2020 has been surprisingly heavy on anime video game adaptations. While the year started out on a good note thanks to CyberConnect2’s appreciatively ambitious Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a surprisingly competent take on adapting the iconic Dragon Ball Z into a JRPG, things quickly took a predictable turn for mediocrity with both My Hero One’s Justice 2, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows, to downright terrible with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4.
Upon hearing about Koei Tecmo and Gust’s upcoming Fairy Tail JRPG, my interest was piqued considering how surprised I was by Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and developer Gust’s lineage as a JRPG developer, coming off of the beloved Atelier series, especially after 2019’s cult hit Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. Despite my entrance as somewhat of a Fairy Tail newcomer (I had previously watched about 30 episodes of the anime a few years ago, which compared to the 328 in total, is essentially nothing,) Gust’s newest JRPG is yet another case for why more anime deserve JRPG adaptations.
Fairy Tail starts out 150 episodes (or 258 manga chapters) into the series, a departure from most other anime video games of this kind. The game’s story starts following the anime’s seven-year time skip, which sees the characters returning after being frozen in time following their previous battle. As a result of this, Fairy Tail has fallen to become one of the lowest ranked magic guilds, and Natsu and the gang are tasked with bringing it back to its former glory.
While watching some of the anime didn’t clue me into where this game opens narratively whatsoever, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t approach Fairy Tail with at least some prior knowledge of its characters, such as Natsu, Lucy, Grey and Erza. Given this, while it’s hard to say if the game gives a great first impression of its characters to complete newcomers to the Fairy Tail universe, I can confidently say that the game has a complete disregard for catching them up to speed on the whereabouts in the narrative in which this story takes place, what transpired prior to this seven-year gap or introducing players to the world of Fairy Tail whatsoever, to the point that I told myself to stop even trying to understand what was going on in the story, should I ever be interested in going through the anime or manga.
Thankfully, where Fairy Tail truly shines is in its gameplay as the world of Hiro Mashima’s manga lends itself beautifully to a JRPG. The game features a traditional turn-based combat system similar to Gust’s Atelier titles; however, Fairy Tail features characters facing their enemies on a 3×4 grid, with each magic attack covering a certain number of tiles on each grid. While it doesn’t reinvent turn-based combat in any capacity, it warrants a slightly more strategic mindset than simply attacking a specific enemy one by one and leads to quicker battles, which lines up with Fairy Tail‘s progression as the game is noticeably faster-paced than most other JRPGs thanks to its relatively short 15-20 hour length. Unfortunately, this means that the game never really offers up much of a challenge, even on the highest difficulty modes.
Attacking an enemy that another party member previously attacked can also result in said party member following up with another attack, and enemy attacks can also sometimes be countered. Slowly charging as each party member deals damage to enemies is also a special attack that acts as a chain attack, allowing for players to combine special attacks of their party to deal a devastating blow to all of the current enemies or bosses. This feature is somewhat similar to Persona 5 Royal‘s enhanced baton-pass feature; however, unlike that mechanic, this special attack feels like a way to somewhat cheaply end battles instantly. On top is a mechanic in which party members charge their own awakening meters throughout battles until, when activated, it allows them to replenish all of their HP and MP while buffing all attacks. While some may be frustrated to see that the game gives the player so many options for cutting through battles with over-powered attacks such as these, it’s hard to deny it isn’t fun to completely blow through them, especially given the game’s repetitive quest structure.
Between Fairy Tail‘s main story quest, the player spends most of the game filing through repetitive fetch-quests in the city of Magnolia, and while more towns and branches of the guild open up over time, all of the guild’s quest boil down to little more than helping townsfolk find items, finding items in some of the more open-areas and defeating a certain amount of specific enemy types. Rinse and repeat. While the game doesn’t outstay its welcome enough to make the combat feel repetitive, these quests outstay their welcome almost entirely by the 4-hour mark.
Visually, while Fairy Tail isn’t impressive as far as lower-budget JRPGs go, it does recreate the manga’s art style in a fashion visually distinct from Gust’s Atelier series and even manages to outshine arguably higher budget games running in its engine, such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Characters don’t animate particularly well outside of cutscenes, and combat and character portraits remain static at all times, remaining grinning during more emotionally heavy moments, and some cutscenes even go the lazy route of stealing stills directly from the anime. Overall, when Fairy Tail wants to look good, it does, but for the most part, it’s okay with falling into the same trappings of other JRPGs of its kind. Starting the game out on the PlayStation 4 launch model and transitioning to the PlayStation 4 Pro with boost mode enabled about 4 or 5 hours in allowed me to take notice of the fact that the game’s uncapped frame-rate performs closer to a locked, smooth 60 frames-per-second on the Pro model. While the performance doesn’t ever dip low enough to interfere with gameplay, what with the game being turn-based and all, there is a noticeable increase in fidelity on the PlayStation 4 Pro.
Fairy Tail, while definitely not incredible, is one of the most impressive anime video game adaptations in recent years, lovingly taking the world of Hiro Mashima’s manga and realising it in JRPG form that so many other series’ deserve. I cannot wait to see where Gust’s interest in giving anime franchises such creative JRPG realisations takes them next, but even despite its repetitive quest structure, janky performance and narratively rushed areas, Fairy Tail has received a treatment that very few anime franchises get from even the most dedicated of developers. Just don’t dive right in if you’re completely unfamiliar with the series.
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC
Release Date: 30th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Fairy Tail was provided by the publisher.