I love a tactical RPG; when I say that, I mean that I loved Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’ve played a few others, most notably Fire Emblem: Engage, pretty good, Final Fantasy Tactics, pretty good, and Lord of the Rings Tactics, probably not that good but my nostalgia goggles claim otherwise.
So, something like Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord should be right up my alley, and it is, kind of.
Let’s set the scene. Fairy Fencer F was released in 2013 on PC and PS3 in Japan only. An English version was published the following year, I do wonder what took them so long given that the only real change needed was to translate the on-screen text to English as there is no English dub for this series but that’s by the by. The original was then remastered in Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force which sounds like a random word generator was used to create the title.
The original came did not receive particularly stellar reviews at the time although I don’t doubt the series has its fans, somewhere.
I have not played either the original or the remaster. So most of the plot, mechanics and characters were brand new for me coming into Refrain Chord. The game attempts to outline the world and its history with a brief cutscene but having the first fight you play result in what seems to be the main character’s death does not aid the game’s attempt at coherency.
From what I understand, a long time ago there was a battle between two deities, one good, one evil. Instead of doing the fighting themselves, they created a number of weapons for others to use instead. These weapons are known as furies, many years later the conflict has died down, but these furies remain and the warriors wielding them are known as fencers. Your gang is in pursuit of these furies as they hold great power.
The main character, Fang, is a total berk. He reminds me of Ash from the Pokémon anime in many ways, completely oblivious to most of the things going on around him. It’s hard to really give a damn what happens to him as a result. The other characters in your gang are split into two camps, fencers, and fairies. It seems fairies pair up with a fencer for some reason. As of right now, I have no idea what makes a fairy a fairy as they seem to be mostly humanoid, except for the transformer one but he seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
The gameplay revolves around two stages, combat, and preparation. During preparation, you can buy/sell items, talk to companions and pursue side quests. Combat is your traditional isometric grid layout with turns being assigned based on a character’s speed.
Combat is very generic. Compile Heart’s (the developer, should’ve mentioned that earlier) attempt to freshen up the formula revolves around one character being able to sing, creating a stat boost field on the battlefield, your opponents will sometimes have this power too and if the fields overlap, crazy things can occur. Well, not that crazy, some stats go up a bit more. Basically, if you’ve ever played a TRPG before, you’ll have very little trouble with Fairy Fencer’s combat. Almost to the point where I just wasn’t excited by it and would rather talk to the other group members instead.
Speaking of the group, this is probably the most interesting part as the dynamics between the various party members are the highlight of the game for me. As you advance through the story, more and more little side adventures will open up allowing you a glimpse into the personalities of these characters. Having said that, the plot lines are very anime, leading to some more than uncomfortable moments by Western sensibilities. But, certainly more interesting than the combat.
The lack of an English dub is somewhat disappointing as personally, the anime voice acting can be a little too much sometimes, especially with some of the more exuberant characters. This might be a personal note and not something many players experience, but it is what it is.
Sound design is very good, orchestral scores have always been a strength of Japanese titles and Fairy Fencer is no different. Graphics are solid if simple, but fans of the classic anime style will be happier than most here.
All in all, Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is a solid TRPG with some peaks and troughs to its gameplay. I do feel as though those who have played the original title will get more out of this, so if Fairy Fencer sounds like your bag, I’d probably investigate the remaster; Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force before trying out Refrain Chord.