Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord – Review
Follow Genre: Turn-based strategy, RPG
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord – Review

Site Score
Good: Beautiful soundtrack
Bad: Lacks focus and feels incoherent
User Score
(1 votes)
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Rating: 6.0/10 (1 vote cast)

The history of Compile Heart’s Fairy Fencer F series goes back a decade, but we wouldn’t be surprised if, like us, you have never heard of this series, given how niche it is. The original Fairy Fencer F debuted on PS3 and PC in Japan back in 2013 before getting a Western release a year later. This was followed by Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, a remastered version of that original game that brought the series to PS4 and Switch. While these games found a small audience, the series never found success with a mainstream audience. It was somewhat surprising to see the game get a full-fledged sequel, but here we are. Long-time Fairy Fencer F fans probably already know what they are getting into, but given that we’re unfamiliar with the original, we’re taking a look at Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord to see whether it works as a good entry point to the series.


A very brief cutscene aims to both freshen the memories of returning players as well as introduce newcomers to the world of Fairy Fencer F. Things are probably a lot easier to understand if you’re familiar with the events of the first game, as the plot can feel a bit all over the place. From what we understand, centuries before the events in Refrain Chord, there was a conflict between the forces of good and evil. Both sides had access to Furies, weapons that house Fairies that were created by the gods themselves. Warriors wielding Furies were known as Fencers hence the title of the series. In current times, the conflict has died down, but the furies are still present in the world. These rare and powerful artifacts are highly sought after.

When the game begins, the party is already well-established, and it’s clear that there is some history here. This approach rewards those that stuck with the series, but it’s alienating to newcomers. The story focuses on protagonist Fang and his companions, a band of warriors that seek out Furies. Early on, they stumble into a trap that causes them to fall under mind control, but they are freed by the mysterious songstress Fleur, whose aria songs hold special powers. Together with Fleur, Fang and his companions seek to defeat the evil Dorfa Corporation once and for all for… reasons? The game doesn’t really elaborate or go into detail about what makes this corporation morally inferior to Fang himself, and we suppose you’d need to have played Advent Dark Force to fully understand this.


Sticking close to the visual style introduced in the previous titles, Refrain Chord fully embraces a quasi-retro anime aesthetic that is characterized by clean hand-drawn artwork, pastel tones, and expressive character portraits. That aesthetic doesn’t quite translate into 3D. The environments feel empty and lifeless and character attack animations are clunky. The game’s visual performance also wasn’t up to snuff, especially on the Switch, where the frame rate absolutely tanked when the action got heavy. As is usually the case with multiplatform titles, your mileage may vary on PS5 or PC, so hopefully, performance is better on those platforms.


The title already makes it clear that music is a very important element in the game, with specific mechanics tying into the talents of the game’s songstresses. We’ll explain that in the gameplay section of the review, but we can already tell you that the game’s soundtrack is excellent, both the orchestral, instrumental tracks and the songs that are tied to the gameplay mechanics. The game also features full voice acting, albeit only in Japanese. It’s an understandable decision as the songs are in Japanese as well, and we did enjoy the performances of the voice cast. The songs themselves are probably best labeled JPOP and were stylistically similar to those featured in the Caligula Effect series.


From what we’ve found online, Advent Dark Force was a traditional JRPG, but Refrain Chord is a different beast altogether when it comes to gameplay. This entry in the series is basically Compile Heart’s answer to Fire Emblem, Disgaea, and Final Fantasy Tactics. Gameplay is split between a preparation phase, where you do inventory and equipment management, have party members interact and take on side quests, and a much meatier combat phase. During the combat phase, the party takes on enemy squads in turn-based battles on an isometric grid. The gimmick here is that you can have Fleur sing a song that provides an area of effect stat boost. This ties into the game’s overall music theme, of course, and it’s an interesting addition to what otherwise would be a by-the-numbers turn-based strategy title. When your Muse songstress’ area overlaps with that of Glace, who is Fleur’s evil counterpart, they’ll enter a song battle of sorts, which provides an audiovisual spectacle and even further stat boosts.

While the core turn-based gameplay does what it needs to, it lacks depth and more importantly, customization. In theory, there is a wide range of mechanics present here, like being able to team each Fencer up with a Fairy for stat boosts. In practice, however, characters fulfill specific roles and there is very little room to shape a party member to fit your play style. Not that this matters much as Refrain Chord doesn’t really have a lot to offer in terms of difficulty for anyone that’s a seasoned player of games like this. Even at the highest of its three difficulty levels, Refrain Chord doesn’t have a lot of tactical meat on its bones. On the upside, this does mean that the game has a much lower barrier of entry into the genre than something like Dark Deity. If you’ve been looking to dip your toe into turn-based strategy titles, this one might be up your alley.

The preparation phase is arguably the more interesting one, even if you’ll be spending comparatively less time with this compared to the combat phase. The shining star here are character interactions, which allow the cast to shine and flesh out their backstories. While the various party members you pick up on your cast embrace anime archetypes, the writing is well done and enjoyable. These can lead into side quests, and given how grindy Refrain Chord can get at times, it’s highly advised to pick up as many of these as you can, if only for more variety compared to random encounters. The game has multiple endings and which one you get is affected by which side quests you have completed too. Of course, the preparation phase isn’t just about character depth and additional quests but also… preparation. You’ll buy and sell items, and at around a third into the game, you unlock the ability to synthesize and improve things you already own. You can also dispatch Fairies you’re not using in combat to gather more resources through a process known as Location Shaping, which takes on the form of a mini-game. It’s a fun distraction, but it also quickly overstays its welcome and negatively affects the game’s pacing.

All in all, Refrain Chord offers an extensive package that feels complete but also lacks focus and coherency. We would’ve preferred it had the game cut extraneous stuff like Location Shaping and instead directed its resources to a more interesting and challenging tactical combat system. As it stands, what’s on offer here is fine but failed to really excite us and keep us engaged throughout the game’s 40+ hour runtime. At $49.99, you’re definitely getting plenty of bang for your buck but the space that Refrain Chord’s gameplay tries to occupy is already populated with plenty of better alternatives, making this one a tough recommendation, especially as a first choice.


We’re not quite sure where we stand on Refrain Chord. While the soundtrack is top-notch and the core gameplay is definitely accessible, we also feel like the game lacks a certain oomph. The story is probably best enjoyed after playing through Advent Dark Force and although the art direction is fantastic, the aesthetics don’t survive the transition into 3D unscathed. As it stands, we don’t love Refrain Chord but we don’t hate it either. If you’ve been looking to dip your toe into the genre, or if you’re simply looking for a new title to add to your library, you could do far worse but we can’t wholeheartedly recommend this one either.

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Rating: 6.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Fairy Fencer F: Refrain Chord - Review, 6.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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