Overview – developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart and Sting, with publishing handled by Idea Factory International, Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is the latest entry in the fantasy JRPG series. Join the duo of Fang and Eryn, as they embark on a journey to collect relics known as Furies, battling dangerous threats along the way. This title is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation systems and Steam (out May 23rd), with links to the game at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Idea Factory International for providing the copy of Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting off with the story (from the official website). I will be referring to the game as Refrain Chord during the review, while also focusing on covering the core systems to prevent spoiling any surprises this game has.
Story – long ago, the people were given knowledge by the Goddess, and civilization flourished. They built towers stretching toward the heavens, and a weapon so powerful they could pierce the gods themselves. However, that civilization was decimated shortly after a violent conflict between the Goddess and the Vile God. Ages have passed since then.
This story begins with a young man named Fang who has become a Fencer, a swordsman who has the ability to wield a special weapon imbued with a Fairy known as a Fury. Along with his companions, Fang is on a Journey to find the Furies and resurrect the Goddess. One day, he encounters a woman who can save people with her song, as well as one who can brainwash people with hers.
Along with the mysterious power of the women who call themselves Muses, Fang’s destiny begins to unfold.
Gameplay – Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord takes the established characters, setting and world, but puts them in a new strategy RPG system. This time, players will take part in grid based battles in a variety of locations, with familiar mechanics being used in a new way. In this title, the majority of the gameplay takes place split between visual novel style character interactions and stage battles. Between the battles, the narrative plays out in the through chaptered visual novel story segments.
These segments are divided into two types, main and side quests which are shown via a red or yellow marker in the game menus. The optional story segments give the player additional information about the games world, giving extra character depth to those that the player will encounter during the game. These VN segments can also provide bonus missions for players to play. These segments have many twists and turns as the player explores the world of Refrain Chord.
The main quests make up the core of the gameplay experience, with the player working their way through the different battle stages. These stages will increase as the player progresses, introducing new areas and enemies to fight in each chapter of the story. The stages that players can select appear in the world map, with each of the unlocked areas available for players to battle on. There are also extra battles that can occur in each stage for players to earn extra bonuses.
When the player selects a stage to battle in, a story scene will play out if they are tied to a quest. Then the win/loss condition is provided and the battle prep screen appears, where players are able to prepare their party, scope out the enemies and ensure they are ready for the battle ahead. The units in the party can have their equipment, skills and other aspects changed, giving the player more tactical options during battle stages.
While the player sets up their party for a battle in or out of battle, they can equip weapons, armor and more to provide a boost in combat. The player is also able to equip a Sub-Fairy where available, increasing the power that character units have, as well as providing access to skills depending on the characters that they are equipped to. Learning how to synergise the fairies and equipment of a character can provide an edge in battles.
The members of the party can be freely customized, but there are some units that are mandatory for use, like the Muse Fleur, who is an integral part of the game when she joins the player. Once the battle stage starts, the turn order will be determined based on several hidden factors and the action begins. In battle, players have access to a variety of options that can be used in combat. Here is a breakdown of the actions players can use during their turn;
- Movement – the player can move the active unit around the field. The total movement distance is determined based on the movement stat of that specific unit, which can also be affected by the terrain and position of other units. The player can make one movement action during their turn, before or after using a skill.
- Attack – the player can use a regular attack, dealing damage to the enemy without using SP. The attacks that units can perform will vary based on their weapon, with different power, range and reach depending on the weapon that is equipped by that unit.
- Skills – each unit can use a variety of skills that are separated into four different categories, each with their own unique characteristics based upon the character themselves. The four types of skill are Physical, Magical, Trap and Special, with each skill requiring SP to be used.
- Item – character units can use items in battle. The items can vary depending on the quality of them and the number of items that can be used per battle is limited.
- Wait – this will end the turn without making any additional actions, when a turn ends, the player can choose a direction to face, this is important as damage against both enemies and allies will change if they are hit from behind or the side.
- Fairize – when a Fencer unit fills up their Fairize meter they can activate a special skill, which will transform them into a powered up form for a limited time. This special mode can also increase the players base stats, provide special attacks and more for that player unit.
- The Muse’s Song – this special skill is unique to the Muse characters, called a Fairy Aria. When this is activated, an area of effect appears on the map surrounding the Muse. The units within the range of the song will gain extra effects depending on the song that is used, increasing based on different factors in combat.
- Avalanche – this is a very special attack that can be used when the Avalanche meter has been filled up by units making actions. When the meter is full, unleash a massive attack that will damage all enemies within ranched, with an enhanced version called a Harmonic Avalanche if activated with the Fairy Aria.
Throughout a battle, the player units will gain EXP points and FP points for every attack and skill that they use. When enough experience points have been earned, the unit will level up, increasing their stats and making them more powerful. The amount of EXP earned is dependent on the level of the unit that the action is made against, with the stronger the target the higher the reward. The EXP and FP will carry over if the player is defeated in battle and chooses to retry.
When a battle is completed, the player will be given rewards based on their performance, with the character that did the best earning a special bonus. There are also items, crafting materials (discussed further below) and more that can be rewarded when victory in a battle is earned depending on the quest that is being taken on. Players can earn a lot of rewards if they choose to take the time to grind out stages in free battle after clearing, which can speed up their growth.
The FP (called Fairy Points) that are earned in battle can be used to power up the Fairies that are paired with the main Fencer unit. By spending FP, the player can unlock new skills for a Fairy unit to pass onto their Fencer, increasing their power and overall level to increase their power while in battle. Increasing the level of a Fairy/Sub-Fairy can provide additional benefits during the course of the game, so it is important to make effective use of FP points.
Outside of the quest battles and story segments, the player can take part in other activities. The player can take part in Location Shaping, where they can hunt for treasures by using their Furies into locations on the world map, providing rewards if successful. These rewards can be increased based on the element that they use, with the potential for chains to generate more rewards from this system and even unlock hidden battle stages.
The player is also able to use various features in their home town, using different facilities that become available during the course of the game. Here is a breakdown of the different things that players can do while they are in the town;
- The Pub – the player can go to the pub, where players can take on a variety of order quests, which are special missions that can provide special bonuses and increase the quest meter with each successful mission.
- The Fountain – this is where the player can interact with side characters, adding a little comedy with humorous interactions, as well as gaining access to special side quests from time to time.
- The Inn – while at the Inn, the player is able to take part in special interactions with the various characters, playing out through special VN segments that can have different effects and possibly uncover some special things about the characters in the party.
- The Shop – the player can visit Tomoe’s shop and purchase items, equipment and more from her using the gold earned from battles, as well as selling items that the player doesn’t need. This is where players can also use materials to craft different items from recipies, which can be collected from missions and location shaping.
There is so much more that can be discussed and this only scratches the surface by covering the core gameplay, as this has a lot of complexity when it comes to the deeper game mechanics. So with the core of the game covered (so we don’t give spoilers), it’s time to cover the different elements of this release, starting with the controls.
Controls – as a Strategy RPG, the controls can appear confusing during play and navigation, however, the on screen display throughout has handy control icons to help players. This can be very useful when first starting to play the game as a learning tool, or for those who may take a while between sessions. The controls themselves work very well and are laid out in a comfortable manner for the most part, but some navigation can be a little sloppy at times when there is a lot on screen.
Difficulty – there is a fair balance to the gameplay in terms of challenge, with three selectable difficulty options for players to choose from. The three difficulty options offer something for all players, with easy for those who want to enjoy the story, normal for a balanced overall experience and hard for those who want a punishing challenge. There aren’t any severe difficulty spikes, meaning everyone can enjoy the game no matter their skill level.
Presentation – Refrain Chord has the distinct look that Idea Factory and Compile Heart are known for, with gorgeous artwork for characters and backgrounds throughout. The in game visuals are good for the Nintendo Switch hardware, with some good 3D visuals for the battle stages and animations. However, there are some minor issues with slowdown when there is a lot going on, especially during moments where there are a lot of visual effects on screen at once.
The sound for this title is of the usual high quality that titles from the team at ZIZZ STUDIO have, with excellent compositions that cover a wide range of musical genres. This is most present during the VN segments, where the music is perfectly tailored to the scene that is unfolding. The dialogue audio is entirely in Japanese, with voice over that is performed by a talented cast of actors, as well as a wide range of vocalists used for the different Fairy Aria songs that Muses employ.
Final Thoughts – I very much enjoyed my time with this game, due to being a fan of the other titles that I have played from Idea Factory and Compile Heart, I went into this with some expectations. These expectations were exceeded, not only in the way that the story pulled me in and kept me engaged, but the way that they made the Strategy RPG systems feel unique. This is most prevalent with the implementation of musical spells that the Muses use.
The whole package for me is another homerun for all involved, with the entire experience being enjoyable throughout the entire time playing the game. I have no issue with recommending this game to everyone who is either a fan of the developers or the genre. There are a few minor hiccups when it comes to performance, but given the limitations of the Nintendo Switch hardware this is not unexpected. However, these minor issues don’t interfere with the overall experience.
In the end, I give Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord a final score of 4.5/5. This is an excellent Strategy RPG with the importance of music/singing helping to make it feel unique, which combines well with the engaging story, characters and battle systems to create a cohesive experience. If you want to check this title out for yourself, a link to each version of the game will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Steam version (HERE)