Based on the Japanese phenomenon by Hiro Mashima, Fairy Tail is the first venture onto consoles for the franchise, with previous titles only available on handhelds like the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS. The award-winning manga has gone from strength to strength since its debut in 2006, but with bigger JRPGs based on bigger series, is there room for a fairy tale ending?

Fairy Tail Review

The journey begins as Lucy, Laxus, Gray, Wendy, Erza, and Natsu attempt to take down Hades. A former member of Fairy Tail, he turned to the dark arts in the hopes of unlocking Primordial Magic, a magic believed to be founded in darkness. An epic battle ensues before Hades is finally defeated, but the process of releasing the dark magics brings forth the Legendary Black Wizard Zeref, who warns of Achnoligia’s presence.

Achnoligia, a fearsome black dragon, attacks the Fairy Tail guild. However, using a gift bestowed upon them by the First Guild Master, they seal themselves with protective spells – making them immune to Achnoligia’s attack, but locking then away for seven years. They return to see the Fairy Tail Guild a shadow of its former self, and set out on a journey to once again claim the throne as the world’s most powerful guild.

If that sounds a little confusing, don’t worry; I felt the same throughout various segments of the game. With very little prior exposure to the source material, I couldn’t enjoy a lot of the references made to pre-game events and content. Fairy Tail is constantly introducing new characters who are clearly very involved in the history and narrative of this world. However, with very little effort made to bring the player up to speed, I often felt left out.

That being said, although I struggled with the history between many of the characters, the standalone narrative direction of Fairy Tail is easy to follow. It offers a story that begins as quite lighthearted, eventually becoming the ultimate struggle between good and evil. It ticks a lot of the anime tropes, combining goofy humor with high-octane combat, but nothing felt forced or rushed. The story worked great, and while I wasn’t a Fairy Tail fan prior to playing the game, I’m now looking forward to watching the show.

Today’s industry continues to move away from turn-based combat, instead opting for flashier visuals, faster-paced action, and more fluidity and control. Even the turn-based classics of yesteryear are focusing on active combat. I will always argue that turn-based combat can rival even the most exciting active-based systems, and Fairy Tail is one such example. Put simply, the combat is excellent.

Fairy Tail Review Combat

Fairy Tail’s turn-based combat is a near perfect blend of strategic design with fast-paced animations and explosive combos. Enemies are placed in a 3×3 grid and character abilities can target single grids, multiple grids, squares, lines, and diagonals. If there is more than one enemy standing in front of you, there’s a good chance you’ve got an ability to smash them to pieces. For those times that you don’t, most characters can manipulate enemy positions with pull or knock back attacks.

It would not be a JRPG without combat mechanics hidden away within other combat mechanics. However, where some recent games have struggled, Fairy Tail delivers an easily digestible combination of features that are fluid and rewarding without being overwhelming. As characters battle, they build up a gauge that lets them Ascend, often transforming in visual appearance and unlocking new moves. There’s also a Fairy gauge that builds as you do damage, allowing you to unleash massively devastating combos using your entire party. It evolves at a steady pace throughout, delivering just enough challenge to make each and every fight feel worthwhile and rewarding.

Outside of combat, you’ll spend much of your time building your bonds with your companions. This mechanic represents the relationship between characters, unlocking more powerful options to be used in combat as the relationship grows. Every character has three Character Story side quests that are entirely optional, but offer more depth on their motives and desires – something as a non-fan I really appreciated. There’s alternative costumes, rewarding collectibles, and challenging combat scenarios. While it doesn’t rewrite the book, it’s a fine-tuned Fairy Tail machine.

Fairy Tail is a return to form for the classic turn-based RPG combat of yesteryear. A huge cast of memorable characters, tons of side content, and incredible combat all come together to form one of this year’s most impressive JRPGs.

This Fairy Tail review was written based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A digital copy was provided.
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