I'm going to go ahead and admit that when I first heard about Fairy Bloom Freesia, I wasn't all too thrilled. Not because it was about fairies or anything, but because it was a doujin attempt at a beat 'em up. This isn't to say that making a game in this genre is an impossible task for anyone that isn't Capcom or Namco, but more often than not indie developers just can't seem to pull off a fun fighter.
Now, this game isn't your run of the mill fighter. You aren't going to be picking characters, walking to one side of the screen and spamming fireballs at someone. Rather, it's a single-player story that has you take control of the titular Freesia, and you are going to be wailing on various monsters and people that threaten your forest. Again, it wasn't selling me.
Then I played it.
It's safe to say that the little fairy has won me over, as her game has certainly got a lot more to offer than you might expect. I highly suggest you check the review out after the jump, especially if you want to see me die a bunch of times in a video of one of the boss fights.
Fairy Bloom Freesia (PC) Developer: Edelweiss Publisher: Nyu Media Release Date: October 17, 2012 MSRP: $7.99 via Steam, Desura or DDL
Edelweiss certainly don't seem to be a one-trick pony, as you may remember that Elliot has already reviewed Ether Vapor, another game they developed which was eventually localised by Nyu Media. However, they are both very different games (I'm pretty sure this game doesn't have barrages of bullets and crazy-looking ships), so there was no indication of what Fairy Bloom Freesia would be like. I can tell you now that you get to beat the snot out of monsters, so it must be cool.
So why are you assaulting innocent slimes with Freesia the fairy? Well, it's because her life is dedicated to protecting Lita Forest, including the ancient Jomon tree in the centre that holds the precious Amal Stone. However, when there is something so valuable up for grabs, people are going to try their best to get it. She has to contend with the forest dwelling monsters, but also the new threat of the aptly named Dharka Kingdom. Lucky for us, Freesia is pretty good at fairy-fu and kicking butt in general.
Fairy Bloom Freesia is a very springy beat 'em up, which definitely encourages you to build large combos and move quickly around the stage while doing so. Stages are set-up similarly to those in Super Smash Bros., as they are small but feature plenty of platforms to add height. Unlike that game, each enemy has health, and defeating enemies will earn you experience points. You also get to see how much damage you are doing via numbers that pop out of enemies when you hit them, which is pretty handy when you try to work out if you are using a good fighting strategy. Also worth noting is that the game has guard breaks. Blocking is absolutely essential to beat the bosses, so be sure to get using it early. You are also invulnerable when dodging, and you can use this to your advantage. It may seem like you can just keep dodging, but bosses (and many regular enemies) will make sure you can't solely rely on this.
Levels come in three different varieties. The most common is a free-for-all, which usually involves hordes of weak monsters and a few tougher creatures trying to stop your fairy guardian efforts. A variant involves 'vortexes', which heal Freesia when she's nearby, but in return need defending from the enemies on screen. They are pretty fragile, so these levels often make for frantic and rewarding excursions from the regular levels. The final level-type features good old boss fights, and they're certainly no push over. The only penalty for dying is that the stage will restart, but you get to keep any experience you may have earned during the fight. Very nice indeed!
While I'm sure most people will go straight into this game with the keyboard, my first thought was to try and use my wired Xbox 360 controller. I was very pleased to see it working without any issues, and what's more, you have full control over key bindings! Very handy, as the first thing I did was rejig which button attacked and which one jumped. The game pad has served me well thus far, but I did try the keyboard controls to see how they fared. By default, movement is assigned to the arrow keys, while the other four buttons are set as Z through V on the keyboard, which works out being jump, special attack, regular attack and block respectively. I managed one of the later levels without much issue, and while I recommend playing with a controller if you have one, it's definitely playable without one. Remember, if you don't like the keyboard layout, feel free to tinker with it!
While beating up monsters, you will be earning mana and experience points. Mana is used in-between levels to add new attacks and abilities for Freesia to use in combat. These come in three different varieties, which are 'basic', 'special' and 'optional'. Basic attacks are always usable in a fight, meaning you are adding new attacks for Freesia to use permanently. These are usually attacks that you can use by hitting a particular direction in mid-air, but there are a few other cool things to unlock. Special attacks have to be set, and you can only use up to four at one time. You bind these to the special attack button (for me, this was B on my Xbox controller), and they change based on whether you are holding up, down, left/right or no direction. I find setting mid-air special attacks work better when bound to the up and down slots, but it's all down to preference. The 'optional' menu features buffs rather than attacks, which means you can alter stats like Freesia's attack and HP, as well as give her more attack power while low in health. Plenty of these can be upgraded several times, but you can only equip two at one time.
Basic enemies tend to be weak and easy to deal with, but you'll soon find that they become a serious threat when they bunch up, and they will bunch up. Luckily you can knock them back very easily, causing swarms of enemies to collide into each other for an impressive and satisfying flurry of numbers on-screen. However, one of the biggest gripes I have with this game is the lack of enemy variety. It doesn't matter a great deal, but it would certainly be a lot nicer to run into different monsters with varied patterns. It was likely due to constraints with the developer (it is a doujin release after all), but it's still a shame. The boss fights are easily the highlights of the game as they force you to keep your wits about you. They also have you trying out new attack and buff combinations, as they are serious yet doable fights that you can't just mash your way through.
The music in Fairy Bloom Freesia is very fitting and inoffensive, which really helps set the scene when you are reading dialogue between fights. It's a lot harder to notice the music while you make sure the next slime monster doesn't fire a cluster bomb laser at you, but again, it does add to the overall experience. Even when you are forced to restart a level when you die, you aren't treated to any annoying 'game over' tunes or the music restarting, so it can certainly be commended for that! It's not going to wow you, but it certainly doesn't under-deliver.
The artwork, for the most part, is very good looking. The different locations in the forest look great as you run about it, kicking enemies across the stage and firing your own fireballs at those pesky slimes. It is a bit of a shame that the first few levels are stuck in the same area, though. As for the dialogue, the Jomon tree and Freesia look very well drawn. The other characters don't seem to have had the same amount of time spent on them, and while they certainly aren't Higurashi bad, there's certainly a noticeable difference when they are shown alongside Freesia. The special attacks look especially great, with lots of green and purple flashes and particles coming from the fairy fighter. The other enemies add their own palettes to the fight, so it certainly isn't dull to watch.
It's great to see that this game has landed on Steam as of day one, and doing so means you also have access to achievements, if that's something that influences your decision to buy games. There are fifty to collect, although right now it seems that there is a problem with Steam recognising when you unlock them. I have a few unlocked in-game, but Steam reckons I don't have any at all. Weird, but I'm sure this will be fixed in due course.
The greatest draw to this game, and I can't stress it enough, is that it is really fun. Sure, if you compare it to some big-name fighters it might not hold up, but don't let the rough edges put you off. It takes guts for a developer to attempt a beat 'em up, even more so for them to stump up their game as a doujin circle, and the fact that it is competent, pretty and fun simply ticks all the right boxes. If you are still unsure, try out the Steam demo, but for $8 this game is an absolute steal!
8.0 - Great: 8s are very impressive efforts in their genre, with just a few noticeable problems holding them back. They won't astound the most discerning players, but they are worth everyone's time and cash.