Last year, Compile Heart established a special label called Galapagos RPG for, as they say «true JRPG fans». Being a great fan of the genre, such hyperbolic declaration made me curious and I thus threw myself on this curious mixture of classic JRPG and fan-service JRPG.
Fang, a lazy guy focused on sleeping and eating, suddenly sees himself turned into a Fencer after stumbling upon Alyn, a fairy. He reluctantly embraces his new job and goes in search for «furies», mystic cards that are the key to awaken the acient gods. All this under the threat of mega corporation Dolpha, sort a Shinra lead by some greedy man and 4 professional Fencers. Although the story setting is pretty classic, Fairy Fencer F (FFF) is in practice closer to Hyperdimension Neptunia than Final Fantasy. I mean that FFF will rely much more on humor and fan-service than on anything epic. While the devs tried to make it sound epic, FFF has hardly the means to be so : still screens and dialogs between 2D characters are not the way you do it, an the story isn’t anything special to begin with. The game felt also quite shorter than average (30-40h, maybe more for completionists).
While FFF misses his self-proclaimed «true JRPG» title, it’s re-using Neptunia assets with some genius. It’s a constant flow of hilarious jokes, with a character design that goes real far into delirium. For this new label, Compile has let its imagination go beyond all the boundaries a bizarre : between Tiara the masochist Tsundere, Harler the mad scientist completely out of touch with the real world and Pinpin the unidentified greenish creature with some blade stuck in his head, you’re in for some good laughs. All this wouldn’t of course be complete without some kinky artworks : even though they’re not very inventive, FFF sure has them.
What about Nobuo Uemastu and Yoshitaka Amano then? Both Final Fantasy artists took part in FFF to give this aura of classic JRPG. Let’s get this straight : Tsunako (illustrator of Hyperdimension Neptune) and Amano, those styles don’t really get along. It’s like putting Neptunia characters in Final Fantasy IX : it’s wierd, kinda unnatural, but the juxtaposition of both styles has something fascinating in it. Amano doesn’t do much (essentially the Goddess and the Evil God designs) but it does make a nice change of atmosphere. Uemastu had a much bigger influence and makes FFF’s OST one of the best that has reached my ears this generation. Orchestration are fabulous and will make you instantly forget Compile’s awkward melodies. In short, FFF is a Neptunia in even stranger put into a FFIX frame. Personally, I enjoyed FFF just for Effole, who is a taciturn and kawaii assassin.
FFF’s gameplay is actually dense. Battles are based on fully customizable combos with a heavy emphasis on aerials. Skills, magic and transformations inherited from Neptunia are also available. Everything including combos is learned and chosen by the player as the characters grow up, in a rather rich progression system. The game keeps the challenge system from Neptune V in which you gain stats bonuses by doing some actions (jump a certain number of times, getting a certain number of victory poses, etc.). Your characters will also equip the Furies that you collect in your adventure. Those ones possess passive skills and elemental affinities (the characters have some base affinities too). More than that, you can add passive skills each time you take off a seal in the divine world. It is quite hooking because you can build and optimize your game : you can prioritize physical/magical attack, experience gains, an element type or an attack type, etc. You have literally the cards in hand to make a strategy of your own. The problem is that FFF is too easy in its first half : you’ll have to wait some time before having to establish battle plans. Careful of the silly, useless and seriously tiresome platforming sequences (not that many thankfully).
FFF’s graphics are really sub-par. It doesn’t match Neptune V which is 2 years older, or even Neptune Rebirth on PSVita! 3D models are kinda poor, but the worst lies in the terrible frame rate. It is so lame that it caused me headaches. I finished FFF last month and there was no patch to correct it.
Fairy Fencer F lands far from the initial promise, it cannot go beyond its status of niche game. It won’t surpass Hyperdimension Neptune, but stays a good alternative.