Compile Heart, the developer most westerns remember as the developers behind Hyperdimension Neptunia and Mugen Souls, has crafted something quite different, but at the same time, similar to their previous works with Fairy Fencer F. As the "F"-based moniker suggests, this is an attempt for the developer to aspire to greater heights with artwork from Final Fantasy's Yoshitaka Amano and music from Nobuo Uematsu. Using Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory's engine as a base, does it surpass their previous efforts or is this just a repeat effort with a new look?
After an introduction cutscene telling the events of a great war between two deities, you get introduced to the main character Fang, an apathetic young man who really only cares about getting a good meal to eat and somewhere to sleep. He ends up in a town which just so happens to have a mysterious sword stuck in a rock which is rumored to grant one's wish if they can successfully pull it out. And of course, this being a JRPG, Fang just so happens to pull it out.
Instead of an immediate wish, he comes face-to-face with the Fairy inside the sword, Eryn, who tells him he's destined to become a "Fencer" and needs to collect the other 100 or so "Furies" (the sword he pulled out) to awaken a sleeping goddess who's been trapped in a deep slumber alongside an also-sleeping evil god which fell asleep after a great battle took place between the two.
It's not an amazing story by any means, but the developers did do a good job with fleshing out each of the characters. Fang is often used wisely for comedic effect, while the female characters do play to overused tropes occasionally, but smartly circumvent them in other aspects, unlike Hyperdimension Neptunia and especially Mugen Souls which tended to play those tropes straight. The second half of the game is when the story really kicks into gear, but sadly you have to go through the "monster of the week"-style sequences until that point.
If you've played either of Compile Heart's previous games before, the battle system in Fairy Fencer F should be strikingly familiar. Utilizing a traditional turn-based system, you move your party members into attack range of the enemy and launch your attacks or use your skills. You have basic attacks initially, but after a few tutorials you get more options such as follow-up attacks which let you launch the enemy into the air, attack harder or hit multiple times in a row.
The new mechanic exclusive to Fairy Fencer F is "Fairizing", which lets the player combine with their equipped Fairy to transform into a mecha-like suit of armor which lets you deal increased damage as long as your Tension gauge stays filled, which is done by dealing attacks while trying not to receive as much damage as possible. The player can also disable this mode at any time to save the Tension gauge meter for later.
The issue with the battle system is that like Compile Heart's other titles, there's a metric ton of tutorials that you need to wade through early on in the game. During the first battle alone I spent a good 75% of the time in tutorials just as one example. I can understand a few tutorials for some of Fairy Fencer F's more unique battle abilities, but basic "press this button to do this" tutorials don't need an entire page delegated solely to them.
The towns in the game are pretty basic fair, utilizing a menu system to go from place to place isn't much to speak of. On the world map the game utilizes an interesting system where you can take one of your Fairies and stab their sword into the ground to open up dungeons if you get lucky, which provides new loot and bonuses depending on the Fairy that's used. I found it a unique use of the typical useless plot items you find in most Japanese RPGs.
Graphically it's better than Mugen Souls by far, but a lot of the weird technically issues found there raise their head again in Fairy Fencer F. Dungeons are low frame-rate, lagging messes outside of the battles which oddly enough run exceptionally well and have much more detail than their outside-battle counterparts. Considering the age of the PS3 and the other more graphically competent games the developers has worked on, it's a shame that Fairy Fencer F feels like an early PS3 title in this regard.
Musically there's a wide selection of tracks which fit the mood of the area but aren't particularly memorable in any way, which is a surprise considering the talent behind the music in the game. The English voice acting is surprisingly good with some well-known voice talent for those with a good ear. Of course, if you prefer Japanese voice acting it's here like almost all of NIS America's releases.
If you're a fan of the Hyperdimension Neptunia or Mugen Souls games, you'll be right at home with Fairy Fencer F. While far from a classic, Compile Heart managed to do more things right this time around than things wrong, so those turned off by their previous works but who still have an open mind might find enjoyment in the title. Here's hoping their next next-gen title in the series builds on the base here but takes its flaws into consideration.
|Smart use of playing character tropes to and against people's expectations.|
|The Fairy-generating dungeon system is a unique addition.|
|Not as grating to newcomers as the Mugen Souls series.|
|Odd frame rate and graphical quality issues outside battles.|
|Music works in game but is pretty forgettable outside of it.|
|Still feels too much like their previous works with a new coat of paint.|