Fairy Fencer F and its Advent Dark Force counterpart represent an interesting melting pot of influences.
We’ve already talked about how the gameplay includes influences from Compile Heart’s own Neptunia series, and how the narrative includes influences from classic JRPGs of yore, but Fairy Fencer F’s diverse background is perhaps most apparent when it comes to its audio-visual aesthetic.
Featuring concept art by Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame, character designs by Tsunako of Neptunia fame and contributions to the soundtrack from longtime Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and his band Earthbound Papas, Fairy Fencer F certainly has some impressively heavyweight talent behind it.
Like the Final Fantasy series, Amano’s influence on the actual final in-game art is seemingly minimal at first glance, but there are clear nods to his distinctively detailed style when it comes to things such as the field of giant Furies seen at the far end of Advent Dark Force’s new area Dasuhiro Plains. The designs of the Furies in general, as seen in the artwork above, are distinctly Amano-esque in nature.
Amano’s most obvious influence comes to the fore in anything to do with the Goddess and, in Advent Dark Force, the Evil Goddess found at the conclusion of the route of the same name. The Goddess is represented as a curvaceous, mostly nude woman, with hair flowing out around her dramatically. Bound in place for eternity by her Furies, she’s a dramatic symbol for the game’s main narrative impetus.
Tsunako’s distinctive style, meanwhile, is stamped all over the game from start to finish. Highly colourful, often cheerful-looking and immediately compelling due to those giant, hypnotic eyes, Tsunako’s character designs bring the cast of Fairy Fencer F to life. And, like stablemate series Neptunia, for which Tsunako is also responsible for the distinctive character designs, there’s a diverse array of different character types on display — arguably even more so, thanks to Fairy Fencer F including male characters rather than Neptunia’s almost exclusively female cast.
Compile Heart are known for parody and satire, and while Fairy Fencer F takes itself a little more seriously than the Neptunia series, there are moments where it’s clear that it’s not afraid to poke fun at genre conventions. Protagonist Fang is one such example; at the outset of the game, he’s the very epitome of the stereotypical moody JRPG protagonist, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ryudo from Grandia 2 with a touch of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. However, as is usually the case with this kind of archetypal protagonist, Fang reveals himself to actually have a heart of gold under his gruff, selfish exterior — although he never quite forgets his abrasive sense of humour.
Tiara is an interesting case in that she’s a study in contrasts, both in terms of her writing and her visual depiction. Her dark, maid-like outfit contrasts strongly with her extremely pale skin and brilliant white hair, and this sort of distinctive appearance may well lead the grizzled JRPG veteran to believe that Tiara may not be all she seems, possibly even having a villainous side. It’s not actually that simple, of course — though I won’t spoil exactly how here — but suffice to say, Tiara’s appearance and demeanour are clearly carefully crafted in order to keep the player guessing throughout the entire narrative.
Elsewhere in the story, Tsunako and the art team draw clear influences from giant robot anime when it comes to the main cast’s “Fairized” forms — a rough analogue to the Neptunia series’ Hard Drive Divinity transformations. Fang’s transformation in particular, pictured above, combines elements of the giant robot genre with popular anime like High School DxD.
Then, of course, there’s Pippin, with his distinctly prim and proper fairy. They’re an eccentric duo where everyone perpetually assumes Souji is the master and Pippin is the fairy, but in reality it’s the other way around. We never really find out exactly who or what Pippin actually is in the story, but his characterisation is presented in such a way that we simply stop noticing that he’s a giant green cat thing after a while. Initially appearing to be present for little more than comic relief, it’s Pippin that comes out with some of the more profound lines in the game’s script.
Harley, meanwhile, demonstrates Tsunako’s mastery over creating some of the most delightfully provocative female curves in existence. Initially set up to be “the sexy one”, Harley quickly subverts her apparent archetype by being a total nerd with no real understanding of social niceties. That said, it’s not difficult to argue that her excessive interest in performing detailed “examinations” on the party’s mostly female cast of fairies borders on sexual harassment at times, so her sexualised appearance isn’t just for show.
On the male character front, besides Fang, Apollonius and Sherman are two polar opposites in terms of both design and personality. Both could be argued to be designed with a female audience in mind, but Apollonius embodies the “dark, brooding” archetype to a fault — well beyond a fault in the Evil Goddess route, in fact — while occasionally displaying a softer side when his younger sister is involved in any way.
By contrast, Sherman is all brilliant white clothes, bright blonde hair and a calm, princely attitude. He’s the character all the female cast members swoon over throughout the narrative — much to Fang’s chagrin — and thus it’s all the more effective when some less than wholesome tendencies come to the fore in some of the narrative routes.
Let’s turn our attention to the soundtrack now, and what better place to start than with one of Uematsu’s contributions: the main theme, heard on the title screen. It’s kind of sad that such a lovely piece will likely be skipped over by many as they are eager to start a new game or continue their adventure, but it’s worth a listen. Typically tuneful in true Uematsu tradition, this piece absolutely wouldn’t be out of place in an older Final Fantasy.
By contrast, another of Uematsu’s contributions is a track you will hear a lot in the game: it’s one of the main battle themes. Again, as is typical for Uematsu tracks, it’s a strongly melodic piece with memorable hooks and a solid but not overly complex texture. It’s a suitably energetic battle theme that fits well with the tone of Fairy Fencer F as a whole.
Of particular note on the soundtrack as a whole are the two “Fairize” tracks, which play during battle when one or more of the characters make use of their transformation abilities in conjunction with their fairy and their Fury. These tracks are strongly reminiscent of action sequences in anime, and both feature lyrics that are directly relevant to the fairy-Fencer relationship. This piece, actually the second of the two Fairize themes, is implied to be sung by one of the fairies to their fencer.
The first Fairize theme, meanwhile, draws heavy influences from ’70s and ’80s heavy metal, with hilariously overblown lyrics (“Metamorphize your heart / Unleash the hell inside / We will crack the dark / As the Two thunders make full contact”) — but again, within the context of the situation, and in keeping with the feeling of “action anime” it is trying to put across, it works extremely well.
Fairy Fencer F has a pretty strong soundtrack on the whole, even outside the Uematsu tracks and the extravagant majesty of the two Fairize themes. It plays a big role in giving the game a distinct identity from Compile Heart’s other work — and simply in giving the game a unique personal identity in its own right in the broader market.
It’s recognisably a Compile Heart game through and through, but few people could accuse it of being a Neptunia ripoff or cash-in, for sure; on the contrary, with Advent Dark Force in particular, we see what is clearly a strong starting point for what will hopefully become a long and successful series.
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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