At the turn of the millennium, I was obsessed with Dreamcast cult-classic Grandia II. I woke up early and played late until I had finally beaten the game. In its own way, Fairy Fencer F captures that magic. It's not just the best RPG NIS has published, it's one of my new favorites.
Ultimately, any RPG needs to have a good combat system. When you break an RPG down to its core, the main gameplay element is how you handle the plethora of encounters your heroes will face. Fortunately Fairy Fencer F handles this with grace. The combat system employed here almost feels like something of a mix between '90s PlayStation classic Parasite Eve and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.
Characters are able to run around and the field and position themselves during their turn to find the optimal angle at which to attack, or to create some distance to allow for healing or support spells. Attacks are handled in a combo system, which allows you to string together up to three attacks per character per turn.
If you're finding the battle to be a little tough—and assuming your tension gauge is full—you can fairize, which is basically when your character fuses with their weapon to gain a sizable boost to their stats for a brief period. Your tension gauge raises rather easily, and after two or three battles you should have no problem activating the mode, assuming your enemies haven't been beating you too badly.
Best of all, the action just feels good. All of the characters' special attacks have flashy animations that I didn't find myself tiring of. It was like watching a really cool anime battle any time I executed a particularly damaging technique.
Fairy Fencer F absolutely nails turn-based combat. More games need to be like this.
Fairy Fencer F places you in the role of Fang, a lazy food-obsessed jerk who reluctantly becomes a Fencer—warriors chosen by The Goddess to become companions to fairies, who themselves are magical beings who can transform into a variety of weapons—after being led to believe he'd have a wish granted by a mysterious sword's magic.
Sure the cast if rounded out with your typical anime tropes. A proper woman who just so happens to be a complete over-the-top masochist, a lazy, food-obsessed idiot, a researcher whose interest in her subjects borders on the sexual. You get the idea. We've seen these things before, but the dialogue and voice acting are both well done to the point that these characters we've seen in so many games of this stripe feel fresh and interesting.
In my time with the game I found myself getting invested in the characters and finding them likable. If Fairy Fencer F were delivered in another medium, it would stand well as a story in its own right.
An Weapon Upgrade System That's Actually Good
Unlike most JRPGs, you don't equip any new weapons in Fairy Fencer F. Since each Fencer is bound to one fairy partner, you instead upgrade your fairy to increase its capabilities.
Upgrades come by way of points earned in battle. Each battle nets you points based on its difficulty and your performance. Once you've gained enough points you can purchase upgrades to your fairy's defense, strength and combo length, among other things. It's a great system that makes random encounters feel like they're actually of value.
NO RANDOM ENCOUNTERS
Yeah, I know I just mentioned random encounters above, but like most of my favorite RPGs, Fairy Fencer F eschews random encounters in favor of letting you see the monsters roaming the map. Getting to choose to sneak past monsters or engage them directly is something every RPG should be doing in 2014.
Fairy Fencer F has quite a few costumes, ranging from the cool to the fanservice-y. Thankfully, developer Compile Heart was wise enough not to tie any stat-related bonuses to these outfits, leaving the choices purely cosmetic. Too few RPGs do this these days. Wanna look like a badass? That's fine. Wanna dress everyone up in swimsuits and bath towels? That's cool too. My Fang has a piece of burnt toast hanging out of his mouth, it just fits with his character.
Brass Tacks Towns
At first I didn't much care for Fairy Fencer F's towns in that they're not explorable. Each town is just a set a menus for locations, similar to Shin Megami Tensei IV. As I played more, however, I realized this allowed me to get to what I wanted to do—fight—more quickly.
Even better, people with something new to say are given a "Sub Event" or "Main Event" icon indicating if they have something new to say, or if they'll advance the main story further. It's a really interesting way to streamline a process that can easily become tedious in other games.
Quick and Simple Dungeons
Fairy Fencer F has simple dungeons that are dotted with a good number of enemies. Your objective is always laid out for you by a helpful orange icon on the mini-map and each dungeon usually has two to three of these objectives. At the end of most dungeons there's a save point and a boss battle, and the bosses offer just the right level of challenge.
Busting through a dungeon typically only takes 20-30 minutes on average, an hour if it's particularly lengthy. Some will really enjoy this like I did, but some will feel they're too short.
Frame Rate Drops
I hate to nitpick, because this an excellent game. I mean that, go buy this now. In dungeons, however, Fairy Fencer F's frame rate regularly dips into the mid 20s. It's not bad enough to be distracting, but it's noticeable. It's a minor low point in an excellent game.
Fairy Fencer F isn't just a good game. It's a great game. It's fun, lighthearted and colorful. It's exactly the type of RPG other RPGs should aspire to be. In a genre packed with overly serious themes, Fairy Fencer F is a standout. Go pick this up now.