When I decided to review Compile Heart’s latest North American release, Fairy Fencer F, I had no idea what I was getting into as I have never played Hyperdimension Neptunia or any of Compile Heart’s other games. On paper, everything looked perfect. Fairy Fencer F had it all: Yoshitaka Amano’s art, Nobuo Uematsu’s music (both of Final Fantasy fame) and a decent cast of voice actors. Overall, it had the promise to be a solid game. Unfortunately, after a few hours of play the novelty of the combat system had worn off and I came to realize that I was definitely not the target audience for the game. This game seems to have been developed with teenage boys in mind.It’s not that Fairy Fencer F is a bad game; it’s quite enjoyable to play and if you are a fan of the genre, the gameplay is refreshingly dynamic for a turn-based JRPG. It’s just that I felt as though I’d played the game before. The story is unoriginal and shallow and although the dialogue can be funny at times, the game feels like just another cookie-cutter JRPG. If you’re in the market for an RPG with an epic story and great replay value, you can look right past this game. If, however, you are looking for a quick and simple game to pass the time, it’s a fairly enjoyable title.
The storyline follows a young swordsman named Fang who is thrust into a quest for world salvation. Fang must lead a group of friends to revive an ancient Goddess who will grant them their wish for peace and a better world. In order to complete this task, Fang and friends must collect legendary weapons, called Furies, and free the Goddess who has been slumbering for centuries, sealed away by these weapons after a great war. The story is your typical JRPG coming-of-age story where an immature young boy caught in a love triangle realizes his life’s purpose is to be the noble protector of his love and his friends from an evil force that threatens them all. The characters are rather shallow; Fang, Eryn and Tiara undergo some character development but the rest of the team is fairly one-dimensional.Although it’s clear that some attempt was made to push the envelope with the apathetic hero Fang, the sexy scientist Harley, and the masochistic and slightly bitchy love interest Tiara, the overarching story is far too predictable and cheesy for the game to feel edgy.
True to Compile Heart’s previous works, the Fairy Fencer F is ripe with sexual themes and innuendos. At times, the game’s aesthetic is practically softcore hentai and although I am far from uptight about sex, it felt as though most of it was unnecessary pandering to drooling teens. One rather funny example is that, despite none of the other character’s portraits being animated during dialogue, Harley’s boobs happily jiggle every time she appears on-screen giving her more *ahem* credibility as a serious scientist. Video games are renown for throwing out anatomical accuracy for the sake of ‘sexual appeal’. The fact that the bustiest and sexiest member of the cast also happens to be the ‘nerdy scientist’ underlines how little Compile Heart cared for accuracy in it’s archetypes. If sexual themes don’t bother you or, even better, if you are a fan of hentai, I’m sure one of the female characters will tickle your fancy.
Lolis and tentacles?Check.
The combat was quite fun and, even though it took me a while to get used to the controls, I quite liked the way the combat menu worked. Those who have played Hyperdimension Neptunia will be familiar with Fairy Fencer F’s combat system which is turn-based and surprisingly dynamic. This style offers the player a wide selection of abilities and combos for use in battle. The combat menu uses all of the controller’s buttons instead of a more traditional menu, navigated by the d-pad and a few buttons. Because your characters’ moves are animated as they are selected, depending on how fast you select your combo attacks, you can sometimes forget you are playing a turn-based RPG and almost feel like you are playing an action RPG. An interesting feature is the “Fairize” command which supercharges a character once they have filled up their “Fairize gauge”. The gauge is replenished by dealing and taking damage and diminished by healing, giving the character access to special attacks and boosting their stats for the duration of the effect. Once you get used to the combat system, it is quite enjoyable and makes the gameplay interesting.
Disappointingly, there is no overworld to explore, which means the game consists of a series of short, simple dungeons punctuated by dialogue. The game’s idea of a side quest is to send you to do exactly what you’ve been doing on the main mission, except in a dungeon you’ve already cleared. Eventually the cycle of dungeon to dialogue to dungeon becomes a bit monotonous, especially since there is little else available for you to do in the game. Mercifully you can hold the L2 button to skip through combat animations and any cutscenes, meaning that when you inevitably have to grind to complete a quest or level up you can do it quickly and painlessly. The game is far too easy with Fang powering through all the enemies and with no way to change the difficulty level, it makes it hard to find an excuse to play through a New Game + file. Overall the game feels like there ought to be more to it despite its innovative combat system.
Due to gameplay in turn-based RPGs being more cerebral and slow-paced, these games have always had problems with making the presentation and story gripping in order to keep the game interesting. Visually the game is quite nice and, during dialogue and cutscenes, feels like an interactive manga. The voice acting is generally pretty solid and I was pleasantly surprised that, above all, none of the female voices were annoyingly high-pitched. One notable exception to this voice acting excellence is the goofy sidekick Galdo who, for some reason, was given the most awful faux-Canadian accent I’ve ever suffered through. This horrid accent wasn’t an issue for long though thanks to a handy feature that allows you to switch the voiceover to Japanese. This feature also became useful once I got sick of hearing my characters repeat the same thing over and over throughout combat. Somehow, I found it easier to handle when I had no idea what they were saying. The soundtrack is pretty good and will especially please fans of Jpop, of which there is plenty. I personally avoided having any of my characters Fairize for the first half of the game unless I really had to because I found the music that played so irritating ( thankfully the song changes part way through the game). If, like me, you don’t really like Jpop you can still look forward to great ambient and battle music courtesy of Nobuo Uematsu, which, in my case, more than made up for the annoying Jpop tunes.
Overall, Fairy Fencer F is one of those games that will neither blow you away nor make you regret your purchase. It’s a barrel of cheap laughs and easy fun that will keep you occupied for about 40 hours, or more if you are really determined to replay everything and be a completionist. However, due to a lack in difficulty and depth in the story, this is the kind of game you will probably play once and then forget about. For fans of Hyperdimension Neptunia, this title will be more of what they like both in terms of gameplay and in terms of the story and artwork. If you are not really a fan of Japanese RPGs to begin with, this game will not be the exception that turns you on to the genre. On the contrary, it feels very much like a generic, cookie-cutter JRPG game and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t expect to be enchanted by Fairy Fencer F.