I think I'll always have a soft spot for the original Fairy Fencer F in my heart. Besides the fact that the title was the first game that I reviewed for TechRaptor back in September of 2014, I could tell that the developers at Compile Heart really tried to make a great game when they released the original for PS3. However, much like I wrote back then, the game barely managed to avoid greatness. It did a lot of things right, but it ended up collapsing under its own weight, and what I would assume was a lack of budget.
That brings us to today's review - Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force. Before we continue, I highly recommend reading the review linked above. For the sake of going over the new content and additions to the game, I'm not going to reiterate features that are the same between the original PS3 release and this remaster/remake.
Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, referred to as Advent Dark Force or ADF for the rest of the review, is an expanded re-release of Fairy Fencer F for PlayStation 4. Besides featuring all of the content from the original PlayStation 3 release of Fairy Fencer F, Advent Dark Force adds two new story routes that take the latter two-thirds of the story in two massively different directions. Other new content includes a few new playable characters, a rebalanced battle system and difficulty curve to reflect the new ability to control up to six characters at once in combat (up from three from the original release), and more.
Although the balance changes are worth going over - they help make the game's difficulty harder, requiring players to learn how to play the game with some more dexterity - it goes without saying that the new story routes are the star of the show. My largest complaint with the original PS3 release of Fairy Fencer F was that the game expected you to replay it many times to continue reaching new heights in Shukesoo's Tower, in turn driving home just how repetitive the game really is at its core. The new story content helps alleviate this issue to a certain extent - not only is the story itself drastically different, but new dungeons present in the Vile God and Evil Goddess routes are probably better than any dungeons on offer in the original title.
One of my complaints with Fairy Fencer F's original dungeons were how each one of them felt more or less the same. Many of them shared close similarities, and every dungeon was small and linear as far as mechanics go. Advent Dark Force ended up reusing its new dungeon concepts as well, but it puts special effort into making its new ones feel unique. Each floor is larger, breakable walls conceal hidden passageways, and there are now some small puzzles regarding finding keys or switches to progress.
On the other hand, the Dasuhiro Plains seem to take inspiration from Trails of Cold Steel's Nord Highlands, with a single wide-open area that emphasizes the PS4's ability to render a much larger and more detailed landscape. Battles that take place in this area have a much more zoomed out camera, and some of the enemies you face here are humongous compared to your party, conveying a sheer sense of scale. The player's dash is replaced with hoverboard-esque flying to make traversing the vast area much easier.
Fairy Fencer F already surprised me with surprisingly good character development back in 2014, but back then it felt limited to a few choice characters. With Advent Dark Force, previously neglected characters find their times to shine. Nearly every character - Appolonius, Sherman, Marianna, Pippin, Harley, even Lola - manage to receive some story scenes that go over each character's backstory in one or both of the games' new routes. Seeing just how different the characters could've ended up with a slight change in events leading up to and following the story's one major event was simply fantastic, and the developers executed it beautifully.
The way that these different story paths are accessed may be somewhat confusing, but it ends up fixing another major issue with the original PS3 release. For all the effort that the title made to emphasize the Godly Revival and its importance, ultimately any actions that you took during it had no effect on the story. On the flipside, Advent Dark Force's new story content is directly tied to this system - pulling enough of the Vile God's Furies will lock you onto his story path. Pulling most of your furies from the Goddess and not pulling enough from either will lock you on the original "Goddess" storyline. Pulling most of the Furies from both deities and completing both other story routes will unlock the pathway to the Evil Goddess storyline, that seems to lead directly into an eventual sequel.
The way that both these new stories unlock feels organic, like the Godly Revival system was designed with multiple story paths in mind from the get-go. In retrospect, the feature seemed devoid of any purpose in the original release, whereas now the feature is central to how the story evolves. I'd even go as far to say it feels like these new story elements were always meant to be a part of the game, though whatever issues prevented the content from being implemented in the original PS3 release.
There are many other things I could go over when talking about Advent Dark Force, but the main idea stays the same. Advent Dark Force looks better, runs better, plays better, and is the way that Fairy Fencer F was meant to be played. It's larger in both content and scale, and with the new branching storyline, it manages to set itself apart from other RPGs. When I first reviewed Fairy Fencer F, I said that it narrowly avoided greatness - with Advent Dark Force, Compile Heart hits the mark. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is absolutely worth your time. If you've already played Fairy Fencer F do yourself a favor and pick this up. If you haven't, Advent Dark Force is the perfect place to start.