Starting small, but with grand designs

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Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force
Nintendo Switch

FAIRY FENCER F was released in 2013 to mixed reviews. As a product of Compile Heart, it bore the weight of unrealistic expectations stemming from its association with the developer’s immensely popular Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise. And while it banked on a promising premise to propel its gameplay, its presentation on the Sony PlayStation 3 left much to be desired. It certainly wasn’t helped by its appearance on a platform about to reach the end of a long life cycle. More importantly, it suffered from uneven pace and character development, leading even the most avid Japanese role-playing game followers to rue its inability to meet its potential.

Under the circumstances, Compile Heart was compelled by necessity to act accordingly. Bent on setting things right and propelled by the arrival of the PlayStation 4, it took into consideration all the criticisms heaped upon Fairy Fencer F to come up with an improved — make that vastly improved — iteration. Indeed, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force bucked its quick turnaround window to boast of more content and better presentation. The reception, needless to say, was positive, prompting its jump to the personal computer in 2017 and, early this year, to the Nintendo Switch.

Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force starts small, but subsequently fosters grand designs. It focuses on Fang, a loafer whose main interests are eating and sleeping, and whose quest for a good meal triggers an adventure slated to change the world. Newly arrived at Zelwinds City, he is spurred to action by the prospect of having his wish granted should he succeed in pulling a sword out from the ground. Instead of free food, however, his King Arthur moment makes him a de facto fencer thrust in the middle of a battle between good and evil. With Eryn, a fairy who hitherto inhabited the fury he freed, by his side, he embarks on a journey to collect an aggregate hundred of the special weapons and, in the process, awaken the goddess who holds the key to peace.

Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force sports an ambitious narrative, but is creditably able to keep the proceedings light as well. Protagonists are varied and richly layered, with character development aided by interactions that are laced with humor, if with the capacity to turn serious whenever appropriate. As is typical of Compile Heart creations, it gives way to some fan service and naughty dialogue, but with the view of keeping gamers engaged, and not to the point of distraction. Parenthetically, it winds up underscoring the importance of commitment and purpose to and in life without any hint of preachiness.

As with any other JRPG title, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force’s merits ultimately hang on its combat system. And, in this regard, it manages to take advantage of its Hyperdimension Neptunia roots to highlight turn-based mechanics with refreshing freedom of movement sprinkled in. This results in brisk interactions that dovetail with the easy-to-navigate interface. Unique to the game is the “Fairize” option, which grant fencers the capacity to upgrade themselves once the proper gauge is filled; the opportunity to deal much heavier damage and avail of special moves can prove particularly beneficial in boss encounters. As an aside, difficulty levels can be adjusted at any time, a useful recourse in avoiding frustration.

Visually, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force offers no stylistic changes from versions in other platforms. It looks vibrant on the Switch even as it remains unable to approximate the depth and sharpness of colors on the PS4. On the minus side, graphical slowdowns are evident on occasion, especially in portable mode. Load times are likewise longer by comparison, but not frustratingly so. Meanwhile, the soundtrack benefits from the contributions of Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu, as well as from the excellent English voice acting. That said, the Japanese audio works best, augmented by on-point text translations.

In the final analysis, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force manages to fulfill its objective. It’s superior to Fairy Fencer F in every way and no more complete than on the Switch; all of its downloadable content, separated from the core offering on other platforms, is available from the outset, and its brisk pace is perfect for on-the-go appreciation. It’s not perfect by any means; it suffers from noticeable frame drops, and its dungeon layouts lack variety. Then again, it provides not inconsiderable replay value; it branches out into three distinct storylines depending on gamers’ choices, with each coughing up multiple endings. At $39.99, it gives great bang for the buck and guarantees some 40-odd hours of engrossing play.

• Outstanding character roster and development
• Three distinct storylines with multiple endings
• Excellent voice acting and localization
• Engaging combat system
• Difficulty settings adjustable at any time

• Evident frame drops, especially when the Switch is undocked
• Lack of variety of dungeon layouts
• Longer load times compared to PS4 and PC versions

RATING: 8/10

Riot: Civil Unrest (Nintendo Switch) — Inspired by personal experience demonstrating against the construction of a train line connecting France and Italy, Valve editor Leonard Menchiari launched in 2013 an Indiegogo endeavor seen to propel the development of a game aimed at entertaining as well as educating. His intent was clear: Show both perspectives of conflicts by allowing gamers to side with either policemen or with dissenters. And depending on the initial choice, the interface can be either strategic or tactical in nature and experience.

To this end, Riot: Civil Unrest succeeds, and how. It features surprisingly deep gameplay featuring events that approximate real-world dissensions; four campaigns spread across Greece, Spain, Egypt, and, needless to say, Italy (along with some 30-odd single-level scenarios in such notables as France, Venezuela, Germany, and Argentina) are on tap.

There’s a learning curve, but the standardization of the interface across varied and diverse circumstances enables gamers to keep up with the frenetic pace. For all the initial planning, quick decisions are valued, and every action has consequences. Even public perception is taken into account in attaining long-term success. It’s an acquired taste all told, but, with the right crowd, one of ingredients mixed to last. (7/10)

Utopia 9 — A Volatile Vacation (Switch) — Mana Spark publisher QubicGames is back, this time with a twin-stick-shooter offering that showcases its versatility and knack for injecting humor in frenetic gaming. The premise is simple enough: Intent on taking a break from humdrum work, you get hooked by a red-eye television advertisement and arrange a stay at a tourist resort on another planet that promises you a heavenly time. Once there, though, you’re instead treated to a continual dose of hell that compels you to file a formal complaint with the travel agency you booked your trip with.

And this is where Utopia 9 — A Volatile Vacation offers up its quirky version of fun in roguelike fashion. Even as you begin with just your trusty suitcase as your melee weapon, you get to build your arsenal over time. Level progression is straightforward, with combat occurring largely in open space. Optional entry into structures can yield useful items, but opens you up to greater risk. Because controls can be forgiving, death should be expected. Fortunately, the game tries to balance the challenges with its nemesis system, which allows you to regain the weapons hoard you accumulated by killing the exact same enemy that previously did you in. Still, the gameplay leans toward the difficult, and not always for the right reasons. The top-down look helps, and the soundtrack keeps the tone light. (7/10)

Piczle Colors (Switch) — If you love Nonograms, look no further. An aggregate 300 puzzles sporting up to 15×10 dimensions await you as you try to correct your mistake and bring back color to the world. As with other games in the Picross genre, you use the numbers on the side of a given grid as clues to determine which blocks need to be left blank and which need to be shaded. There are twists, though: You are likewise required to know what colors to use in the process, and in what order they are applied.

You’re right to think you have your work cut out for you with Piczle Colors. In a nutshell: It’s hard. Hints are available, but if you’re a completionist, the only way you get to unlock all the collectibles is to stay away from in-game help. Under the circumstances, the bright visuals and catchy music tracks are decided pluses. Ditto with the interface, which makes full use of touchscreen functions. On the whole, though, the obstacles can lead to frustration and hinder your enjoyment of an otherwise-competent compilation of picture logic puzzles. (7/10)