Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force Review (Switch)
If there’s anything that I’ve learned over the past year of reviewing RPGs for this site, it’s that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by RPGs of all shapes and sizes. The amount of joy I’ve experienced playing RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, DragonFangZ, and Disgaea 5 is something I did not expect due to a general disinterest in heavily anime-influenced material. But it is because of those positive experiences that I’ve been genuinely excited to dive into Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, regardless of my past feelings towards games with strong anime influences.
Eons ago, a conflict arose between two deities – one of light and one of darkness. When the dust settled, each god created furies: weapons bound to fairies that were imbued with a portion of the god’s powers. The creation of these weapons brought upon an eternal slumber to the gods and, as a result, scattered the various furies into the wind. It wasn’t until years later that mankind would discover these weapons and begin using them for their own purposes, though they could ultimately be used to unseal the long-dormant gods as well. But which god should be awakened, and what repercussions will follow such an act?
Fang is a young man whose only aspiration in life is to be as gluttonous as possible while caring little about the happenings of the world. Unfortunately for him he happens upon an old sword stuck in the earth one day, and proceeds to pull it out. Little did he know that the sword was one of the fabled god-forged fury weapons, and that the act of unsheathing it forced him into the position of full-time Fencer. As a product of binding themselves to a fury and their associated fairy, Fencers become warriors that travel the world collecting as many furies as possible. The real question, however, is what would happen if they were to be used collectively for nefarious purposes (ie. world domination and/or awaken the Vile God), and it is only reasonable to assume that there are people out there dead-set on doing just that.
Fang’s easy-going, could-give-two-craps-about-anything attitude steers him into the side of the just – at least for a while. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force allows for your path to diverge in a few ways, but that won’t mean anything unless you can first become invested in the lore and characters themselves. The mediocre (at best) story and characters are the first of many problems with the game, originating from the very beginning with Fang. In case his previously mentioned demeanor is not enough evidence, perhaps this additional tidbit will help: he only agrees to help awaken the Goddess and restore peace in the world after he gets his butt beat by a rival, far superior Fencer. Sounds like a great lead character, right?
The fun doesn’t stop there though, for the majority of Fencers that join Fang feature some sort of narcissism that becomes pretty annoying, and fast. When a certain elite and wildly attractive Fencer joins the party, swooning the fairies due to his undeniable charm, both of the other male party members at the time resort to a pissing contest to see just who really is the baddest dude around, despite both of them having no interest in the attention of the fairies whatsoever. While I’ve been on the record many times before advocating for more comedic relief in RPGs, the concept falls a bit flat when there’s so much overlap between the personalities of the characters and when they are fairly one-note to begin with. Like, do we really need two male characters that are obsessed with food and can barely see beyond their inflated egos?
The answer is “no”, in case you were wondering.
Luckily, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force becomes more interesting once you are able to dive into its many and multi-layered gameplay systems. But with as much depth as there is within the various components, you might be disappointed to hear that it takes a more single screen / first person hub-based approach rather than being a fully explorable world as is the case in most JRPGs. That said, there are plenty of dungeons to scour and monsters to vanquish in a more traditional sense, but we’ll get into that a bit later.
Fairies, Fairies Everywhere
Seeing as the ultimate objective is to collect furies in order to keep them out of the hands of the wicked, as well as awaken the appropriate deity, you will come across a lot of different furies and fairies in the process. While a Fencer can only bind themselves to a single fairy, they can partially borrow powers from a second fairy as well. Equipping a secondary fairy grants statistical bonuses and various traits, which will further develop as they accumulate experience and levels alongside your party.
But what about your primary fairy? Well, they offer two things: stat and ability customization via the weapon boost system, and Fairize – Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force’s version of a Dragonball Fusion Dance that combines both the fairy and the Fencer into one ultimate being, increasing the character’s power and granting access to unique abilities for the duration.
Party members will all level up in a traditional fashion, but will also accrue WP alongside the standard EXP. WP is used exclusively in the weapon boost system, and gives you the ability to pick and choose additional stat bonuses and skills as you see fit. While some of the more powerful abilities have prerequisites that must be unlocked beforehand, there is enough variety at any given time where you will often weigh the decisions involving your WP distribution.
Finally, fairies are used in an additional gameplay feature called world shaping, which is a way for you to customize modifiers associated with the various dungeons you’ll delve into over the course of your adventure. These World Shaping modifiers are acquired through unsealing portions of deities, and act as permanent bonuses to the fairy used in the unsealing ritual. Generally, world shaping bonuses come in the form of one positive and one negative effect, but not always. For example, one set might give 30% bonus to experience but reduce the party’s physical defense by 10%. The good thing about the world shaping system is that they are interchangeable, and do not have to be used at all, but their bonuses often outweigh any negative traits.
Dungeoneering and Combat
The largest chunk of your time in Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force will be spent in dungeons, which serve as gateways to a more traditional JRPG experience. These locations open up as you progress the story and can be revisited at any time once they are unlocked. As you might expect, dungeons contain monsters, treasure, and of course furies. Your character can move, jump, and attack to overcome various hurdles and uncover hidden treasure, as well as make use of a dash when pressed for time (or to simply help avoid enemies). Enemies will wander around unless you get in their line of sight, then a chase will ensue. If you can swing your weapon at an enemy before they make contact, you will initiate a preemptive strike that gives your team an early advantage in battle, but failure can result in an ambush, giving the enemy that same preemptive bonus. Either way, a battle will begin upon some sort of contact with the enemy.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force uses a modified version of the battle system found in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, which is from the same developer. In essence, it is a turn-based system that allows for free movement around the battlefield in between commands. Movement and positioning play key roles in combat due to many abilities having area effects that should be optimally positioned up for the best results. However, the same goes for enemy abilities, meaning you will want to avoid clustering party members together whenever possible to avoid splash damage. Positioning is integral to even base melee attacks though, as attacking from behind will improve their accuracy and becomes especially important with combos. Combos involve chaining together multiple base attacks, and can deal heavy damage at the cost of no resources.
The guard and part breaking features serve as additional layers to combat. Capitalizing on enemy weapon type weaknesses can reduce their guard, which opens the occasional window of opportunity for a party-wide chain attack called Avalanche, and can cause them to take additional damage from abilities for a short time in the event that their guard is completely rent. Parts breaking is performed similarly in that it requires a certain weapon type, but is not always done with the same weapon that the enemy is “weak” to in a guard sense. Confusing, I know, but in practice it makes more sense. Additionally, unlike the guard system, parts breaking does not provide an combat advantage, instead rewarding you with additional bonuses upon victory.
Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts to the combat system. Although they might be overwhelming in the beginning, they are explained in great detail as the game progresses and ultimately end up easily being the most enjoyable feature of the entire package.
Graphics, Performance, and Sound
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is an updated version of a game that first released on PS3 six years ago, so it would be easy to chalk up any issues in regards to graphics as simply being a byproduct of its age. Although there were many beautiful games from the last generation, I still lowered my expectations here due to my preliminary run-ins with screenshots before I even fired up the game. Let’s be real though: the graphics are not great, at least as far as the dungeon / combat graphics are concerned. The cutscenes and first person sections are well done, sure, but you’re going to be spending the bulk of your time running around dungeons and engaging in combat anyways.
In dungeons, the Switch version uses an odd depth of field that blurs out pretty much everything that is beyond two steps of the player character, and since it is a third person perspective it ends up being really distracting. The game struggles to maintain a solid framerate as well, with the number of choppy framerate instances easily trumping the occasional tickle of that sweet 60FPS. I’ve seen footage of the PS4 version performing and looking much better, and that is to be expected, but I still assumed that this game would run better than it does on Switch. I primarily played in docked mode but did jump over to handheld occasionally and noticed little to no performance difference between the two. That said, the game is not unplayable by any means, though I did experience a couple of crashes and some minor technical hiccups in addition to the aforementioned performance issues.
Unfortunately the music is not that great either, and with the Uematsu supposedly in the co-composing helm I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t expect more out of it. Perhaps it was nothing more than a publicity stunt as his iconic and immediately identifiable touch is nowhere to be found, at least to my ears. While the score does the job alright, it does little to elevate itself to a truly memorable level. I can’t comment in detail on the voice acting as I turned it off almost immediately, but from the little I did experience, the English tracks sounded about what you’d expect from a mid-tiered JRPG.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is a fairly deep JRPG that is, unfortunately, held back by several key components. The story and cast are just not good enough to incentivize long-term play despite the excellent character customization and combat systems. Unless you adore lazy, food obsessed-men and a healthy dose of boob-jiggling physics, then you’re in for a real cinematic treat. Furthermore, the performance issues and overall poor quality of graphics in the field prevent you from fully appreciating the exploration and combat aspects of the game – that of which will make up the majority of your game time. Although you can easily get dozens of hours out of this game, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it on Switch unless you know exactly what you’re getting in to first.