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Fairy Tail Review – Best Anime JRPG Ever?

As many will know, Fairy Tail is based on the hugely popular manga and anime of the same name, and as such, I had to call upon a little assistance from my dear ol’ brother, who has actually watched the show, so I could get the perspective from someone who knew the story and characters, and someone who didn’t, me being the one who saw it all for the first time with fresh eyes.

That being said, Fairy Tail (Yeah, no subtitle)  suffers the same fate that a lot of anime games do that aren’t either Naruto or DragonBall Z, in that the Fairy Tail series actually had several games come out in Japan exclusively PRIOR to this game, games that told the story from the very beginning, with this one starting off right before a time-skip in the middle of the series, meaning for at newcomer like me, it was even harder to follow, had I not had my anime buff of a brother sitting beside me, and even then, him having to cram 250 chapters of plot and character relationships into my poor membrane, was a lot to take in, if not an outright impossibility.

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He did try to give me the broad strokes, but when he saw that the game started with the battle against Hades, followed by the time-skip I mentioned before, we both quickly agreed that the game, being the first Fairy Tail game to ever release in the west, should have at least featured some kind of introduction movie to get newcomers up to speed. You aren’t gonna know who any of these people are, or what has happened up till now, lest you have watched the anime beforehand. It would be like if the first Ultimate Ninja Storm game to come out in the west was the 2nd or 3rd. The game does allow you to read up on the story so far in a certain character’s house, but that honestly doesn’t get many brownie points from me.With that outta the way, it falls to me today to tell the lot of you if Fairy Tail is worth your time and money as a game in itself, if it makes its fans proud, or if it is just another quick licensed cash grab?

STORY

Like I said before, we start in media rez with our heroes Natsu, Lucy, Gray, Erza and their other friends, as they face off against the 3rd guild master Hades, who joined the dark side because he believed it had shown him the ultimate truth or something. They eventually beat him through the power of friendship, after which, in a last ditch effort to destroy them, he summons the all powerful dragon, Acnologia, to eliminate them along with the entire island, but before he can do that, the friends gather and use their magic to escape the attack by sealing themselves away thus skipping 7 years into the future, in a time where everyone has forgotten about them and their famous guild.

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fairy tail

So, our characters have to work their way not only up through the ranks to make their guild “Fairy Tail” great and renowned again, but they also have to work themselves into shape as well. Having played through the entire game’s story, and checking with my trusty advisor, I can confirm, to those of you curious, that the game covers the end of the Tenrou Island Arc, then touches on the X791 Arc, covers the Grand Magic Games Arc, mentions the Sun Village Arc, covers the Tartaros Arc, and ends with the Avatar Arc, though some details are skipped over or altered, likely due to budget constraints.

For the sake of newcomers though, and the length of this review, trust me we have a lot to cover, I won’t go into further plot details to avoid spoilers, so let’s move on!

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GAMEPLAY

As with many Shonen game adaptions, you’d think Fairy Tail with all its colorful heroes who all sport their own unique magic powers and battle skills, would be a full on arena fighting game like Ultimate Ninja Storm or Kill la Kill IF, but to my surprise this is actually a turn-based RPG. When the game starts for real you begin in the town of Magnolia, lifted straight from the anime, and then move around to various other areas that will be unlocked on the world map as you go along with the story, areas that although a bit small individually, are open for you to explore. Here you can collect items on the ground, which will be placed in the exact same location every time you return, fight monsters, and make your way to your current objective. Enemies, as has become the norm in RPGs these days, roam the landscape in plain sight and will approach you when near. They can be in several stage of awareness, with one exclamation mark meaning they’re aware, three meaning they are going to attack, and a question mark that they have lost sight of you. If you manage to get the preemptive on them by attacking them before they touch you, you are granted a speed advantage, and the battle can begin.

The order of attacks of course go by the fastest character to the slowest, and whenever it’s your turn, the character in question gets the choice between either attacking (with just their bare fists), using items, using a magic attack (consuming MP), or defending. Each assigned to one of the face buttons. Attacking, regardless of the character, is by far your weakest choice of offense, and will you most likely only use if say the enemy only has a sliver of health left that you don’t wanna waste MP on. Items is kinda self explanatory, here you can choose between an assortment of remedies to aid yourself in battle if you’re in a pinch that your characters can’t handle with just their moves like restoring health, recovering magic, or ailing status effects. Defending allows you to, well defend, spending a turn going on the defense, either defending yourself or, if there is a character other than yourself in need of protection, defend them. I never really used this as anything more than a turn-waster if I wanted another character to deliver the finishing blow, as I believe the best defense is a good offense, but never the less it is a cool mechanic and depending on your play style adds another layer to strategy.

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Special attacks is where the real fun begins though as you might have already guessed. You start off with only a few moves, of course lifted straight from the anime, like Natsu’s Fire Dragon Iron Fist, but as you level up you quickly unlock more, and I mean quickly. By level 16 I had already unlocked a good variety of cool and flashy moves that all had various effects and areas of attack, to deal with almost any situation. When you hit the special attack command you are immediately led into a sub menu where you’ve got your growing assortment of moves to choose from. Each one, aside from having a cool name to go with it, is accompanied by a grid that shows which tile of enemies it’s gonna hit and what effect, if any, it will have, and the colors, ranging from red to orange and yellow, indicates the power of the attack. With some attacks only hitting a single enemy, some hitting two in a horizontal row, some in a cross shape, some pushing the enemy back one space to allow for one of your other characters to land a good hit on them etc, and if an attack covers a large area it will lose power the further the attack spreads. In that way, you really gotta take your whole team and their move sets into consideration, not only being conscious of whether your team is equipped for the job regarding strengths and weaknesses, but you also gotta play as a team, trying to make sure that whatever you do as one character will be to the benefit of the next. In this sub menu, a mark will also indicate whether an enemy is weak to- neutral- or resistant to the highlighted attack.

Later in Fairy Tail, you will be introduced to character relationships. As you progress and unlock more friends to your team, you are granted the freedom to, by the push of a button, choose between any of the characters currently on your team as your avatar, and then as that avatar, you will sometimes be able to interact and grow your relationship with certain other characters who have a node over their heads. You can do this up to three times between all characters, meaning there are a lot of combinations, and the stronger a certain character’s relationship with another, the better they will perform together in battle. Going back to what I said about benefitting each other, when you raise your bond with the other characters, these will be able to do chain combos with you and even do follow up attacks.

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About halfway into chapter 2, yes the story is divided into chapters with 9 total, and further into episodes within those chapters, your characters get the ability to, upon filling a dedicated meter underneath their icon, go into an awakened state that enhances their attacks for a few turns, and in some cases, like Natsu, completely alter their appearance. The awakening meter is for more than just awakening though, as with other mechanics I already talked about where you help your teammates, consuming parts of the meter will allow you to perform the follow up attacks I mentioned before where, during let’s say Lucy’s attack, a prompt may appear for Natsu and Gray where pushing their respective button will make either of them attack after her, which doesn’t waste their own turn. If your awakening meter is full you will also be able to counter with it in fx a boss fight, rendering you immune to the attack, but in return your awakening state will be shortened.

During battle you will undoubtedly notice the big circular meter in the bottom right corner. This, when filled up, is where your chain combos come into play. By pushing R you will be given a series of options to either continue the combo with the next character, or end the combo prematurely with a finisher that will cover the entire area. This maneuver is great for when you are in a pinch against a group of strong opponents, and if the right prompt appears an Extreme Magic attack will even occur in place of your regular finisher which is a spectacle to behold.

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Like all other techniques in the game you can of course unlock a variety of these by fx upgrading your guild. A cool thing the latter also contributes to, is that sometimes you will find destructible blockades in the environment. If you do battle near them and do a certain overall amount of damage throughout the encounter, you may end up destroying it, revealing a new path in the area, opening it up for further exploration. Later in the game, around chapter 5, Unison Raids or “combination attacks” will also be introduced, where certain characters, if both are awakened at the same time, can do one mega powered super attack together! Fans will recognize some of these from the show, while others are new to this game.

Speaking of teamwork and combos, not only did I get slight Chrono Trigger vibes from the way leveling up can unlock not only all new techniques, but stronger variations of old ones as well, but Fairy Tail being developed by Gust, who also stood behind my guilty pleasure Nights of Azure 2, the whole friendship mechanic also seemed awfully familiar while not exactly the same. In that game, raising your friendship with a certain character would make your combo attack with them more powerful, where in this game it grants various benefits like reducing magic consumption during a chain attack, or making a follow up attack stronger. I should also mention, that since magic is a big part of the game, you will regain a bit after each successful fight, making sure you don’t run out too quickly.

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Oh… and something worth noting, even fallen party members receive experience points from a battle. I only learned that just before finishing this review, since I never got a game over once. Not to say the game is overall too easy, hell no, monsters late game can whoop your arse if you ain’t careful, but I was over-leveled almost throughout the whole game since I’m the type who kills everything in my path and does every single side-quest before moving on with the story.

While on the surface Fairy Tail does appear your standard run off the mill rpg with repetitive battles, which you can thankfully set on auto which was especially helpful when grinding or taking on missions, the further I got into the game and thought I had seen everything and gotten a grasp of the game’s overall mechanics, something new was thrown at me. Either new attacks or new techniques altogether that I couldn’t wait to explore and develop further!

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Like I just said missions are part of the game as well, and as I opened with, the gist of the story is that Fairy Tail needs to climb back up through the ranks. This is done via story of course, but also by taking on jobs at the request board, granting various rewards like money – sorry jewels – and materials that you can either sell or use for synthesis to create so-called Lacrima to raise your stats and aid you in battle while equipped. Some missions will just be your generic monster slaying shabang, while others are character specific mini quests.

A successful job will not only earn you mullah, materials, and let you climb the ranks, but will also earn you guild credit, that you can use to rank-up your party members. Each can climb up 10 ranks in total with 4 and above being locked behind story progression and specific character events, that you can sometimes engage in when a star appears above a characters head, once again, to learn more about that character and deepen your bond with them. Using points to rank them up will then grant them extra passive benefits in battle like greater resistance to certain attacks or elements, or stuff like buffing their attack with x% when you only have x% health left, and not only can you rank up your teammates individually, but you can also upgrade the guild as well.

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I already told you that clearing missions in Fairy Tail will allow your guild to climb the ranks, but fulfilling specific conditions like taking on a certain amount of jobs or raising your bond with x-amount of characters, will also affect your rank and allow you to take on higher requests. Adding to this, you can upgrade and remodel the facilities within the guild itself, and each upgrade, besides letting you buy or synchronize better items, will also have a passive effect on your team as a whole, like increasing the amount of EXP members not currently in the party receive per battle. You start out with only three facilities, but also here more will later become available that will grant your team even more passive benefits, like the bar where consumption of various liquids will grant you temporary stat buffs.

One could say there is way too much to keep track of here, and way too many ways to enhance and micro manage your team and the guild as a whole, but there is no rush, and personally I didn’t find it all too overwhelming, you just need to take a moment to let it all sink in. I also did initially find the camera way too heavy, but a quick detour to the settings option fixed that.

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The eShop store page advertises that the game features 16 playable characters, and for a game so late into the show’s life, I at first thought that was a joke. But thinking about it, for an RPG where you spend so much time with each individual character, 16 is just enough I find. Enough that you don’t get overwhelmed, and that unlocking new characters through the story happens just rare enough that you get excited and feel rewarded.

AUDIO

Fairy Tail opens up with the sweet upbeat tunes of Celtic rock, with my brother sitting next to me immediately commenting that while it wasn’t the series main theme, it was that kind of music the series is known for overall, and going into the game that notion was only further strengthened. Each area has its own set of tunes that fit the environment and aesthetics perfectly, like the calm and soothing sounds of the Boundary Forest, the more adventurous yet subdued tunes of the Great Plains, the Celtic beats of the home town Magnolia, or the festive tones of Crocus the Blooming Capital.

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In an RPG where a lot of your time, when you are not watching characters talking, is gonna be spent fighting, the main battle theme is in my opinion one of the absolute most important things to get right. It mustn’t get repetitive or boring too quickly, and I can safely say that is not the case here, neither for regular nor boss fights. The heavy tunes of rock quickly got me pumped for battle upon every encounter, with the victory theme, which is also an essential part of the soundtrack for an rpg, being the cherry on top, despite being just a 5 second loop. Do you have a favorite battle theme or victory theme? Let me know in the comments!

Speaking of characters speaking *sigh*, since this isn’t Naruto or DragonBall, Gust apparently couldn’t afford, or didn’t see the need, to include English voice over – it is all in Japanese. Listen, I know many of you are purists who want to hear the show in its native language and more power to you, but I would at the very least have liked the choice, and seeing how the show does have an official English dub, I simply don’t get why it is omitted from the majority of anime games released overseas. I mean even Studio TRIGGER had the decency to include an English voice track in the Kill la Kill game I also reviewed, but it is sadly more an exception rather than a rule.

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That aside, the music was great, fantastic even, in all the right places, and the crunchy sound effects when landing hits only complemented it.

See Also
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Visuals & Performance

fairy tail

As I have mentioned a couple times already, this is a Gust game, aka the creators of the Atelier series, and it shows. While the game isn’t outright hideous to look at, it is clear that the character models are where they put most of their allowance, with surrounding environments like trees, leaves, rocks and some buildings, being very low poly on closer inspection, and it doesn’t feel like an artistic choice but rather a limitation. If you’re a fan of the Atelier series you might not mind this low budget artstyle, which can admittedly be pretty and charming in certain places, but was it not for the, in contrast, detailed models, engaging battle system, the equally impressive and mouthwatering magic attacks lifted from the source material, and the beautiful but rare CG cutscenes, I might not have been so kind overall. It doesn’t help the game’s case that the same 4 or 5 npc’s are reused more times than my old tennis socks, and most of them are just… standing there.

This is especially blatant when a certain npc, who was rude to Lucy during one of my side quests, was distinctively called “Rude Man” whenever I encountered his model, despite it clearly being a different guy, and not only that, but since Gust mostly only had the budget to model the playable characters, non-playable characters are often only represented by a mugshot while being conveniently kept offscreen, sometimes not even being voiced, which I thought was really cheap. I am normally a fan of doing the best you can with a limited budget, but this just feels like cutting corners.

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Despite the low graphical fidelity of the environments themselves in Fairy Tail, they are admittedly varied with everything from deep forests to towns, beaches, jungles, and snowy mountains. Your attacks are many and varied and I loved the confident stance a character takes when they are awaiting orders, especially the detail that they smirk if the highlighted attack is strong against the opponent. The game itself ran smoothly as well with few and very brief load times that you can even interact with to pass time like in the Budokai games of old. How many letters can you make Happy knock away?

Adding to the characters’ personalities, their portraits will sometimes get different emotes whenever they engage in conversation, which I thought was a really nice touch and their models are full of emotion as well. In general, while the graphics overall may not be top notch, the game certainly oozes personality, both visually and in terms of dialogue, like when the characters joke around or make pop culture references.

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Also worth noting, all of the gameplay you see here was captured with the Switch in docked mode, but I have tested it in handheld mode where it ran smoothly as well, only stuttering if I hit the record button during a busy cutscene.

Value

This boy is a high rider, going for an astounding full price of £54.99. Though I am hardly surprised as this is normal for a full fledged AAA licensed game, and an anime game at that, I do feel it is a bit steep with the corners skipped in presentation. It is a lengthy game though clocking in at more than 50 hours including story and side-quests, with a fun and immersive battle system and a story where you really grow to care for the characters whether you knew them from the beginning or just got to know them, not to forget about the great soundtrack. This still ain’t no Ultimate Ninja Storm, but to its credit Fairy Tail at least sports a proper story mode and a full fledged 3D world for you to interact with and roam about, which I loved and is more than I can say for My Hero One’s Justice 1 and 2, but I would still put it at least £10 lower.

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VERDICT

While not the best in the genre, neither of RPGs nor anime licensed games, for a first foray on western shores, it certainly could have done a lot worse. Nah that ain’t fair, it deserves more praise than that. I actually had a lot of fun in the 50+ hours I played, and while especially the environmental presentation looked like something of a bygone era, the game still sported the artstyle and visual identity of the show it is based on, and overall felt like a love letter to fans of the show where the developers had done the best they could with the budget given, while a newcomer like me, with next to zero knowledge of the source material, could still have a fun time. Had I bought it if I knew the game started in the middle of the series though? Nah, I might have held off for a price drop or till I had watched up to that point in the anime. That said, playing the game, and having my advisor by my side, did make me a fan of the series, even if I was dropped right in the middle of things.


Fairy Tail Review provided by SwitchWatch.co.uk
Review also available on OpenCritic
Developer: Gust Games
Publisher: KOEI TECMO
Release Date: July 31, 2020
Price: $69.99, £54.99, €69.99
Game Size: 6.1 GB

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  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Audio - 8/10
    8/10
  • Visuals & Performance - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 8/10
    8/10

Summary

Fairy Tail genuinely fits on the positive scale of the spectrum, in a genre that is all too saturated with cheap cash grabs that only sell because of a name, and despite its glaring shortcomings and the parts of the story it glances over, I was still very satisfied with the sheer amount of stuff to do, both during the game and post-game.

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Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Good anime adaptation
  • Really good RPG
  • Lots of characters

Cons

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  • Disappointing visuals at times
  • Lack of English dub
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