Thanks to popular roleplaying franchises like Record of Agarest War, Hyperdimension Neptunia and Mugen Souls, developer Compile Heart has managed to carve itself a pretty comfortable niche. While their titles may not score high on the critical scale, there is a deep and loyal fanbase for the company. Taking a break from their more popular works for the time being, Compile Heart has now brought Fairy Fencer F to those who reside in the west.
The plot kicks into high gear right away in Fairy Fencer F, as we first meet main protagonist Fang during a stint in jail. A lazy jerk who is more obsessed with food and sleeping than anything else, Fang is an unlikely hero. However, after retrieving a magical weapon, our “hero” soon finds himself paired with the fairy known as Eryn and thrown into the world of Fencers. Despite his reluctance, Fang is soon roped into collecting the other enchanted weapons, or furies, out in the wild. The two are later joined in their quest by several other Fencers, as a common goal of reviving an ancient goddess unites the crew.
Since this is a Compile Heart production, the plot here is your standard issue fluff. Issues are rarely taken seriously here and the characters even occasionally break the fourth wall for some clever jokes. While I did find myself enjoying the humor, I could have done without the rampant fan service at parts. One character strips at the mere mention of an area being hot, while another seemingly gets off to being insulted. Another weird thing about the plot is that despite being the main characters, both Fang and Eryn are kind of awful beings. They’re rude, arrogant and just generally not pleasant to be around. I found them to be a tad grating at times, which is unfortunate considering you spend the most time with them.
Luckily, while the game’s plot is inconsistent when it comes to quality, its gameplay is remarkably solid all the way through. A standard turn-based RPG, the battle engine is not going to surprise you with anything. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options for customization, however, as entire battle strategies can be edited to suit your play style. This includes the standard learning of new spells and attacks, but it also covers editing combo strikes and swapping between party members mid-battle. By constantly keeping players on their toes during battle, the combat engine manages to stay fresh despite the hundreds of battles that take place over the course of the game.
If there is one defining aspect to the gameplay here, though, it’s the ability to Fairize. For lack of a better word, Fairize is the ability to boost each party member’s powers for a brief period of time by fusing with their respective fairies. Activating the ability triggers a brief cutscene which features the chosen character stabbing themselves with their weapon, while a JROCK song blasts in the background. Frankly, it’s a little annoying to deal with every time you use it, especially since the cheesy rock song plays the entire time the Fairize is in effect. However, if I have to deal with that in order to have stronger attacks, so be it.
One of the things I appreciated about the battle system was the fact that Compile Heart did an excellent job of guiding me through everything. Unlike some other titles in the genre, which tend to throw you right in the deep end of things with barely an explanation, Fairy Fencer F explains every piece of its combat engine. As you learn new things about the combat engine, the game gradually raises its difficulty to match. That’s not to say that the game isn’t difficult, because it most certainly can be, but it’s refreshing to see a title that isn’t focused on being unnecessarily difficult at all times.
While the combat sections of the game are quite fun to deal with, the same cannot be said for the actual dungeon crawling that must be done. Since traveling to each distinct area is handled through in-game menus, these segments represent the only time you actually get to move around freely. Despite the fact that each location has its own theme (ice, fire, etc.), they all manage to seem boring in the same exact way. You just move from room to room, disposing of the enemies walking around each one and eventually facing off against a boss. The camera during these sections is equally frustrating, as it is zoomed in too far, which makes trying to get the drop on an enemy a frustrating task.
It doesn’t help that the graphics for these dungeon crawling segments are rather lacklustre, to say the least. Despite being heavily detailed, the 3D character models look rather poor, with only the sparse and bland environments looking worse. Even with the poor graphics, the framerate also tends to take a dive during sections with intense action. While the animated cutscenes look a little better, they’re not enough to fully save it in the visual department.
I wasn’t sure what to expect coming in to Fairy Fencer F, as just the name alone is enough to warrant skepticism. And at first it seemed like my suspicions were correct, as the obnoxious characters jumped out right away. However, after spending time with the game, I eventually came around to its silly storyline, mostly thanks to its solid battle engine. While there are still a handful of issues with here, the fact that it is fun and easy to jump into makes it more than enough to recommend to fans of the JRPG genre.
This review is based off the PlayStation 3 exclusive, which was provided to us.
Thanks to an engaging battle system and strong customization options, Fairy Fencer F manages to overcome its inconsistent storyline and lacklustre graphics, and stand out in the crowded JRPG genre.