Hands-on with Gust’s Fairy Tail

Fairy Tail is a massively popular shounen manga and anime series that I’ve never actually had any experience with. Not that I’ve purposefully avoided it, but more due to the fact that getting into it would be a massive time investment. The original manga ran for over a decade, with over 500 chapters making up its story. Opting for the anime wouldn’t be much easier, with its run totaling just over 300 episodes on its own.

The video game medium could be an option for getting into the story…but, unfortunately, despite the franchise receiving multiple games, all but one of them remain exclusive to Japan (with the only one receiving an English release being a web-based game, Fairy Tail Hero’s Journey). Even so, in the tradition of shounen-anime-turned-video-game, many of these are fighting games, which aren’t exactly my cup of tea.

Enter Koei Tecmo, who recently announced that they would be publishing their own adaption of Fairy Tail, one receiving a release in the west and on modern consoles. When I first heard the news, my immediate thought was that it would be yet another fighting game, or (because it’s Koei Tecmo) a Warriors-style title. Then I saw who was actually developing the game: Gust, the RPG studio behind the Atelier franchise.

Early last week, Gamer Escape had the opportunity to go hands-on with an early build of the game, simply titled Fairy Tail.

There were two versions of the build available to try out: a limited 15-minute timed version that focused on playing through a story mission, as well as a more open untimed version. Most of our playtime was on the former, as the latter version was still mostly in Japanese.

The focused demo takes place presumably early in the game (the opening mission description lists this mission as “Chapter 2, Episode 1”), featuring the characters Natsu, Lucy, and Erza planning for a training camp. Erza’s suggestion for a location is a nearby beach, so yes, the demo has us jump right into a beach episode!

After a few lines of dialogue to set up our goal, we are on our way, free to either head out on our mission or explore the town of Magnolia, a central location in Fairy Tail. Koei Tecmo staff informed me that the modelling this town was a point of pride for Gust, being the first time the town has been presented as a fully-3D explorable space, and that others demoing the game had run out the demo’s timer just exploring the city and checking out landmarks from the manga.

As I mentioned, though, I don’t have any prior experience with this franchise, so, to my eyes, what was presented to me felt like a fairly standard RPG town. There wasn’t much to actually do here, but I chalk that up to this being an early build of the game. I took a quick jaunt through some alleyways and along some waterways, then headed off to complete the mission given to me.

The path to the beach leads us through our first “dungeon,” the Boundary Forest, where I got to cut my teeth on the game’s battle system. The system here feels very traditional; battles are turn-based, with each character having access to normal attacks, magic, defense, and items. The unique twist is in the magic, where each skill affects different areas on the enemy’s side of the battlefield. Enemies appear on a 3×3 grid, with each spell able to affect specific portions of the grid.

The battle system here feels like it encourages the use of magic over normal attacks. It makes sense, what with Fairy Tail‘s core plot revolving around wizards and magic. Spells didn’t cost all that much MP to use, and defeating enemies recovered spent MP quite easily. I ran through the game’s demo twice, and in my second run, I didn’t use physical attacks at all.

Upon reaching the beach, some characters strip down to swimsuits (because of course), we fight a couple of stronger enemies, and then some story events happen that presumably aren’t programmed yet, as we’re presented with a message saying “Full event scenes will be in the final game.” Something important plot-wise must have happened here as, after this scene, I lost track of the story. We receive the “Episode 2” mission after this, saying that the characters spent a day in a “Celestial Spirit World,” which was three months in the real world, and we suddenly have more characters in story scenes that weren’t present before.

We run through another small dungeon area, leading us to a meeting with the character Jellal. Entering into a fight with him presents us with a boss fight to cap off the demo, as well as the introduction of another aspect of the battle engine. Jellal drops a massive magic attack that hits the entire party, nearly knocking them all out…and they immediately all power up with Limit Break-style power boosts. Natsu in particular gains access to special incredibly strong magic attacks, which I’m able to use to take down Jellal with relative ease.

Despite my lack of knowledge of Fairy Tail, my time with this early build has caught my interest. If anything, it feels like a throwback, a traditional fantasy-based JRPG that we don’t see too often in the modern gaming landscape, even as a licensed game. How friendly the final game will be to newcomers like me remains to be seen, but if it takes a bit of time to establish the world and its characters for players of my ilk, then I can say I’m looking forward to trying out the full release.

Fairy Tail is set for release in 2020 for PS4, Switch, and PC.

Screenshots taken by author.