"Boy, this looks stupid" were my very first words upon seeing the intro of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force. I've grown weary of watching the same kind of anime intro for many different games (see also: Tales of Berseria) and I was worried this game would be full of tired anime clichés, a fear that turned out to be somewhat validated. Once I put aside the anime tropes, however, there was a pretty engaging and entertaining turn-based RPG waiting underneath.
The plot is dumb and bad. You play the role of Fang, a reluctant Fencer who is trying to recover all of the world's Furies (magical bladed weapons) in order to free an ancient god from imprisonment for the benefit, or detriment, of mankind. Story beats are predictable, dialogue is mediocre to unbearable, and character for the most part are not very likeable. I've never been a big fan of anime dialogue in games, because it panders to clichés and it takes forever to go nowhere, and this game isn't really an exception. Fang and his laziness are entertaining for a little while, but his general lack of development gets annoying fast. It wasn't enough to stop me from playing the game, by any means, but nobody should be playing this game for the great story, because they're going to be amazingly disappointed.
Fairies and Furies are key to basically everything in this game. Each playable character has a partner fairy that's dictated by the story, but there are many other fairies that have numerous effects on the game world and the players. Each character can resonate with a fairy, which improves their stats and gives them other bonuses as well. The more you fight while resonating with a fairy, the more that fairy will level up and acquire even more bonuses for the character. You can swap out fairies as you need in order to adjust your character based on the situation, though I rarely ended up doing this. Fairies can also be powered up by pulling Furies from one of the gods and completing the resulting battle; this gives them better stats and new abilities, and the harder the fights that you complete, the more skills your character can learn down the road.
Even cooler than that, though, is when you use fairies for World Shaping. Once a fairy has been infused with a Fury pulled from one of the gods, it can be placed on the world map, specifically on top of a dungeon entrance. This is known as World Shaping, and planting different fairies on a dungeon will have different effects, such as increasing attack, making enemies more difficult, increasing drop rates, or increasing the experience you get. This helps make leveling up a lot easier, since you can focus a dungeon on a specific thing you need more of, or you can use a fairy to decrease the difficulty somewhat. This is a very clever feature and one of my favorite things about the game.
The meat of the gameplay is a dungeon crawler/turn-based RPGs. Your characters will run through bland, uninspired, hallway-esque dungeons populated by enemies, which you can avoid or run into at your leisure if you are skilled. They will have items for you to pick up, and occasionally keys for you to seek out before you advance, but mostly they exist to ferry you into combat. I do appreciate how the map slowly reveals itself as you explore, letting you know when you have areas left to comb through. It also gives you the opportunity to either avoid enemies or sneak up on them, getting a Preemptive Strike to help you in battle; the enemies can Ambush you, though, so be careful not to give them the first attack.
In combat, players and enemies take turns attacking each other, as you would expect, but everyone is allowed to move around the battle before executing their attack. Your position is very important, as it not only determines which enemies can get in range of you to attack, but depending on your location and orientation you can get more enemies caught up in the wake of your special attacks. Each attack has a slightly different hitbox, and if you can find the right angle you could potentially get every enemy on the field with a single attack, if the enemy cooperates. This adds some welcome activity to what otherwise could have been a boring combat system, and you have to think more about each move you make.
Each turn of combat gives you several options. In addition to a normal combo attack, which lets you chain multiple attacks together for potential bonus damage, your characters can also utilize magic or skill attacks for greater damage, and a chance to get more enemies caught up in the attack. Under certain conditions, your character can also Fairize, combining them with their fairies in order to gain greater strength and new, more powerful attacks. The most potent attacks available cost not only SP, which are like special attack points, but they can consume some of your health as well, making them a risk that you have to evaluate first. Each character also has their own special ability that can come in handy at different times. The combat system is fairly simple, truth be told, but being able to move around goes a long way toward making the combat more engaging and fun to play. This is one of the better turn-based systems I've encountered.
This game gives you a very large number of things to upgrade, and you need to keep an eye on most of them or else you'll find yourself falling behind. In addition to gaining experience to level your characters up, and money to purchase items and better gear, you'll also acquire Weapon Points throughout your adventure, which do nearly everything else. They can be used to give your character major stat boosts, or to teach your character new techniques, spells or attacks. There are lots of ways they can be spent, and the fact that stats take exponentially more Weapon Points to level up means that you usually spend more of them on lower-level stuff. Make sure to check up on these, because I forgot about them for several dungeons and was limping through by the end.
There are a couple of other elements that help your characters improve, as well. You can head to a pub in the main hub city to accept Quests, a set of arbitrary requests that you can fulfill in order to get items or gear. You can take as many of them as you want, and their progress is tracked automatically, so it's good practice to take all of them all the time and let them be fulfilled on their own as you play, increasing your Quest Rank. On top of that, each character has certain Challenges that will naturally be completed as you play the game more, giving you small stat boosts periodically as you do things like use special attacks or strike victory poses. This is a good way of having your characters steadily grow as you play the game, without forcing the player to grind. You can also choose to turn up the game's difficulty in order to get better drops; likewise, you can turn the difficulty down as well.
The game's presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. The in-game graphics are fine, at least on PC, and the characters are well designed, even if some of the women's character models are a bit noticeably energetic; the dungeons have some boring designs, though, and aren't fun to look at. Most of the game's cutscenes are just static drawings talking at each other with moving mouths, which works well enough with how much dialogue this game has, but feels a bit phoned in at the same time. The music is pretty fun to listen to, fitting the game well, though you don't really get hints of Nobuo Uematsu even though the game is happy to plug his participation. The game's voice acting isn't bad either, even for the hilariously Canadian character. The occasional overlapping music cues are pretty annoying, though.
The main story will take you a couple dozen hours to complete, and even after that you can spend lots of time completing Shokazoo's Tower and finding the rest of the game's fairies and Furies. The story branches off at one point, however, and you can go back for other playthroughs to see how the story changes. If you like the game's combat, there's more than enough game here to justify the asking price.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force has its issues, most of which boil down to anime tropes and a predictable, uninteresting story. The game that's underneath is solid, though, and if you like RPGs then this one is definitely worth your time. I never played the original Fairy Fencer F, so I can't speak to how much improved this remake is over the original. As a newcomer, though, this is something I definitely recommend.
Final Score: 8.6 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.