Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord Review
A Bit of Inspiration of the Muses
Sequels don’t normally come out of the blue, yet if anyone expected a follow-up to Fairy Fencer F, they would be prescient indeed. With Compile Heart bringing fellow developer Sting on board, Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord’s humorous script and diverting tactical battle system make it a promising entry for a young series. The game lacks depth in its story and variety in its gameplay, but this nearly 40-hour experience is still worth the time of those who are looking for a casually enjoyable game.
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord starts with protagonist Fang locked up after not having enough money to pay for a ramen bowl, but he is soon released by his fairy companion after a droll conversation. Afterward, players are introduced to several of the friendly Fencers and their fairy partners who featured in the first entry of the series, all with weird but appealing personalities that make their interactions fun to witness. Players who played the first game will be rewarded with the return of these characters and will resonate with the events from the previous entry, while newcomers will still be able to understand and enjoy the story and cast. Though the initial setup introduces a cast that seems to have no real worries, a more important story starts to unfold as Fang and his allies begin their quest searching for Furies, powerful weapons that are linked to ancient gods and goddesses.
Propelled by an allied muse called Fleur, the quest quickly evolves into saving the world from a mighty enemy who allies with a nefarious corporation called Dorfa that is also trying to collect the Furies for evil purposes. The story is scarcely original, including many cliches even in its plot twists, but thankfully the humorous script is well-balanced between comedy and emotive moments. It manages to create a pleasant journey and have players interested, especially because the heroes don’t take themselves too seriously during their adventure while they interact with forces far beyond their capacities. The ending is satisfying but foreseeable, teasing the potential for future entries down the line.
The characters are what hold the narrative up. Fang is that hero everyone picks on and is an inexplicable recipient of female infatuation, but players will ultimately admire how much he grows across the game. The fairy companions have acerbic but funny relationships with their Fencers, making players curious about how they interact on a daily basis. The antagonists are also compelling; the muse Glance is one of the most memorable but enigmatic characters with her own hidden objectives throughout the whole game. All characters who join the party as the story progresses bring something in a narrative way, and even though most join without great conviction, it serves to reinforce the comedic style of the script. Fencers and fairy partners have their deserved spotlight at times and offer some amusement and emotive moments throughout the 25 chapters.
General gameplay is really simple, which works well in the beginning but turns repetitive by the closing chapters. Players can visit a few places in the city that acts as the primary hub, including the inn where all characters are staying, the pub where they can take on quests, or the shop to buy, sell, and synthesize items. Occasionally, players can have optional interactions with other characters, leading to side quests. While not in town, players select different places surrounding the city to obtain quests. All quests, some mandatory and others optional, are turn-based tactical battles. Quests as a whole are entertaining, but lack variety in their objectives. Besides exploring the city and battling, there is a system called Location Shaping, where players can prospect for items and find hidden dungeons or allied fairies. As players complete quests and level up fairies, their rank increases and they are able to prospect in more places. Location Shaping is an interesting mechanic initially but the novelty wears off very quickly.
Combat is where the game shines brightest, and its grid-based system gets better as more characters join the party and they get more abilities at their disposal. Each Fencer is partnered with a primary fairy and has a slot for a secondary sub-fairy, which determine their skills and affect their stats. Turns are character-based, with the order shown at the top of screen, and each turn gives players the opportunity to move, as well as attack or use a skill or item. Every action gives characters experience and fairy points; experience is used to level-up, while fairy points are spent on learning new abilities. The wide variety of sub-fairies gives players welcome options to personalize their Fencers, but there are so many that players will ignore a great deal of them. A special Fairize ability can be used when a character’s fairy gauge is full, making them stronger and allowing them to use a special ability that is significantly stronger. Clever utilisation of the system allows players to turn the tables on strong enemies.
Muses are not only important for the story, but they are also a key element of combat. Muses are unique fighters who use the power of songs to grant a particular effect in a specific area, such as healing or boosting an attribute. Enemies also have a muse at their disposal, which players will need to take into account. At every turn during their song, they can intensify the effect or increase the range. Muses and their songs add an interesting extra layer to combat and smart use of them leads to smoother victory. Another powerful mechanic that greatly rewards those who take advantage of it is Avalanche. The gauge of this ability fills whenever players take an action, and when it’s full, players can use any character to lead an attack in which all characters in range participate to deal damage to all enemies within a specific area. The sum of all the different mechanics makes battling diverting throughout the whole game.
Fang’s party begins with few allies but grows significantly as the story progresses, even in the late portions of the game. Unfortunately, the new allies are usually underpowered when they join as their fairies are weak and have few abilities. This effectively forces players to choose between spending time level them before progressing with them, or simply ignoring and not using them. The final recruited character joins so close to the end of the game that there’s little purpose spending the time getting them into a ready-state for combat.
Battling is mostly easy in normal difficulty, but a few battles at the end of the game become more demanding. However, players can readily switch between the game’s easy, normal, and hard difficulty levels. In addition to other growth options, characters can be made more powerful with equipment. However, sharing the same issue as sub-fairies, the set of equipment is excessive. This unbalanced array of items grows even more since Fang is able to synthesize new objects. Synthetizing is a fun mechanic, but most objects will be synthesized for sport more than for the object itself.
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord places an important focus on music. The score on the whole is great, and players choose whether they prefer the combat to feature the songs of the muses or the regular, highly enjoyable battle music. Each muse has different songs, and when more than one muse is singing, the songs overlap and create a very interesting experience for the ears. The music outside of combat is also excellent, helping make each scene more interesting, while the voice acting is only available in Japanese but serves its purpose adequately. Meanwhile, visuals are good without standing out; battle animations are flashy and the portraits of characters during story beats are also fittingly expressive. Fairies and Fencers are diverse, and lean into some of the game’s comedic elements, though some designs are unnecessarily risqué.
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is much more satisfying than many will assume going in. Players looking for a casual tactical RPG that provides some giggles will find plenty of enjoyement. The cliched story and repetitive gameplay prevent it from being a universal recommendation, but it is a strong entry in a series looking to take a solid step forward.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Fun battle system
Enjoyable music score
Amusing cast with droll interactions
A lot of useless items
Narrative lacks depth