With the way games are published today, more and more obscure titles reach world wide audiences. With the market clearly hungry for Japanese culture in gaming, what with sales of the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy reaching the top of the charts on occasion, there has never been a better time to be a fan of JRPGs. There are so many to choose from with a vast array of sub-genres and styles. Fairy Fencer F Dark Advent Force is one of these types of games that came to PS4 last year, but has recently come to Steam. For this review, I’ll be diving into the Steam version.
Fairy Fencer F Dark Advent Force is an expansion of Fairy Fencer F on the PS3, one that adds more graphic fidelity and performance, some extra scenes, and a new character. Those familiar with the Hyper Dimension Neptunia series will feel right at home, as the battle system is a slightly modified version of it. Most of the actual gameplay will have the player tackling dungeons and fighting battle upon battle, with dialogue in between and making the occasional choice.
The story’s premise is fairly interesting; Fencers wield these powerful weapons known as Furies, with each one harnessing a Fairy. These Fairies sometimes become characters in the story, while other Fairies are used to boost stats, unlock new abilities, and add augmentations to the dungeons. This reminds me a lot of the GF system found in Final Fantasy VIII, but is less robust. Those looking for a battle system that has a lot of player choice, will have quite a bit of fun with Dark Advent Force‘s combat. There are a ton of small choices to be made when selecting abilities and spending points, plus there is a bit more difficulty for those that found the original game too easy.
Battles are turn-based, allowing the heroes to move in a ring and perform an action. Each character has their own skill set, magic spells, and powerful Fairize transformations. These skills and transformations are where Dark Advent Force shines the brightest. Each attack looks awesome, with the damage amount raising ever higher to ridiculous degrees. Fairizing is the ultimate form of the Fencer bonding with the Fairy, typically by stabbing oneself with the weapon. These transformations add a lot more power to all abilities, as well as access high risk attacks that cut HP as their cost.
Aside from battling, players will be dragged around by various quests and prompts. There is no big overworld to explore here, just a flat map with points of interest. There are a plethora of side quests and additional tasks to do, but they all result in just getting more experience for your characters or a better item. I’ve yet to run into a side quest that felt worthwhile, quickly becoming a grind tool. Most of the time with the game is spent in a visual novel style presentation. Characters interact with each other and all actions in the world have to be imagined as they rarely happen on screen. If anything, these scenes are drawn beautifully with occasional full artwork.
As gorgeous as this character art is, the actual characters being presented easily fit into tropes. Fang, our main hero, is driven mostly by base needs, with character development not happening for quite some time. His Fairy, Eryn has a case of the plot device known as amnesia, but knows that she wants to revive the Goddess. To do this, the two must restore all the Furies and use their power to pull the blades that bind her body. Players can also revive the Vile God for a darker twist in story that leads to various differences in the way the narrative plays out. Unfortunately, the journey to do this is filled with dull build up, painful characters, and hours upon hours of the same battle situations.
While all of the systems in place in Dark Advent Force sound like any number of amazing JRPGs, the execution of these ideas just never hit the mark. From the first few hours of the game, its apparent that things are going to take a incredible amount of patience to slog through the bad to find the good. The only time the player gets any control of the characters to explore is when in dungeons, which are all unimaginative spaces that are recycled over and over. Running down the same architecture fighting battle after battle gets old quick, which is a shame because of all the love and care put into the character design and backgrounds. Battle are also pretty easy and leveling up takes forever, which makes the grind feel that much more annoying.
Musically there are some good tracks, most notably during transformations. It reminds me of some of the best work on the Sonic the Hedgehog games, complete with vocals that I found myself singing more than once. A vast majority of the dialogue is voiced over, with some solid voice acting behind them. As much as I hated Fang and Eryn, I can’t fault the voice actors for it.
Also, there is the rampant use of fan service in Dark Advent Force to the point that I had to double check the rating. Clearly, this is a game where the player will get to choose which character to have romantic interest in, which is fine, I loved this sort of thing in Fire Emblem and Mass Effect. However, the first batch of characters introduced are already throwing this stuff in the players face to brink of absurdity. Tiara gets all hot and bothered by verbal abuse, which is actually a funny contradiction to her prudishness. Harley has no decency and strips when the temperature rises, even though her Fairy explicitly told her not to. It just happens so often with no substance to the story being added and even waters down any characterization that does occur. Fan service is fine and it can work in games, but it just feels empty in Dark Advent Force.
None of these shortcomings are made any better by the performance of the PC version. Every time I wanted to minimize the game, the game resized at random and bogged down my whole machine. I tried both on my beefy home PC and my capable Surface, resulting in problems for both. Scrolling over points on the map left me with lag spikes until the little preview video was fully loaded. Some battles had terrible frame rate. Dungeons just felt foggy, which is the only way I can explain the weird visuals. Unless in a battle or looking at character drawings act things out like paper dolls, this is an ugly game that definitely could’ve used a few more months polishing. Luckily frequent patches have been rolling out since release on Steam, so lets hope these technical issues can be quickly ironed out for those looking to really sink into this title.
Those who enjoy these sort of games may come out of playing Fairy Fencer F Dark Advent Force, satisfied. The level cap is outrageous with additional dungeons added to meet those absurd numbers with tons of loot to play around with and more cosmetic items to try. Even the main story will take probably fifty to sixty hours if your actually listening to what the characters are talking about. Unlocking things, pulling out swords from the Goddess or Vile God, and watching numbers get higher with more over the top attacks all fires up that primal dopamine that drives us. Of course the sexiness strewn about also fuels that dopamine, but didn’t really have much of an effect on me.
I do suspect any satisfaction from this game will be more akin to eating tons of snacks than cutting into a decadent meal. Which begs to ask the question? Why not find a better meal than fifty dollars worth of chips?
Honestly though, and all criticism aside, I do have high hopes that this world can be further expanded upon in future titles. With better execution of the ideas at play, this could’ve been a much more enjoyable game. Over the past couple years, I’ve played a ton of these visual novel RPGs, with a highlight being Ray Gigant. I feel like there’s definitely something appealing to this mix of genres, but we have to get away from these painful cliches and tropes. A studio could make a shorter, more focused experience and probably have a hit on their hands.
Fairy Fencer F Dark Advent Forces feels like a visual novel stapled to a JRPG, making for an odd homunculus that just can’t compete with other titles in the genre. I can only recommend this one to those who already have sunk hundreds of hours into similar games.
Fairy Fencer F Dark Advent Forces is available on PS4 and Steam.