The upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake looks to kickstart a new trend in episodic role-playing games, but it looks like indie developer neko.works has beaten Square Enix to the punch with their Japanese style RPG, Light Fairytale. The first episode of Light Fairytale finds its way as a welcome addition to Xbox One’s ever expanding indie library, attracting more Japanese-style games in recent years than ever before.
Light Fairytale Episode 1 is a modestly priced release which ultimately feels like a demo of bigger things to come, and unlike certain episodic adventures on Xbox left without a conclusion (looking at you, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die), it looks like Episode 2 development is already well underway for those thinking of investing in Light Fairytale. I suppose Light Fairytale could pull a Shenmue on everyone after Episode 2, but I guess we will have to cross that bridge if it comes to it.
Just so we’re clear, developer neko.works is not a Japanese studio, but rather it is a French studio creating rather convincing Japanese style video games. A similar feat we recently observed in the recent Xbox One exclusive Gaijin Charenji 1: Kiss or Kill, developed by freshly-minted French developer, overGame Studio. Developer neko.works have also worked on Red Rider, a spin on SEGA’s Super Hang-On with story elements, and an upcoming shooter called Dark Fairytale. Light Fairytale is their attempt to recapture the simplicity and innocence of JRPGs of the ‘90s, but made with modern flair.
Light Fairytale Episode 1 introduces us to the humble origins of our heroes: Haru and Kuroko, with Episode 1 allowing you to experience the same adventure from the perspective of both characters. These guys live in a deeply industrialised and technology-driven world, a world so dependent on human-made creations that the very notion of a blue sky itself is a fairy tale myth to its inhabitants. These characters live in an underground world, with the underprivileged living deeper underneath and ruled with an iron fist by the Empire. It is an interesting premise for sure, where humankind has made the surface world so inhabitable that they were forced to move underground, with only the elite living closer to the surface. The Empire has created a highly policed state, where even a mere child can be arrested on petty grounds.
Haru is a dreamer who, at the start of the adventure, has visions of a clear blue sky, a vision others claim is just mere imagination. His best friend is Kuroko, an energetic and upbeat young woman, who follows Haru on his search for the sky. Of course, this innocent search for the mythical puts them within the crosshairs of the Empire, which sees them placed in a situation far greater than themselves as reluctant heroes. The premise is interesting enough and the characters have a vintage JRPG charm about them, with all the tropes from yesteryear including the classic “girl has crush on her blissfully unaware best friend”, which is something Light Fairytale Episode 1 focuses on a fair bit during its early plot development. It’s a simple, familiar, and charming little story, and most certainly fitting of the moniker “Light Fairytale”.
Visually, Light Fairytale Episode 1 has a style which looks like a marriage of Bravely Default with Final Fantasy VII. Speaking of which, the presentation of the underground world in Light Fairytale is almost akin to the slums of the electric-punk Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, with a softer fairy tale aesthetic of Bravely Default. It’s a warm and charming aesthetic for sure, and the cute character designs contrast quite nicely with the darker set pieces of the game world. Lighting and textures are put to great use here, with the backgrounds resembling the pre-rendered visuals of classic PlayStation RPGs.
Although Light Fairytale is beautiful from an artistic standpoint, some graphical distortions can be quite glaring, such as the slightly choppy character animation and the excessive presence of invisible walls throughout the map, which can make exploration quite confusing. Speaking of confusing, much like the archaic PlayStation RPGs from yesteryear, Light Fairytale suffers from fixed camera angles which can create serious blind spots that players will have great difficulty in figuring out. And in terms of the audio, the soundtrack attempts to create atmosphere and is mostly sombre, but it doesn’t do much to get players to take notice as it feels like background music in the most literal sense.
As a Japanese style RPG, Light Fairytale Episode 1 follows tried and tested genre conventions quite closely. Across the short duration you get to experience some features of the classic turn-based combat system with a typical menu-based approach. Perhaps the most intriguing feature introduced early on is a rage system of sorts (think Samurai Shodown) where characters who have taken a fair beating can respond back with a special rage attack to even the odds. The combat system is as basic as they come, and even the battles are random where players need to clear out an area before facing the boss creature. The core gameplay does break away from the combat a fair bit with side-quests and other segments, including one of stealth, and Light Fairytale has a few fun distractions such an arcade cabinet with a surprisingly addictive ’80s-style arcade racer in which you’ll want to try to beat the high score. It’s nice that on Xbox One the achievements for this game are actually quite a lot of fun to pursue, as they usually involve adorable interactions with the game’s cast.
Light Fairytale Episode 1 feels like the first disc of a multi-disc PlayStation RPG, where it ends just as you start investing into the combat and setting. That being said, it is still a reasonably substantial introduction of what’s to come, with the game allowing you to experience the episode as Haru and Kuroko separately. This doesn’t really change the game much, but each character can provide a different perspective from a storyline standpoint.
This ensures that Light Fairytale Episode 1 is a convincing Japanese style RPG with plenty of artistic charm. Although the story is filled with cringe-worthy tropes and the design is a little archaic in some aspects, Episode 1 is still a nice introduction to what hopefully will be an enduring series, and is a lovingly crafted homage to classic Japanese RPGs with a modern twist of its own, with all tropes and flaws intact.