Compile Heart games, as we’ve previously discussed, don’t exactly follow the mould of the stereotypical JRPG. However, this doesn’t stop them from having a strong sense of worldbuilding.
You may not be able to freely wander the whole world in a Compile Heart game as you can do in a more open-world adventure, but physically representing something isn’t the only way to give the player a feeling of time and place. You can also do it through the writing.
And this is exactly how Compile Heart builds its worlds, both in its popular Neptunia series and in its outlier titles such as Omega Quintet and Fairy Fencer F. The latter, in particular, demonstrates that the company is more than capable of building a convincing world with an interesting mythology using relatively minimal resources.
Fairy Fencer F’s world incorporates elements of both standard fantasy (swords, magic, demons) and modern day to near future sci-fi (robots, technology, evil corporations). It’s the kind of world where you can be at a lavish dinner party in a skyscraper one moment and enjoying the unspoiled greenery of the countryside the next; fighting giant robots one minute, evil gods the next.
The world’s overall mythology is introduced gradually over the course of the adventure. At the outset of the game, we’re largely in the position of the protagonist Fang, who doesn’t have any awareness of the role of Fencers, fairies, Furies, the Goddess or the Evil God. Fortunately, Fang’s companion Eryn, a fairy bound to a Fury that Fang comes across by chance, provides an eminently suitable impetus for us to explore this mythology: the old faithful trope of amnesia.
Eryn’s amnesia is partial rather than complete, however; she remembers that, for some reason, she needs to gather all of the Furies, but not exactly why. Fang, who at the outset of the game is a lazy, indolent rogue with little motivation to do anything other than figure out where his next meal is coming from, reluctantly follows along with her plan when it becomes clear that he can’t get rid of her; when a human draws a Fury and becomes a Fencer, they are bonded together with that Fury’s fairy for life.
The complete background to Fairy Fencer F’s world runs thus. Long ago, a Goddess battled against an Evil God. The two did not battle directly, but instead each forged Furies for their representatives in the world to wield against one another. Ultimately the conflict ended in a stalemate, with the Goddess and the Evil God both ending up sealed away by the power of the Furies. Nowadays, Furies are sought out as treasures and powerful weapons, though few Fencers have a full understanding of the true meaning of the weapon they wield and the fairy that inhabits it.
The conflict at the core of Fairy Fencer F mostly comes from the corporation Dorfa, who are initially presented as a benevolent organisation that has brought industrialisation and prosperity to the region in which the game is set. It’s not long, however, before the top brass of Dorfa are revealed to be rather unpleasant individuals dead set on reviving the power of the Evil God to wield as they see fit in order to dominate the world. When Fang and his companions learn of Dorfa’s intentions, Eryn’s search for the Furies gains new importance: not only will it help her to remember her role in the world, but it will also help stop Dorfa in their tracks.
Of key importance to the overarching plot is another Fencer Fang encounters early in the story, known as Tiara. Deliberately putting across an air of refinement and superiority — her Japanese script sees her adding “desu wa” to the end of many sentences rather than the more usual “desu”, which is a typical sign of “princess-like” behaviour — Tiara initially seems to be a spoiled but harmless rich girl who is out of her depth. However, it’s not long before she reveals her true nature that she takes great pains to keep hidden: she has both sadistic and masochistic tendencies, and has no qualms about ruining other people’s days in order to get what she wants. Fang’s first encounter with her ends with him being paralysed by poison she put in the tea she gave him, all in an attempt to steal his Furies.
Interestingly, in one of the three narrative paths available in Advent Dark Force, Tiara’s personality undergoes a curious inversion, where her aggressive, abrasive and foul-mouthed side comes to the forefront, while in the others she continues in her attempts to seem like a princess. She is a stark contrast to one of the game’s main antagonists Marianna, who pulls off the “princess” thing effortlessly and naturally.
Pursuing one’s true self is a core theme in all of the narrative arcs in Fairy Fencer F. Fang in particular demonstrates an enormous amount of personal growth over the course of the complete narrative — although in the aforementioned path, he, too, undergoes a temporary personality transformation alongside Tiara. By the end of the game he still has a somewhat arrogant edge — which he puts across the distinct impression he’s doing ironically rather than genuinely — but he also stands up for his friends and for what’s right. Each of his companions have a profound influence on the person he ends up becoming.
And it’s a varied cast that gathers around Fang, Eryn and Tiara, too. One of the earliest characters to join the party is Harley, a large-breasted and completely shameless young woman who prefers to focus more on her studies of fairies than on social niceties. Both Harley and her fairy Bahus are textbook examples of “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”; despite her provocative appearance, Harley isn’t slutty — although her desire to study the party’s fairies does border on sexual harassment on more than one occasion — and despite his imposing physical appearance, Bahus is thoroughly domesticated, habitually baking cookies and other sweet treats for the rest of the party.
Ethel is an interesting cast member. Early on in her relationship with Fang and the party, she takes on an antagonistic role, attempting to assassinate them on more than one occasion. When she finally does join the group, it takes a lot of work by the rest of the group to be able to get her to say anything other than “kill” — a word which she has managed to put considerable nuance into over the years, as evidenced by her fairy’s ability to translate for the bewildered party. Ethel, who, as you might expect from her manner, had a rather traumatic upbringing, gradually comes to learn how to trust other people, and becomes much more communicative and friendly as a result, though when backed into a corner she quickly hides behind her old personality.
The character Sherman is handled particularly interestingly in Advent Dark Force. Initially presented as a counterpoint to Fang in almost every regard — light clothing vs dark clothing, fair hair vs brown hair, optimism and friendliness vs sarcasm and dourness — he ends up being the antagonist in the “Goddess” route, the only narrative path from the original Fairy Fencer F. Prior to his “fall”, he’s also presented as a love rival to Fang, particularly as Tiara and the other girls in the party have a tendency to fawn over him while he’s a member of the group.
However, Sherman becomes a temporary protagonist for a significant portion of the “Evil God” route, which gives us a much better understanding of his character and perhaps why he does the things he does in the other paths. He’s the only character who doesn’t seem to undergo a massive personality change in this route, and so it’s through his eyes we have to make sense of all the strange things that have happened.
Apollonius is another interesting one, and Fang’s relationship with him is explored following the “midpoint” event of the game where the narrative paths split, and the cast are thrown back in time. In the “Goddess” path, Fang interprets this event as a sign that he should try his best to prevent the numerous tragedies that unfold in the first half of the game, which include the deaths of Tiara, Ethel and Apollonius, the latter of which he feels particularly guilty about after running into his little sister, who has sworn revenge on the man who murdered her big brother.
Saving Apollonius in the “Goddess” route isn’t a sure thing. The event where he and Fang clash happens once again, and once again culminates with Apollonius suffering a grave, possibly fatal injury. If Fang is not high enough level by the time the opportunity to save him arises, Apollonius prefers to die than join up with Fang, but conversely if Fang is already high enough level — in other words, has proved himself to be a strong warrior in Apollonius’ eyes — then he begrudgingly accepts help and joins up with the “good guys”.
Apollonius takes a bit of a beating in the other routes, too. In the “Evil Goddess” route, in particular, he is portrayed as having fallen into complete ruin, completely at the mercy of the “wine” the antagonists of this path are using to control the populace — a barely-veiled allegory for the dangers of alcoholism or, in broader terms, of giving in to your more base desires too frequently. It’s tragic to see such a powerful man brought low by something as simple as wine — although, as the remainder of the route goes on to explain, it’s not quite that simple.
One of the most pleasing and emotionally engaging things in Fairy Fencer F — and Advent Dark Force in particular — is how well the relationships between the various characters are portrayed. The obvious examples are seen any time Fang engages with Eryn or Tiara, as they are the two principal love interests in the story, but the secondary characters get plenty of exploration, too, reminding the player-protagonist for once that they’re not the only one who gets to cultivate relationships with other cast members.
Of particular note is the relationship between Galdo and his fairy Marissa. Galdo is initially antagonistic towards the party, but having seen the unpleasantness that his comrade Zenke gets up to, he defects and joins them against Dorfa. Marissa mothers Galdo to an excessive degree, calling him “Galdy-kins” and habitually making sure he’s keeping himself safe and warm as much as can be expected in dangerous circumstances. In one of the darkest narrative paths, however, Galdo gets severely injured and disfigured, and it’s at this moment we see that Marissa isn’t putting on her exaggerated shows of affection for him: she genuinely, really loves him, and not just because they’re bonded for life through their Fury. It’s heartbreaking to see her break down in front of his mangled body, and it puts Fang and Eryn’s relationship in a new perspective, particularly if the player has pursued Tiara up until this point. Would Eryn act like this if Fang was the one who had been disfigured? She’d probably never admit it, but the chances are pretty good.
On a more incidental level, Fairy Fencer F reminds us that life goes on in the world even while we’re not present, and this is exemplified by the numerous NPCs that you can speak with in the game’s main town. These characters, although largely nameless, become recognisable personalities in their own right by the end of the game, with many reflecting the direction the narrative is moving in and the general state of the world. At times, they can offer a potent reminder that the world is constantly changing, and it’s not always the protagonist of the story who gets to have a major impact on what’s happening.
To an extent, Fairy Fencer F’s narrative is what you make of it, because a lot of it is completely optional to engage with. If you want, you can race through the story by only following the “major event” markers on the map, ignoring all the incidental interactions with both main cast members and nameless NPCs. But if you do so, it’s kind of a shame, and you’re missing out on what feels like an important part of the main experience; race through the main narrative and the game would feel like a competent, if fairly generic fantasy adventure. Take the time to get to know the people who inhabit the world, however, and the whole thing comes alive, becoming more than the sum of its parts as you see everything in its wider context.
In Fairy Fencer F, Compile Heart has constructed a surprisingly believable world with minimal resources — mostly text — and it’s been a pleasure to spend time in. Fortunately, if the last moments of the “Evil Goddess” route are anything to go by, it’s probably not the last we’ve seen of this world, and I know I for one am very interested to see what happens next.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is available now for PlayStation 4. The original Fairy Fencer F is available for PlayStation 3 and PC.
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