Third Time’s the Charm
Well, here I am once again. Reviewing Fairy Fencer F for the third time, now. To be fair, I suppose that this is Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, which I’ve only reviewed twice (including this one). But, if you include my original Fairy Fencer F review, that makes three times. Does this make me an expert on the game? I don’t know; probably not. But it does make me fairly knowledgeable. I could tell you pretty much anything that you’d want to know about this game at this point, a lot of which doesn’t really matter within the context of this review. But, after playing, and writing about, this game three different times, there is one thing that I can tell you that you should definitely be aware of — this game holds up.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force isn’t particularly groundbreaking, and, at this point, it’s old enough that it feels a little outdated on the Switch. But, do you know what? None of that really matters, if you ask me. Age and obscurity aside, this game is a lot of fun. It isn’t ashamed of its niche status, boldly and playfully attempting to cater to both Compile Heart’s staple Neptunia fanbase while trying to draw in new JRPG fans (specifically, those who don’t mind a little bit of fan service) as well — something which it pulls off splendidly — and I’m quite happy that it was able to have one last hurrah on the Switch.
Also, as a quick aside, I’d like to inform everyone that most these pictures are from a version of the game played before its release. Some of the graphics might look a little crunchy here when compared to the PS4 and PC versions of ADF, but an update paired with the game’s official release took care of that. Now, onward to the rest of the review!
Of Food and Fae
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force begins in the same way that it always has, with Fang, a lovable protagonist with the sleepiest eyes I’ve ever seen, pulling a sword out of a rock in the middle of a town. Hoping to pawn off the sword in order to make a quick buck, Fang soon finds himself stopped by the fairy residing within the sword. Introducing herself as Eryn, she states that, because Fang was able to pull the Fury (a weapon concertinaing a fairy within it) and rouse her from her slumber, she and Fang were destined to work together as partners — as fairy and Fencer — from that point on. Fang, not surprisingly, has literally zero interest in what was going on, and originally decides to ignore the whole Fencer nonsense. However, as I’m sure we’re all very well aware of at this point, fate had other plans in store for him.
Advent Dark Force‘s story isn’t terribly deep for the most part, relying more on character interaction and casual banter than with actually developing the story itself, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Anyone familiar with Compile Heart, and with a little series known as Hyperdimension Neptunia, knows that this is generally how this developer rolls. Heck, banter is like 90% of the dialogue in Neptunia games. And ADF doesn’t at all drop that quality. But it does branch off from its Neptunia-inspired predecessor to feel like its own thing. Characters are a little more grounded (as much as they can be, anyway), the story feels a little more intense, and so on. There are a lot of story-related tweaks that have been made in this game which, while seemingly small on their own, all add up to a game that boasts its own unique narrative flavor without dropping its Compile Heart origins.
Advent Dark Force‘s has yet another draw in this area, however; its incredibly expanded storyline. About halfway through the game, a certain event takes place which transports Fang and Eryn somewhere (pardon the vagueness, I’m trying to stay spoiler-free). It’s a major event, and it sets the tone for the rest of the game; but, in ADF, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen. Depending on how you handle Godly Revival (a major mechanic in both FFF and ADF), the second half of the game will end up following one of three routes. Yes, you heard me right; second half. The fact that two second-half storylines have been added into the game effectively doubles its size. What’s even better is the fact that these three paths are entirely unique. ADF doesn’t just slap a fresh coat of paint onto its already-existing content, but chooses to offer the player the chance to experience events within the Fairy Fencer F universe the likes of which have never before happened — something which makes this game all the more amazing than it already was.
A Hop, Skip, and 10,000 Jumps
Borrowing from the Neptunia series to an incredibly high degree, gameplay in Advent Dark Force is, for the most part, all about two things; trekking through dungeons, and beating up monsters. When it comes to exploration, well, I’ve already pretty much said it; if you’re familiar with Neptunia, then you already know how this game plays out. ADF consists of a dozen or so 3D dungeons, most of which could be considered bite-sized. As is the case with most dungeons, the point of ADF‘s dungeon delving segments is clear; to make it to the end in order to progress the plot and (most likely) fight a boss. It’s a simple method, and in 2019 it borders on archaic, but I don’t dislike it. Call it what you will — nostalgia, Compile Heart bias, or what have you — but I think that there’s something nice about how straightforward this game’s formula is. Advent Dark Force is very “back-to-basics” with how it approaches things which, while I won’t deny has the potential to get stale for those not interested in this kind of thing, has the potential to be almost comforting in how straightforward it is.
Of course, this game isn’t entirely devoid of any kind of mechanical spice. World Shaping, a uniquely Fairy Fencer F mechanic, allows players to affect certain elements of each dungeon. By stabbing an obtained Fury into the ground near a dungeon on the world map, players are able to do things such as increase character stats, boost EXP gain, and even change the monsters that show up. These changes aren’t all positive, however; while Furies do bestow beneficial effects when used in World Shaping, they also affect the character negatively. A defensive buff may be paired with an offensive debuff, an EXP boost may also cause characters to be unable to heal HP or SP, and so on. While extensive World Shaping isn’t necessary, it’s nice to have an option to change things up if something’s giving you a tough time — and an absolute God(ess)send for grinding levels.
The Neptunia-esque challenges also make their return in Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force as well. Consisting of nearly every dungeon-related activity possible — from walking and jumping, to using skills and spells — these challenges start off small but add up in a big way. By completing subsequent levels of each challenge, players are able to raise their stats drastically. Challenges aren’t necessary in order to finish the game, and clearing every challenge with every is undeniably daunting, but the bonuses that they provide, aren’t at all negligible. Plus, it’s kind of fun to be able to say that the reason why you beat a boss is because you ran around in circles and jumped a whole bunch beforehand.
The Fury of a Fury
Turning the topic to combat, I’ll once again default to the Neptunia series (surprise, surprise). As was the case with exploration, if you’ve played a Neptunia game then you’ll have no issue getting acclimated with Advent Dark Force‘s combat. Battles are a somewhat atypical turn-based affair (but now allow for 6 characters instead of FFF‘s 4), which heavily emphasizes character placement. Players aren’t only responsible for choosing their characters attacks, such as with typical games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but must also take care to move their party members on the battlefield as well. While it might take some getting used to at first, it becomes vitals that players learn the nuances of character placement on the battlefield, as properly positioned characters are capable doing things like hitting a large group of enemies with a single attack, or thwarting an enemy’s plans to do the same thing to them. I’ll admit that, when I first started playing this game (for the first time), I wasn’t too psyched about the whole “moving around thing”. I did learn to like it, however. Sure, it’s hard at first, but it adds a lot of depth to battles — and the better you get with it, the more fun you’ll have.
When it comes to actually dealing damage, players are relegated to standard attacks, skills, and magic. I won’t go into too much detail on the latter two, as they’re exactly what they sound like. Skills are powerful physical moves that cost SP, and magic is literally everything else (magic-based attacks, healing, buffs, debuffs, and so on). What does take some explanation, however, is the way that standard attacks work. After a certain points, players are able to utilize combos, transforming normal attacks into multi-hit chains comprised of various attacks. Aside from dealing extra damage (which is always nice), combos are also extremely handy in that they can destroy enemy armor (i.e. “part breaking”), and deplete an enemy’s shield gauge which, once at 0, makes them extraordinarily susceptible to damage. I’ll be frank with you; despite knowing what combos were, I ended up ignoring them in favor of spamming skills and spells at first. And that works… for a while. Eventually, however, the need for combos becomes apparent. Breaking the parts and shield of an enemy can literally mean the difference between victory and defeat later on in the game (unless you’re insanely over-leveled or anything), and it’s nice knowing that ADF makes sure that players don’t skimp out on some of its more technologically complex mechanics.
Finally, each character also has a unique skill, as well as a “Fairize” ability. These unique skills, once again, are fairly self-explanatory — including things like Fang’s “Serious Face” which increases both damage dealt and SP consumption, or Galdo’s “Full Swing” which trades damage for accuracy — with some being much more valuable than others. More importantly, however, is the Fairize ability. A turn-free transformation move not unlike Neptunia‘s HDD, Fairizing allows characters with enough Tension (which can be built up by attacking and receiving damage) to merge with their fairies, thus granting them greater power and access to skills which, while ridiculously strong, also cost a significant portion of the caster’s HP. As much as having to spend 30% of my HP to unleash an attack (and up to 45% in Fang’s case!), I can’t gripe too much as it’s honestly a fair trade-off.
Fairies, Fencers, and Fun
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is outdated by this point; I won’t even try to deny that. But that doesn’t really matter. What does matter to me is the fact that this game, five years and three reviews later, is still fun for me. Is that subjective? Well, yeah, obviously. But I still feel as though it’s a fact that can attest to the quality of this game. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is fun, surprisingly addictive, and filled with more good times than ever thanks to its huge influx of new content. There’s a fair chance that it won’t appeal to you if you aren’t already an existing Compile Heart Fan, or, at the very least, a JRPG fan, but if you are, then I’d urge you to go check it out. I’m sure that you won’t regret it.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart ; Players: 1 ; Released: January 17, 2019; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.