I’m a real sucker for an RPG, and of the genre, JRPGs are my particular favourite. I can’t even imagine the amount of hours that I’ve sunk in to the various Final Fantasy, Suikoden and Lost Odysseys, so when a new JRPG – Fernz Gate – arrived I just had to check it out.
Coming from EXE-CREATE and published by KEMCO, Fernz Gate has an interesting premise and an appealing retro style. Obviously, given the story driven nature of these games, and the fact that the narrative is a real humdinger with massive twists, I’ll be avoiding spoilers as best I can.
We take the part of Alex, a young man who wakes up in the middle of a forest with no recollection of how he came to be there, having memories only of being on his way home from school. Understandably confused, he is met by a young girl, Toril, who tells him he is in a place called Fernland, and she and he are both “Outworlders”, people who have been drawn from their own world to help the inhabitants of Fernland. They are then jumped by monsters, and as his world is basically a peaceful one, whereas Toril’s is a war torn place and she is used to fighting to survive every day, she teaches Alex how to fight. This is where Alex discovers he has the innate ability to use Brave Strikes, which are powerful attacks similar to the Limit Breaks in the Final Fantasy games. After the fight, Toril teams up with Alex and they make their way to the nearby village.
Here, Toril reveals that there is a bad guy in this world, the Overlord Clangorrah. He appears in the world as an ordinary outsider, but in short order he attacked the world’s guardian, the Goddess, and stole her mana to make himself more powerful. He then went across the world, harvesting the Outworlder’s mana, transforming them into monsters when they were of no more use to him. As you would expect, there is a resistance to the Overlord, and Toril is determined to join it. Alex also wants to help, but having no experience with fighting he opts to join the support squad alongside two squad members, a girl his own age called Lita who is again from a peaceful world but has a talent for magic, and Kodan, a warrior from a world ravaged by dragons.
As you progress through the world, it turns out that each character has their own unique talents that can be used. Alex can pick locks, Toril can skip across stepping stones, Lita can translate tablets that affect things in dungeons and Kodan can send his pet Vibachi – a cat-like creature that is reminiscent of a Chocobo – down rope ladders that are too weak for the main characters. Each of these skills can be improved on at various points in the game, all by choosing correct dialogue options that will increase their skill level. Certain items can do this as well, so it’s worth experimenting with the items that you find. Using the skills depends on the correct person being in control, as in true JRPG style, when the characters are under your direct control, all four of them merge into one. A simple press of LB will see the character change, so making sure Toril is displayed when approaching a set of stepping stones will see the option to cross appear.
With the scene set, Alex and co wander off into the world to prove their worth to the resistance and bring down the Overlord. As you’d expect, when walking around in the various dungeons, monster battles can happen at any time, whereas in towns and the world map, where you choose the next destination, the battles only happen if they are scripted.
The turn based battle system found in Fernz Gate is very deep, and well worth going into, but it does come with a twist. See, at the top of the battle screen are a pair of timeline bars, one for the team and one for the monsters. When the icon for each of the participants reaches the end, they can take an action, however certain abilities and attacks can delay the enemies turn, pushing their icon back down the bar. With a bit of forward planning, it’s possible to keep the monsters delayed while the rest of the team goes to town, and as an added impetus the combo count is recorded at the top of the screen, with achievements related to getting high counts.
The actions that can be taken by the characters, and also in later battles by their buddies, are split into four basic types – physical attacks, abilities (which includes magic and brave strikes), the chance to use an item or guard. Once the buddies turn up, they are the only ones who can use items, which sometimes makes things a little fraught, but again a little planning goes a long way. Magic meanwhile is based on the rings that each character equips, and can be split into Fire, Water and Earth. Interestingly, each type of magic has offensive and defensive attacks, some of which basically enable your character to have their health regenerate each turn. It’s always worth spending a couple of rounds at the start of a big battle to get the teams’ defences up, before starting to go to town on the enemy. The buddies can also lend their strength to power up the main attacks, making them more powerful.
Graphically and Fernz Gate is a throwback to the early days of the JRPG, with a gorgeous 16-bit style reminiscent of the classic titles on the SNES. The dungeon screens are nicely retro too, with secret paths hidden around to lead you to new chests and items. The screen scrolls around smoothly as you move, and the battles, when they happen, are absolutely classic in design with each attack animated to the bare minimum – something which keeps the game in tune with the style. The audio is also very good, with stirring battle music and pleasant tunes as you bimble around looking for the next chest or mission objective. The sounds in battle are fitting – all swishing swords and swooshing magic – to deliver a fantastic throwback to a bygone age.
The negative aspects of Fernz Gate are, thankfully, very small. In fact, pretty much the only thing that took me some time to get used to was in regards the controls. They are based on an eight pointed star style, so playing it with an Xbox One controller initially feels strange. You’ll quickly adapt to it though.
In conclusion and if you like a JRPG you really must play Fernz Gate. The story is amazing, with a real twist that will keep you guessing all the way through, and as a retro exercise it’s almost perfect. What else can I say but play it!