We’ve all heard the old cliche “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s sometimes a difficult one to practice. After all, if something rubs you the wrong way right from the start, it’s tempting to give up rather than wait to see if things get better. My experience with Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force reflects exactly why that old adage has become so popular: though the early going was rough, I stuck with it long enough to find that things quickly improved — and ended up really enjoying the majority of the game.
Though it’s a PS4 release of a game that came out just a couple years ago, I think it serves as a friendly reminder that this is one of Compile Heart’s very best titles. If you’re a JRPG fan who missed this on PS3, or a returning fan who’s wondering what’s new, read on to find out why this is worth your while.
First, let me reassure those who might be as turned off by the early narrative as I was: things do get much, much better, and quickly. Fairy Fencer F begins with exactly the kind of setup that makes me cringe: a couple of characters who seem like flimsy, D-tier anime archetypes bickering back and forth.
Named Fang and Eryn, the two main characters have found themselves in a bit of an awkward situation: the former, a habitual slacker, pulled the latter’s Fury (read: magical weapon containing a fairy — in this case, Eryn) out of the ground and thus created a contract between them to take part in a conflict between a Goddess and a subtly-named Evil God. Unfortunately, Fang wants no part in any of this despite not really having a choice, and so he resists and resists until the inevitable moment when he doesn’t.
It’d be one thing if the dialogue were funny for this opening part of the game, but it honestly reminded me of fan fiction — trying way too hard to get laughs and belaboring the “quirkiness” of its protagonists to a sickening degree. But (and you knew there was going to be a but!), mercifully, things get better quickly. Once the obligatory exposition is over, things pick up pretty quickly, adding a bevy of other cute characters to your party and fleshing them out a bit more than initial impressions might suggest.
Sure, they’re not the deepest of folks, and they’re definitely still pretty archetypal when it comes right down to it, but even Fang and Eryn started to grow on me after a few hours of trekking around with them. There’s more material to experience with your party members in this version of the game, too, since they added a few more “routes,” so fans of the original do have a significant reason to come back.
The gameplay formula here is pretty standard, which I don’t have a problem with since it’s satisfying in its predictability: search for a dungeon, explore it, find a Fury, pull a sword out of the aforementioned Goddess or Evil God, then return to the Inn to chat up some folks and restock your items. There’s nothing all that special about the dungeons here, but I’m glad to see some puzzles implemented — they’re simple for the most part, but they add so much more flavor to what could otherwise be dull labyrinths. The Fairy system, which involves a series of the collectible little buggers, is the most unique thing the game has to offer and can actually change up the direction of the narrative in addition to providing tangible combat and dungeon exploration benefits for your party.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force uses a modified version of the Neptunia series’ battle system, which is sort of funny, because I think it’s better here than it ever has been in its original incarnation. It’s my favorite part of the game, and definitely the best combat in a Compile Heart project, period. The lightning-fast, turn-based system allows you to have up to six characters (increased from the original version’s three) on the battlefield at once, making for chaotic fun that’s super easy to get into.
There’s nothing much RPG fans haven’t seen before — you simply move your character around the battlefield, then use a basic attack or skill — but simplicity and speed are the biggest assets here. Plus, the “Fairize” system is awesomely goofy fun, allowing you to power up into a super form after building up a meter. The transformations themselves look cool, and the over-the-top music that accompanies them is even better.
Despite these great tunes, sound design is perhaps the biggest area where the game falls down — although most of the bigger problems can be fixed with a little tweaking. You’re going to want to go into the options menu and fiddle with the volume options for before you even start. With the default settings, it’s nearly impossible to hear the characters’ conversations over the loud music and deafening sound effects. As mentioned, you can fix it fairly easily, but it’s a bit irritating and strange that the standard mix is so awful in the first place.
On the other hand, there’s nothing much you can do about the dialogue spoken by characters during battle, which is insanely obnoxious. A set of guard characters you fight early on shout the same line just about every turn, which leads to an unintentionally hilarious (at first) effect: “Stop resisting!” “Stop resisting!” “Stop resisting!” “Stop resisting!” This doesn’t stop for the length of the game, either, making me wish the developers had “resisted” the urge to have the combatants speak at all.
At least the other aspects of the presentation are fantastic. It might be a risk to give too much credit to two people, but Yoshitaka Amano and Nobuo Uematsu aren’t just any two people. These two masters lend their talents to the proceedings in a major way, with Amano having contributed concept art (some of which, in his original painterly style, you can see during the brief opening) and Uematsu having composed some of the score (which had contributions from a whopping seven composers).
I’ll have to do some research on the individual tracks to find out which compositions were Uematsu’s, but the fact of the matter is that the soundtrack is fantastic across the board, from guitar-driven dungeon themes to the handful of toe-tapping J-pop themes. It’s one I’m seriously going to seek out for purchase, even if I have to import it. It’s just that good.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. The opening moments may have made me cringe, but none of that matters when the stuff after it was so much fun. The fast, frantic battle system improves on its Neptunia origins in every meaningful way, and the energetic soundtrack (composed in part by Final Fantasy music mastermind Nobuo Uematsu) kept me pumped throughout the adventure. This probably isn’t going to change your mind on JRPGs if you’re not into the genre, but for those already indoctrinated (including yours truly), this is a great upgrade to an already solid game. If you missed it on PS3, do yourself a favor and check it out.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 game, which we were provided with.
Fast-paced, chaotic combat, an excellent soundtrack and solid improvements over the original game make Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force an infectiously fun time.