Fairy Fencer F is the latest RPG out of Japan to feature an extraneous letter at the end of its name. It boasts an impressive staff roll, most notably Nobuo Uematsu (of Final Fantasy fame) who is responsible for much of the soundtrack, and character designers from the Hyperdimension Neptunia series.
But… what does that F stand for?
F is for Fang
Meet Fang. He’s the protagonist of Fairy Fencer F, and thoroughly dislikable – lazy, petulant and full of questionable ideas. While travelling the world he reaches the city of Zelwinds, and hears rumours of a sword stuck in the ground. A sword that will only be freed by someone the sword deems worthy.
A sword that is not a good judge of character, as this cretin is able to draw the sword from the ground without breaking a sweat.
Contained within the sword is Eryn – a Fairy. She explains to you that the sword is called a Fury, and as the wielder of this sword he is considered a Fencer – an elite magical swordsman. There are a hundred furies scattered across the land, which were created by the great Goddess and Vile God during a historical world-shearing. As a Fencer, it is now Fang’s duty to unify these Furies, resurrect the Goddess and bring peace to the land.
Fang does not understand, nor care. Fang wants to eat food.
F is for Fury
Your first task is to figure out where the rest of the Furies might be found. This attracts the attention of Lola, a local information dealer, who naturally is approximately eight years old. She immediately (and correctly) pegs Fang as a moron and proceeds to extort money from him in exchange for information on the location of a Fury, and will continue to do so throughout the course of the game for progressively more extravagant sums.
Field locations are filled with wandering monsters who can be fought or ignored as you wish. Combat is turn-based, and requires your team to strategically position themselves – or, more accurately, get in the enemy’s face and perform hitting; alternatively stand slightly further away and be a wizard. Positioning team members behind an enemy can lead to extra damage, but also results in one-on-one battles looking like something out of a Benny Hill sketch as the player and enemy take turns to run behind one another and have a quick swipe.
Sneaking up on an enemy in the field will bump the team up to the top of the turn order, and also gain you a little bit of extra Fairize meter.
F is for… Fairize?
Fencers are able to “Fairize” with the Fairy inside their Fury once enough meter has been built up. Doing so involves the Fencer skewering themselves with their Fury, which leads to them donning strange, Gundam-like armour and gaining a bunch of stat boosts. There is an unwanted side-effect to this, however – upon Fairizing, the battle theme switches to something that could easily pass as the theme tune to a Power Rangers show. Whilst amusing the first time, it is truly dreadful and the end of a battle is sweet relief.
Also notable is the lolloping trumpet music that plays during the majority of conversations between the cast. Usually reserved for backing goofy or stupid characters, the fact this is heard so often gives you a good idea of what delights the characters can offer you.
Boys are unreliable and eat lots of food! Some boys are very serious and handsome. Fang said something ridiculous again! Girls think boys are stupid! Trumpets.
Enemies yield the usual EXP and Gold when defeated, along with Weapon Points. When Fencers level up, they only gain stat bonuses. Weapon Points allow you to customise character movesets and magic, as well as stat boosts and passive abilities. One particular passive ability is inspired – simply called “Learning”, it enables any members of your party who are not active in battle to earn full battle rewards, reducing needless grind to a minimum. Sadly, bespoke customisation of your characters isn’t on the menu, as each team member is predisposed to a certain type of build – but you are afforded a little freedom.
The final stat that Weapon Points can be invested in is the combo meter. Each character starts with a standard physical attack of a single strike. Increasing the combo meter grants a follow-on strike each time it is increased, enabling characters to get a bit more creative with their attacks. This also vastly increases damage output to the extent that offensive magic is rendered pointless for the vast majority of the game. With the exception of the very top-end spells, magic is expensive and ineffective in comparison to physical combat.
Another inspired offering from Fairy Fencer F is the ability to skip combat animations. Holding L2 during a battle will enable you to rattle through combat in a matter of seconds. Once you’re comfortable with the battle system, utilising this feature really takes a lot of the grind out of proceedings, though at the expense of showing just how powerful melee attacks are as you mindlessly hammer X through each battle to do stabbings.
F is for Framerate
When in town, Fairy Fencer F looks pretty good. Character portraits are detailed, and subtly animated as if they were actually breathing. There is only so much that can be portrayed with still portraits, however, and one or two in-town cutscenes are unintentionally hilarious as a result of characters stiffly wobbling around on screen when trying to depict a fight.
Visuals in the field are less impressive. Environments carry little detail, character models look fuzzy as if vaseline has been smeared on your TV, and proceedings chug along at a miserable, juddery framerate. Signposting within the game is also problematic – one tutorial asks you to equip an item that the next tutorial requires you to use, but doesn’t tell you that the item must be unequipped in order to do so. Other events require a specific set of criteria to fulfil, but provide absolutely no information as to what that might be.
During some boss battles, cutscenes will kick in partway through to illustrate just how strong your opponent is. These usually appear after you’ve mercilessly punched them half-to-death in a single turn, and as a result bear no relevance to the battle you’ve just had.
Fairy Fencer F just feels a little unpolished. Despite its innovations in reducing grind and the Weapon Point system’s initial promise, there’s too much that just doesn’t sit right. Battles quickly become very samey, the plot is derivative wish-fulfilment nonsense, and during battle you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Wii game based on looks alone. All that said, at the time of review I am half way through a second playthrough, so it’s clearly doing something right!
F is for Fixed…?
Last month, Compile Heart announced Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, for PS4. Time will tell if it lives up to the promise that Fairy Fencer F couldn’t quite fulfil.