting mechanics, as well as a zone that’s absolutely massive and allows you to rocket around, as it turns your dash movement into a rocket propulsion system for quick zone traversal. This zone also adds in all-new Fury hunting segments, as well as enemies that are dramatically more profitable to grind out than normal on either story path, making it an excellent place to spend time, whether you’re grinding up levels or just trying to clear character trials for dungeon movement distance. You can also recruit two new characters, Marianna and Noie, in one of the storyline paths, so you have even more options of who to recruit for dungeon clearing depending on your play style.

Anything else to know about this version of the game?

Well, clearing all three plotlines will probably take you around a hundred hours all told; while you can skip dialogue whenever you wish, you’ll probably want to play through the whole plot the first go-round to see the changes made before skipping over the first half of the game on subsequent playthroughs, so your first run will take a bit longer than the second and third sessions. There are also a whopping eleven characters to recruit across all three storylines, so you’ll have plenty of characters to level up and experiment with, depending on your personal preferences. If you’re the sort of person who loves alternate endings, this game also has plenty of them, as each storyline path offers the potential option for Fang to end up with specific members of the party, meaning you can have a specific ending with basically every lady in the game (even Lola for some reason) depending on which ending path you’re on. The game adds in some new Furies to collect due to the new zones you can visit, and still features all of the original extra content it had in the original (such as sidequests and the Tower of Shukesoo), and the new storylines offer new sidequests to take on if you really want to clear out everything the game has to offer. Finally, there’s also a brand new compliment of Trophies to unlock for those who enjoy the hunt, and there are even Trophies specific to this game and its varied storyline paths. In short, there is so much more to Advent Dark Force than the original that it’s easily worth the asking price if you loved the original.

On the other hand…

One of the most notable issues with Fairy Fencer F was its pacing, as the game started off on even ground with the player before slowly declining in difficulty as you went along. Compile Heart addressed this by adding in three difficulty levels this time around, which is good, but they also ramped up the difficulty in the game overall to compensate for the six-person parties, and this is… not good. Core storyline battles will now almost require level grinding, and several of the battles in the game require absurd levels of grinding, to the point where the Shukesoo’s Tower level recommendations have changed from “being a bit high” to “being flat out lies,” as one battle in particular recommended high seventies, but needed almost ten levels above that to even be feasible. The game is just horrendously balanced at this point, and it almost feels like Compile Heart either didn’t test the combat balance (as even on Easy the game needs grinding to succeed) or simply assumed players would be okay with this thing, which is… never a good assumption to make. Don’t get me wrong, it’s feasible if you use Fury boosts to improve EXP and WP payouts, it’s just frustrating that the developers made an obvious improvement with a difficulty selection option… and then shot that improvement in the foot by making Easy difficulty much harder to compensate.

Still, if you’re fine with grinding, the game has a few new issues to contend with, and most of these revolve around the new storylines on display. For one thing, neither of the new storyline paths is “good” in the conventional sense; both story paths actively HATE Galdo for some bizarre reason, neither path spends a lot of time justifying the new relationship path endings you’re offered, and both are honestly… kind of depressing narratively in comparison to the first. Further, both are also very bizarrely paced and constructed; the second path removes Fang and Tiara from the story for extended periods of time (fifty and seventy five percent, respectively), while the third does three of the core characters dirty and spends a lot of time focusing on its new characters over all else. This is… mildly concerning, since the new characters aren’t great; while it’s understandable some players might want to have Marianna in their party (even if she’s objectively horrible as a person), Noie is fundamentally uninteresting as a character to the point that his decision to join the part feels like an afterthought, and he almost feels like he was made playable just to do it. This all combines to make the third storyline in the game aggressively uninteresting, which is concerning since it’s the only one that offers an obvious story hook, which… if Idea Factory is reading this, please encourage Compile Heart to base the sequel on ANYTHING but that.

Look, personally speaking, I like the original Fairy Fencer F, and I definitely love some of the changes made to this game, but on the whole, Advent Dark Force is an inferior product to the original, and it’s hard to recommend unless you loved the first game or you’ve never played it and are fine with what it does. To be completely fair, the game adds in an amazing amount of new content, from new dungeons and story paths to brand-new mechanics, characters and Furies, and looking at the game purely by what it adds to an already robust experience, there’s a lot to love. It goes further, though, by adding in new options for using favorite characters, supporting multiple difficulties, and fine-tuning some of the combat mechanics in a way that really makes this feel like the definitive version of the game, which makes it easy to recommend for fans. However, the pacing has changed from “really easy” to “grind-heavy, even on Easy,” the new plotlines added to the game are at best less interesting than the original and at worst aggressively unenjoyable and poorly written, the new characters aren’t well handled, and the game seems to be implying a sequel that’s based around the worst possible ending offered, which isn’t a great move forward for the series. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is still a fine addition to the collection of anyone who loved the original and wants more, as well as anyone who loves the genre and doesn’t mind the grinding, but it’s harder to recommend than its predecessor, and hopefully the next game in the series is more even-handed in its pacing and narrative.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is an upgraded version of the original that adds in lots of content at the cost of some pacing and narrative strength, and while it’s a more robust experience all around, it’s also harder to recommend as a result of some of the changes. On the plus side, there’s an extensive amount of content added to the game, including two all-new story paths (and added development to the original plot), new dungeons to navigate, new characters to add to your party and new unlockables to play with. There’s also a strong amount of refinement to the systems that do exist in light of the upgraded tech behind the game, including increased player party size, new mechanics, changed mechanics and some fine-tuning of systems that make the game, in many respects, feel like the best version possible. On the other hand, the game’s pacing has changed from being too easy to being too grind heavy on the easiest difficulty, the new plot paths added to the game are generally less interesting and often unenjoyable in comparison to the original, the added characters aren’t well implemented and the ending of the third story path implies a sequel to possibly the worst of the three storylines, which is less something to anticipate and more something to dread. If you loved the original game a bit, or you’re brand new to the series and don’t mind the downsides, Advent Dark Force is still fairly easy to recommend… it’s just harder to recommend than its predecessor was, unfortunately, which is disappointing given this is the updated version.