Fairy Fencer F is a JRPG developed by Compile Heart, and if you’ve played any of their other games, that’s really all you need to know. The signature goofy anime characters, circle-based battle system, and preponderance of pop culture references are all here. But Fairy Fencer F is also more polished than some of their earlier titles. They’ve whittled down the normally exhaustive list of systems and features to a merely fatiguing list of systems and features. Both the battle system and character upgrades have been streamlined, in the most positive sense of the word. This is a game made by seasoned developers who haven’t forgotten why they got into this business in the first place.
In Fairy Fencer F, magical Fairies are bound to mythical weapons called Furies. The goal of the game is to collect all 100 Furies. That’s what Fencers do—they live to seek out the world’s Furies in order to use them to revive the Goddess. Certain Furies are already being used to seal off both the Goddess and the Vile God (he’s the bad guy!), which raises a bunch of questions that the game isn’t too eager to answer.
All the anime tropes are present. The catty, controlling aristocratic girl; the intellectual, curvaceous and completely immodest woman; the handsome, lazy guy with oddly high attack power. Each main character comes with their own Fairy partner (often a romantic interest, occasionally a Gundam) which helps guide them through life and generally acts as their comic foil. In Pippin’s case, the giant green cat with an afro and a sword stuck in its head is actually the Fencer, and the polite butler following him around is his Fairy. Fairy-Fencer dynamics are the game’s main source of humour and character development.
And in typical anime fashion, the game is also full of sexual overtones. Undertones? Either way, it’s hard to ignore Harley’s ineffectually small chest covering, or the way Tiara’s skirt is just a little too short when she runs. That said, for a Compile Heart game, this is actually pretty tame. Just look at Hyperdimension Neptunia or Mugen Souls Z.
Plot-wise, there isn’t a whole lot going on. You’re really just visiting a bunch of slightly different locales to collect more Furies. And that’s fine, because the game’s real draw is its JRPG staples: dungeon crawling, menu diving, and watching cute, quirky anime characters have silly conversations. There are also synthesis and side quest systems, but neither of these are as fleshed-out as the core gameplay. Perhaps that isn’t the loftiest goal in game development, but Compile Heart has this stuff down to a science. And rest assured that the story does eventually pick up.
All the menus, character portraits, and the seemingly hand-painted world map are a sight to behold. 2D artwork was clearly the team’s priority. But the 3D environments—particularly dungeons—are one of the game’s weakest points. New areas feel bland and uninspired; occasionally the textures are just copy-pasted recolours. You might happen to be inside an active volcano or an icicle cavern, but that won’t have any impact whatsoever on the gameplay.
Worse still, both dungeon and battle screens are plagued by frame rate issues. Rarely will the game actually achieve the advertised 60 FPS. Thankfully, L2 will skip any animation in the game, and pre-emptively hitting an enemy on the field will give you the combat initiative. If it weren’t for the great battle system and fun little character interactions, exploring dungeons would be enormously tedious.
In contrast, the Fairy system is fantastic (as it should be, given the title). Each Fairy has its own portrait, (Japanese) voice acting, and a specific set of both innate and given abilities. Every character can equip one to borrow its powers, while the Fairy will gain experience along with them and gradually level up. They’ll even give you a gift when a character sticks with the same one for a long time.
Furies can be plunged into the ground to alter a dungeon with “World-Shaping” effects like increased experience points, altered enemies, or a permanently Silenced party. Bad effects are always paired with good ones. Past a certain point, each Fury set to World-Shaping mode will also add an extra floor to the obligatory bajillion-level bonus dungeon, Shukesoo’s Tower.
Given their close partnership, it’s not too surprising that Fencers can also “Fairize” (a name the characters themselves make fun of). Fencers combine with Fairies to gain a weaponized super suit which boosts all stats and unlocks their strongest abilities. Sadly, it also replaces the battle music with an annoying song. The soundtrack is decent overall, especially thanks to contributions by the great Nobuo Uematsu, but that one theme gets old pretty fast.
The best part of the Fairy system is upgrading Furies using Weapon Points. WP are awarded after battles along with Gold and Experience. They can be spent on a ton of cool character upgrades, including but not limited to new Magic, passive abilities like Item Sonar (which beeps when you’re near hidden treasure), statistical upgrades, and the most interesting of all: attack combos.
Physical attacks are a big deal in Fairy Fencer F. On the surface, the battle system is a standard turn-based affair with SP for using abilities, HP for not dying, and highlighted circles denoting movement ranges. But you can also chain attacks together, and each Fury can take on multiple weapon forms, resulting in a wide variety of possible combinations. Some moves launch enemies into the air, while others slam them back down for extra damage. Then there are Avalanche attacks, which trigger under certain circumstances and cycle through multiple party members.
Long story short, Fairy Fencer F is a game in which you can triple-slash an enemy, punch them into the sky, shoot them down with another party member, then finish them off with a third character’s spinning glaive. Fun.
But the excellent battle system is unfortunately easy to exploit. On top of their raw damage output, attack combos also raise the Tension meter. High Tension = high stats and low Tension = low stats. This trait increases whenever you take or deal damage, meaning that those already powerful combos will only get stronger as the battle goes on. There wasn’t a single boss I couldn’t beat with only physical attacks, and that’s a problem.
This only gets worse when you unlock Stunning moves and can potentially incapacitate bosses for a full turn, letting you heal with impunity. It’s a bit silly to quickly cleave off half of a foe’s HP only to have your characters interject, “No way! He’s too strong!” Oh, that was a scripted battle? I’m supposed to be losing? Oops.
Fairy Fencer F is clearly designed for a niche audience, and that’s both its strength and its weakness. Fans of anime aesthetics, traditional JRPG gameplay, and menus upon menus upon menus will quickly fall in love with this game. That said, the sparse story and lame dungeon design bring down the experience for everyone, and even the most interesting characters eventually become predictable. Fairy Fencer F is charming and fun, but with a little more effort, it could have been truly great.