[PlayStation 4] Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord Review
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is a strategy RPG journey on PS4 from Idea Factory International, Compile Heart, and STING. Are you ready? Here’s our Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord review!
I’m a simple guy, okay? If I see a game is a strategy RPG, then I am certainly in for the ride. Needless to say, this cavalier attitude has led me down some questionable avenues in my time as a videogame player. So when Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord landed at my doorstep, I had mixed feelings. It’s an SRPG right down to its core, so I was intrigued. But it’s an SRPG from Compile Hearts and Ideal Factory International, so I was a bit hesitant. Compile Heart and Idea Factory are famously known for the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise. Whilst the series has been a long-running journey, it has never broken into the mainstream and has had its ups and downs, review score-wise
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord, whilst not directly linked to the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, still follows the same formula. That being cute, buxom, anime mascot-type folks are out to save the world, all the while getting into all sorts of hijinks along the way. On the surface, it seems highly inoffensive, but once you have seen one overly long cutscene presented in the style of still character art, yet with expert jiggle physics, you’ve seen them all.
Okay, let’s start from the beginning. Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is a sequel to Fairy Fencer F, an RPG released way back in 2014 on the PlayStation. That game was then rereleased as Fairy Fencer F: Dark Force in 2016 on the PlayStation 4 with new story threads and improved visuals and gameplay. Now we move over to 2023, where Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord releases with a completely different combat system, though not too dissimilar to Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart for the PlayStation Vita. The new combat system is by far the best part of this game.
In Refrain Chord, you play as Fang, a Fencer, and his Fairy Eryn as they travel across the world searching for Furies, fabled weapons where upon collecting enough/all of them, the possessor is able to revive an all-powerful goddess. Needless to say, the stakes are high, as is typical for RPGs, but FFF is a series that does not take itself seriously, and newcomers may be confused/disappointed to see this more in line with the beach episode of an anime you are not too familiar with. In summary, FFF: RC’s cut scenes usually devolve into featuring the same topics: food, sleeping, or shopping. Another disappointment for returning fans will be the lack of English voice acting.
Whilst the Japanese voice acting works sounds great, the amount of reading involved here can ultimately drag on, especially when you consider the endless amount of side-quests and side conversations with your never-ending number of fellow Fencers, Fairies, and townsfolks – though the latter seem to add literally nothing to your experience – you will be forgiven if you choose to take advantage of the fast-forward option for cut scenes that the game offers or even skip out on events altogether. With that said, the presentation in terms of artwork for the characters is good, though nothing will live long in the memory, not even Harley’s artwork. The usage of stills, whilst a sound cost-effective measure does, leaves the scenic aspect of the world to be thoroughly forgettable. The gameplay, however, is where the game picks up.
Unlike its predecessor, Refrain Chord is not a turn-based RPG. What does that mean? Well, unlike the freer moving turn-based style of the previous games, this one sticks to the SRPG formula of moving your teammates like pieces on a chess board and using their attacks and abilities to defeat opponents. Whilst it won’t win any awards for redefining the genre, Refrain Chord does go quite a way to respect it. The maps are quite vast and varied and even offer some verticality. However, for the most part, it never truly comes into play, as most of your abilities devastate the opponent before they can truly build up any momentum. The opponents never seem to be in a hurry to hurt you, so it is mostly down to you to increase the stakes in fights. It should be noted I played on normal difficulty, but during my playtime, at no point did I feel troubled in the fights, of which there are many.
Though, with that being said, the fights do offer something interesting. In the world of Refrain Chord, Fencers are tied to their Fairies and can meld together to grant the Fencer abilities that you can learn and use in combat. In addition to your team’s primary fairies, you also gain additional Fairies known as Sub-Fairies. These ones each have their own abilities to learn and can be assigned to the Fencers and exchanged anytime. The Sub-Faries are thrown at you in spades, so you should not be afraid to experiment with your team lineup. Whilst all that is going on, Refrain Chord has a trick that is very unique to the game. Early one, you join forces with Fleur, who, as a Muse, has the ability to influence others with her voice through singing. As the story progresses, you also meet Glace, a villainous counterpart to Fleur. Make a note of Glace because you will see her in just about every single fight you get into, almost to the point of it being tedious, but I digress.
During combat, upon completing day-to-day actions, you can build up your Aria meter, and after a certain point, your Muse can begin to sing an Aria of your choice. New Arias can be gained as you progress through the game, with each one offering special buffs to any party member within range. Regardless of which you choose, it alters the battle music of the current fight to fit the chosen ability. This, for me, is where Refrain Chord really gets into its own. Should the opposing Muse – that would be Glace – choose to sing her opposing song at the same time as yours, it creates a musical counterpoint as both.
Muses effectively duel vocally for supremacy. Muses, during their turn, can either choose to intensify the effects of their song or expand the range, and should the ranges of both songs cover the same ground, the effects of both Arias are amplified for their respective teams. This adds an element of strategy to an otherwise middling combat system. In fairness to Refrain Chord, you normally find yourself sticking to a handful of abilities whilst playing SRPGs no matter how many the game throws at you, but here I found myself frequently going through my entire repertoire of abilities in fights constantly trying to find the best one for each situation and to my delight, the answer was never the same.
Regardless of everything else, the game’s soundtrack is by far its biggest selling point. I mentioned previously the dueling Arias, but I feel that the only way to truly do it justice is to experience it yourself. The game’s soundtrack was already the best part, with composer Yoh Ohyama and co doing exemplary work with the regular soundtrack, but then the dueling Arias mashup to make mind-blowing and emotive pieces of music ended up becoming something else entirely. For me, the best part involves Notes of Faith as sung by Yui Ishikawa. Whilst I am always quick to experience good soundtracks that I would happily recommend outside of their game, this one, for me, needs to be experienced in situ to truly appreciate what was intended by the creators.
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is a strategy RPG journey that will end up being a bit of an acquired taste. The overly done and uninteresting usage of stills to tell a story, overly long and often unfunny scenes that ultimately cover nothing. Yet there is something underneath the surface that encourages me to want to come back and view all endings and experience all the treasures that this game has to hide. If you like these types of games or are looking for an SRPG to tide you over winter, then this is an experience to consider. I’m sure you’ll also end up loving the soundtrack and the musical motifs for the arias. Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord is out on PlayStation 4 with a $49.99 price tag. There’s also a PS5 version of this game available as a separate purchase for the same price tag.
This Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy provided by Idea Factory International.