Review by Ginny W.
Fairy Fencer F became an indelible part of the Compile Heart stable upon its original release back on the PlayStation 3. Riffing off the familiar system from Hyperdimension Neptunia and adding its own stylised spin to it, the title has since been remastered for the Switch and other current-gen consoles. However, while it boasts a much-needed graphics overhaul and all the available DLC, there’s still a certain degree of polish lacking on the Switch release of Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force. If you’re not someone charmed by the idiosyncrasies of the developer’s usual, then these imperfections may be too hard of a pill to swallow.
Those who have ever played a Compile Heart JRPG will immediately recognise the flavour of the narrative pervading the game. It’s the usual light-hearted fare which focuses a lot on the interpersonal relationships between the unique characters, and the central conceit is particularly amusing to contextualise. You play as Fang, who is equal parts lazy, bumbling protagonist and Chosen One, gifted with the power to use incredible weapons that just also happen to manifest as sexy anime women.
Within the first few minutes of the game, you’re introduced to those particular leading ladies (collectively known as the Furies). Fang’s job is to travel around the world collecting these artifacts in order to save the world from the consequences of the age-old conflict between embodiments of darkness and light. Yes, these are all clichés that have been heard before, but they’re no less entertaining in these colourful skins. Fanservice grows legs and runs amok here, as it usually does with all Compile Hearts games, and there’ll be a little bit of everything for your typical waifu connoiseur to enjoy.
Advent Dark Force also adds two new endings to the original game which are triggered by specific choices made as part of certain events, and the message across all the new endings remains largely footloose and fancy-free, if not for some moments that could result in tonal whiplash for the unprepared. However, those who are used to the complex moral decision-making in BioWare games should manage their expectations accordingly; there’s no space opera stylings or critiques of colonialism here.
That being said, Compile Heart’s “don’t fix what isn’t broken” strategy has otherwise paid off in spades for the title. While there’s been a bit of a narrative upgrade in the latest iteration of Fairy Fencer F, a lot of the other aspects of the game have stayed the same. The fighting allows you to take charge of six combatants, which is an increase from the original number, but it’s otherwise the same old turn-based affair that we’ve come to know and love.
When you run into an enemy in the wild, you end up zoned into a circular arena which defines the limits of where combat can take place. You and your foes will then take turns to move around that area and attack. Certain skills have certain ranges and areas that they will effect for both you and your enemies alike, so a lot of the game is about positioning to deal the most amount of damage to the most amount of people possible.
Efficiency is definitely key to success, and chaining skill combos is one of the most engrossing parts of Fairy Fencer F’s combat; you can pull off some incredible-looking plays with the Fairize mechanic, which is basically akin to activating a Mega Stone for your weapon waifu of choice. Those familiar with the stylised combat of the Neptunia games will feel right at home here, and it’s easy enough for newcomers to grasp the nuances of. There’s nothing that will really put up too much of a fight that can’t be conquered by grinding, so if you’re someone that likes to run around in the same dungeon for hours, Advent Dark Force on the Switch offers you the first opportunity to do that while you watch Netflix.
That being said, while the game’s approach to fighting is somewhat of a refined formula over the history of its re-releases, the same cannot be said about the overall mechanical performance of Fairy Fencer F itself. There was a multitude of instances of framerate lag, distortion of the combat environment and models that were odds with the reasonably high-quality fidelity of the surroundings. On top of that, the saturation in the colour of said surroundings seemed a little glaring some brighter maps.
Overall, the performance issues are unlikely to affect one’s ability to play the game successfully, but they will still have a noticeable effect on your experience. There has been a Day One patch to the game that has improved the framerate issues slightly, but those who value high fidelity graphics over everything else will be likely served best with the PlayStation 4 version, which is genuinely gorgeous.
There’s clearly been love and effort put into the Switch port, and it shows. The series has been given a Tales-sized uplift, which includes dialogue “cutscenes” that include character portraits, and unique cutscenes being voiced. That, combined with the inclusion of the extra DLC content as well as the care taken to reupholster the overall appearance of the game, makes it a winning bid for fans who have played the original and who just want a portable taste of Fairy Fencer F.
However, if you’re not well-acquainted with Compile Heart’s shenanigans and you don’t have a vested interest in the franchise, then the Switch version is perhaps not the most seamless introduction to the universe of Furies and Fang. The bugs as well as the fact that all roads lead to a grindfest can be hard pills to swallow if you don’t already have a connection to the cast of Advent Dark Force but on the balance of probabilities, there’s still more than enough shine and sparkle in the game to warrant you giving it a spin.
– Ginny W.