Review: Fairy Fencer F (PlayStation 3)
- Release Date (NA): September 16, 2014
- Release Date (EU): September 19, 2014
- Release Date (JP): October 10, 2013
- Publisher: NIS America
- Developer: Compile Heart
- Genres: RPG, JPRG
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
4529 Megabytes, downloadable PS3 version reviewed.
NIS and Compile Heart teamed up once more. Easily 20 hours plus of gameplay.
There is an online store mode but at time of review there was no content in it.
Content wise you have some fan service, quite a few mild swears and some slightly darker themes, though more on that later. Nothing really out of line with anything that happened in the PS1 era Final Fantasy series though.
“I probably would have enjoyed it far more had it not been a wacky, fan service laden harem type theme”
Quote. Myself, Mugen Souls Z review.
It turns out I got the chance to see if this was true with this game as it is a very similar engine/combat style, the review will stand alone but there may be several references back to the earlier game/review.
NIS America sent us their latest localisation effort which comes in the form of Fairy Fencer F. We were promised something of a darker tone than their usual fare in this one and it kind of delivers there, though people wandering in expecting fantasy Gungrave or Black Lagoon will instead find themselves looking at something closer to The Law of Ueki or indeed the 6 through 9 era of Final Fantasy. Speaking of Final Fantasy I declined to do much in the way of reading up on the game before I had put a few hours into it, my initial impressions then saw comments like “on the matter of the art and music there is taking inspiration and there is wholesale ripping something off”. It turns out though that Yoshitaka Amano and Nobuo Uematsu, otherwise known as the ones responsible for the artwork of Final Fantasy 1 through 6 and the music for those titles (and more) respectively, were doing concept art and some music for this. I hoped they then borrowed elements of those earlier Final Fantasy games and, spoiler, they kind of did. Few will mistake it for a lost Final Fantasy or even really a spiritual sequel but if you liked various gameplay aspects of the 1 through 9 series then there is a lot you might well get along with. Likewise if Square Enix are content to release “safe” games like Bravely Default for the kinds of fanbases that sprung up for the things mentioned in the earlier part of this paragraph, then they ought to watch out for they may have just been surpassed.
For the most part it is nothing you can not see coming but spoiling it would gain very little so it will be not spoiled here or in our pictures, however some of the discussion of mechanics introduced a tiny bit later may spoil things the game keeps hidden until they are revealed. The general background is the world of this game originally had two gods, one known as the goddess and the other known as the vile god, and things went sour between them. This eventually saw them “kill” (though more like trap and render dormant) each other and some of the weapons they used to do this made their way back down to the planet. Said weapons then get used by certain people, the titular fencers, though like many cases of divine artefacts the residents do not quite grasp their full power. Each weapon that came down houses an entity (a fairy) in it and thus we have our game.
As each fencer works with a fairy, most of which can speak, you kind of end up with a cast of characters going on, most of which are fairly amusing mash ups of anime stock types. Some of the characters do not get well developed all that quickly, if at all really, but that does leave more room to focus upon the main characters and that is not really a bad thing. Rather nicely it is not quite teenagers off to save the doomed world but those seeking to make an apparently OK world a bit better, though with some twists along the way. Also for all that has and will be said about Final Fantasy, and the cribbing of concepts from it, a lot of the themes almost felt closer to something like the books of Brandon Sanderson and similar authors which is nice to see in a game.
Translation wise NIS did a fine job by the looks of things with no real typos or quirks to speak of. You can definitely tell it was a Japanese game originally but a lack of knowledge of Japanese culture will not trouble you here, indeed there were a few jokes that were localised for non Japanese audiences that I probably missed. My European version was in American English but to call that a negative would be truly petty.
"I'm up here"
It feels somewhat redundant this many NIS reviews in but it is a NIS/Compile Heart RPG, they do like their reasonably complex battle engines. This one does not quite reach the heights of Mugen Souls Z but that is not necessarily a bad thing. That said this will be something of an overview rather than an in depth analysis.
First the game is not quite fantasy Mugen Souls Z. From that it is missing several things, most notably the coffin mechanic and the heavy focus on arena placement, though there are some slightly less involved analogues, even if they are not quite at that level. On the other hand they very clearly share a codebase and selection of mechanics, whether this leads to a known base from which to tell a story or a samey feeling game will probably come down to the person playing it. Personally I was more on the former side of things; I was reminded many times of the other games but the differences were enough to change what goes there. In Mugen Souls Z I scored it somewhat low and said add on for how much you enjoy wacky themes, the inspiration coming a Megaman Battle Network review some years before; this was nothing like doing Megaman Battle Network games in quick succession.
The game is split between four main concepts (pictured in the same order below)
- The mostly safe town/home base, and story events, shops, quest givens and more there.
- The world map where you choose where to go next, modify the dungeons themselves and can manage things.
- The dungeons, where the enemies are and the other main places for story events, here you can only save at save points.
- The battle mode, where you get to pit your character's numbers against the machine.
Dungeon map wise it is fairly small map sections, though occasionally several will link to make a complete dungeon, populated with roaming enemies. Some maps have exceptionally light platforming elements (you jump over some pits, with no major penalty for failing, or you jump over a small wall), sadly though the light maze and teleporter puzzle elements seen in the other games using an engine like this were nowhere near as prevalent. The exploring for items, hidden or otherwise, kind of made up for a bit of this but not by much. Actual movement in the dungeons was quite good, the only real issue I had was when trying to narrow down the location of hidden items and it not quite being precise enough to get in the small spot required. Otherwise I was weaving my way past enemies and not really suffering much in the way of invisible walls or “you need to be precisely 2m to the left to jump up this gap, which is the same apparent height as the current section”. The dungeons featured a fair amount of vertical movement as well, something that meant the game rather nicely avoided the "wheelchair/buggy friendly tour of dangerous places" so often seen in less involved 3d games.
A map of a level and a shot showing some of the verticality (if that is a word).
It is not quite the peon, weapons and magic system of Mugen Souls Z but it has its moments.
Your characters level via experience. This provides the bulk of stat improvements.
As the fairy is the weapon you do not have that to change/maintain per se, you do have armour and accessories though.
You gain “WP” (world points) from battles. These get spent on skills, magic, attacks and further augmentations.
Said skills, magic, attacks and further augmentations may have other conditions for unlocking them, several of which are ultimately tied to the story mode.
The game has various “challenges” where characters get minor but useful stat bonuses from doing actions – jumping, being party leader, taking damage, dealing damage....
The other weapons you gather, called furies, house fairies, one of these can be attached to a character.
Said other fairies can also be augmented by visiting the trapped goddess (and vile god). This is one time and permanently adds an ability to the fairy (post game it resets). The result is nothing close to deviating from the “JRPG” staple of fixed progression but it does add a nice custom element to the proceedings, especially when coupled with you choosing what attacks/magic/skills to learn.
As well as the one time perks the fairies also have their own levels, as they gain them they provide stat bonuses, new abilities and resistances.
Battles can be event driven but for the most part you get drawn into them when in dungeons. In the dungeons are various patrolling enemies, some of which will see and chase you, and which trigger battle mode. If you are fast then you can do an attack on the dungeon map and get in a first strike, however a poorly timed attack will see the enemies go first. This was useful at first but I eventually found myself outclassing the enemies thanks to doing the sidequests, and a bit of grinding for WP, and would usually go first anyway. As I was not fast enough again to gain a second attack it actually became a hazard as it could easily become a poorly timed attack. In the options though there is a selectable option for you to instantly win against enemies if you do this and the enemies are sufficiently below your level, with the speed of battling and the fact you do not get any experience, money or WP (every little bit helps) from this I chose to leave it off.
Battling itself is mostly turn based and conducted in an arena similar to Mugen Souls Z or Eternal Sonata, though I should note the background is actually the very section of the dungeon you are in at the point in time, but without as great a focus on placement as either of those. This is not to say placement does not matter, both the player characters and enemies have range for their attacks and there are area effect spells, attacks and items which can trouble you if you are bunched up (or indeed not bunched up in the case of beneficial effects) but it is only in the crunch that such things start to matter. Mind you there is something quite frustrating at being just out of reach of that last enemy/that nearly dead enemy as you had foolishly gone to the other side of the arena on the turn(s) before. With the pace you can maintain, the occasional need for placement and the combos it did well for me, me being someone that burned out on turn based games like this during the PS2 era.
As all your characters are fencers then they also gain an ability to called “Fairize”, in practice it acts somewhat similar to the limit break system of Final Fantasy 7 in that characters build it by initially taking and doing damage, however it is per battle and reasonably quick to fill. In “Fairize” mode you are increased in physical attack and defence. When in this mode you also gain access to certain high powered moves, moves which usually take considerable amounts of HP as well as mana to do. Being damaged or using healing items drains the bar and leaves you back in normal mode.
Fairize, part of the (skippable) animation, the result and the special moves it unlocks
Later on you gain character specific special abilities, in addition to the character specific magic/mana using attacks (which rather interestingly does include a fairly useful steal command as a mana using attack), and they serve to change up what characters can do.
If you have the characters, and the story allows it, you can swap out the ones on the field for your, hopefully, nice and fresh characters via an action on the standard menu.
On top of this you have a fairly standard selection of elements (and elemental weaknesses), status effects and weapon weaknesses. Attacking an enemy with a weapon they are weak to might trigger a gang up mode where the characters after you in the turn order will also unleash as many moves as they have in the latter part of their combo, such a thing can do serious damage to otherwise tough enemies, especially if you have invested points in combos.
There are options to have experience bleed over to inactive characters, and their equipped fairy, so you can both level new fairies/characters and make sure your setup is up to the task when the time comes, and owing to characters leaving/joining/get split up as part of the story that is a real concern.
Other thoughts on the gameplay.
There is also a minor crafting system (called synthesis) which is introduced a bit later on. Items for crafting can be found in dungeons, given as rewards for quests/doing the tower mode, found when hidden, purchased, stolen from enemies and dropped by enemies. Occasionally you can make items more cheaply than you would get in the shop, make items that can not be purchased at the time and technically some items can feed into other items for upgrades. Compared to those systems I saw previously in Mugen Souls Z, and especially compared to Battle Princess of Arcadias, it is a very minor crafting system. However it is worth exploring and does not detract at all from the game or feel tacked on.
With the challenges you may have seen a similar things in Borderlands, and for my money amounts to one of the few times achievements/trophies style concepts were done right. The WP system, mainly due to the slow burn/buildup, reminds me most of the jobs system in Final Fantasy 5 and the item influenced learning of Final Fantasy 9, both of which I thought were fantastic systems (it is the main reason FF5 is my favourite of the early series) and this one is reasonably up there with them.
In the world map there is a battle tower, one you open up new levels in by adding more fairies to worldbuilding (anywhere on the world map). It is quite nice and has some nice rewards as far as items go, however it is a bit basic compared to Mugen Souls Z's "mugen field" and far short of my gold standard which presently sits with Resonance of Fate. The temptation to remove equipped fairies and maybe also use the vile god to help open up new levels in the tower is a subtle but nice touch.
You do have reasons to revisit earlier levels from time to time as well, to say nothing of the later game changes. These come mainly from quests (which are rather helpfully broken down by the game into "fetch", "kill" and "fetch and kill" varieties, in practice you will be doing a lot of killing), doing a bit of levelling, gaining items to use in crafting, finding extra fairies that may be revealed and some of the level specific hidden pickups.
Visiting the trapped goddess, and especially the vile god, and the augmentations they bring as far as world building goes are also something of a double edged sword as you try to balance the negative effects, maybe even use the negative effects (it seems double damage cuts both ways), a perk for your fairy that a character can make real use of later and the more immediate need for help levelling up. The basic fairy levelling is not without some interesting quirks as well – you often see a fairy augment magic/elemental attacks of its own type, however in doing so it may create a small weakness to the “opposite” element. Likewise some of the fairy perks at higher levels are broadly positive but may change how you set about battling a little bit.
A problem many, including myself, have with many games in genres/gameplay styles like these is the idea of a 20 hour tutorial, and NIS' chosen games are no stranger to it. For a game like this it does not negate it, it basically straight up avoids ever going there. That is not to say if you took your twitchy friend that is more used to shooting things in Call of Duty that they would not pick up on it, indeed you gain a few new concepts some hours in where the more twitchy games might have rinsed the single player and be well into levelling up in multiplayer. However compared to other offerings from the NIS stable it practically adopts a “throw you in a the deep end and let you find your own way from there” approach, though unlike Elder Scrolls or Fallout you do not have the option to turn left after the intro and pick up the story when it suits you (think Mass Effect if you want something to compare it to here).
For the most part I found the game easy, which became somewhat distracting when the game would pull out of boss battles for story where it said it was “too hard” (though this seemed to be more of a device/excuse for the boss to activate powered up mode). For me the thing that kind of broke it was the combos, it rendered much of the magic and skills kind of pointless by virtue of being able to do more damage (usually without costing SP) and that is never great to see in a game. Combos basically allowed for extra physical attacks, and you could mix up the weapons (your fairy is a part of a magic shape-shifting weapon after all) to find a weakness and ultimately do lots of damage. At one point I did actually remove some of the later branches of my combo selection to make things that little bit harder, though I also dodged enemies in the levels for a while and got my levels to match back up.
However there was the occasional boss or tower level that stung me, especially when I had to remove some my equipped fairies to use in world building to open up the slots. Otherwise it was mainly when I was trying to solo some levels that I ever got into trouble, though even that was mainly because I got stun locked. Game over is the old school "dumped at the title screen and get to load your chosen save, even if you otherwise had characters that were available" variety.
You can influence dungeons by sticking some of your unused fairies in the ground (a process called world building), and with a bit of tweaking many of them can stack. The most notable influence you can have is the “change enemies” option. Here the normal enemies are replaced with different enemies, usually slightly more powerful than stock, which have different item drops and steals, possibly more WP/Exp earned and generally change a few things up. In addition to the combos then once or twice I would put down a fairy/fury that meant I could not do certain actions, or had to win hard and fast, lest I gain more damage than I could handle.
For most of the previous NIS games reviews I have praised the UI, here it is not as streamlined and there are some odd decisions here and there, though it never reaches anything close to what I might call obtuse. Beyond that I have never really regretted gaining skills in my life but from time to time I do wish I could switch off the part of me that spots suspect graphic design. In this case the game's font has some interesting aspects – various characters are not well aligned vertically and there are some aliasing issues when playing at 1080p. It is less apparent in the capture work though as it was done at a lower resolution.
Why the, often quite useful, flavour text was hidden is anybody's guess.
On the UI proper I do not know if it was design for a lower resolution that did it but certain menus/stats had to be activated or swapped to view, all despite having a fair bit of free space on the screen. By all means have swappable/zoomable menus but when you are only swapping out flavour text, artwork and the 3d model viewer for stats that people might find useful it might be time to rework things.
Even with the swapping it was fairly well made after that and you could usually swap, and compare, between characters, fairies, skills and whatever else. Interestingly some of the stats were hidden – several moves listed power, range, range diagrams, attack numbers, extra effects and beyond. However basic life and mana costs were not listed and unless you read the flavour text (which you may have had to activate) then you might have missed it being labelled as low accuracy, another move was noted as being powerful against "evil" enemies (and it was) despite not being an elemental attack.
"Begin fairy swap procedure"
One minor annoyance was that main events auto triggered when you entered buildings. For the most part that was fine but as the only place to revive the gods was in the home base then you could not get a new fairy and upgrade them without triggering the events, said events sometimes being several minutes long and occasionally also removing characters. Couple this with my fondness for the battle tower and it would see me holding back at times.
As with all the NIS games I have reviewed the the options menu itself had a commendable amount of sliders, switches and things to fiddle with, though it was a tiny bit light on the control customisation. That said the main thing would have been the combos and those were always customisable.
Above this are camera speed settings, all in all a nice selection of options.
I did have a glitch a couple of times where the camera started bobbing behind my party leader, battles did not reset it but leaving the dungeon did.
There is also a nice option to replay the previous parts of the scene, including audio, as well as skip the whole “event” (now with confirmation button), auto play the conversation and skip a single box. L2, Triangle and Start are the buttons you want to looking at for those, mainly as the game does not have such things on screen a lot.
As far as the UI in battle went it was not bad. My main gripes were probably that I often had to manually select an enemy with the dpad rather than it not always going off my in battle position/direction I was heading, given this probably helped speed things up and usually avoided me attacking the wrong enemy (an enemy with 1 health does as much damage as an enemy with full health) I am not going to complain too hard. Very nicely they allow you to skip animations, post battle screens and whole attack animations by holding down/pressing L2.
The option to skip animations, replay text and generally skip things is one I will always look positively upon, leave such things in and I can forgive an awful lot of minor gripes elsewhere.
The game ran smoothly, give or take what might have been slowdown in a special move, and I had no issues with any crashing, game event orders (if you think you encountered one in the quests get the enemy change worldbuilding option) or true UI bugs.
A nice battle sequence, when you are not selecting moves to be done it is all able to be skipped if you want to.
The 3d battle models, which you do have a tiny bit of customisation for, are quite nice looking, they seem to opt for a cartoon like effect but it works well. Pictures are throughout this but if I had to describe it then somewhat like the Dragon Ball Z fighting games and maybe a distant relative of cel shading. Give or take the aliasing I reckon it will age reasonably well and it looks pretty nice for being on the PS3. There is a very noticeable lack of anti aliasing though, I probably did not do it any favours by playing in 1080p on a 27 inch screen that was 0.5m from my face but it was quite noticeable. Whether it will be as evident in the capture work is a different matter. Nicely though most of the animation was done in the game's 3d engine so your costume and accessory changes were reflected.
Better than grey and brown.
Story is delivered partly in the world map, partly via Ken Burns effect on concept art and mostly in the NIS staple of 2d artwork with talking heads over the top. Said talking heads were slightly animated, even if animation extended mostly to the 2d equivalent of Dead or Alive's jiggle physics (a theme later revisited in the 3d side of things), and rather unexpectedly also featured surprisingly good lip syncing. Curiously though the “new mechanic help screen” was occasionally used to deliver some story as well.
I have had worse cameras in games that wanted me to be using them for action, probably worse running/jumping actions for the same sorts of games too. You may wish to zoom out (dpad) when in the dungeon though.
Some of the themes repeated a bit, especially early on, and I found myself running through some very similar looking dungeons in quick succession at one point. It still varied things somewhat but compared to other NIS efforts where I was flung between all sorts of weird and wonderful, and somewhat memorable, locations for basically every level it did seem odd. Enemies were often texture swaps of a few main themes, though several gained extra components and in the actual battle engines they gained a few different abilities.
Does not include weapon weaknesses, special attacks or locations where you can find them so there are some things you need to remember.
Voices are available in Japanese and English. The review was mainly done in English and said English dub is pretty good, in fact for game it probably counts as very good. That said there are certain quips which might begin to grate, especially if you are speeding through battles or listening to the “boing” vocalisation made by one of the later additions to your team as they jump. The options menu will give you the option to change the various volumes if you need it. The Japanese was fairly typical anime voiceover, though it should be noted the flavour text with some of the fairies is voiced in Japanese mode where it is not in English.
Equally though much of the game is voiced there are still interactions between the main characters which are not voiced, for the most part these were mainly flavour conversations but once or twice it did happen right after a main story event.
There seems to be a mix of guitar heavy jpop and something that can only have come from Nobuo Uematsu, be it piano driven or the more orchestral. The guitar heavy Jpop is fairly infrequent but might begin to annoy, especially if you have not Fairized your characters at the same time and the battle is dragging on a bit. That said some of the tracks do change during the course of the game. Nobuo Uematsu was on good form when he did this, even though his contributions border more on guest artist/tracks, though you will probably not be getting the game's album unless you are very much a fan of his.
There would appear to be a fairly complete copy of the game's soundtrack on youtube if you fancied a listen. If you have the game then later on in the game you can craft an item to have a music test mode too.
The images seen elsewhere are a fraction of those captured for this review, you can view the gallery on our sister site.
NIS also have their own gallery.
It is not necessarily something to point at and say “that”, however it is a well executed game and one I could see myself playing until the early hours if I had it. In general if you like the idea of NIS/Compile Heart games but the wacky characters they so often feature put you off, you feel the Mugen Souls Z concept of “build a system and hope it works” wants to be replaced with something a bit less extensive but more finely tuned, and you enjoyed at least aspects of the earlier entries in the Final Fantasy series then you could do a lot worse than pick this up. Many of the elements the game includes are also ones that help to work around issues that game players and trope list makers have long decried, though including them does not lead us to the land of milk and honey it does show a willingness to experiment that is very much welcome. I think my Law of Ueki comment earlier was probably more apt than I initially intended; this game is not really one for the history books but it is definitely a nice effort in a sea of mediocrity and probably has a future as something of a hidden gem.
+ Moves along at a nice pace.
+ Enemies on an overworld/no random battles.
+ Mostly dodges spikey haired youth/chosen one to save the world concept.
- Quite easy if you do the sidequests.
- Marred by a few odd UI and graphics choices.
A nice half cel shaded, half anime esque theme, let down a bit by a lack of anti aliasing during the 3d parts (a lot of the game). Story delivery is still mostly talking heads over artwork, however they have lip sync, and are animated a bit. Menu system seems to have been designed for lower resolutions and is a bit cluttered, though not unintuitive by any means. Other UI elements well done as ever.
An option for fast paced combat of the turn based persuasion. Equally has some scope for those that want to explore a combat engine.
Post game content is replaying the campaign with your characters, and characters/story advanced mechanics returning alongside it. The enemies are not scaled so you are more limited to crafting and the tower battles. Taking the time to do the sidequests, some levelling and generally smell the roses the game clocked somewhere between 35 and 40 hours.
out of 10
(not an average)
I would have been thrilled to have this at any point in the SNES through PS2, and as with most NIS/Compile Heart games there are many things other devs could learn from.