Fairy Fencer F, a game titled with extreme alliteration, is a Japanese Role-Playing Game that recently released on Steam. Created by Idea Factory and Compile Heart, of Hyperdimension Neptunia fame (or infamy, depending on perspective), this game seems to be a return to more fundamental storytelling than the silly worldscapes that we’re used to seeing from them.
This game opens like your typical anime. A lazy underachiever stumbles across a mystical sword that he hopes will solve all of his problems, but soon after he is given an important mission from the fairy that resided inside of the weapon and the plot quickly swells into a greater tale of collecting magical swords called Furies to unseal the Goddess of the world. Along the way your party will come across a variety of colorful characters with their own personality quirks (read: Tropes), as you go on your journey to catch ’em all. The story is your standard anime trope-riddled fare, but it’s the character interactions that really make for an entertaining experience as there will be at least more than a few moments that will cause you to laugh out loud. In my experience, both my wife and I found ourselves chuckling or downright guffawing at some of the dialogue in Fairy Fencer F.
Most images of Fairy Fencer F will show static 2D portraits for cutscenes (similar to a visual novel), since that’s how the majority of dialogue is delivered to the player. When the game isn’t in visual novel mode for dialogue is when players will actually have control over their character. Dungeons are fairly simplistic in that they’re navigated from one end to the other with no real puzzles with which the players can interact. When players come in contact with an enemy while in the dungeon maneuvering mode, combat begins and players will confront foes in a variation of the Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth battle system.
For those who haven’t played the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, the player selects basic combo attacks, special skills and magic attacks to take on enemies. The combo attacks are highly customizable, which is important since each character’s weapon can change forms between swords, axes, bows, and more, and each enemy has different weaknesses to different weapon types. Some combo attacks my launch an enemy airborne, which allows you to follow up with extra damage if you use a chase combo attack immediately thereafter- utilizing these bonuses for added damage is one of the best ways to efficiently take out bosses and normal enemies.
Performing multiple hits on enemies builds up a tension gauge, which players can use to do a half-Gundam transformation using the Fairize command in the battle menu. For most of the game, the best way to fill the tension gauge quickly will be to use the skills or magic spells with the highest high counts (or that hit the most enemies for just a few hits), which makes it extremely helpful for boss battles since the Fairize transformation increases your damage output by a significant margin.
Winning in combat gives players experience, WP or weapon points, and gold. WP is the currency that will most be used to modify your characters, as you can increase a character’s stats, learn new skills, magic, and even new combo attacks. Leveling up increases base stats, but the only way to learn new attacks or passive abilities will be to gain enough WP to unlock it. Not all abilities or attacks need to be unlocked to beat the game, but if you want to unlock every single thing possible on each character, be prepared to do a lot of grinding. Thankfully, all of the animations in combat can be skipped by holding the Z key or left trigger, which can make longer boss fights or grindfests much faster (this also comes in handy with the Fairize transformations that you’ll see probably 100 times before beating the game).
One unfortunate fact is that enemy variation teeters toward the low end of the spectrum; players will come across recolors of already defeated enemy types on a regular basis throughout Fairy Fencer F. Every optional Fury and practically every non-boss enemy encountered from the halfway point of the game, forward, will have enemies that seem extremely familiar (unless, during the course of playing this game, you suddenly come down with transient global amnesia due to a blow to the head). This is quite the shame, as well, considering how varied the existing enemy designs are; it just would have been nice to have a whole game’s worth of varied designs.
As far as being a PC port goes, Fairy Fencer F has full keyboard and mouse support, which is somewhat unusual for JRPGs on Steam. It also includes controller support and players dissatisfied with the default button or key bindings can adjust them however they may like. Those who loathe English dubs should appreciate the fact that the full Japanese vocal track is selectable, similar to other Idea Factory releases.
On that note, it is worth noting that the soundtrack for Fairy Fencer F is quite excellent, though there are some strange outliers on which your mileage may vary. For example, while most of the traveling and combat music is enjoyable, there are a couple songs that will trigger during Fairize (and I’m talking every time you Fairize, not just the first time) that are very reminiscent of J-Rock. Saying that the one for the first half of the game is very similar to Blue Dragon’s boss music, Eternity, isn’t a disingenuous statement. Whether or not you will enjoy that sort of thing is highly dependent upon your tolerance for that kind of music rearing its head in anime or games.
Overall, while Fairy Fencer F is missing the facetious charm of the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, that doesn’t entirely mean that it is without redeeming qualities and enjoyable features. This game is pleasant in quite a number of ways, from the stellar sound direction to humorous character interactions. The combat system and customization is very similar to Idea Factory’s other games, though the different approach in storytelling can be quite refreshing, especially for those who enjoy JRPGs. Those who don’t enjoy the trappings of your usual JRPG may want to avoid this particular title, as rather than try to do something new in the genre, Fairy Fencer F decides to embrace everything that constitutes JRPGs, anime and pop culture. Those not into that sort of thing will probably want to stay far from this game.