Review: Fairy Fencer F (PS3)

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Title: Fairy Fencer F
Format: Blu-ray disc / PlayStation Network Download (4.4 GB)
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Compile Heart
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: T
Fairy Fencer F is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Long ago, the Vile God and a good-natured Goddess fought. Using their powers to create swords called Furies, the fight ended in a draw with each of them sealed by the Furies. Additional Furies that were created were spread around the lands along with the Fairies that hold the key to their powers. Humans who wielded the powers of the Furies became known as Fencers.

The story of Fairy Fencer F revolves around Fang, who believes he can have his wish (of never running of of food) granted by pulling a dormant Fury from the ground. However, instead of endless food, he gets a fairy named Eryn. Reluctantly, Fang agrees to help Eryn, who seeks to gather enough Furies to unseal the Goddess and bring peace to the land (and grant his wish).

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Gameplay
Fairy Fencer F gets off to a slow start in the story department. After the generic opening cinematic we’re treated to Fang, who is one of the most annoying main characters in recent memory. Rejecting the Call might be a key part of the Hero’s Journey, but Fang takes it to another extreme. The first few hours of the game consist of Eryn and Tiara, another Fencer who joins the party early on, stringing Fang along with promise of food. Fortunately, the story advances at a fast pace, introducing the world and some of the key players (and adding in that usual amount of Compile Heart silliness).

Eventually the story starts to improve as it begins to drop some hints at things below the surface. Fang also changes, losing the annoying lazy persona and gaining a slightly less annoying “typical JRPG protagonist” one. Fortunately his party picks up some of the slack, with some more interesting (albeit kind of one dimensional) characters slowly joining his quest.

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Compile Heart is proving to be a bit of a one trick pony when it comes to combat systems, as it feels very similar to some of the company’s recent games. Fairy Fencer F uses a turn-based battle system, but rather than being purely menu based, enemies and player characters appear on a field. When it’s their turn, characters have the ability to position themselves on the field anywhere within a radius of their initial position. Then they can attack any enemy with range of whatever attack they choose to use.

The game improves the combat compared to some of Compile’s recent efforts though. One of my main criticisms of Mugen Souls Z, for example, was that the combat seemed to be spread too thin between the dozen different options during combat. Fairy Fencer F streamlines everything down to essentially just normal attacks or skills. Don’t mistake the lack of options for lack of depth though, the game still offers enough variation to remain engaging. For instance, normal attacks use a combo system where different attacks can be assigned to each button during an attack chain, allowing on-the-fly variation of how the normal attacks play out in battle.

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The only additional meter Fairy Fencer F has (on top of the HP bar and Skill Points bar) is the Fury meter. This fills when dealing damage and drains when taking damage. Get their Fury high enough, and that character can Fairize, fusing with their fairy partner to boost their stats and gain access to some more powerful abilities. As it can sometimes take a while to gain enough Fury to transform, Fairize is more often relevant for boss battles than the normal run-of-the-mill fight.

All told, the game’s battle system is enjoyable. The combo system is fun to experiment with and the movement in battle offers enough strategy to keep things interesting. My one complaint is that many attack and skill animations are on the long side. While they can be fun to watch the first time, sitting through a 30 second animation every time you use a skill is a pain. Fortunately, pressing L2 skips the animation. It would have been nicer if there had been an option to auto-skip these animations though, as the alternative is to hold L2 when trying to rush through battles (for instance, when grinding).

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Outside of battles, Fairy Fencer F offers a good degree of character customization. Characters level up from experience in a hands-off manner but they also gain Weapon Points from battles. These can be used in a variety of ways, from boosting the character’s stats, to learning new magic attacks or skills, to gaining new attacks for the combo system. Characters can also be customized by partnering with (equipping) the Fairies you find during the game. Partnered Fairies give a stat boost to their partner, as well as passive abilities such as resistance to certain elements or HP regeneration.

One problem many Compile Heart games have is difficulty spikes. Fortunately, Fairy Fencer F manages to avoid this problem a lot more than most of their games. I’m pretty grinding-adverse when it comes to my RPGs, often avoiding as many enemies as I fight. Grind fanatics might find themselves outpacing the game, but I found the pace to be about right. I did encounter two cases of moderate spikes in enemy levels, but both are in the latter half of the game and only required a bit of grinding to advance past.

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Although Fairy Fencer F avoids those difficulty spikes, it introduces two other annoyances. The first is how often the game loves to take away your party members. Far too often your party members leave, which is especially annoying when the game removes your healer. It’s annoying when there aren’t story reasons for it, beyond one of your party members saying “eh, I feel like sitting this boss fight out.”

The other problem is scripted battles. Nothing is more annoying than starting to get into the grove of a boss fight, only for a cutscene to pop up. The game loves to do this and in many cases, after the cutscene, will drop you back into the same fight only the boss’ health has refilled but your party’s has not. Neither of these is particularly large on their own, but the inordinate number of times this happens start adding up and was grating on my nerves by the end of the game.

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Visuals
The greatest aspect of Fairy Fencer F’s visuals is probably the character designs. Although a few of the characters feel a bit generic in their normal forms, all of the Fairized forms are crazy and awesome. Graphically, the game looks good, with solid character models, fun-to-watch attack animations, and well-drawn 2D art during cutscenes.

Where the game falls apart in visuals is repetition. A mid-game story twist has Fang and co. backtracking through all of the old areas of the game and beyond that point in the game, all new areas introduced are just mirrored versions of previous ones. Enemies also get reused often, simply gaining a new coat of paint and a change in elemental weaknesses. Finally, while not as much of a detriment as in other genres, there is a noticeable chug in the game’s framerate at times.

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Audio
Music comes (in part) courtesy of Nobuo Uematsu, a composer most famous for his work on numerous Final Fantasy soundtracks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Fairy Fencer F has a good soundtrack. One particular standout in my opinion is the music when one of the party members performs a Fairize transformation. Not that there aren’t a few stinkers in the lineup. For example, the music in the desert area sounds the same as the music in the desert area of every other RPG ever.

The game has both English and Japanese voice tracks as the per usual NIS America practices. Fang’s English voice actor brings a nice dose of bravado when necessary, but sadly sits alongside one or two performances that are a bit more lackluster (Galdo comes to mind). The Japanese voices seem to fit the character personalities more, but both voice tracks are solid overall.

Online/Multiplayer
This game is single player only.

Conclusion
Fans of Compile Heart’s games will still find a lot to love in Fairy Fencer F while non-fans will find this to be their most approachable game yet. There’s a really good game here with a solid battle system, some decent character customization, and an interesting (if a bit slow to start) story. Unfortunately that really good game is hidden under a few too many scripted battles and a bit too much backtracking. While these flaws don’t make the game bad, they do leave the impression that it could have been better than it is.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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