From KOEI TECMO America comes Fairy Tail, the otherworldly magical JRPG from developer GUST Studios that’s based on the popular manga series. The title is now available in North America on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC via Steam. And if you’re a fan of the long-running manga / anime series and would love a chance to battle as your favorite characters in a solid JRPG, you can stop reading right now and get yourself a copy. But if you’re more of a casual fan, or have never heard of the manga / anime at all, you might want to go ahead and just skip this one.
If you’re not well versed in the world of Fairy Tail, the official game synopsis should catch you up:
Demons, dark wizards, dragons, and cats – players will find it all as they start your journey in the land of Fiore. In FAIRY TAIL, wizards play through the adventures of Natsu Dragneel and Lucy Heartfilia, as well as other eccentric members of the FAIRY TAIL mage guild, on a fun-filled and thrilling quest. GUST Studios is creating the game under the supervision of author Hiro Mashima, promising a faithful recreation for the FAIRY TAIL world and its unusual inhabitants; including everything from magic to its iconic characters. Accomplish missions, win magic battles full of exhilarating action inspired by the manga, and bond with other characters in FAIRY TAIL to increase your guild rank in the Grand Magic Games. With a customizable party of guild members, each playthrough can be a unique experience with its own storyline.
The upside of basing games on an existing property is that you’ve got a built in fan base; as long as you deliver something close to the original source material that’s fun to play, you’re in good shape. In the case of Fairy Tail, adapted from writer/illustrator Hiro Mashima‘s beloved manga and the anime adaptation that came from it, Koei Tecmo / GUST Studios does just that. The waifus, gaifus, and husbandos you know and love are all gathered here, as if plucked from the anime (with a more game-friendly art style change in the process), working together to fight against evil and restore the pride of their titular guild, which has fallen on hard times (after a lengthy time skip).
The downside, however, is that the Fairy Tail game is unlikely to encourage many new fans to pick it up or get on board with the franchise itself. The Devs made sure to include brief recap sequences and a fairly extensive encyclopedia for lore, world mythology, and the characters themselves, all to either catch fans up on the timing of this story or act as a primer for newbies. You can even revisit in-game moments through this menu to brush up on the story so far. A worthy effort toward inclusion, but Fairy Tail is clearly for fans of the franchise first with everyone else coming as an afterthought.
And that’s okay! Because the fans who seek this title out will be more than happy to spend time with Natsu and Happy, Lucy, Erza, Wendy, Gray, and plenty more from the lore. You’re all thrown into an epic battle right away in order to start things off. And since most people are likely playing this for the story, it’s worth noting that it picks up at the tail end of the Tenrou Island arc before folding in the Grand Magic Tournament, Tartaros, and Avatar arcs, with a little X791 arc thrown in. In short, the game’s story is pulled from the manga / anime, with enough customizability and unique storytelling to let the player feel like they’re in control of the story. It’s just that that story takes a little while to get going …
I learned everything I needed to know about Fairy Tail (on the PS4 Pro, for transparency’s sake) in the first two hours, two hours which were basically an extended tutorial with a smattering of cut scenes thrown in. (And yeah, that’s two hours to wait before you can change into those swimsuits you paid for.) That’s definitely frustrating for folks who just want to dive in and get going with the story, but it’s also a fitting introduction for the target audience of this game. It’s rated T for Teen and is paced slow enough for its youngest players to easily keep up. The whole thing is stripped down, simple, and appropriately silly. You can basically “set it and forget it” to allow the dialogue scenes to play on auto-advance (all in Japanese audio only, which may be another deterrent to folks who aren’t fans of the anime); you can even set an auto-battler to do the heavy lifting for you. All signs point to Fairy Tail being more of a story experience for fans than a sufficiently challenging JRPG.
And yet the mechanics of the turn-based combat are refreshingly fun, a throwback to classic 90s titles in the sub-genre that don’t seem to come around that often anymore. Of course, there’s the Persona nods, but even recent titles like the anime-inspired Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and the revamped Final Fantasy VII Remake opted to move away from turn-based mechanics for more of a kinetic, “live” sort of combat.
I prefer good, old-fashioned, take-your-time battles, especially in a game like Fairy Tail that rewards you for building a team that actually works together. The ability to stack your team — attackers, defenders, and support players — together in unique ways, along with strong item support through the Lacrima gear system, is easily the strongest aspect of Fairy Tail outside of the story itself. Add to this the jacked-up abilities that start you off with way more firepower than simple punches and kicks, ratcheting all the way up to ultimate abilities and impressive chain combos, and the battling becomes an absolute blast. It’s just a shame the game takes so long to get you there.
For me, Fairy Tail is a casual turn-based JRPG that I may or may not pick up again when the mood strikes. The tasks and missions are repetitive and paint-by-number, but the fights are fun and the social bonds between characters are a treat to see evolve. Unfortunately, without an emotional connection to the source material, there’s not much else to help the game stand apart from the pack. It remains a solid enough title that’s intended for fans of the series, but as a standalone game, it’s just so-so.
Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Games, Animation, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD