KEMCO (as always) is busy burning the midnight oil. Not just content with releasing their games on mobile and Sony platforms, they are now starting to port them to every platform they can, Xbox One included. This is good news for users that are fans of the genre since JRPGs are just about non-existent on the Xbox One. And believe me, I looked. I had a friend and fellow reviewer once ask me for a good JRPG recommendation and nothing came to mind. Sure, there are some amazing roleplaying games on the ‘ole Xbox, but aside from a few backwards compatible games from the 360 library and more recently; Asdivine Hearts (another KEMCO game), Romancing Saga, and the two Final Fantasy titles, there’s nothing else worth mentioning. Now with KEMCO’s latest release, Fernz Gate, making its debut on the Xbox One, we have one additional jrpg to add to our tiny pool. But is it a game worth mentioning? Let’s take a look.
I like to jokingly refer to games like Fernz Gate as “new old". I've been playing every type of roleplaying game I could get my hands on (Western, Japanese, tabletop) since the early 90’s, so I've been lucky enough to get to experience all the greats during their prime, in all their innovative, pixelated glory. With its turn-based battle system and slick 32bit style pixel graphics, Fernz Gate is a game that would have felt right at home on PlayStation 1. So even though it's technically a new title, it possesses the old soul of a past generation. I can almost envision this game in CD format, sitting in a hard plastic jewel case with a colorful, artwork-laden instructional booklet nestled comfortably in the front. New old: it's a lot more fun than saying “retro-style" all the time haha.
I can't go into too many details regarding the plot, but I can say this: it's probably the best I’ve seen from KEMCO’s usual fare. You play as a young man named Alex who suddenly finds himself in the mysterious world of Fernland with no memories of how he arrived there. He meets a spunky girl named Toril who gives him a rundown of the current situation. Fernland is a crossroads of sorts where travelers from a multitude of worlds stay while waiting to return back to their original world. There was a goddess who watched over Fernland and its peaceful residents,but one day her powers were stolen by an outworlder named Clangorrah and she disappeared. Now Clangorrah is killing everyone and harvesting their mana while growing in power. Since the residents of Fernland are peaceful by nature and don't know how to fight, they depend on the outworlders to defend them. The plot follows Alex and his new friends Toril, Lita, and Kodan as they slowly decide to join the resistance and save Fernland from the tyrant Clangorrah.
I will say this about the characters: it takes a bit of time to get used to them, but as the game progressed and it started to delve into their backstories I found myself getting attached to them. There are a few stereotypical cliches (Alex is one of those reluctant hero types) that can feel a little dated, but the way they interact with each other is pleasant. Due to the publisher's request, that's all I'm going to say about the plot and character growth at this time.
There are a few systems and mechanics in place that set Fernz Gate apart from the average JRPG. One such example is the buddy system. Three teams of two characters make up your standard battle party. Functioning as pairs, the leader can attack, block, and use skills. The buddy can then act. Other than using their own skills or using a basic attack they also have the option of using items or the support function. Using the support icon increases the power of whatever action you chose for the leader to use. Various buddies can be found and unlocked during the game via special accessory rings. New buddies can also be earned by playing the jar breaker minigame. Unlocked a little ways into the story, jar breaker allows you to spend gems (a special, hard to come by type of currency) for a chance to break open a jar containing a random item. There is also a special store accessed through the menu where you can exchange your gems for a variety of powerful boons and special items. I started off the game with around 1000 gems. I was able to buy a special orb that doubles all experience earned and a consumable item that granted me a one-time huge amount of experience that blasted me to level 54. I was only two hours into the game. Needless to say, I coasted through most of the game until I felt bad and changed the difficulty to a higher level. It’s odd to be able to exploit the game so early on, so I don’t know whether this will be tweaked out at a later date or not.
Also worth mentioning is that characters don’t use mp for their skills, as is the trend in most JRPGs. Instead, each skill has a cooldown period in which you must wait before being able to use the skills again. This goes for both magic and physical skills. The way you learn new magic is interesting as well. By equipping an elemental ring, you can start earning SP after battles to level up that specific element, which then provides you with more powerful spells. Once the ring is unequipped, though, you lose access to that spell set until the appropriate ring is re-equipped. Most of the spells and skills you learn can be leveled up by repeated use, increasing their potency. You can also unleash hidden powerful spells by using certain magic combinations with your buddy during battles. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys grinding and maxing out things, then you got a lot of work to do here.
Another cool mechanic is the secret house that you gain access to later on. It can be accessed at any time through the menu and it allows you to put your extra buddies to work! You have six rooms that can be converted into three different options: planters, doors, and stands. You can take the stat enhancing seeds you find and plant them in the planters to receive fruit after a certain amount of game time passes. You gain multiple fruits per seed, plus they offer bigger stat increases than a regular seed would. If you assign a buddy to a door, they go out on a mission and return with maid coins that can then be traded into the maid co-op for special items and equipment. If you assign a buddy to a stand, they offer special bonuses to your party in battle and they also earn experience. As long as a room is not in use, you can convert it to any type of room you need, so it’s quite a convenient thing to use.
My one major complaint with Fernz Gate is the framerate. While moving around on the field you’ll see an occasional stutter, but when you move diagonally or near certain areas of town, prepare to see a huge drop. After a while, you get used to seeing it and you can avoid the worst of it just by avoiding diagonal movement, but really, it’s a shame to have framerate issues in a title like this. If you are looking for a good JRPG to play, however, I wouldn’t let that put you off. With all it has going on for it, Fernz Gate is well worth the price for those looking for their JRPG fix, and it helps to fill a void in the Xbox One store’s lacking department for the genre.
Xbox Store Page
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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