I loved the Guardian Legend when I got it for Christmas as a surprise gift in 1990. There was nothing else like it and I loved both shooters and RPGs so it was like getting the best of both worlds. Sadly however it would be a long time before another game like it would come along. In Japan however a nice little gem called Fuzzical Fighter was released that really played up its RPG mechanics to produce one of the more unique games for the system.
At the time of its release Fuzzical Fighter was still fairly unique and even today it remains so. There have been plenty of genre mashups over the years, some downright weird but awesome like Puzzle Quest. Combining your typical shoot em up with an RPG is rarely done. The Guardian Legend immediately springs to mind but the only other game I can think of is Sigma Star Saga for the Gameboy Advance. Considering how amazing the previously mentioned titles are I would love to see more games built in this mold. While its RPG elements aren’t the deepest Fuzzical Fighter doesn’t rely on them to carry the game and is an excellent shooter first and foremost.
The planet Funny was unique in the universe. With its many warp zones anyone could travel anywhere instantaneously and the world was in balance. Now however the planet is in danger. The Dimensional Stone which controlled the planets warps has been stolen, throwing the world out of whack. The King decides to send his best pilot Mark in the experimental Fuzzical Fighter to recover the stone and save the world.
From its elaborate backstory, towns, and shops Fuzzical Fighter bears quite a resemblance to one of the myriad Dragon Quest clones in Japan. However that aspect of the game is only surface deep. You won’t be sent on elaborate quests or told to fetch items needed to progress. Each castle is merely window dressing to prepare you for the next shooting stage where you’ll earn all of your gold. That being said the shops offer a wide variety of equipment to outfit your ship with the selection changing each chapter. There are shields to reduce damage, engines for speed, and different weapons to suit your playstyle as well as stat upgrades and healing items. The most interesting is Fuzzy, which is an auto pilot feature that actually does a decent job of playing itself.
Magic is also available although the usefulness of the spells outside of return is debatable. It is worth it to revisit prior stages to find really good weapons not offered by the later shopkeepers. If you are willing to grind it out you can even pay gold to warp to later stages of the game! Not that it is advised however.
For as much as the RPG elements are minimal they do have a crucial impact on the game. The different equipment has a tangible and immediate impact on your ship, from moving faster to taking significantly less damage when hit. There is a long list of weapons to purchase, many covering the shooter staples but a few unique creations as well. Switching equipment on the fly becomes important in the later stages. Some weapons like the search beam are no good in tight corridors where it will spend more time chasing enemies behind walls than an immediate threat. Too much speed can also be a killer. The action phases are quite long, longer than in most games in the genre so having a life bar and an inventory is a god send in that respect.
A consequence of having so many upgrades available is that it can make the game far too easy. One of the most common elements of shooters is that a single hit equals death and the loss of all power-ups. That tension is what motivated you to play better. Here however you can buy power-ups to increase your maximum hit points to a large degree and death simply results in being sent back to town with half your money. There is little penalty for sloppy play. If you are so inclined you can re-visit prior stages to grind out money to buy new gear. Grinding in a shooter, how weird is that? I can appreciate that this isn’t as punishing as most shooters but the easygoing challenge means you’ll blow through it. I guess in that regard it isn’t that different from most shooters after all?
Fuzzical Fighter is an interesting experiment and one that actually works. It would have been cool to see the RPG element played up more the game is completely enjoyable regardless. There is a fan translation patch but the game is totally doable without it. Those looking for something different should check it out.