Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord Review

Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord by developers Sting Entertainment, Compile Heart, Idea Factory and publisher Idea Factory InternationalSony PlayStation 5 review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher. 

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes.

From the original wild ride of Fairy Fencer F back on the PS3 to the revamped Fairy Fencer F: Dark Advent on the PS4, our Fairy Fencers are back again for a more musical number in Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord that takes place in a turn based strategy format. 

Fairy Fencer F is one of Compile Heart and Idea Factory’s more interesting titles. Unlike the Neptunia Series which is based in Video Game Console lore and personification of those consoles, Fairy Fencer is a more magical world where humans and fairies exist in the wake of a giant battle between the Vile God and the Goddess. Combining this with would be heroes who are far removed from being the paragons of justice, the ensuing comedy often brings levity to the more evil, death, destruction and world ending aspirations of the mega corporation Dorfa. 

While not having played the revamped Dark Advent myself, it is still on my backlog, and yes Richard I will get to it, it thankfully wasn’t needed to get going with Refrain Chord. Taking place somewhere after the beginnings of Fairy Fencer F, all the characters that you know, love, and hate, are back for another round of shenanigans as they continue their journey. So on that note, I recommend at least playing one of the prior entries which are also both available on the PC if you don't have a console. 

Where Refrain Chord really branches out from its JRPG roots is in its move to an SRPG format. Gone are all the dungeon explorations for side quests, main quests and material gathering. Instead, you now have specific points on the familiar world map that will offer you a choice of free, side or main storyline encounters. Each of these encounters plays out on large enough maps that will test your strategic thinking or your ability to grind for experience points. While this shift was quite fun in the beginning, and we'll get into all of those points soon, it could often feel like a slog which I thought was unfortunate as there are some really neat features in this gameplay shift. 

The slog of these battles doesn't come from the gameplay speed. Playing at normal speed or a sped up speed, it doesn't take long to move your characters from square to square, perform attacks or execute abilities and then have them face in the best direction possible for the oncoming attacks. The oncoming attacks are generally what can turn this into a slog as there are often just too many enemies on the field to be any fun. 

This isn't a question of NIS having spoiled us with Disgaea 6's impressive auto battles as even Agarest had a form of those ways back. It's really a case of there are just too many enemies. While your characters will often be stronger than the enemy, that only goes so far when there are 2-3 times more of them and whenever your turn rolls around you need to heal instead of attack. This is why I feel like things weren't properly calibrated and unless you've really stuck to a stage or two in particular to grind? You'll often wonder if these are even winnable. 

Because otherwise? There's a solid system here. Characters as mentioned can move around a grid with a base movement range. From there, you can select whether a character uses a basic normal attack, skills, magic or use items. In good Fairy Fencer fashion, characters after a certain point in battle can also Fairize to merge with their fairy partner and become more powerful and be able to move further on the grid. This helps close the distance or move to the aid of one of your allies. Fairizing also grants access to certain skills only able to be used in this state. It can easily change the flow of battle and is worth using once available unless there's really a reason to hold off and wait. 

The game changer this time around on top of the more strategic approach is the addition of the Muse. Joining in early enough, Fleur acts as the party's muse against the enemy's muse Glace. These two act as the ultimate support units to the rest of your party as while they are not designed to attack, their music and it's range can mess up or enhance your strategy pretty quickly. 

Now here we aren't talking about the power of a Disney song to make everyone feel better or know that you mean business. Here, we are talking about pure power in which both Fleur and Glace can increase the abilities of both parties. Increased attack, defense, automatic healing, or offering units that can't normally counter attack the ability, these all come in some neat ranges. Full square, diamond and outward facing triangle alway originate from the Muse so if they move? The area of the song moves. 

This alone can change a course of battle, but if the two songs come into contact with one another? The dramatic resonance can be fantastic. As the songs clash on the field, any square that has both songs will increase in respective power. With this level of power though, a Muse's song can only last a few turns at a time but even these come with some extra features such as being able to increase the range or the intensity of the song. On a final note about the music, I really enjoyed the variety of songs that were sung by the muses as their songs replace that of the standard battle music. When both are singing at the same time, then it’s not just one song, but it becomes their song as one blends into the other in a harmony that is very pleasant to the ear. 

To further support your battle prowess, every character has access to a variety of sub-fairies that can further modify their stats as well as grant different abilities and magic that their core fairy doesn't provide. This applies to both your Fencers and your Muse. The only difference here is that your Muse can only select from a specific subset of fairies that are designed for support purposes. This isn't an issue per say, but it does take some time for those types to start being available so it's a good thing that the enemy AI will almost never go after your Muse unless there's no way to your Fencers. 

Because it's not all about the combat, there is going to be plenty of dialog between the cast that will often have you laughing or groaning at the ridiculousness. The dialog itself continues on in the more simulated 2D/3D feel where 2D characters look like they are breathing and all of the colors are super vibrant. The voice actors also give a stellar performance but if you were hoping for a return of the English cast, this time around the voice track is in Japanese only. 

It’s all of these moments, short, medium and fairy long length (I’m not apologizing for that pun!) that not only move the story along, but that make Fairy Fencer F what it is. It gives you more… insight? Into the characters, their motivations and… ah hell, who am I kidding? Most of the motivations revolve around food! But it’s generally fun unless the bad guys are involved and helps to alleviate the often long winded battle sequences as there is also no more dungeon crawling to be had. 

Adding a bit to the levity, is the ability to go searching for treasure on the main map. With several “charges” available at a time which can be restored by going into encounters, you can use your inventory of sub-fairies and their furies to stab the ground and see what comes out. Materials for crafting and new equipment pieces can be found and the more that you poke at the map, the higher the chances are that you can chain this action for a singular charge. It helps to balance out the lack of dungeon exploring for materials as some of the crafting items are much better than what you can buy in the stop. 

Overall Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord isn't a bad title. It has a great system, fun dialog and awesome visuals, however, the transition to a Strategy RPG format doesn't feel as balanced as it should. With the battles often seeing your party being severely outnumbered, battles felt like they took much longer than they should have, reducing the fun factor to an otherwise good approach in the shift from a JRPG to an SRPG format. 

Score: 7 / 10



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