When I was a youngling, I, as most kids in the late ’80s and early ’90s did, held some rather traditional views on gender stereotypes when it came to video games. Naturally, I know the error of my ways now, but back then, if I was playing a game that involved killing things, be that through the medium of fist and boot or heavy weaponry, I expected to see a male hero.
Nothing struck me as particularly odd about that viewpoint at the time, and popular media, saturated as it was with Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies, certainly backed it up.
But I vividly remember a game that changed my mind. It was a Jaleco/Eurocom title called Rod Land. I attribute my long-standing love of cute female protagonists inflicting extreme amounts of violence on various equally-cute enemies almost entirely to this game, featuring, as it did, two adorable female fairies wandering through various candy-colored environments and kicking the absolute shit out of everything that got in their way.
Fairy Bloom Freesia, an independently-developed Japanese title from Edelweiss that recently hit Steam, has a certain amount in common with Rod Land both aesthetically and conceptually. Consequently, I like it rather a lot.
Fairy Bloom Freesia casts you in the role of the titular fairy, an adorable young green-haired forest sprite with a penchant for laying the smack down on anyone who dares invade her forest. Her cheery, bubbly personality seen in the game’s story scenes is completely at odds with the extreme violence she inflicts on everything that comes near her, and herein lies part of the reason this game is so much fun — it knows it is ridiculous and silly, and embraces this fact wholeheartedly.
At its core, Fairy Bloom Freesia is an arena-based beat ‘em up. Each in-game “day,” Freesia must run around and kick the snot out of any enemies that appear. In doing so, she will earn experience points and level up, which improves her stats automatically, and collect mana, which can be spent in the “intermissions” between levels to acquire new skills. Every so often the formula will be mixed up with a day where Freesia has to defend glowing “vortexes” from enemy attack, or confront some incredibly challenging bosses, but for the most part it’s about mashing the attack button and forming increasingly-hilarious combos.
Except that paints something of a shallow picture of Fairy Bloom Freesia. Despite the first impression you’ll undoubtedly get from the first few levels, Fairy Bloom Freesia is far from a simple button-masher. In fact, it’s a highly technical, highly customizable 2D beat ‘em up that demands skill and practice from its players, as it will well and truly kick your ass if you never progress beyond “punch, punch, punch.”
Perhaps the best thing about it is how customizable the game’s adorable heroine is. Beginning with a small selection of basic attacks according to which direction you push when you hit the attack button and whether or not you’re in the air, you gradually unlock new skills by first of all levelling up enough to access them and then expending mana to acquire them. That’s not all, though — Freesia may only equip four special attacks at once (one for the “special” button by itself, and one each for the “special” button plus up, down or left/right directional inputs) and two passive skills. Complete or fail a level and you can switch these around at will, and they make a huge difference.
Take on a boss that’s dealing huge amounts of damage to you, for example, and you might find the Dying Rat passive skill that increases your attack power when you’re low on HP to be useful. Take on a level that is a seemingly-unstoppable swarm of enemies who repeatedly beat you in the face, and you might find the “Soul Steal” ability that recovers some HP when you kill an enemy to be handy. Having trouble with an enemy that smacks you down when you get up close? Equip some of the ranged attacks and pelt it from afar.
You get the idea.
Fairy Bloom Freesia is not an easy game, particularly when it comes to the boss fights, but it is a rewarding and addictive one. It will make you swear and curse and want to fling your controller out of the window at times, but you’ll inevitably stop yourself and try just once more as you find yourself thinking “I wonder if this will work…”
At least you will if you’re anything like me.
The game’s story mode isn’t very long — you can probably breeze through it in two hours, tops, even with a few retries for difficult levels — but the game is far from over when you beat the final boss. No; additional difficulty levels open up, and you can take your levelled-up Freesia into these to make her even more powerful. Or alternatively you can take on the unlockable “Guardian Mode” in which Freesia takes on increasingly-difficult non-stop waves of enemies. In this mode, you only get three continues as opposed to the endless retries offered in the story mode, and you only get an “intermission” to buff up or change your skills around every few days as opposed to every day. It’s a nice twist on the formula, and trying to best your last performance is a lot of fun.
There’s only one thing that’s really missing from Fairy Bloom Freesia, and that’s an option for a second player to get in on the fun. Multiplayer shouldn’t be expected in every game, of course, but in an unabashedly old-school chaotic beat ‘em up like this, it’s a shame to not be able to share the experience with a friend. There’s also an argument to be made for a versus mode, given that the core combat mechanics actually bear something of a resemblance to Super Smash Bros. with RPG mechanics. Sadly, that, too, is lacking — though it’s hardly a game-breaker.
These omissions aside, Fairy Bloom Freesia is a lot of fun. It looks gorgeous, with delicious sort-of-cel-shaded 3D graphics in-game and beautiful hand-drawn art for cutscenes, and it runs buttery-smooth on fairly modest hardware. Its gameplay initially appears to be simple, but unfolds to reveal its true complexity as you spend time with it.
Plus at the time of writing it’s available for half its usual price on Steam. If you fancy seeing a cute, rosy-cheeked fairy laying the smack down on some monsters, then it’s well worth your time to check it out.