Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is a stylish but bemusing comical JRPG romp!
- Developer: Compile Heart/Idea Factory
- Publisher: Idea Factory International
- Release date: 25th April 2023
- Genre: Tactical JRPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord Review
In some respects, this is one of the most challenging reviews I’ve ever written. The reason for this is when you write you have to aim the style of the review to the type of gamer who would be interested in the game you are reviewing. Imagine then if the game itself didn’t know what or who its targeted audience was either! Unfortunately, that’s where we stand with Compile Hearts’ latest installment in the Fairy Fencer franchise, Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord.
The beginning of Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord neither continues the story of the franchise from the last game nor gives you exposition as to why you are already with a group of friends you quite obviously have a history with. So, if you haven’t played any of the previous games, or know the returning characters, you will start feeling like you have been dropped right in the middle of a party you are the host for but have no clue who your guests are. Conversely, if you DO know who these characters are, you are then confused as to why are we starting here and not from the end of the last game.
It’s such a shame as this series could be the lead franchise for Compile Heart. The production levels of Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord are excellent. The character artwork and visuals during the long dialogue sections are flat-out gorgeous. It is no wonder the special editions of the game come with artbooks (both digitally and physically) as the flair into the sumptuous character designs and settings are beautifully drawn. The clarity of the menu systems, background settings, on-field battle situations, and exciting power moves in battles are also very pleasing to the eye. At times, the clutter on the battlefield can be awkward, but with excellent camera options, simple to rectify.
The story is much the same as the previous games. You play as the protagonist “Fang”, who with the help of Fairies, sets off to explore the world to find Furies. Furies are ancient relics required to resurrect the goddess that created them. The hook of the story is different characters will have different reasons for wanting to resurrect the goddess, and you will not really know who is who until the end of the game.
Having played previous Fairy Fencer games, it was noticeable how Refrain Chord didn’t quite hit the same goofy, hilarious high notes as before. Refrain Chord still has a lot of humor, but the writing feels too safe, and with too many stereotypical tropes, to give the game any individuality. At its worst, it yet again alienates the player. Within the first hour of the game, with characters you have barely been exposed to, you are suddenly witnessing someone admitting their love for another, while they have been searching for the ladies’ panties in her bedroom. It was all very awkward, rather than funny, and frankly a bit of a head-scratcher.
As confusing as the game can be, where it does work well is in the gameplay. At its heart, it is a simple exploration game, where you choose to go to a highlighted location to progress the story and enter into the new tactical battle grid system. Although turn-based battle grids aren’t new, they certainly are for the Fairy Fencer franchise.
With some excellent tutorials, laid out in such a fashion as to not overwhelm you, it is not long before you are looking forward to each encounter. Characters in your team are assigned partners, who can also have sub-partners. This creates a huge amount of flexibility to build your team in many different ways as each partner has different skills, abilities, and buffs. The chopping and changing of each was an excellent way to experiment with different combos for a playstyle and build to suit.
The animations of actions in the game were a little standard, but when certain gauges were filled, cinematics of various power-ups and super effective moves were always a highlight to witness.
One of the new features of the game is the use of Muses during battle. Each side has a Muse that unleashes a song that spans an area of the battle grid. If you have players on your team within this part of the grid then they will receive the buff from this song. Conversely the same applies to the enemies Muse, and where the coverage of the two songs overlap the effects are doubled.
There are three difficulty settings, each excellently balanced, and it’s worth trying each out to get the most out of your experience of the battles, as some of the encounters can last for a long time. To gain the upper hand in battle it is best to position your player directly behind an enemy to attack. However, it was disappointing in that there was little in the way of the use of elevation or environmental aspects to take advantage of. It was also disappointing that the AI of the game didn’t feel more involved than the enemy just making a beeline toward your team, which resulted in one big scrum in the middle of the pitch. For a tactical-based system, I would have been hoping for something a little more considered and refined.
The audio of the game was one of the better aspects. With multiple soundtracks, and songs to listen to from, and from the Muses in battle too, it was an exciting audio ride. Although the game didn’t have English voice acting, I could still get the emotions from the talent very well during the dialogue sections.
If you just let it slide about who this game is intended for, there is a very enjoyable and polished experience to be found here with Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord. A visually exciting adventure awaits with a great battle system that has a lot of variety. However, it’s hard to recommend putting a lot of time into a franchise that doesn’t seem to know the direction it wants to go in, which ultimately makes fans, like myself, confused.
The quality of the series is there to see, and could conceivably be the magnum opus of the Compile Heart catalogue; It just needs a clear direction to take it there.