STAFF REVIEW of Fernz Gate (Xbox One)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

Fernz Gate Box art Recently I had an opportunity to review an RPG game that was such a refreshing step back into the nostalgic times, a time where turn based 16-bit RPG games provided hours, days and even weeks worth of enjoyable content that made the days blur together. Thankfully I had another chance to do this, as KEMCO has released Fernz Gate for the Xbox One, and it delivers on a tremendous amount of classic quality that makes you almost feel like you stepped into a time warp. So, let's not waste any more time and find out if this game is worth the $14.99 price tag.

As we kick things off, it should be said that there is a very in-depth story to Fernz Gate. Maybe in-depth was a wrong choice of wording. Maybe instead, the words 'excessively deep' makes more sense. In the beginning of Fernz Gate you get to see the backstory of how the Overlord used his ability to steal mana from the people of the planet to take control and overthrow the Goddess of peace and love. Essentially this planet is a peaceful world where they don't take up arms in battle or war, and therefore, they are prime targets for evil to take advantage of. Needless to say, it's up to you and your growing band of heroes to fight through the demons to vanquish the Overlord and save the good people of the world.

To accomplish this, you play the role of Alex, who is a young man who mysteriously gets transported to this peaceful planet. It's here that Alex meets his first companion, Toril, a half-naked woman who uses razor sharp discs as her main weapon. One thing to note is that as you meet these people, there is a common thread that they are deliberately holding back so that your character can try to improve their stats. While noble in theory, I thought it lacked originality. I also said that 'excessively deep' would be a way to describe the story, which is because in between all the childish flirtations that we are accustomed to in Japanese games, the amount of unnecessary dialogue is absolutely tremendous. It gets to the point where you start feeling like God in Monty Python screaming "GET ON WITH IT" and it never happens. I'm not saying that the story itself is bad, just overly worded in a great many places.

As you will see, your world is broken up into various places to explore, each one providing you with a mini-map to help guide you where you need to be. It's fairly simplistic, but it helps when you're trying to think of where to enter a cave or how best to approach a wooded area. Each village offers you the chance to talk to its' residents and find out if there are any tasks for you to take part in. As you go through these, one thing stood out as entirely pointless and annoying, and that was the dialogue that was spoken between the characters.

One quest had me walk to an Inn about 20 feet away, talk to someone to get a book, and then walk back to the person 20 feet away to give it to them, and you could say they were a tad bit enthusiastic about this job I just did. That's when you realize that a lot of the missions you'll be taking part in will require you to do a lot of things for very lazy people. Not really the best way to spend your time, but in a peaceful world, there's not much to do that isn't peaceful to begin with.

You'll also find that as your characters become introduced into more and more supporting cast members, you'll see how each one has his/her/its own personality and attack style. This will become important, given that your party will actually be divided into both attacking and support characters. While you could technically go on the offense with all your characters, the ones designated for support will see a damage reduction, which essentially makes them worthless on the attack, but vital beyond measure in their support role. If you don't have a full party, that's OK, that is what the new buddy system is designed for. These buddies not only compliment the members of your current team, but will also level up and acquire new talents and abilities throughout their use.

This whole system regarding the team felt refreshing to me. Unlike certain RPG's that lock you in with characters, this new system allows you to customize and explore other options when it comes to combat. There is a downfall though, and that is you never really get the sensation that you'll need to care about any of them, thus giving them no real value to the story except for the fact that they will aid you in combat. There is another unexpected surprise though in Fernz Gate and that comes in the form of the Curios.

These devices have multiple uses and can be a great source for leveling up your characters quickly. Their first use is that they can control the frequency that you experience enemy encounters. So, when it feels like you've been walking for a long time and not hit anything, you now can set it up so that your battles occur more frequently. Their second function involves the types of enemies you face. You can increase the grouping of enemies, so you fight more of them, or you can use the gems you win in fights to summon box and jar enemies.

Box and Jar enemies are encounters that give you an opportunity to win amazing items and gear, so long as you survive long enough to defeat all the opponents. In the case of Jar enemies, when you strike them hard enough, you will typically spawn an enemy that pops up out of a jar. However, that enemy will hit you like a freight train, so be prepared to focus your efforts and eliminate it quickly. If you wish to destroy a jar in 1 hit, you will need to use a crowbar, and they will smash a jar in one-character turn. The Box enemies are the same except for the fact that they don't spawn enemies, but dramatically cut your damage, so while you may be used to dealing 20-40 damage early on per character, when you hit a Box enemy you'll do like 3-7 instead. Which you may feel is OK, except that each box has a tremendous amount of HP, so you'll be bashing away at it for quite a while. If you want to destroy a Box enemy in one-character move, you'll need to hit it with a hammer.

I should mention that while you're wailing away at these Box and Jar enemies, there will be other enemies that are on the screen that will attack you too, and should you target them and kill them, then the encounter is over and any Box and Jar enemies that you left alive will disappear, along with that their items they had for you. With each encounter costing 10 gems at first, you'll need to decide carefully just which ones you wish to go after, so you don't end up wasting your valuable currency.

The third use of the Curios is that they act as teleporting waypoints for your party. If you find yourself lost in a dungeon, or you don't want to walk all the way back to the beginning to get to the exit, you can use the Curios to teleport back to the opening of the area you were exploring. This way, if you want to grind an area for a long while and then teleport yourself out of there, you can, or if you want to just breeze through an area where you can limit your spawn rates and head on through easily. While you will encounter less enemies, you won't level up as quickly and, from what I've experienced, you'll have a harder time later on in the game.

All of these encounters come in a traditional turn-based gameplay that is complimented by some very solid retro sounding soundtracks. One aspect that was very pleasing to the ears was the lack of voiceover work. Outside of the occasional sound effect, you were treated to varying overworld music that sounds like it came straight out of the 1990's and was quite entertaining and enjoyable. This was also complimented by a tremendous work on the retro graphics that you find throughout every facet of Fernz Gate. From the trees and rocks of the world, to the character models marching in place, you get the sensation that the team behind this was focused on not creating a modern masterpiece, but creating a gaming experience that feels like it’s been lost to us for ages, and they do an incredible job with the details.

There is a learning curve when it comes to learning your abilities and how to incorporate mana use into your battles; however, once that is accomplished for one character and you understand it, the same principles apply to all characters, so any changes that may come along the way (recharge times, etc) can be easily managed so long as you pay attention. Another little gripe I have is that the entire world that you travel through isn't very big at all. While your quests will have you traveling to the same places repeatedly, you almost have to stack your side quests to minimize the trips you will have to take so you can save time.

Overall, I have to say that for $14.99, Fernz Gate delivers a quality retro RPG experience that shouldn't be missed by fans of the genre. While it may seem a bit shallow at first, Fernz Gate offers a wealth of bounty should you have the time to investigate its depths and acquire it. While you're doing that however, get ready for an fairly amazing experience that will take you straight back into the glory days of quality RPG gaming.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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