When I elected to preview Fearless Fantasy, it was the game’s unique and sort of unusual-looking, whimsical creatures that drew me in. The characters seemed, at a glance, to be cheeky, irreverent, and an homage to the FF empire, which was another draw. The gameplay mechanics, which you can see from the trailer, are unlike nine out of ten games that you will likely play this year: part Fruit Ninja and part pick-any-Japanese-RPG, this gesture-based remix is original, fun, and unpredictable. If you’re old enough to remember it, this game seems to emulate the Simon-Says style repeat-after-me games, like the 1983 Dragon’s Lair (which is also available for the iOS now, in case you’ve been waiting with baited breath). All of this smacked of intrigue to me.
The characters lambaste the usual tropes (or maybe they pay homage to them…or maybe a little bit of both) from a handful of your stereotypical JRPGs, spitting trite and hackneyed catchphrases, repetitive taunts, and amusing accolades (“Epic!”). The characters are all the pre-fab ingredients to the tried-and-true, save-the-girl formula we’re perhaps the most nostalgically familiar with.
Leon Tyler is a wily bounty hunter who unwittingly liberates Alice Sundy from an arranged and unfavorable marriage to one King Xola. Leon and Alice defeat a handful of very strange foot soldiers before Leon discovers that this pixie-haired vixen is also a princess. A princess, no less, whose plight aligns with a mission that Leon is already bent on: defeating a creature owned by King Xola that has the potential to wreak serious havoc on the land. Leon and Alice team up with a third partner, Vonn, to give that nasty King Xola what for. So far, so good, right?
The plot progresses with storyboard-style panel art that is delightfully incongruous to the dynamics of the game itself. Displayed only as outlines (occasionally animated, but mostly still and captioned), these caricatures appear on what seems to be parchment scroll, as if we are hastening the plot in a traditional story-telling format worthy of a certain amount of heraldry. (Isn’t that why stuff ends up on scrolls in the first place?) It presents a cheeky, clear punchline, and when combined with all the bizarre emblematic fodder that you’ve seen and heard so far, you’ll find yourself giving this game another appreciative nod; still on the right track.
We have to stop at this point and observe what I mean by “tropes.” The lead character, for instance, seems like a good start. His very name seems to be a nod to Squall Leonhart (or just Leon, depending on your Final Fantasy of choice). Leon’s favored weapon is a gunblade, too, which is less a subtle nod to the franchise and more of a dramatic neck-jerk. A seizure, really. On the other hand, Alice is support, wielding a sizable crossbow and a converse and contradictory high-pitch squawk commonly associated with dames in these turn-based affairs. Vonn is your tank, and he has a pretty serious mallet-blade-hammer-deal, as well as a goofy Robin Hood Men in Tights-type mustache (which I believe is the source of his power). Each of the characters reveal details about their backstory in a quasi-obnoxious, forced exposition style, which I understood to be both intentional and amusing.
“How’s it hanging?” Leon asks as he attacks the Alice-in-Wonderland-looking flower, Diane. Yes, I know—Diane. What a hoot, right? The game is full of these little gems and footnotes that creators pepper in. These peculiarities have been wildly celebrated by many players, and have been dubbed “genius,” “brilliant,” and other inflated compliments. For my part, I found some of these elements both repetitive and also haphazard. At first, of course, I was delighted: who doesn’t like a little off-color greeting with their melee attack? But the theme became more and more obscure over time, and I began to feel as if the joke was wearing thin. Clever lampoons? You betcha. Funny after two hours? Meh, I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder.
But now it’s time talk about the most notable feature of this peculiar game: the creatures. If you’re like me, you certainly expect some hard and firm explanation, but if that’s your bag then you’re sure to be disappointed. The creatures are just unusual. The artwork is exceptional, however, in that designers seemed to capture the essence of what it would be like if just anyone made an RPG, but the lack of a theme is a repeated theme as players square off against a snack table, adorable mushrooms that open their mouths to gush insects, Cheshire-cat heads containing nesting dolls of other heads that are happy to chew on Leon’s head, and delightfully out-of-place, spooky scarecrow fella.
My hero and editor, Liam, does a fantastic job summarizing some of the low-lights of the character dialogue in his review several months prior, so I won’t drudge that up here, but I have to add that I am jaded. Almost every review and walk-through I have seen that explores Fearless Fantasy is positive, and seems to fully admire the humor and the originality present in this game. The jokes for me were too thick to appreciate fully. However, they are both clever and sparingly used, coming across as a joke within a joke that did not turn me off entirely.
Over the course of more than a dozen turn based battles, players will encounter waves in varying numbers and strengths. Using timed swipes and pokes, players parrot movements on the screen to execute both range and melee attacks. The more on-point your mimicry of the actions is (think the The Wolf Among Us, but on the iPad), the more effective and intense your attack will be. This takes a combat system that has been done to death and adds a playful, new element that was curiously addictive. Unfortunately, for me, it was also repetitive, and I found myself halting gameplay after about three checkpoints at a time.
Each character eventually unlocks five special and upgradable skills that are at his or her disposal, and the gesture element of this game adds a challenge that, I must admit, was wildly entertaining. Even the surest hand can forgo a well-placed poke, and this tactile element demands a degree of participation that makes it hard not to become completely invested in Fearless Fantasy. Enemies are made that much more formidable when players are unable to keep up with the gesture-based prompts, and anything less than “epic” means that Leon and his companions will face enemies with a handicap. In this way, what appears to be a simple fast-and-furious race to the boss battle becomes a sometimes time-consuming drudge to literally execute attacks. Battles, which can be attempted at one of three difficulty levels, offer appropriately staggered levels of currency and XP, and upgrades include gadgets and new weapons, which players will need as they progress through the game.
One thing that can get a little frustrating is the limited amount of space you have in the inventory. This tight arsenal means that older items are lost once new ones are acquired, and it’s a bummer if you aren’t paying attention when some of your gear gets bumped. Also, to beat bosses, you need access to skills that require replaying previous levels. If there is one thing about me that holds true across the board, it’s that I love replay value. However, I usually like to be the master and commander of my own replay. Were that do-over an idea that had arisen of my own desire, I probably would have felt a little more favorably towards it.
Overall, for the princely sum of $6.99, I would have to say that this is a game worth investigating. The value of the game lies in its bizarre and original formula: one part kooky graphics + one part unique gameplay makes Fearless Fantasy worth its salt. A the same time, however, this game was not something that I will rush to continue playing. For one, RPGs are not at the top of my list of must-haves: that’s probably the biggest “meh” factor here as far as I’m concerned. (If you love turn-based games, RPGs, or Japanese role-playing games, this is sure to intrigue you, if nothing else.) For another, I just felt as if the game didn’t offer enough of everything to truly wow me. The jokes were funny, but not so hilarious that you knew they were meant to be intentional. The music and sound effects were good, but they could have been cheesier to really drive home the spoof element, and the enemies and bosses were creepy and cool, but the choppy style of animation for this game made me wish they were…something more. I wasn’t disappointed with the combat system, and I’m actually glad to have experienced it, but it was repetitive and couldn’t hold my attention. The dialogue was the biggest indicator that everything players witnessed was, at least in part, in jest: one enemy insists that he must retreat due to a hole in his sock. This is cute, but then again, so were the fart jokes. I regarded the humor that didn’t quite stick for me as an opportunity missed to really round out a theme that had more potential than was realized. If I had to describe this game in so many words, that might be a good way for me to sum it up: an opportunity missed.