Acting as more of an enhanced and expanded port of the original Fairy Fencer F on PlayStation 3, Compile Heart’s Advent Dark Force is a Japanese-style RPG whose entertainment lies mostly in its combat and leveling systems, rather than its initially vapid, slow-burn story, and somewhat grating cast of characters.
Written by Toshiki Inoue, whom you may know as the head writer for the Death Note and Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force tells the tale of Fang, a vehemently uninterested and crass new Fencer, as he and his ever-growing ragtag group of adventurers hunt down powerful weapons known as Furies, in their attempt to awaken The Goddess.
I’m sure that’s a bit confusing, so allow me to explain. Furies are highly sought after weapons powered by a magical fairy, though not in the high fantasy sense. A fairy can be a typical winged creature, sure, but in the world of Fairy Fencer they also appear as human, monster, giant, or even a hulking mech. Those who wield these weapons are known as Fencers, who become bound to the fairy that resides inside.
With both gods seemingly frozen in time, your goal is to scour the world in search of these Furies (no, not furries) in order to evoke The Goddess. Legend has it that anyone fortunate enough to do so will have one wish granted, and given the game’s light-hearted manner (which eventually becomes quite dark at times) Fang, of course, wants food. Lots and lots of food. And since every role-playing game needs an antagonist, you’ll be contending with an evil corporation and their ruthless henchmen, in their attempt to collect the Furies and awaken The Vile God instead.
Needless to say, story isn’t the game’s strong point. At least not up front, since Advent Dark Force offers additional storylines and endings not found in the original. Nearly 10 hours in, I was finding it hard to become invested in the anime trope-filled cast, out of place fan-service, and repetitive nature of Fairy Fencer’s mission structure — find a Fury, obtain it, head back to town, repeat — but I’m certainly glad I stuck with it. Obnoxious and infuriating characters became easier to swallow, the story felt less unimaginative, and I felt like I had finally escaped its never-ending hell of tutorials.
I just wish Compile Heart didn’t wait so long to finally put their foot on the gas.
Pacing isn’t my only concern with Advent Dark Force, as the game isn’t just visually dated, but genuinely ugly at times. Despite being an enhanced version of a mere three year-old game, the JRPG features uninspired textures and character models, along with drab, humdrum environments that you’d find in just about any half-baked role-playing game released during the last console generation. Not only will you visit icy lairs, lava filled caves, and forests, be it for story-related reasons or to fulfill one of a plethora of side-quests, but you’ll find yourself returning to them quite often.
Even with the promise of new loot, costumes, and gold on offer, this did little to dull the sting of repetition. Fairy Fencer does offer a bit of a band-aid though, in the form of World Shaping. After obtaining a new Fury and using it to break off a chunk of The Goddess’s stone prison, she’ll attach a set of new variables to the fairy that can be used to alter dungeons on the world map.
For instance, a fairy that can be equipped to enhance your gun attacks can instead be used on the world map to (figuratively) reshape a dungeon and change the enemies inside, increase item drop rates, or even reward greater experience gains, at the cost of removing health regeneration, doubling mana costs, or increasing the amount of damage you take.
Aside from World Shaping, the more interesting side of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force lies in its combat and upgrade system, which should feel right at home for Neptunia fans. It’s a more engaging turn-based affair, where each character’s turn allows them to freely move about the battlefield before initiating spells or attacks, all varying in range and power.
Additional attacks can be unlocked and strung together for devastating combos, but each Fencer also houses the ability to fuse with their bonded fairy in order to increase their damage output. If you’ve played Tales of Zestiria, this probably sounds familiar. Doing so unleashes a barrage of satisfyingly flashy attacks that deal an absurd amount of damage, using a percentage of your health bar as a resource. I thought this was a clever way of letting the player feel over-powered, while preventing them from abusing attacks meant to be used infrequently.
Battling rewards each character with a set amount of points that can then be spent on a number of different upgrades, from standard statistical increases to brand new spells, passive buffs (like treasure finding and ambush avoidance), and additional combo attacks. It’s a steady drip-feed reward system that does a great job masking the game’s grind factor and somewhat frequent encounters.
Thanks to a batch of free DLC, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is as accessible an RPG as they come. There’s plenty of challenge to be had on the default setting, but those of you more interested in the quirky characters and their slow-burn adventure can breeze through the game without hassle using the new amateur difficulty. Much like the safety setting in Persona 4: Golden, this’ll allow you to unlock trophies and muscle through the more tedious aspects of the game, regardless of your skill level. However, those tedious parts are far and away the best slice of pie here.
Those of you concerned with double dipping should know that Advent Dark Force contains two new endings, new fairies, new characters, updated visuals (though clearly not by much), and increases the number of battling party members to six.
Compile Heart veterans who skipped out on Fairy Fencer F the first time around will no doubt find lots to love, as Advent Dark Force is one of the better JRPGs on the PlayStation 4. Even if you’re not familiar with the developer’s brand of humor, fan-service, and storytelling, this is a fine jumping-on point, pending you have an understanding of what you’re getting yourself in to.
It may not be pretty, and it sure as hell took its sweet time getting the ball rolling, but I can’t deny how much fun I had inside of its combat and upgrade systems. I just wish it gave me characters I didn’t want to strangle.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PS4 copy of Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force that was provided by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.