The source material for Fairy Tail is perfect for a JRPG, and while most of what is found in this game has been done before in other roleplaying titles, the experience comes together in a very enjoyable way. Fairy Tail is easy to pick up and learn, but I found myself gladly playing for busts of several hours at a time, making it surprisingly difficult for me to put down.
Gust has a knack for anime-styled roleplaying games, with the Atelier series springing to mind (though they’ve logged plenty of good work with titles like Blue Reflection, Nights of Azure and Ar Nosurge as well), and that trend continues here. The developers seemed completely comfortable taking the Fairy Tail world and breaking it into gameplay components that work well together, though they are familiar. Fetch quests, quests to kill certain types of monsters, working together to raise the bonds between team members, upgrading facilities and more are all pretty common aspects to JRPGs these days, but I found myself enjoying these gameplay elements all the same.
It helps that some smart design choices were made. For example, travel is generally snappy (fast travel between points in the city the world map is made up of key points you can quickly bounce to and from), which makes exploration fun and seldom feels like needless padding. There are sometimes opportunities to find hidden items or create shortcuts in the larger, more winding maps by ‘breaking’ barriers in the environment (doing over a specified amount of damage during a nearby fight) that adds an interesting challenge while walking about. Quest items or people to talk to are clearly located on the map and mini-map, again letting you focus on your objectives without wasting a bunch of time. Too many RPGs don’t feel like they respect your time, often by making you double back repeatedly over the same areas on foot or grinding just so you can get past the next boss, but I never really got that feeling out of my time spent with Fairy Tail.
Combat is handled well also. There are options to streamline things by cutting out the animations or having an auto-battle turned on. However, the core mechanics are surprisingly tactical, with enemies occupying a gridded space and your own attacks having variance in which and how many of those grid squares get hit. There are additional status elements, elemental weaknesses / vulnerabilities and some overpower types of states and chain attacks that can be used as well. The members of your team certainly feel powerful most of the time, and chaining together a bunch of attacks and wiping out a mass of enemies is satisfying. That being said, the sense of satisfaction does dim a bit by the game’s end. It is a difficult balance to strike between giving the protagonists growing power and how to scale the enemies along the way and most JRPGs struggle with this – Fairy Tail included. Usually there are either massive difficulty spikes that lead to grinding and / or frustration, or the enemies cease to become serious threats outside of a handful of specific encounters by the end of the game, and Fairy Tail falls into the latter category.
The overall presentation is solid, looking every part of the anime. The music is often catchy too – especially during some of the more pivotal plot points. That being said, the voice cast is strictly Japanese, leaving those interested in English using the subtitles. Not a big deal to me, but something that will inevitably bother some people. There were However, while I am familiar with Fairy Tail, and have read some of the manga and watched some of the anime, I would not consider myself an expert in the series. I am familiar with most of the major plot points and many of the character histories, but one area I thought Fairy Tail took a bit of a misstep was right at the beginning.
There is a long timeline to draw from, and for whatever reason the developers decided to drop this game into the events around the seven year jump (for those familiar with the timeline), instead of a more natural starting point to getting to know the characters a bit better (like perhaps when Lucy and Natsu first met). As a result, the game rushes you through a quick tutorial as the party faces off with Hades, and there was a bit of virtual whiplash on my part that I can only imagine was far worse for those completely unfamiliar with the series when they first play.
Despite this breakneck start, the developers do find time to help establish the relationship better during the rest of the game. There are small dialog options that come up here and there as characters tackle missions together or raise their bonds post-quest that are best described as comfortable and even heart-warming at times, that really allow the Fairy Tail characters to shine. Unfortunately it takes a while for this part of the narrative to hit its stride, with many of the earlier events feeling almost unearned because there is little to no context around prior events and relations between characters.
Fairy Tail recovers nicely enough the longer you play as the story itself is easy enough to follow along with even without a working history of the source material However, given that this game may well be the first exposure many people are getting to the series, a few of these narrative choices struck me as potential head-scratchers. I will say however, that given the large cast of characters involved with kicking things off at this point in the timeline, the game does a nice job of giving most of the characters ample time for the spotlight. None of the main cast felt neglected to me, and while Fairy Tail has numerous anime tropes baked in, the overall cast of characters and their guild-as-family approach to life is undeniably charming.