Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fairy Fencer F (PS3)

Abounding in compelling content, and vibrant with attention getting art "Fairy Fencer F" aims to draw the gamer in with a new story built upon old standards. Like 'Neptunia', and 'Mugen Souls' you will find that this latest JRPG has some elements slightly akin to those previously mentioned series. Along with the old does come the new though. This time around the main protagonists are bound by mystical relationships that harken back to an epic battle between a Goddess, and a Vile God. Ending the fight in a stalemate eons before the main protagonist came to fulfill his role both deities were left impaled by hundreds of furies (swords), and were imprisoned by each other's actions with only the fairies that were left behind to share their tale. Fencers who prove worthy to carry the furies are destined come to the aid of the imprisoned fairies contained within, and in doing so form a mutually binding relationship meant to free one of the two deities. Of course it goes with out saying that there is a wish to be granted as well once the said deity of choice is freed. In the end it is up to you, and those you choose as companions to release either one deity, or the other. Thus letting the world's fate be decided by those who added that spark to life in the first place.

Fairy Fencer F is a JRPG not unlike 'Hyperdimension Neptunia', and 'Mugen Souls Z'. Even with the notable similarities though you will find that 'Compile Heart' has decided to deliver a more mature, and less "Moe" adventure that entails the epic conflict of 'Good vs Evil'. At the beginning of the game you will bare witness to the somewhat biblical origins of "Fairy Fencer F's" main deities. As it turns out there was an epic battle against a goddess, and a vile god that ended up releasing unto the world swords known as furies, and fairies who were tied to those weapons. During their battle the goddess of light, and the vile god of darkness impaled each other with hundreds of furies in order to imprison each other, and keep the other from coming out victorious.

Awakening from his slumber in a prison ages after the epic battle between deities, the male protagonist "Fang" lets us in on the why, and how of his current predicament. Apparently this young man, who has an insatiable appetite, thought it wise to steal some bread from the local villagers after unearthing the town's fury, and awakening the fairy that it contained. He had been told by a villager that should he prove worthy of being able to remove the fury sword from it's resting place in an 'Arthurian' manner that he would be granted one wish. That wish was of course for a never ending supply of food. Upon meeting the fairy 'Eryn' though he soon realizes that he's got himself into a bit of a mess. His days of slacking, and eating to his heart's content are over as soon as Eryn reveals to him that he has been chosen as a 'Fencer' to free the goddess from her imprisoned state, so that his dream of food unending will be fulfilled.

Reluctant at first young Fang tries every sarcastic trick in the book to hurt Eryn's feelings, and get her off his case about his destiny as a Fencer. After Eryn plays him for a fool with her tears, and concerns of memory loss though he mans up, and decides to tag along for the adventure. Along the way the twosome runs into villagers, and merchants of various sorts as well as other Fencers who have ulterior motives of their own. Some Fencers become allies while others become adversaries. By embarking on the quest to secure all of the furies, and gain the help of all the fairies both Fang, and Eryn's partnership are put to the test time, and time again. Whether or not they'll let loose the wrath of the vile god, or free the goddess for world peace is fully up to the gamer.

Gameplay ...

When it comes down to the gameplay in this new JRPG title you'll find a lot of similarities with past 'Hyperdimension Neptunia' games as well as the 'Mugen Souls' mini-series. The major differences that are offered here mainly tie-in with the Fencer, Fairy, and Fury themes/relationships that the game is all about. As a Fencer (Fang) you will be tasked with going from location to location on the world map, and completing dungeon playthroughs which will reward you with a new fury should you be victorious. The point of the game, as it were is to collect all of the furies through battle, release the fairies within, and have said fairies help you remove the furies that are impaled in either the vile god, or the goddess's bodies. You'll also be tasked with side-quests, requests, and various forms of character management. Like 'Neptunia' the menu based world, character management, worldly travel, and combat are not far from being the same, but do have some significant differences which set this game apart from the likes of said games.

What you need to know above all else is that Fencers are the only ones who can wield furies, and that the fairies contained within the furies are bound to serve the Fencers. In the combat portions of the game you will be wielding, and using your fury, and the fairy that is associated with it as a means to fight off the various types of creatures and bosses you happen upon. As such changing weapons is not an option this time around. The good thing about all of this is that the game focuses more on leveling up the characters stats via fairies, and combat than having the player be forced to buy, and equip their character with weapons fitting of the current situation. The added fact that the combat phases are more simplified, and more action packed by design makes battles seem more important than they ever has in such a NISA release.

Regardless of the repetitive circular combat system you will find that you are able to utilize some new features in junction with the standard magic, and physical attacks. Each character that becomes a part of your in-game party will come equipped with a fury, and the fairy associated with that weapon. What this means is that as you dish out combos, use skills, and cast magic attacks you will build up a combo meter which will enable you to "Fairize". Fairizing, which is a completely fabricated term in JRPG lore will enable the character performing the action to become more powerful in a 'Neptunia' goddess sort of way. The difference in activation this time around though is that you will be literally impaling yourself with your fury (Think 'Persona 3') in order to mechanize/fairize your character's body, and turn them into a living weapon. The 'Fairize' feature can be used as often as you build up your combo meter. It's a very useful tool against bosses, and the harder to kill enemies that you'll run into from time to time. Keep in mind that enemies, like your fairy, and quest ranks are categorized alphabetically (E-S) according to their strength.

Combat while simplified on the battlefield still requires some character upgrades, and management within the main menu system. As you continue defeating your foes in-game you will earn what is known as "WP (Weapon Points)". Weapon Points can be used to upgrade a variety of different character related things including skills, attack (P-ATTK, M-ATTK), defense (P-DEF, M-DEF), fury percentage, and combos. All of these stat, and ability improvements will help you to overcome the more difficult fights within the game, but at the same time will cost you more, and more WP as you continue to upgrade. All characters within your party can be upgraded accordingly, and it's best you stay on top of it otherwise you'll be left wishing you had of done it.

Another aspect of combat relates to the use of fairies. As I mentioned earlier fairies are bound to their Fencer masters, and must perform their duties as a source of magic, and enhancement. Each fury that you collect within the game will reward you with another fairy that can be used as a stats booster via the "Fairy Revolution" mechanic. The 'Fairy Revolution' feature is basically a means of giving your equipped character new skills, spells, and stat/attribute boosts that can be used in combat outside of what your core fairy has to offer. You'll find that you can equip only one additional fairy to a character through the "Equip" menu option though. As such it's best to choose wisely, because fairy skills/spells are usually elemental, and will only be beneficial in dungeon environments of an opposite element. The good thing about all additional fairies is that they gain experience just like you, and with that experience their provided skills, spells, and attribute boosts will increase in level.

Fairies also perform two other very important functions within the world of "Fairy Fencer F". Along with the character boosts, and perks they can also perform a function known as "World Morphing". When used as a "World Morphing" object the fairies will morph into their fury form, and can be stabbed into map locations on the world map in order to reveal the nature of that dungeon/area (enemy types, dungeon name ...). When left stabbed into a dungeon area the fairy that is used will also affect certain character/enemy attributes within the dungeon. As with the assigning of fairies via "Fairy Revolution" you'll need to choose wisely how you utilize the "World Morphing" function. If you don't you might help the enemies out rather than yourself making your job a hundred times harder.

Outside of the combat, and dungeon exploring scenarios you will find that talking to characters via dialogue options is a must in order to advance the plot, and open up new opportunities. In the main town known as 'Zelwinds' you will find a colorful, and often times humorous cast of characters, and merchants who will help you along your journey. By clicking on the dialogue boxes with the characters' picture included via the "Talk" menu option you will come to know those whom you are associating with. Like other features it's not all that different from the Game Industri HQ management in 'Neptunia'. You'll find that there's a shop for purchasing health related items, and equipment. The shop is even good for alchemist synthesizing should you have the goods, and recipes in stock. Aside from the shop you'll also find a pub which is good for taking on quests that entail the killing of monsters, and the fetching of items. The pub is also a good place to stop, and shoot the breeze while gaining valuable info necessary for plot advancement. In the way of a resting place you will find an Inn that ties-in with the meeting of another Fencer. This to will be a place of importance in that it will help you advance the plot with conversations regarding your Fencer partners, as well as the fairies who tag along. The Inn is also the place where you will be removing the furies from the impaled goddess, or the vile god. One last place of importance is a more public area known as the plaza. It is in the plaza that you'll learn valuable leads from a certain character, and it is also a place to talk to more persons of interest.

In the case of the Inn's "God Revival" feature you will have to use a released/captured fairy to inhabit an impaled fury of like rank (E-S), and battle the enemies associated with that impaled fury in order to be able to remove it from either the goddess, or the vile god. Ultimately it is up to you to choose whether you want to free the goddess, or the vile god. Whatever choice you make though will more than likely impact the ending you get upon completion of the game's core story. I have a hunch by freeing both, or partially freeing both you might also be rewarded another ending altogether.

Graphics & Soundtrack ...

For those of you curious about FFF's graphics, and soundtrack I can honestly say that this is by far one of the most epic JRPGs Compile Heart has developed, and released this year. The visuals in the anime storytelling sense are damn near next-gen. Everything shown is so lively, and vibrant. It's well beyond what 'Neptunia', and 'Mugen Souls' provided, in my personal opinion. The character designs are more on the mature side of things, and are definitely less 'Moe'. The added fact that Final Fantasy's artist 'Yoshitaka Amano' contributed to the title screen, and influenced the design of the vile god, and the goddess makes this game truly exceptional. The soundtrack is also something to rejoice over in that it too sounds more mature. It contains heavy metal solos, grinding guitar tracks, and heavy hitting techno, the likes of which a Compile Heart release hasn't seen in a long while. I loved everything about the visual, and audio aspects of this game. For those of you worried about the inclusion of Japanese vocals you'll be glad to know that is an option this time as well.

The Verdict ...

For once in my gaming journalism career I found a NISA/Compile Heart game of this type of design that I'm thoroughly glad to have played. It is epic. Despite it's rehashed, and remade features the world within "Fairy Fencer F" was brought to life in such a way that demands respect. I feel the developer finally got the combat system improved to a point that it's actually enjoyable, and that doesn't make it seem second nature to the story being told. The characters, and their many dialogue driven predicaments are priceless. While I've yet to fully complete the game I can say without a doubt that this is one of the "Must Have!" JRPGS of this year. It has a lot of new things to offer faithful NISA/Compile Heart fans, and despite the reuse of old mechanics it still feels like a new experience. I only hope that you are brave enough to give it a chance before writing it off as some mere re-imagining. The game is a PS3 exclusive, and will set you back $49.99 plus tax. It will be available as a physical/retail copy here in the states.

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