The set up for Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is that two gods, the Goddess, and the Vile God, once waged war against each other. Their battle ended in a stalemate however, when both gods sealed each other away by piercing one another with dozens of magic swords called Furies. The remaining Furies were scattered across the world and grant power and wishes to those that can wield them.
You play as Fang, a lazy, selfish young man, who manages to pull a Fury from the ground and awaken the fairy inside, becoming a Fencer. The fairy, Eyrn, tells Fang he will be granted a wish if he helps in her mission to collect the remaining Furies and use them to free the Goddess and prevent the return of the Vile God.
The story of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force plays out more like a visual novel than a standard RPG, with most of the plot and dialogue presented in text boxes with 2D pictures and backdrops. This may be off-putting to some but I found it much more appealing than the few cutscenes that use in-game graphics. The plot itself is nothing too groundbreaking and only really gets interesting into the second half of the game. That being said the light-hearted tone and comedy in the first half works surprisingly well, being genuinely funny at times.
Your mileage may vary on the characters themselves depending on your tolerance for certain anime tropes. Fang himself is initially not a very likable character, being lazy to the point of annoying and having idiotic motivations. He does get more dept as the story progresses but it takes a while and none of it is anything you haven’t seen in a hundred other reluctant hero types. The rest of the cast is a decently varied bunch, with unique designs and personalities which allows for nice interactions, lending particularly well to the comedic moments. Even so, they are mostly a collection of anime/JRPG stereotypes that have been seen and done better in other places. And that’s not even mentioning the fan service which reaches uncomfortably high levels at times. One thing I was impressed with though was the excellent quality of the voice acting, with a surprisingly good English dub and some catchy music in the background too.
Traversing Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is done via a map screen, there is no open world or towns/locations to explore. There is a small hub town where you start off and that acts as your parties base of operations, featuring a store to buy and sell items and a pub where you can accept side missions and turn them in for rewards once completed. The main location here is the hotel where your party rest. Here you can talk with other party members, fleshing out their characters and opening further side quests.
This is also where you access the most interesting part of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force progression mechanic. At any time you can warp into the dimension that holds the petrified bodies of the two opposing gods. Once you have acquired a new Fury you can choose to remove a sword of equal rank from either god. The main mission is to revive the Goddess but you can choose to remove swords from(and ultimately revive) the Vile God too, something that some of your more questionable party members will encourage. Removed swords will unlock fairy abilities and lead to one of the three different late game paths depending on how you choose to remove the swords from the gods.
These swords are also needed to unlock dungeons, which must be explored to find more Furies. The dungeons are easily the weakest element of the game, featuring very basic level and aesthetic designs. These are the only 3D environments in the game and most of them still look like they belong in the early days of the PS3 (the original console this game was released on). The few “puzzles” found here are mostly just finding the right coloured key on a certain enemy to open the corresponding door. This combined with numerous instances where you have to revisit dungeons means there is a lot of padding and backtracking throughout the games run time. The one unique element to the dungeons is, depending on which Fury you use, will grant each area unique state changes, rewards, and enemy types, which adds some incentive and strategy to which swords you pull from the gods. I’ll also add here that enemy designs are as equally bland as the locations you fight them in, lacking much imagination or variety, with the exception of a few cool bosses.
The combat is probably the best aspect of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force. There are no random encounters, enemies roam the dungeon and you need to run into them to start a battle. Each battle is turn based but you can also freely run around the battle area before attacking. This means you can strategically place your characters for offensive or defensive advantages. Every attack has specific hitboxes and ranges, so depending on how you move your characters you may need to use a ranged fireball attack to hit an enemy outside the battle area or you can line up enemies to hit multiple targets with one attack.
It’s all painfully basic initially but more elements get added as you progress, such as combing basic attacks and targeting specific enemy parts. The best part of combat is the unique special attacks each character has which all have really cool animations and different elemental and status effects, meaning there is a good bit of strategy to play around with between all the characters and their abilities. Every character also has the ability to call Fairize which transforms them into a super, armoured form once the super meter is full. These grant massive stat boosts and allow the user to unleash an ultimate attack, all of which look pretty badass.
As fun as the combat can be in Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, it requires you to unlock a lot of abilities to get the most out of it. This wouldn’t be a problem except the upgrade system is painfully slow, with the cost of new abilities spiking very quickly and with each fight granting very little upgrade points. This results in a lot of grinding to see the best parts of the combat system.
Finally, this port does include a few extras over the original. There are extra missions, dungeons, cutscenes, and story paths as well as all the DLC items, which if used make the game stupidly easy. The graphics have also been given a slight upgrade, though it still looks like a PS3 game and even more unforgivably suffers a lot of frame rate issues, especially if played in portable mode.
I really wanted to like Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force with its interesting setup, mostly fun combat and entertaining story beats but none of it rises above mediocre, unfortunately. Every aspect of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is too full of JRPG and anime tropes for it to stand out among its contemporaries. The combat or the story could have saved this game but they both start out too basic and make you work unnecessarily hard to get anything worthwhile out of them. I can only recommend it to hardcore JRPG fans who are looking for something light to play portably while waiting on the bus or something but for me, I’m afraid my fencing days are already over.