"Serviceable entertainment I wouldn't either bash or go out of my way to recommend."
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is a tricky game for me to review. I mean, it'll be easy to find the words to describe it, but there's the minor problem of diminishing returns to consider. This game, an expanded remake of Fairy Fencer F, was released by Compile Heart around the same time that company also published Megadimension Neptunia VII.
Having played and reviewed that game, I was more than adequately prepared to dive into Advent Dark Force. While they aren't the exact same, there were enough similarities that it kind of felt like I was playing another game in the same series — where the programmers added a few differences so it wouldn't be the exact same experience, but wanted to keep things similar enough that anyone who played the other would know what they were in for.
And so, you have a battle system where you can move your party members around the field in hopes of attacking enemies from their sides or back in order to connect more frequently and for greater damage. DIalogue is often light-hearted, with characters poking fun at each other and acting really goofy. For example, main guy Fang is supposed to be the sort of all-loving hero destined to save the world, but he spends much of his time being a slacker caring about very little beyond his next meal. While in town, you'll pick your destination from a menu; while all you'll have to do when going to one dungeon or the next is pick them off a map to be transported there.
Those dungeons are (mostly) simple mazes that I hope you'll like, as both they and their monstrous inhabitants are devised from a pretty limited number of templates, meaning there will be a noticeable amount of repetition — both in where you'll be walking and in what you'll be fighting. With this version of the game, that repetition will be multiplied many times over, as midway through your adventure, you'll be taken down one of three different paths depending on how often (or if) you've done a particular thing. In other words, to get the full experience, you'll have to play through the first half of the game multiple times and then go through a second half where you might journey to a few new places, but eventually discover that the vast majority of the alterations revolve around the story-telling.
To describe that in brief, Fang's life of delinquency gets interrupted when he pulls out a magical sword to find that he inadvertently aligned himself with a Fury — essentially a fairy partner who can provide assistance and companionship. After realizing that he simply can't use Eryn to wish for free food and stuff, he reluctantly winds up on a quest to revive the world's goddess, who fell in battle against a monstrous demon some time in the past. He'll scour the land for more Furies to weaken the seal upon either the Goddess or that demon. Why even consider releasing a powerful force of evil? Because the number of Furies you use on its seal determines which second half you'll experience.
Opposing Fang and his ever-growing party will be the Dorfa Corporation. On the surface, they're the typical assortment of villains with good publicity, as they manufacture a lot of goods and put in a lot of effort into seeming like a benevolent group. It really doesn't take much digging to find out that's only on the surface, though. One high-ranking member is an unrepentant psychopath amused by such pursuits as forcing family members to fight each other to the death, while another is planning a hostile takeover via releasing that demon as a means to world domination.
Combat is a bit different, if still quite similar, to that in Megadimension. In that game, whenever you got a new weapon for a character, you'd want to fiddle with what attacks you had programmed into it, as each weapon worked better with certain combat moves than others, setting up situations where a great load-out with one sword would leave you a shell of your former self with the next. In this game, every character has one weapon that can change between a few different forms. To make the most out of them, you simply have to kill a LOT of monsters to get points that can be used to buy new attacks, add to a combo bar in order to use more attacks per turn, boost stats and purchase spells, special attacks and various abilities such as being able to find hidden treasures or gain experience when not in the active party.
There's nothing wrong with this system, but this is where those diminishing returns start to creep in. Without needing to customize characters every time I upgraded their weaponry, I was able to devise a consistent strategy that only needed altering when I bought a few new potential attacks or upgraded combo bars. In other words, it was a lot easier to get complacent in this game, find something that worked and use that strategy over and over and over again until my brain was numb. Add in the out-of-combat repetition to this combat repetition and things could get pretty paint-by-numbers when I was spending time with this game.
Making matters worse was a noticeable difficulty spike that started kicking in about halfway through my first trip through the second half of the game. Regular mobs got more and more durable, while certain bosses were programmed to perform devastating attacks after losing about half their health. A real ordeal, this. Now I had to slowly and agonizingly grind my way through a game that was very entertaining to read, but a bit of a slog to play through.
Or not. Advent Dark Force offers a handful of free DLC dungeons that seemingly exist solely to allow players to power up quickly. While my levels were nowhere near the recommended level to start tackling the "easiest" of these, that really didn't matter. I would just go into the place, fight the first battle, leave the dungeon and do it all over again for an hour or two. And that was a quite fruitful time for me, as I gained a ton of levels and found myself utterly cruising through the rest of the game, as well as my second trip through it and its different second half. Now, the third second half is a bit of a different animal, as it is only accessible during a New Game Plus run-through and, therefore, is geared towards higher-leveled players. On the other hand, a person could also use the more advanced free DLC dungeons to easily outmatch most, if not all, opposition there, as well.
Look, the fact I'm openly advocating a strategy of using free DLC to supercharge characters in order to steamroll the opposition means its not getting an emphatic recommendation, but it does deserve a half-hearted one. Advent Dark Force is the appetizing junk food of gaming. It's inherently flawed and not the most fulfilling of experiences, but is enjoyable enough to be worth a try. The dialogue is often amusing and while going through all the various paths does get repetitive and tiring, there are some nice touches with allies in one trip through becoming adversaries the next time and vice versa. In short, it was the sort of game that I eventually got fatigued with and was glad to finish, but at the same time, I am glad I played it. Even though it probably will be quite some time before I touch another Compile Heart RPG in order to prevent those diminishing returns from completely ruining the experience.
Community review by overdrive (August 11, 2022)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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