Recently, I’ve been binging Compile Heart games. Not really sure why, since all the ones I’ve played are kind of the same. Maybe I’m an addict, who knows. After playing through the remakes of the first two Hyperdimension Neptunia games, I picked up Fairy Fencer F on a whim, though I didn’t actually get started on it until recently. Since then, I’ve logged 21 hours on it, and I’m still not finished (though, admittedly, a few of those hours were spent grinding up 15 levels during a very slow night). The original PS3 version came out back in September of 2014, but like a lot of Compile Heart’s games, it found its way onto Steam back in August.
Fairy Fencer F, developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory, is a fantasy JRPG in a vein similar to the Tales series. Our protagonist is Fang, a young man coasting through life without many cares. One day, he arrives in Zelwinds City, and hears a rumor about a sword stuck in a stone. Supposedly, whoever pulls the sword from the stone would have their wish granted. Fang immediately pulls the sword with little effort, causing the appearance of the Fairy Eryn, who proclaims herself as Fang’s partner Fairy, and names him a Fencer, a magical swordsman who hunts equally magical weapons known as Furies with the intent of reviving an ancient Goddess. Fang, caring little for the prospect of adventure, immediately asks Eryn for food, and throws the Fury away when he doesn’t get it. Eryn follows and badgers Fang until he agrees to be her partner to find Furies, if only to get her to leave him alone. The two set off to hunt Furies, assembling a rag-tag party of Fencers along the way, including the snobby Tiara, Fairy researcher Harley, slow-witted Galdo (who has a Canadian accent for some reason), and my personal favorite, the mysterious bipedal cat creature Pippin. The cutscenes of the game are all slightly animated character cutouts with moving mouths, so don’t expect a lot of dynamic movement outside of actual gameplay. As for the dialogue, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but I found the way the characters converse to be entertaining, if not always entirely relevant to what’s occurring in the story; characters repeatedly disregard current events for brief moments to make aside comments, frequently in the form of snide digs at each other. Granted, I have a high tolerance for meandering conversations, so it didn’t really bother me, but I could understand how someone who prefers more concise storytelling might be irritated by the characters’ mannerisms. The characters do go through some genuine growth over the course of story, though it did strike me as a tad sudden and/or forced at times.
In terms of gameplay, the word of the day is “small”. Zelwinds City is literally the only city in the game, and it’s where you go to buy equipment and info about Furies, accept side quests, and perform Godly Revival, which I’ll explain in a minute. Aside from the city, every other location is a dungeon full of monsters, treasure, and cutscenes. Monsters roam the field, and if you can attack them, you can start a fight with initiative. Combat starts simple and gains depth as the game progresses. On the battlefield, you can move your character, select a target, and either attack or use a skill/spell. Physical attacks start at a single hit, but when boosting your weapon, you can opt for additional attacks via combo slots.
There’s an additional system known as Avalanche Attack, in which the whole party will gang up on a monster during a basic attack, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to trigger it deliberately. The game’s tutorial said it “might occur after a critical hit”, but it just seemed completely random to me. You can also launch enemies for air combos, but this feature is worthless as far as I can tell, and the game never bothered to give me any kind of tutorial as to how or why I would do it, so I just ignored it and built my combos however I liked. This never impeded me, but I did get the distinct impression I was playing the game incorrectly. One combat feature I did enjoy was the ability to “Fairize”, in which the Fencer’s combine with their weapons, granting them cool armor and stat boosts, as well as allowing the use of certain special attacks. Those special attacks, however, became somewhat worthless later in the game, since they cost both health and SP to use, and my normal repertoire of specials did far more damage. Again, this didn’t impede my progress through the game, but I’m not sure who that reflects more poorly on, me or the game.
Since a Fencer’s Fury houses their Fairy partner, they can’t use any other weapon, which kind of sucks if only for lack of variety, but you can improve your standard Fury through weapon boosting, which allows you to improve the stats of your weapons as well as unlock new combo attacks, skills, and spells. You earn WP for this independent of your EXP, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. You can build your characters pretty much any way you want, but if you allocate your WP in a weird way, you may find yourself underpowered when faced with a tough fight. As for the other Furies you collect, you might be wondering “if you can’t fight with them, what do you do with them?” Well, two things. First, every new Fury you obtain houses a new Fairy, which you can equip to characters as a resonance effect for stat boosts and bonuses. Fairies have their own levels and EXP bars, and gain new abilities as you level up, encouraging you to mix and match. The second thing you do with Furies is known as Godly Revival. You can take your new Fairies to see these giant effigies of the sealed ancient Goddess, as well as her nemesis, the Vile God. By transferring the Fairies to the Furies that bind the Goddess and Vile God, you can pull them out (after beating a quick fight), applying new abilities to the Fairy you used. Beware though, there’s a no-return policy; once a Fairy has been transferred, it’s stuck with whatever Fury you put it in. When a Fairy has a Fury to hold them, you can then use that Fury on the map screen to Shape dungeons, similar to the Plan system from the Neptunia games. By stabbing Furies into the ground around a dungeon location, you can change the properties of combat, as well as spawn different monsters and items, which you’ll need to do to accomplish certain sidequests.
Fairy Fencer F strikes me as an experimental game. It reuses a lot of ideas and assets from the Neptunia series, but tries to take them in new and different directions. Granted, it doesn’t always work. There’s a lot of superfluous features that could’ve been removed or replaced without really affecting the game, but I suppose that’s contrary to the existing issue that it’s a very small game in general. I feel like it would be more at home on a handheld like the Vita instead of a console or PC. Still, smallness aside, it’s by no means a bad game. If you want a comparison, think of it like a Tales game on a budget with snarkier writing. If you like Tales games, or fantasy JRPGs in general, it’s worth a look for the right price.