Thanks to Idea Factory International for the review code
Title: Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 01/17/2019
Taking place in a world long after a God and a Goddess fought to the very end, you take control of a man named Fang, who manages to pull a sword containing one of the mystical beings known as Furies, and he teams up with his new partner Eryn in order to find the other furies and become a master Fencer!
Like most other Idea Factory RPGS, the game pretty much uses the same sort of menus and UI as a lot of their other games, and the in-game exploration segments look akin to that of a Neptunia game or Dark Rose Valkyire, being 3D explorable environments that transition into battles. Using a similar anime art style, it pretty much follows all the Idea Factory visual tropes, even if it’s not connected to any of their other series in terms of plot. Likewise, there’s also an english dub with decent voicework, and a pretty alright soundtrack, the highlight being the absolute outstanding standard battle theme, which honestly blew me away by how much of a quality jump it is.
However, this Switch version does have a few annoying visual and performance problems that I was able to notice in handheld mode. While Idea Factory’s Vita titles and Super Neptunia RPG also had their own performance bumps now and then, something about Fairy Fencer F felt a lot more unpolished than their other titles on handhelds, as a lot of the time in dungeons, I felt the game slow down and drop frames at a ridiculous pace, to the point that traversing them became pretty darn annoying due to the inconsistent framerate.
The weirdest part is some battles run a lot more smoothly than others, and when using a special move the animations play in a full 60FPS, before dipping down to under half that as soon as they conclude. It was actually way, way worse before the game launched, but by the time this review is going live, a few patches has been issued that fixed these issues somewhat in handheld mode, and more significantly in docked mode. Thankfully, playing on the TV makes the exploration segments run a bit more stable, even if it’s not 60FPS, and the battles run a lot more smoothly as well. It’s not perfect, but if you care about visuals and performance in your game, stick to TV play.
Being an Idea Factory RPG, a lot of things that have been done in their other titles reviewed here are also done in this game. You still traverse dungeons, you still build a party, you still do sidequests, and you still engage in battles where you use attacks or skills depending on the range of your enemies. In a way, it feels like a proto-version of Neptune Vs Sega Hard Girls, only much, much less fun.
After starting the main game and going through the prologue, you’re quickly thrown into the gameplay loop this game has on offer, as you enter the first dungeon of the game and navigate around, finding items in crystals, encountering enemies, and using symbol attacks to get the first turn. All these traditions are here in Fairy Fencer too, and while the combat is still very solid, there wasn’t much here that wasn’t seen in a few of the other games I’ve reviewed by now, so I’m not going to repeat myself on how the turns in battles work, how you can formchange to use unique, stronger skills, or how you can rank up via sidequests to get access to better items and rewards.
Once you beat the first dungeon and recruit a party member, the game’s main gimmick for progressing through the story kicks in, as you’re given the choice of pulling out a sword from either the dark demon god, or the goddess of light. Whichever you choose, you end up having to fight a boss in order to claim the sword needed to open up an area on the world map, and then you explore a dungeon to get the next furi and beat up the boss protecting it. Rinse and repeat, and that’s the entire gameplay loop.
Needless to say, this can get repetitious fast, which is a shame since the combat is still solid as in most other Idea Factory games, but compared to the fun variety found in some of the other RPGs they published, it’s pretty disappointing that this just feels so much more repetitive and boring. It’s a gameplay loop that works and isn’t bad or broken, yes, but it doesn’t feel fulfilling in the slightest.
That being said, the Switch version does have an interesting bargaining chip going for it, and that’s the inclusion of every single piece of DLC released for the game, preinstalled from the get-go. Before loading a game, you’re given the option to disable and enable the DLC pieces of your choosing, meaning that you can choose whether or not you want to enable things such as extra costumes, bonus equipment, and extra challenge dungeons. While you definitely won’t be able to do much with the challenge dungeons until the late-game, you can benefit greatly from the equipment, since they give you an insane amount of defense, making the game pretty trivial, (this still won’t save you in the bonus dungeons, so don’t try going to them early) so if you want to make this game even easier, you can go nuts.
Likewise, you can also change the difficulty on the fly from five different options, from the standard easy, normal, and hard modes found in many other games, and Amateur and Hell difficulty options meant to push one extreme or the other. Even with the bonus equipment, the hell difficulty can make some main story boss fights really tricky, so thankfully you can still challenge yourself through that even with the DLC, which can help make the combat even better, though it doesn’t do anything about those repetitious dungeons.
In conclusion, Fairy Fencer F is still a pretty decent RPG, containing a lot of the same fun mechanics that make quite a bit of the other Idea Factory RPGs work so well. However, it all comes down to the gameplay loop in the end, and unfortunately, while the combat is great fun and exploration is fine, the repetitive nature of traversing simplistic dungeons over and over again is just a big bore, as even with the boosters and free DLC the game lets you use to power through the story if you so desire, it still feels like you’re just going in boring circles and not doing much of anything, even as you recruit new party members, gain access to alchemy and sidequests, and have lots to do. When it just feels like busy work, it’s tough to recommend this older game over one of IF’s newer RPGS.
It also doesn’t help that nothing too terribly gripping happens in the story, so even as I went through dozens and dozens of missions and dungeons and had fun with the combat, I never really felt the motivation to see some sort of grand finale or max out my rank. Combine that with awful performance issues in handheld mode, and this is a poor port of a pretty OK game. If you still really want to play this game on the Switch, I strongly advise you stick to TV play unless you don’t mind the dips in framerate and low-res environments. Otherwise, just pick this up on another system or hope that a better Idea Factory title like Sega Hard Girls gets ported in the future.
I give Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force a 5 out of 10.