Japanese role-playing games aren’t usually renowned for their grounded story-telling, and Fairy Fencer F is no exception. Set in a vibrant idyllic fantasy kingdom, this latest title from Compile Hearts starts out in true Arthurian fashion. Weary and down on his luck, the game’s lead protagonist, Fang, stumbles upon a sword firmly lodged in the ground. As legend goes, many have tried to pull it from the soil yet none have succeeded. With nothing to lose Fang gives it a shot and within seconds, becomes an unlikely hero in the war between light and darkness.
The blade he carries is one of many crafted by the old Gods and possesses immense power. Fencers who wield these “Furies” are bonded with the Fairies who exist inside of them. In Fang’s case, he’s lumped with Eryn who acts as both his companion and mentor, the two of them setting off on an adventure to uncover the other Furies out in the wild.
In truth, it’s an interesting narrative set-up despite the game’s hit and miss cast of characters. Needless to say, if you’re not overly keen on anime/manga tropes and self-referential humour, much of the dialogue can be glossed over thanks to the game’s rather handy skip button.
This same button will also come in use during actual gameplay, speeding up Fairy Fencer F’s combat considerably. If there’s one thing I personally dislike about older Japanese role-playing games it’s the downtime between actions and constant waiting. Here, it isn’t as much as a problem: though combat is still turn-based, the skip button reduce the waiting times to mere seconds.
Another feature that helps to make combat more exciting is the use of movement. Instead of being rooted to the spot, characters can move freely, lining up special attacks and evading more powerful enemies. It’s a simple touch and one that accompanied by a growing list of systems that eventually work their way into the game.
Many of these surround Fairies who are found periodically throughout the game. Like weapons and armour, they can be equipped to Fang and his companions, granting them specific bonuses. Characters can then be further customised thanks to a comprehensive upgrade system and other little knacks such as adjustable combos. Achievement-like challenges also make an appearance, granting permanent stat bonuses for a variety of actions.
At first, the multitude of features available can seem overwhelming though Fairy Fencer F does a grand job of introducing each one. For those who don’t like to be spoon fed, the game also allows you to probe into its advanced mechanics freely and change the learning curve to your own liking.
Visually, Fairy Fencer F doesn’t hold up particularly well for a 2014 release, even if it is a PS3 title. Though the 2D artwork is great, environments and character models are basic and unoriginal throughout. The framerate is also disappointingly shaky considering the mediocre level of detail on show. With that said, those who gorge themselves on Japanese imports won’t be put off by its appearance.
Though certainly not a JRPG landmark, Fairy Fencer still has a lot to offer for both fans of the genre as well as newcomers. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it’s fairly straightforward and easily accessible, despite the number of systems at play. One thing that may deter some, however, is the game’s cast of characters and narrative. Though there are plenty of people who no doubt enjoy this select approach to storytelling, there are plenty of others who simply won’t make the same connection.