I like weird. Weird people, weird films, weird TV, and especially weird games. In fact, I am of the belief that the right amount of weirdness, if executed well, can elevate otherwise mediocre or poor games to unexpected levels of greatness. Such is the case with Fearless Fantasy, a game which, for all its flaws, is actually a genuinely interesting JRPG remix of sorts. It might be short, fairly simple, and pretty meaningless, but Fearless Fantasy is unapologetically fun, silly and occasionally brilliant.
This downloadable oddity follows snarky, nasally bounty hunter Leon Tyler, who, after inadvertently rescuing princess Alice Sundy, decides to help her avoid an unwanted arranged marriage to King Xola (let’s hope they’re from different kingdoms). That’s basically it; characters don’t have any motivations outside of preventing said marriage and delivering awful one liners, and nobody represents anything more than a tired Final Fantasy cliché. And yet, it kind of works. Each character represents stereotypical JRPG archetypes. There’s the wise-cracking lead who seems to do whatever he wants and embarks on a quest for absolutely no reason other than to bury his own impending realization of his lack of real personality or worth, there’s the gruff, stoic, respectable one who seems to know a lot and be really strong but only ever gets to be “the right hand man”, forever in the shadow of “Chuckles McJokes”, and then of course there’s the token female who cowers in fear at any sign of danger in cut scenes, but is contrarily powerful in battles. As characters, they’re all undoubtedly terrible, but as knowing pastiches of JRPG tropes they’re absolutely spot on.
The trouble is, Fearless Fantasy is such an odd beast, it’s difficult to decipher whether or not they’re commenting on story tropes or just repeating them ignorantly. Any attempts at actual humour the game makes fall flat, namely embarrassing fart jokes and two (yes, two!) “NOT” jokes, which are so outdated Borat was making fun of them in 2006. But most of these attempts are so bad they actually become pretty humorous, like the whole thing is some kind of weird meta-joke about making bad, unfunny games. Maybe it’s because Fearless Fantasy trims the fat off what would be an 80+ hour story in any other JRPG-style game that I actually came away feeling somewhat enamoured towards it. Sure, its lazy tropes are blatant and stupid, but they only take up about ten minutes of a compactly designed, six hour RPG, and as such the story itself feels like a silly afterthought stapled onto a vastly superior mechanical product.
Behind the surface level nonsense, there’s a bold and unique take on RPG mechanics lurking within Fearless Fantasy. There are about a dozen pre-ordained, turn based battles in the game, each of which contains 3-5 waves of enemies. Characters can used melee and ranged attacks, as well as items and special abilities, but only when their cool down metre allows them to. Sounds pretty familiar right? Fearless Fantasy then ups the challenge by making the strength and effectiveness of each attack depend on mouse gestures, i.e. dragging your cursor through a series of arrows laid out in different patterns. Rather like the reflex based commands in Costume Quest, these gestures test a player’s speed and accuracy as well as their ability to plan battles tactically and use turns efficiently.
Although the three characters in Leon’s party can only ever learn five special abilities, the gesture system ensures that the outcome of said attacks varies wildly, as does the variety of enemies, stat buffs, and stat penalties on offer. Since the entire game is just a series of battles wherein the player encounters new challenges and stipulations, it eventually becomes a hard grind towards total efficiency and tight teamwork in battle. What at first appears to be far too simple to offer the depth and complexity of AAA RPGS eventually offers relatively similar levels of depth, but without needless complexity.
Each battle can be played via three difficulty settings, each of which offers different amounts of money and XP which can be spent on new weapons, items and gadgets. Eventually, new battles get too difficult to handle, and the player must therefore grind through previous levels on harder difficulty settings, in order to level up. This was a pretty fun system to start with, particularly when returning to previously challenging scenarios, only to pass through them with flying colours, but towards the endgame grinding became a tiresome affair, and the battles lost their surprise value.
That’s the other fantastic thing about Fearless Fantasy, its art style is 50% horrible, 50% brilliant. Clear cut character and enemy sprites clash with fuzzy, sketchy environments in the ugliest of ways, but the sheer creative power of these monstrosities is a sight to behold. Battles take place with all manner of sickening creatures, including, but not limited to: a living, parasitic snack table, a bald, triangle-headed purple man in shorts, cute mushrooms hiding grotesque insects, flying harlequin heads which vomit out smaller heads to gobble you up. And these are the enemies I can describe. There were several encounters in the game that I couldn’t even begin to explain, they were so delightfully weird. These moments are interspersed with the aforementioned cut scenes, which are essentially black and white, pen and paper animatics that carry a similar ugly-yet-kind-of-brilliant aesthetic.
Like I said: I like weird. Fearless Fantasy is exactly that; it’s weird because it’s just about the most intriguing RPG one can play in five hours, despite the fact that its story is total guff and the entire game is basically a series of grinds up to a final boss. This is all wrapped up in cheesy characters, frighteningly strange art, and a genuinely novel gesture combat system. Fearless Fantasy comes with plenty of flaws, but its innate weirdness makes it genuinely unique and endearing.[review]