Friendship. If I’m being honest, that’s all you really need to know about Fairy Tail. It is a property built entirely upon the foundation of camaraderie, of finding strength in bonds with others, of helping people move through the pain of their past in order to strive for the future. It’s uplifting, a little cheesy, and full of action that really simplifies the concept of emotional conflict. I mean, punching a bad guy in the face is also more visually appealing than internalised monologue, but the analogy is still in there somewhere. Also, I lied: Fairy Tail can be really cheesy…like, dangerously so. But that’s sort of what makes it so charming. Who doesn’t want to see the power of friendship turn the tides of darkness? Villains, that’s who. So, if you just thought to yourself that you’d like to see friendship lose…then I’ve got some bad news for you.
First things first: Fairy Tail is not a game for people who have never watched or read Fairy Tail. I know that might sound mean, but I’m saying it in your best interest. So, if you really want to play this game, maybe check out the series first. Why? Because this game is sort of like trying to clap with one hand: people will likely see what you’re trying to do, but it just won’t sound the same. To put it in more useful terms: Fairy Tail attempts to run through the story of the series with a severly limited toolbox. With a relatively small number of realised character models—especially when compared to the series’ expansive cast—most scenes feel half finished. Case in point, the opening ceremony of the Grand Magic Games—a yearly tournament held to determine the strongest mage guild in the land—is just…empty. Though the dialogue informs us that each guild will present a team of five competitors, only Fairy Tail’s teams (they have two due to story reasons) actually do so. Mermaid Heel has one visible character, Blue Pegasus the same, Lamia Scale manages two, Sabretooth wrangles four (two of whom fight), whilst Quatro Cerberus has none; even one of Fairy Tail’s members exists as a model only, never actually being playable in battle. So much of the scene must be inferred from the dialogue just to make sense of what’s happening; it’s honestly tiring after a while. I mean, there wasn’t even a need to insist that Elfman was a part of the team, other than to keep events in line with the series; since his opponent from Quatro Cerberus doesn’t physically exist, the fight never happens. This also means we skip the entire joke about the team being renamed Quatro Puppy after the bet they placed with Elfman on who would win. And if these names and events mean nothing to you, then you’ll feel the same way when playing the game.
That isn’t a slight against Fairy Tail, simply a statement regarding the surface-level retelling of the series. Though I give credit to the developers for doing what they could with their seemingly limited resources, so much of the story loses its impact in this execution. Even just focusing on the Grand Magic Games, so many moments are presented nowhere near as dramatically as they were originally. Cana destroying the Magic Power Finder is undercut by half of the previous competitors existing by mention only, Erza challenging Pandemonium is likewise weakened by a lack of shocked onlookers, and Lucy and Yukino summoning all twelve Celestial Spirits of the Zodiac lack impact…due to the Spirits not having models. The most powerful moment of the entire arc comes from Ultear and I think that’s mostly due to the dialogue itself being what is memorable. It’s just…the game makes the player draw on a pre-existing knowledge base to complete each scene. There were moments where it took me some time to piece things together, and I’ve read the entirety of the manga…heaven help anyone who tries to come in fresh. I know gameplay is what this medium can add to the franchise, but it is still trying to tell a story…”trying” being the operative word.
Anyway, let’s lift our spirits by discussing gameplay. Taking the form of a turn-based RPG, Fairy Tail is pretty fun to play. It’s main claim- to fame is the 3×3 grid it places enemies on. Now, this may be a tried and true formula but, it’s the first time I’ve seen it and I enjoyed it greatly. Each playable character possesses a variety of Magic, with each attack affecting a specific area. For example, Natsu’s Fire Dragon’s Iron Fist strikes a single opponent; though the lower cost is easier on your Magic Power gauge, the wider range of Fire Dragon’s Roar may be worth the increased cost. The patterns each attack takes are also fairly varied; for example, Gajeel’s Iron Dragon’s Lance: Demon Logs strikes the upper right, middle, and lower left squares of the grid. Not the most common enemy placement, but it sure is satisfying when every square of your attack lands on something. The aforementioned variation of strike zones is also fairly well split between characters, as each will generally have a useful option in most situations. That being said, combining this with the elemental strength/weakness aspect of combat does add another layer to your choices. Do you spend Magic on an attack that is resisted by two of your three targets? Do you choose to attack one enemy instead? Do you put on auto-battle and hope for the best? I can’t really say for sure, but the Easy Mode offered the second you start up the game for the first time certainly makes the game…easier.
On the more passive side, characters can be buffed by various external factors. The main one of these factors is Lacrima—crystals which provide you various passive stat boosts. Lacrima come in five different levels of potency, which are unlocked as you progress through the game, and can alter the way you utilise a character. Wendy, for example, is potent with healing and stat boosting Magic; but, outfit her with Wizard Lacrima and her attack stat will skyrocket. Maybe you want to lean into Wendy’s strengths, then you’d better equip some Mind Lacrima and increase her Magic gauge. Sure it’s not a new concept to RPGs, but it’s still neat to be able to tweak your party with passives. Heck, put a Flame Lacrima on Gray and give his Ice-Make: Ice Hammer the ability to burn opponents…because why not? It’ll give him something to talk about with Natsu, really liven up those Bond chats. What are Bond chats? Well, when you use the same character set up in a party their Bonds with each other increase. Cross a certain threshold and you’ll be given the opportunity to watch a little back-and-forth between them, unlocking a benefit in the process. Said benefit factors into the Fairy Gauge, a battle option which allows you to unleash a full-team assault on every enemy at once. Of course, being Fairy Tail, the power of this assault is based on the strength of friendship—so boost those Bonds. This can be a little difficult, as most non-repeatable quests in the game force you to at least partially fill your party with specific characters, but still worth the effort.
But where does one boost their sense of camaraderie? Why, at the guild hall of course. Unfortunately for you, Fairy Tail’s seven-year stay on Tenrou Island—which is actually where/when this game begins—has left the place in disrepair. If only there was somebody who would take on quests in order to earn the Jewels (the currency of Fiore) necessary to unlock the information regarding the location of items needed to repair each facility of the guild hall…you see where I’m going with this? Earn Jewels; request upgrade; acquire material for upgrade; upgrade facility; rinse and repeat. Each level of upgrade also possesses splinter upgrades, providing additional boosts unique to each facility. The Item Shop, for example, upgrades to increase its overall inventory and the splinter upgrades grant a discount. It can wind up being a little costly—in both material components and Jewels—but the benefits provided are definitely worth the effort. Completing said upgrades also visually alters the Fairy Tail guild hall, which is a nice touch that reminds you of your progress each time you walk through the door. Or, well, warp directly into the hall; the game is pretty lenient with its fast-travel options. Which is nice.
So yeah, that’s Fairy Tail. Look, I don’t mean to sound overly negative; but, there were just so many noticeable missteps in this trek through Fiore. Though the concepts behind the gameplay systems are solid, their execution is often clunky. Though the repeated outings for materials to upgrade facilities sounds monotonous, it is the in-between elements that take up most of your time. Unskippable UI animations and loading screens slow everything down to a crawl. I swear there were some missions where I spent more time watching objectives tick themselves off my to-do list than I did killing monsters. The unskippable problem also worms its way into battle occasionally. Though you are able to skip the animations of Extreme Magic (unique Finishers that may appear when utilising the Fairy Gauge), you are forced to watch every character’s Magic. The worst offender I found was Lucy’s Urano Metria, whose animation was often as long as every other character’s turn combined. I don’t mean to say that I would skip it every time, but the option would be nice…which is somewhat ironic, given my statements about the story skipping over its dramatic moments. Still, even in spite of everything I’ve said, I did enjoy playing Fairy Tail. I would sit and play a few missions, get my fill of Natsu screaming about battle or Lucy bemoaning her much-frequented apartment, then move on; then next day would roll around and I’d find myself excited about fully upgrading every facility at the guild. So yes, the story plays out like somebody who read the blurb on the back of every manga volume trying to recite the plot, and there are some spelling errors in the script( which are to be corrected in a day-one patch); but, there is something charming about the game. Maybe that’s just the flare of Fairy Tail shining through, maybe it’s my soft spot for the franchise, or maybe who cares. At the end of the day, this is a thin slice of a much larger world that encourages you to delve into the series proper: whether to relive the Magic or just figure out exactly what the hell anybody was talking about at any point in the game.