Faery: Legends of Avalon Review
Normally I don't like to share my toys with others, but in this case I'm troubled because Faery, a surprisingly good role-playing game, especially for an XBLA title, is having a lot of blind hate being kicked in the game's direction potentially threatening the future of sequels, which would be a shame. In fact, even my friend who relentlessly completes all achievements for every XBLA game ever made steered clear of this one, as if the very act of downloading the trial would put a gypsy curse on all those who dared give it a chance.
Faery offers a solid 8-10 hours of adventuring to RPG fans looking for something a little different. You don't have amnesia and you can tell distinctly what genitalia all the characters have (well, except for maybe Chugflea), so it's automatically better than pretty much every other generic JRPG released since the PlayStation 1. You start out by choosing your hero (or heroine), though the decision is almost entirely superficial. I went with the girl faery because if I'm going to have to stare at a pixie's ass for a dozen hours, it better be Lara Croft's and not Indiana Jones'. You then awaken from stasis to learn that the world (or worlds, plural) is in trouble and you must discover why. You round up the other faery that you chose not to be, then a third party member and off you go, into the mirrors to unravel the mystery.
Each area of the game is a compartmentalized world of its own, usually not particularly large but still with a bit to do. In fact, you'll spend more time flying around solving mild puzzles, completing quests, and talking to all manner of creatures than you will in battle. Some objectives offer up the option to go in, magic blazing, or to find a more intelligent approach (such as setting dung on fire to smoke giant wasps out of their nest). I normally stuck to killing things when possible, as I wanted the experience and after listening to some of these characters talk about their frivolous romance and cake problems in the midst of my world-saving, I had to kill something. Despite a child-friendly rating, Faery has a creepy fantasy feel akin to a Harry Potter version of FernGully. The game features an A to Z of fantasy creatures, from dryads and fawns to dragons and mermaids. The human characters are particularly unnerving as they dwarf your party in size. It all makes for a welcome effect though, effectively creating an immersive atmosphere that belongs wholly to Faery.
Combat is laid out in a traditional turn-based style, similar to the Final Fantasy of yesteryear. Only three characters can be in a party at one time, which is annoying since it means eventually half the cast will end up waiting at the mirrors for you to come and tag them in as needed. You can heavily customize your own faery, and each level you gain a skill point that can be used to learn a new ability or upgrade an old one. Faery goes one step above this standardized system by evolving the appearance of your character as you obtain new abilities (known in the game as a metamorphosis). So my fire-focused faery will have dragonfly wings and a scorpion tail, while yours may have butterfly wings and a different pattern. Early on the temptation will be high to buy up a new ability each level, but you may want to focus on maxing out your primary attacks, and also defense and evasion as the game can get rather difficult.
The combat system does a lot right, but I would have liked to have seen a little more pizazz. For instance, each character's ultimate attack is not exactly the world-ending, screen-shattering affair we've come to expect from similar RPGs. On the normal setting, you'll actually need a decent amount of strategy to survive; you can't just spam fire spells until everyone is dead. More often than not, enemies will be resistant to physical attacks or magic, so you'll need to organize your party accordingly. One character's "spells" are to summon bees, raccoons, and seagulls to attack for him, which I thought was an extremely imaginative touch, but the rest of the characters are straightforward. My main two annoyances are that you can't recover health outside of battle (even with spells or potions), though if you put the game on easy you will regenerate all your health after each fight; and that leftover attacks directed towards a defeated enemy will be discarded, rather than rerouted to a different target.
A few other issues such as a lack of voice acting and plenty of typos mar what is otherwise an enjoyable experience, but there is still a considerable amount of charm to be found in this RPG-lite adventure. Hopefully people give it the chance it deserves; it's not perfect, but it is a great addition to the genre, and unparalleled on XBLA.