Review – Fairy Tail

A lot of people were skeptical at the idea of a turn-based Fairy Tail game. Most of them thought a standard anime action game would suit the franchise better. Not me though. I felt that the back-and-forth nature of your average Fairy Tail fight was actually a perfect fit for a turn-based JRPG, so once I realized that the recently announced Koei Tecmo Fairy Tail game was not a Warriors clone, I was pretty excited. Especially since it was coming from Gust Studios, whose Atelier series I’ve heard good things about but never got around to trying. So I admit, I went in with some pretty decent expectations. And though the game does have some graphical shortcomings, the fantastic battle system, large cast of varied characters, and fun well told story more than balance it out.

My initial impressions were of familiarity. It just looks and feels so much like Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. Except the graphics are a little rougher, the music is much better, and it doesn’t feel so soulless. The more I played, the more I realized that this was the kind of game I wished DQXI had been. While the world is still open, it’s much smaller and better utilized. Characters are much more interesting, and the plot is actually worth following. Not just the main plot I already knew, but the side and character stories as well. And the battle system, it’s just beautiful. Overall, it’s a game with heart, made with clear passion for the source material. For both franchise newbies and vets, there’s a lot to love here.

Wise words indeed.

One important thing to understand is that the game doesn’t start at the beginning of the anime’s story. It actually starts right at the end of one of the middle story arcs. The tutorial fight is that arc’s climactic final duel. If it sounds disconcerting being dropped into a story that’s about to end, that’s because it is. Newcomers to the franchise will be drowned in a thousand terms and names they have no context for. Indeed, even veterans for whom it’s been a while may be lost for a bit. Though the Encyclopedia contains info on previous arcs, characters, and term definitions, it’s not infallible. Still, once you get past the tutorial and into the game proper, it does a fantastic job of fleshing the world out for everyone. All in all, once you make it past that opening things will start making sense.

Fairy Tail is comprised of several gameplay systems that all come together like a well-oiled machine. Firstly there’s the guild. The Fairy Tail guild is kinda like its own character in the game, and has its own set of progression systems. There’s the physical rebuilding which is done through collecting materials, amassing money, and completing quests for characters in charge of facilities. This has a direct benefit for you as higher level facilities let you do more things. Then, there’s the guild ranking system. This is how you acomplish your main goal, making Fairy Tail the strongest guild in Fiore once again. While completing requests from the guild’s notice board, you will rise through the ranks aiming for that top spot. Though other ways to increase your rank exist, requests will be your main method.

While at lower ranks, other guilds will be…..less than charitable.

Then there’s the characters. Fairy Tail is unique amongst modern JRPGs for the ludicrous number of party members available. There’s a total of 16 at launch, with more coming via DLC. What’s more, each one feels unique to play, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. In this way it feels a lot like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, which also had an unbelievable number of characters that mostly managed to feel distinct. The progression systems are even similar, with a lacrima equipment system very much like that game’s ISO-8. Although managing lacrima is much much easier and you have a total of five slots to unlock for each character. Also each character has their own unique ranking system, with character specific skills and buffs to unlock.

However, my favorite part of character progression (and possibly the whole game) are bonds. Every character has a bond level with other characters that increases the more they fight in the same party. You unlock a bond event once it’s high enough, which is a fun little encounter between the two characters. The heart of Fairy Tail has always been its characters and the relationships they share and this is that done justice. It’s especially cool seeing characters that have either never interacted or only had minimal contact have a moment with each other. It really helps flesh out the guild and makes your party composition feel genuine. Even if you have no clue of who is who and just toss together a random party, they will eventually become just as close as anyone else. You also unlock a variety of combat bonuses for those who value numbers over friendship!

Someone took the time to program a “lose clothes” mechanic, complete with progressive upgrades. That’s dedication to the craft.

Now for the battle system. While at first I was expecting generic JRPG combat, that was not the case. The basics of combat is to use your AoE spells to blast your way through waves of enemies, while managing your level of magic power. Although this sounds like standard fare, the enemy grid changes everything. Enemies are arranged on a grid opposing your characters, usually with multiple monsters per square. Large battles can become like games of Tetris, with you trying to find the right spell that covers the most enemies. When you factor in the element weakness/strength system it becomes even more complex. There’s also chain attacks, unison raids, ultimate spells, and a few other mechanics that further increase combat variety. If this sounds overwhelming don’t worry, as the game does a great job of introducing new things at an approachable rate.

There are three main types of quests. There’s the main story, which can feel at times like a visual novel inter-spaced with battles. Those who don’t like to read may run into issues here. However, requests are standard open world quests that are a perfect break from the story-heavy main ones. These are mostly kill, fetch, or collect quests so they can get repetitive after a bit. Finally, there’s community requests you get from NPC’s while out in the world. I found these to be mostly collection quests, and a great way to turn resources into money and lacrima. I found the best way to play was to balance everything out. Get tired of requests, take on a main story quest. Worn down after a long story section? Take on a few kill requests. There’s a lot of freedom in how to proceed, so use it!

It’s certainly not the prettiest game ever, but it works.

Somehow, Fairy Tail ended up being one of the most enjoyable JRPG’s I’ve played in a while. The characters, the stories, the variety and freedom in play, it all comes together for a very enjoyable experience. It does have it’s issues, but they’re mostly graphical, and in my opinion, easily ignored: environmental textures are sub-par, and some characters don’t have models and are awkwardly conversed with off-screen. Still, everything that it brings to the table more than outweighs these cons. The battle system is so much fun, and just when you think you’ve seen everything, you unlock a new fun ability that takes things to the next level. For fans of either the anime or turn-based JRPG’s, it’s a must have.

Graphics: 7.0

Environment textures are questionable, but character models are top notch and I love the cell-shaded anime style art direction.

Gameplay: 9.0

The battle system is an addicting and unique blend of grid-based strategy and classic JRPG turn-based action. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Sound: 7.5

The music is top notch as expected, and though there’s no English dub the Japanese voices have their own charm.

Fun Factor: 9.0

It’s everything I love about a good JRPG. Large cast of party members, a densely designed world with lots of heart, and a story that never stops escalating.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Fairy Tail is available now on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Fairy Tail was provided by the publisher.