I don’t like to use the word “hilarious” in my articles because I think it gets used too often. But I have to say it this time: Fearless Fantasy is hilarious. Creators Andrew Kerekes and Daniel Borgmann have eschewed epic storylines in favor of plain ol’ fun. The game’s strongest point, though, is its combat system, which knits gestures and traditional RPG battle mechanics into a brand new type of cloth.
On the surface, the combat system doesn’t look like anything special. There are two kinds of attacks, melee and ranged. They require taps and swipes, respectively. The player must use gestures to both dodge and attack. Where most gesture-based games assign a success/failure consequence to each gesture, though, Fearless Fantasy uses them in groups. Each kind of attack has a unique pattern of taps and swipes, with success or failure (and to what degree) determined by how many symbols the player hits correctly.
This sliding success/failure scale is where Fearless Fantasy starts to shine. When pitting a given character build against a given enemy, the player can be sure that if they can reliably hit the same number of symbols for an attack, they will do the same amount of damage every time. There is some randomness involved in the exact placement of the symbols on the screen, but the pattern of gestures and the timing for hitting them will always be the same. By minimizing randomness, the developers have made the combat system more about actual skill than most gesture-based games can claim.
More depth is added by the interaction between character leveling and the gesture system. Each special skill can have up to five skill points put into it, increasing its potency, duration, or both. As more points are put into a skill, however, its pattern of symbols lengthens. The player gets more opportunities to recover from a bad start, but also has more opportunities to fail. Furthermore, the time each attack takes doesn’t lengthen much, which means the player must react faster. As such, the player must consider how good they are at using each skill when choosing where to put their points. Upgrading weapons and/or strength works similarly, increasing the number of swipes or taps for basic attacks as they grow more powerful.
On top of all that, Fearless Fantasy uses status effects better, perhaps, than any other game I have ever played. The best example is blind. Blind is usually the worst, most horrible, most frustrating status effect a game can inflict on you. In its regular incarnation, it adds a flat random chance that an attack will miss, rendering all of your gear selection and any grinding done obsolete. Not so in Fearless Fantasy. Timing on gestures is usually indicated by a slight flash of the symbol and a larger outline that shrinks until it meets the symbol. When a character is blinded, though, the outlines go away, leaving only the flashing. It’s therefore still possible to perform perfectly if the player is familiar enough with the patterns.
The net result of all this is that combat really does revolve around player skill. When I go back to fight old battles again, it’s not to gain magical number points that will eventually raise my equally magical level number. Arbitrary numerical additions are a side effect of my actual goal, which is to practice succesfully completing patterns that give me trouble. And I haven’t even talked about the choices you have to make about which enemy to target first in a boss encounter, or figuring out how to deal with a monster that’s temporarily immune to a character’s only weapon, or the fact that some enemies are support only and will die instantly if they are the only enemy left.
Since this review is based on the iOS version of the game (a Windows version does exist), one of the things I couldn’t help but notice is that the whole game is designed to work well for short sessions and allow the player to experiment with the game without having to restart it. Cutscenes are short and combat is done in waves. If the software is closed during battle, it’ll pick up on the wave the player was at when they left off. There are three levels of difficulty to choose from for each level, and the party gets some experience even if they all die. Characters can be completely respecced any time outside of battle. There is one sin the game commits on iOS, though, which is not respecting the mute button. It does allow for turning sound and music off in-game.
I think the developers did well in choosing to go with a light-hearted tone for the game. The story feels kinda campy, but the dialogue and the interactions between the characters makes up for it. Two of the three party members are old friends who tell the newcomer funny stories about their past and then tease her while she sulks over something silly. It’s fun to watch and doesn’t get in the way of the wonderful gameplay they’ve created. Beyond the story, there’s funny flavor text for items and monsters and even the store itself. Then there’s the taunt in battle, which is called “Troll”.
Fearless Fantasy is easily my favorite touchscreen game of the year so far. With my tendonitis, though, I wouldn’t want to play the PC version. It can be purchased for $7 on Steam or $4 on iOS. It’s slated for an Android release this summer.