OMG Finished Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force

What a slog that was. I started playing Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force in December, after getting it for cheap in a Black Friday Sale last November. Initially I liked it. It was goofy and kind of crude but it made me laugh. Fifty-ish hours later, my feelings have changed considerably.

When I say I finished the game, I mean I got to the ending credits and saw one of several endings. Essentially I got to the ending of Fairy Fencer F, the original game. Advent Dark Force adds more endings, I guess. I am NOT going to play through this game again to get another ending, and I’m not going to chase trophies.

The problem with FFF, for me, is that it’s just kind of shallow for an RPG. There’s no real exploration or crafting and there’s not even much character development. You just teleport into dungeons and grind your way through mobs, and the turn-based combat gets dull fast. As you fight you get Weapon Points that you can use to unlock different skills and such, but honestly I mostly spend 50 hours hitting the X button over and over again.

Characters have a couple of gear slots, so there’s a little bit of loot collecting, but nothing very satisfying.

I also found it irksome that the monsters play by different rules than characters do. While characters all take a turn based on some kind of speed rating, monsters often attack several times in a row, which always felt really cheap.

Combat is slow paced, but holding R2 down speeds up the animations and stuff. I basically played the 2nd half of the game while holding down R2 and it still felt like a slog.

But what really ruined the game for me was that about half-way through, there’s like a time-jump and you go back to the start of the game and have to play through the same dungeons a second time. When this happens you lose all the characters you’ve added to your party and have to re-add them.

Anyway, not for me. I’m not sure why I got it stuck in my craw that I was determined to finish the game, but I did. So every Monday since the start of the year I’d play a little bit. And I did it. I guess that’s something. But man, it was NOT fun.

Skip this one.

Fairy Fencer F moves back to Monday nights

With the holidays (and short work weeks) over, I decided to move Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force night back to Mondays. Having Tuesday and Thursday marked off for scheduled game nights felt a little constricting when I was hot on some other game.

Anyway last night culminated in a great battle. I guess the downside of turn-based JRPGs is that you can go a long time just grinding out rote battles where you’re more focused on being efficient than worried about any danger. Then all of a sudden, things change.

In this fight last night 5 of my 6 characters got KO’d very early. It happened so suddenly that my first thought was it was one of those unwinnable battles that JRPGs sometimes spring on you. But nope. My last man standing managed to get Tiara, who is my primary healer, back on her feet. The two of them went into defensive mode, chewing through supplies while they got themselves outside of the ‘1 hit until death’ zone, then Fang (my main DPS and as close to a tank as I have) battled the baddie while one by one Tiara got the rest back on their feet. I had to make sure everyone stayed spread out as much as possible because the boss had a potent AOE. I also learned the hard way that my AOE heals will HEAL THE BOSS if it is in range. I did that once and learned a hard lesson…then did it a second time through carelessness! Argh!

Harley was the last one back on her feet and I think it was fitting that she got in the killing blow. When the dust settled out packs were empty of potions, our magic was depleted and… the game didn’t offer up a save point or an easy way home. In fact it expected us to push on. Luckily I had a “Return Wing” that warps you out of and dungeon. We headed back to town, re-supplied and now we’re almost broke. I think we’ll have to do some grinding to replenish our wallets before we push on with the story.

But it was a really fun battle and re-ignited my enjoyment of the game. Apparently I’ve put about 20 hours into it so far. It’ll be months before I beat it at this rate!

In case you’re really bored, here’s the last few minutes of the battle. We were already on the rebound here, but I have the PS4 set to only record 5 minutes and even then it felt too long so I trimmed off some of the footage. Oh and yes, I do have a couple characters fighting in bath towels. Very practical, plenty of freedom of movement (and it’s appearance armor, only).

Barely Fairy Fencer Tuesday

Yesterday was chaotic. I was back at work, the dog was back at the vet, and my new video card and monitor arrived. In case you missed my rant, in the midst of a computer meltdown last week one of my monitors crapped out and needed to be replaced. The new video card was because I was having all kinds of mechanical issues with the old one. I’d had to replace my power supply a month or so ago and the cables of the new one were so stiff that when I plugged the auxiliary power into my old video card, I couldn’t put the case cover back on without it pressing on the cables. When the case pressed on the cables the PC would report that the power wasn’t attached.

Rather than address the issue I ran with no cover on the PC. LOL! Finally I decided I was sick of having a PC that sounded like a vacuum cleaner whenever I ran a game (which I rarely do these days, on PC) so I decided to get a cheap replacement. I settled on an Nvidia TI 1050. It has one fan and requires no auxiliary power, AND it was only $130 or so. It popped in as easy as you please and I finally have the case back on my rig. The only concern I have is that it has one DVI port and one HDMI port. Fortunately my old, still working monitor is DVI and the new one I got is HDMI so I’m good for now but if I ever have to replace that old monitor I’ll have to get some kind of DVI-HDMI adapter cable, or find a monitor that still has a DVI port.

What I didn’t anticipate was that the new monitor would be so desperately in need of calibration when it arrived. I’m not good a calibrating displays. I can see that the image is wrong but my brain just isn’t good at knowing what needs to change to fix it. I tried a few calibration websites and they tell me what to adjust. Problem is they tell you WHAT to adjust, but not which way to adjust it, and I’m not very patient. Do I need more or less contrast? More or less saturation? It’s bad enough with a TV when you’re sitting with a remote in your hand, but with this (and I think most) monitors there’re 4 buttons that map to up, down, exit and enter/menu. The monitor is so light you can’t just press these buttons, you have to hold the monitor with one hand and press them with the other and it’s just so awkward.

In the end, I hit up Google and found someone who had shared their calibration settings for this monitor model (nothing fancy, a 1080P ASUS VS248H, also about $130). I did the same thing with the new TV a few months back and thankfully this technique (if you can call copying numbers a technique) works pretty well for a filthy display casual like me. I know that a display should be calibrated based on that specific piece of hardware (experts will tell you no two displays are exactly alike) and the room it is in but I guess I’m just not that fussy. I have nothing but admiration for people who calibrate displays professionally. It seems likes it’s a real art form, getting things just right.

So knock on wood, my computer is back up and running and now it’s just a matter of re-installing the tools I haven’t gotten to yet.

Once all that was done, I finally sat down for Fairy Fencer F Tuesday. (Angela tells me I should really move Fairy Fencer to Friday for the sake of more alliteration.) Not too much to report, it was mostly a grinding night. My last session I’d added some new characters so I wanted to sort them out and see what they were capable of, and I spent way too long figuring out how an “Item Sonar” ability worked.

The story did take a dark turn when Fang met a girl named Emily. He saved her from some thugs and they got talking and had a nice meal together and then she starts to tell him her story and…well you wouldn’t want me to spoil things, would you? But in a game that has so far been silly and light-hearted, this was a sobering moment. We also learned a little bit about Eryn and why she has no memories, and had our first in what I suspect will be a series of encounters with a new villain.

One thing I find I’m missing in Fairy Fencer F is gear. Each character has a pre-set Fury, which is their weapon for the entire game (at least as far as I’ve gotten). Then they have 1 armor slot and 1 accessory slot and that’s it in terms of gear that impacts stats (they also have appearance items). I kind of like collecting gear in RPGs so I miss that a bit.

But last night battles started getting to where I needed to think a little bit more about what kinds of attacks to use. Each character’s Fury can act as several types of weapon. For instance Harley’s can be a gun, a sword or … that third thing I can’t recall. I’ve been treating her as a gun user but last night I started encountering enemies weak against sword attacks so I had to re-configure her a bit to use more sword skills, and that helped her be much more powerful in these battles.

For years I’ve enjoyed starting games more than finishing them because I love learning new game systems and I felt like once I was past the first 5-10 hours I’d encountered everything. But I think for years I haven’t been paying attention because lately I’ve been trying to stick with games longer and what I find is many games continue to layer on complexity that isn’t immediately obvious, like this weapon thing in FFF.

In some ways I feel like I’m enjoying games on a whole new level these days, between finally noticing these nuances, and playing past The End to chase Trophies and stuff. That in turn makes me feel good because I feel like I’m getting more enjoyment and value out of each game. Considering how tight money is these days, that’s a really good thing!

Combat in Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force

Last night was Fairy Fencer F night! I started the night by doing some grinding but then things really picked up. Added two new Fencers to the party and got to enjoy some really silly cut scenes. I thought I was just weird finding this game funny but Angela was in the room and I heard her chuckle a few times too, so it’s not just me after all. I also had my first tough boss fight. Y’know the deal…you beat, or nearly beat, the enemy and then he moves into a whole new, much stronger, style of combat. Complete party wipe the first time, but fortunately they give you Save Points just before boss battles. Got him on the second go. We also uncovered some mystery about one of our characters…but learning more about that will have to wait for next week!

I wanted to describe the combat system this week. FFF is an old-school RPG. Almost everything is completely turn-based (I’ll talk about the one exception below). You move around on a dungeon map, then when you encounter enemies (and at least they’re not hidden) you move to an encounter map (which is just an empty space, there’s no terrain). Your party and the mobs take action in order according to their agility (and any modifiers).

When it’s a character’s turn to go, they first move around the map; how far they can move depends on their movement stat, and they can’t clip through each other or enemies. Early on movement is pretty rote but later when you have a bunch of characters and some mobs get AOE attacks you’ll want to start putting some thought into positioning. Basically there’ll be a circle around the character, the radius dependent on the Movement stat, and you can push them around in that as much as you want before confirming your move.

When movement is finished the character can attack using either weapon abilities or skills/spells (both of these draw from the same SP pool). Of course you have to be in range of the mob. Characters unlock various weapon abilities as they progress and you can set up “Combos” of these abilities. This basically means binding abilities to face buttons on the controller. I’m still puzzling out the benefits of combos, but one aspect is clear. Certain abilities will launch an enemy into the air, and certain abilities are designed to do bonus damage to launched enemies; so you want to chain these two types of ability. This is the one place the combat isn’t turn based. If you use an ability that launches an enemy, it’ll slowly sink back to the ground. You’ll want to hit it with a bonus attack before it lands, but even here it’s not exactly reflex-based…it takes a few seconds for the enemy to land so you have plenty of time.

If you don’t want to use basic melee abilities, you can use Skills or Spells. I don’t think there’s a practical difference between these two; they both use up a characters SP (what we’d call mana in the west). Skills are unique to a character so there’s that, while different characters might have the same Cure spell, for example. You open up a menu to cast skills and spells (or use items for that matter). Again, old school. One of my gripes is that some skills can target more than one enemy via a cone or wedge and lining these up just right can be kind of fiddly. You use the analog stick to do it and it would be great if you could use the D-pad to nudge your target area around.

Each character also has a special ability unique to him/her. Fang’s special is “Serious Face” where he does extra damage but uses SP with every attack. Harley’s is Analyze, which she uses to expose strengths and weaknesses of an enemy. Self-centered Tiara can cast Barrier, a shield around just herself (let everyone else fend for themselves!) and Galdo has…the name just went out of my head, but his ability does increased damage but has a lower chance to hit.

And finally characters have a “Tension Meter” that fills up as they dish out or take damage. When it gets high enough they can “Fairyize” (these terms kill me!) which lets them transform into something that looks like, well, a transformer, as imagined by a child. Along with the transformation you get a cheesy 80’s rock anthem theme song and a ridiculous animation that shows that character being impaled by their Fury before transforming. When you get tired of watching the animation, holding the R2 shoulder button will speed you through it (this works almost any time, making it easy to blast through fights against trash mobs). In Fairyized mode characters just seem to be more powerful. There’re also a few Skills that you can only activate in Fairyized mode. These tend to do good damage at some cost.

And that’s about it for combat, aside from something called Avalanche Attack that I’m still trying to figure out. So far I’ve had no need of it but I’ll revisit if and when I suss out how it works. Right now it just triggers from time to time and I’m not exactly sure why! It has something to do with a Guard Gauge that only started appearing late in tonight’s session after Harley upgraded her Analyze skill.

If you’re a gamer of a certain age this combat system will feel like a comfortable old pair of slippers. If you didn’t game your way through the turn-based era, you might find it all horribly slow and boring.

Here’s a couple of short videos showing combat against a group of low level foes, and against a single (slightly) more powerful foe.

Fairy Fencer Monday: There’s change in the wind

As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve decided to devote Monday evenings to playing Fairy Fencer F, Advent Dark Force on the PS4, a turn-based JRPG that doesn’t take itself very seriously, at least so far. (I’m about 13 hours in; says the main game takes 30 hours, which for me means probably 40+ because I’m slow.) BTW the original Fairy Fencer F is available on Steam (and PS3). The Advent Dark Force version, as I understand it, adds an ‘evil’ path to follow. I’m following the Goddess of Light path in this first playthrough which I think is the same game as the Steam version.

OK first some background:
The basic goal of the game is to collect furies. So what’s a Fury? A Fury is a powerful weapon that houses a fairy. They are wielded by fencers, skilled warriors who for some reason can wield these weapons. When a fencer chooses a fury he or she basically binds with the fairy inside.

In game terms each character has a fury, which means he/she has a fairy she is bound to. These fairies are basically NPCs that show up in cut scenes. As your party collects additional furies, the fairies inside them become available to equip on each character, and an equipped fairy will level up and get more powerful. OK that’s enough for the rest of the post to make sense I hope.

The Characters (so far):

The main, or at least first, character you meet is Fang, a young man who is a complete slacker. Through some process I’ve already forgotten, he winds up with a fury inhabited by Eryn. Eryn is a fairy who has lost all her memories and she hopes if she and Fang go in search of other furies then she might meet a fairy who can help restore her memory. Fang is completely uninterested in becoming a fencer (“It sounds like a real hassle.”) but Eryn tempts him with the promise of meat (and food in general). Off they go.

In typical JRPG fashion you start the game alone and quickly add members to your party. The second character you meet is Tiara, a pretentious know-it-all who wants to collect furies in order to release the Goddess of Light because she’s heard that whomever does this will be granted a wish. She (from her point of view) enlists the help of Fang and Eryn. Tiara’s fairy is Cui, a cute little cat-thing that only says “Cui” over and over because every JRPG has to have some kind of cute creature that can’t speak.

One of the more uncomfortable bits about the game is that every so often Fang will be really mean to Tiara and her reaction is to become attracted to him. Kind of a weird message there; that women are attracted to verbally abusive men. I hope at some point this turns around and Tiara punches Fang’s lights out.

Next we meet Harley. Harley is a “fairyologist” (the game is sprinkled with intentionally dumb terms like this) and she wants to find furies to study the fairies inside. She’s always trying to study Eryn which makes Eryn very uncomfortable, and her advances often seem sexual in nature. Harley’s fairy is Bahus, a kind of father-figure who spoils her. Harley is also something of a trope: the bombshell character who is also a complete slob. Her fairy is always scolding her for not bathing or changing her clothes. (At least I think that’s a trope. I can’t give specific examples but I feel like I seen this kind of character before.) Soon after we meet Harley she decides she is too warm and removes her clothes, giving the devs an excuse for a bit of fan-service. Not that she ever wears very much, at least above the waist.

Next we meet Galdo and his fairy Marissa. Galdo speaks with a Canadian accent if Canadians actually spoke like Bob and Doug McKenzie. Marissa is a rather maternal fairy who refers to Galdo as Galdie-kins. I’m still getting to know Galdo but he seems like he’s going to be the heart of the team.

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. There’s room for six characters on the combat field and an option to switch out characters, so I expect the cast to continue to grow.

Before tonight the whole game has been kind of a snark-fest (which I didn’t mind too much, I get a chuckle out of fictional characters being snarky to each other) but story-wise, Galdo really stepped up tonight. I think he’s started to wear off on the others and they’re starting to be a little bit nicer to each other. I’m finding myself pretty curious about what’s going to happen next.

The other thing that happened tonight is that gameplay wise, I hit a difficulty spike. I’ve been chewing through enemies pretty much on auto-pilot, just hitting the attack button over and over. I was doing that tonight when all of a sudden I noticed Tiara was KO’d. I didn’t even notice she was low on health. What followed was a frantic re-adjustment as I tried to get her rezzed while keeping the baddies at bay via spells and special skills. I hadn’t saved in quite a while so it was a bit of a panic!

I made it through that fight, healed everyone up then did the sneaky-sneak thing to try to get out of that dungeon without too many more fights (you can only save at Save Points while in the dungeon). Then I headed back to town to visit the shop to stock up on potions and the game’s equivalent of Phoenix Downs. Bought some new gear too. I went back and paid attention and made it through but had some really good, fun fights.

So now I’m looking forward to my next session. I’m interested to see if the group can rise above “Let’s just be asses to each other” and start to behave as a team, and I’m excited to see how hard the next dungeon is.

Next week I’ll talk a bit more about some of the actual game systems. So far I’m liking Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, but at the same time I’m glad I got it for $12 or so on-sale. It’s fun but it’s not game of the year material or anything.

Until then, here’s Galdo fighting in a bath towel: