Sometimes the best way to succeed is to stick to the bread and butter of the genre, rather than mess about with weird gimmicks. In Fairy Fencer F, developed by Compile Heart, it aims to do just that in using fairies, furies, and fencers. Upon overhearing a rumour, our hungry hero Fang removes the sword in the stone to get his one wish fulfilled – a meal to put Man vs. Food to shame. Much to his surprise, a fairy pops out instead, and tells him the fine print; that he must gather weapons used in an epic fight called furies to revive the sealed Goddess in order to lock away the Vile God for good. Now bound together by a cool looking sword, they venture off together to save the world.
Sadly, the game's first hurdle is the plot itself. While the story of the Goddess and the Vile God doesn't have any leaking holes, it takes a long time for the plot ship to truly set sail. Character development starts slow, blazing with fiery developmental moments before dousing them with misplaced comedy. Later party members would kill to be a part of the action, though, as the last few get thrown in together almost like a buy one, get one free deal. With heroes and villains feeling pretty shallow early on, by the time that the plot kicks into full gear, you might find yourself thinking that you've wasted your money. After a curve ball, however, the game manages to pulls itself together, almost as if it spent the first half of the story hungover, and ends up shaping into quite a solid RPG.
Characters coming and going is normally no problem, but the game's unique Fury levelling system makes them suffer. While characters gain levels to increase their overall statistics, the majority of their power comes from levelling up your partnered fairy using weapon points. Just about anything can be purchased with the currency – from offensive and defensive power, attack range, combo length, and fairize power, to skills, magic, and different weapon combos. While characters join with their levels balanced, the skills that they have learned lag severely behind those of other members, meaning that those who arrive late are left lagging behind indefinitely. The system does force you to specialise, however, and to be efficient with your WP spending. Your healer will spend a lot of their points on spells to keep your team going, while physical combatants can focus on strength and fairize power for crucial moments, and to slice through bosses like butter.
Combat itself is pretty hit and miss, changing greatly as the game progresses. With weapon points being the grand puppet master, combat doesn't feel natural to begin with. Without upgrading your combo size, enemies can easily swarm you with only one measly hit to retaliate with. Enemies also have weaknesses to certain weapon types, which you can't afford to buy more of early in the game – unless you let your stats suffer – but thankfully, it's amazing when taken advantage of later, as they can be assigned to different face buttons. While your normal attacks are weak, skills truly shine, allowing you to deal a bucket load of damage at the expense of spell points – but surprisingly, skills become redundant compared to your basic attacks as things progress.
Meanwhile, magic suffers greatly throughout, as early game casters will struggle to help keep their SP sustained, and in the late game, they'll find it awkward aiming at the set hit boxes of foes while remaining close to allies for healing duty. By and large, characters and their abilities are pretty mundane, with most being awkward to use, and skills like 'Assassinate' being interrupted if an enemy decides to attack. Fang's comically named 'Serious Face' is a saving grace, however, allowing you to deal tremendous damage at the cost of SP, and will likely be the only one you bother with.
Fortunately, the battle system's saved by the ability to fairize: the fusing together of fairies with their partners to gain massive stat boosts. Using a tension gauge located above each character's portrait, they can combine when they reach the uppermost marked segment, and devolve automatically when it falls to the lowest segment. Being successful with your offensive will build up tension, while being attacked and missing will cause it to drop. And with the build up being quick and fast, you never have to worry about the risk of using it up. With tremendous power and an awesome battle theme behind it, fairizing can change the course of a brawl completely, allowing you to make a final push against a boss or save yourself from a troublesome ambush. In this form, the cast can also use their special finisher for a ton of SP and 40 per cent of their total life. While this becomes risky later on, due to the fact that you can be severely punished if you fail to deliver the final blow, it'll be your ace in the hole for most of the game.
Even after mastering the basics of combat, the game's unpredictable difficulty curve may get the best of you, as there's no clear pattern throughout as to what content you should be able to handle. Side Quests to pick up extra furies can be made available before picking up the next party member necessary to actually complete it, but at other times, it can be an absolute cake walk compared to the normal plot. The same goes for bosses, as they can sometimes be easy compared to the monsters roaming the areas, but then they can get much more difficult than any enemies that will appear before or after. Even with visiting areas and collecting all of the extra furies, there is no sure fire way to protect yourself from these unexpected hurdles.
The furies themselves are worth collecting, though, as they're the equivalent of an extra piece of equipment for your characters. Each can be levelled up to augment certain stats and abilities, and their skills can be customised further using the goddess revival system, that allows you to pull swords out of the Goddess or Vile God using your furies – although each sword can only be pulled once, so you need to be careful not to waste important skills. While most of the furies have similar element buffs, you will finding yourself levelling them all for a few precious skills such as SP re-gen or attack damage boost. The faires that have been imbued with power can also be used to affect dungeons, using the world shaping on the map screen. When placed near a dungeon, it can give numerous bonuses such as additional experience points, but at a cost such as double SP consumption. While most aren’t worth dealing with, it can be worth the risk if you're planning to grind.
With a lifespan of over 20 hours, Fairy Fencer F is a decent RPG with an eventually enjoyable plot and challenging combat – albeit in some of the wrong places. Fans of the genre will end up really liking it, but it won't cast a spell on everyone by any stretch.