Fragrant Story Review: Floral Fantasy

Fragrant Story was created by William Kage and his development team Squire Games. Previously, Kage worked on a variety of fanmade tracks for existing SNES games, even going so far as to create a library of Soundfonts for other artists to use for the creation of ‘authentic’-sounding retro music. Kage has completed a Final Fantasy VI ROM hack, and is currently working on several not-for-profit game projects inspired by SNES titles. His main work-in-progress is an EarthBound/MOTHER-inspired game cheekily titled Otosan. Kage planned for Otosan to see a 3DS release, but due to Nintendo discontinuing the 3DS in 2020 with plans to close the console’s eshop in 2023, Kage scrambled to create a smaller-scale game to submit to Nintendo for last-minute approval. Kage opted to expand on a mini-game from Otosan, and Fragrant Story was released as a stand-alone.

Contextualized as a VR arcade game played by the kids in Otosan, Fragrant Story weaves a simplistic tale of battle within the kingdom of Flowergard. The kids take on the role of Fleuristas, warriors with different skills and powers, to protect the kingdom’s leader, Queen Mango. Led by the smooth-talking Colonel Rhubarb, the Fleuristas must fight their way to Wolfsbane, a vicious wolf man who guards the game’s final area, Bramble Hollow.

He may not be a sky pirate, but Rhubarb is delightful all the same.

Fragrant Story is a simplistic isometric SRPG, purposely evoking  Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre (side note: I haven’t actually played these games and can’t speak too deeply on comparisons). At the beginning of story mode or challenge mode, characters can be selected from the line-up of Otosan kids, with each kid taking on a specific job class with unique skills. Combat is executed with a timed-hit system on a spinner wheel – land on specific icons to hit the enemy, do critical damage, heal, dodge, or block. On higher difficulties, the spinner is harder to land more precisely. Successfully defeating enemies nets characters experience points and stat bonuses upon level-up, and finishing stages or challenges grants the player the unfortunately-named currency ‘Stanks’, as well as tickets to unlock extra goodies.  

Fragrant Story is best summarized as a cute little passion project that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. The word ‘little’ needs to be emphasized here, because it is extremely short. My first playthrough of the game’s story mode on the easiest difficulty was probably around 15 or 20 minutes. You could totally beat this game on a lunch break or a commute. To compensate for the short run time and the lack of stages, the game does offer the aforementioned challenge mode and encourages further playthroughs on higher difficulties to grind for Stanks and tickets.

More SRPGs need to include Audrey II as a playable job class.

Unfortunately, Fragrant Story might be a little too simplistic for some, owing to its roots as a minigame within a bigger game. The combat system is extremely barebones. While there are some attempts to have some interesting job classes, like the Bee Summoner that summons, well, bees, and the unlockable class that’s basically a Piranha Plant, there’s not a lot of strategic satisfaction beyond praying the spinner lands correctly on higher difficulties. It’s also not helped that the characters’ levels reset after completing any of the play modes, dashing the enjoyment of building an army. In a slip packaged with the limited physical releases, Kage mentioned that he was able to get an update for the game approved to add more content, a much-needed for the game in its current state. 

Despite my grievances with Fragrant Story’s gameplay, I have a lot of respect for the artistry that went into the game’s design. Artist Gracia Wong created beautiful character art emulating Yoshitaka Amano’s lush art style, with portrait artist Xuav creating more simplistic and less abstract alternate designs in-game. Special notice should be given to the deluxe limited edition version of the game, which resembles Japanese Super Famicom box art. Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known as the composer for the Ivalice Final Fantasy entries, including XII and Tactics, composed the game’s soundtrack. Sakimoto is also joined by Yoshimi Kudo, who composed music for Death Smiles and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Finally, Rhubarb and Queen Mango are voiced by Gideon Emery and Nicole Fantl, previously known as the voices of Balthier and Fran from Final Fantasy XII. Fragrant Story might be a tiny package but there’s a lot of heart in this game.

I’ll be the first to admit this is waaay cooler as a VR concept game than Beat Saber.

Pros: Gorgeous art design inspired by Yoshitaka Amano’s art. Relatively easy to pick up and play despite the game having zero explanations of mechanics. The gimmicky job classes, like the bee summoner, are funny. Short enough to beat over a lunch break or a commute.  

Cons: Extremely short length, which for some people, might be too short for its $4 eshop price. Simplistic mechanics that rely more on luck on higher difficulties. Character experience lacks carry-over between playthroughs. Seriously, this game is pretty bare bones. 

Fragrant Story is available on the NA 3DS eshop. Fragrant Story is definitely not a game for everyone, and individuals who are especially particular about their dollar-to-hour of gameplay ratio are probably not going to be happy. I picked up Fragrant Story as part of my final 3DS eshop haul because of the novelty of it being one of the last few 3DS eshop games to be published, but I found it pretty delightful despite the length and general simplicity. I do hope Kage returns to Flowergard at some point and expands on the existing concept.

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