A battle was raged, the combatants vying for control of the “Holy Grail.” With this power, they could make any wish come true, reshaping the very face of reality to make it so. The war has ended, the victor sits upon his throne with his servant, and lover, by his side. Oh, also the war took place on the moon, everyone was digitally constructed out of “spiritons,” and your servant/lover is the mind of Nero Claudius, reborn as a busty blonde. So, you know, a run of the mill story.
This was my first experience with the Fate series, so learning all of these details was something of a shock, though not an unpleasant one. Say what you will about anime and Japanese games, but there’s no doubt that they do not lack for creativity. While this was my first time handling the series, this was the series’ first time within the action genre, taking the Musou sub-type for its inaugural outing. Before Fate/Extella, the series existed as visual novels and RPGs. This entry also marks the first time that the player would be able to take direct control of the Servants (the embodiments of historical and mythological figures). This title was developed by Marvelous Inc., makers of the Story of Seasons and Senran Kaguragames, two series that couldn’t be more different. If you’re wondering if the “bouncing physics” of Senran Kagura games make it over to Fate/Extella, they do.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is available for purchase on Steam.
The story of Fate/Extella is something of a mixed bag, and unfortunately it’s where the game is weakest. It’s not so much the content of the story but instead it’s the presentation where the narrative becomes tiresome. The game begins after the Holy War (which took place during Fate/EXTRA) with you, the Master, being the victor. On your journey you met many interesting characters, some of which were friends and other foes. Many of those faces, along with some new ones, make their appearance in Fate/Extella. According to the game’s Steam page, “not just Fate/EXTRA Servants, but characters from Fate/stay night, Fate/Apocrypha, Fate/Grand Order, Fate Zero, and other Fate series will make appearances.” All told, there are 17 playable characters to unlock.
The first sign of trouble happens when the Master (you) runs into a dangerous situation that forces him to separate into three copies of himself, each representing the Mind, Body, and Spirit of the whole. Each version ends up with a different Servant. In the first campaign, you’ll be partnered with Nero Claudius, the red and gold Saber class Servant with deep affections for her Master. The others’ fate I’ll keep mum on to avoid spoilers, but anyone who plays the game will be able to figure them out rather quickly.
From there, you are sent on a quest to both conquer territories and push back a devastating force that threatens not only the Moon, but the Earth as well. Between your battles, and partially within them as well, you’ll be experiencing the story of Fate/Extella, which as said is not terrible, but the way it’s executed leaves much to be desired.
In truth, I found the story exceptionally bland for the first couple of campaigns. It wasn’t until the third that the story began to tie itself up in a neater way, giving better motivations to the characters and explanations for events. Regardless, the writing still wasn’t anything to write home about. Characters are too often shining examples of tired anime tropes. This could also be a matter of difference in culture. It’s not common in Western media for female characters to blush heavily and become extremely embarrassed just at the idea of holding someone’s hand in private.
The love the Master and Servants have for each other is intense, and sadly falls into groan-inducing territory. Long spells go on where the two describe their overwhelming love for each other, with text that reads like high school fan fiction. Everything is just laid on way too thick and it becomes exhausting. That’s an element that actually comes up in the game, “exhausting.”
There’s also far too much exposition and over explanation within the story. Early on, exposition was welcomed. Being new to the series, I had no idea what was going on, so I was thankful that the Master had amnesia and thus needed things spelled out for him. Even without the story, there is an encyclopedia available within the game that explains unique terms, locations, events, etc. Yet it wasn’t just vital information that was over explained, it was everything. From character motivations, to thoughts, to things happening directly in front of me, every character felt it necessary to give long winded explanations, going over every detail multiple times. It was like watching an episode of Dexter.
The story is experienced in four different chapters, though don’t think of them as going in chronological order, necessarily. Each chapter is from a different perspective, with events playing out differently in each. At first I thought they were going for a Roshamon style of storytelling, but this is more like alternate universes; similar in a lot of ways, but critically different in others. By the end, I was glad I experienced the story in full. Though it wasn’t life changing, or even day changing, it was somehow still enjoyable for what it was. The premise is unique, but the personalities and actions are painfully familiar.
Fate/Extella is a Musou game. Musou games include those like Dynasty Warriors and Hyrule Warriors. As such, Fate/Extella scratches that itch for a mindless hack and slash with one warrior against hordes of thousands, most of which are utterly ineffectual. The battlefield is broken up into different sectors, each one dancing between ally and enemy control. It’s up to the player to take over enough sectors to summon forth the boss and conquer the map. Though it’s not required to claim all the sectors within a map, doing so boosts your end score, your experience, and your loot.
Combat is very easy to grasp, and very easy to master. Combinations of heavy and light attacks doll out combo attacks that can wipe out large swathes of enemies at a time. As you level up, more combos will be unlocked, and you will find one combo in each Servant’s arsenal that will suit you the best. Though it’s possible to beat the game without combos, this speedier way to take out enemies will be vital for claiming and keeping your sectors.
In addition to combos, you’ll also have three different kinds of super attacks to use. The most basic one can be used to take out loads of enemies at once, and is great for clearing out multiple Aggressors at once. The second charged attack boosts your characters stats significantly, and in the case of the three main Servants will transform their appearance and attacks. Finally, you have a grand attack that can only be used once per level, and only if you collect three Phantom chips from around the map.
In order to take a sector, you have to destroy a fixed number of enemies before some big bruisers appear. Defeating enough of them turns the sector over to your side. Every so often, an enemy sector will spawn a Plant, which creates Aggressors that will eventually attack one of your sectors. In later missions, this turns it into a game of spinning plates, where you’ll need to maintain a heavily distribution of efforts between different sectors. You may not have time to conquer one while you’re there, so it’s better to take out the Plant and then move to another.
Along with Aggressors, Plants, and the jobber enemies, there are opposing Servants. Much stronger and capable than the “attack programs,” the Servants act as both deterrents to your progress and as end bosses. Sometimes these Servants will be working on their own to take back sectors from your control, while others will focus on hunting you down directly.
Controls can be mapped to either a controller or keyboard and mouse. Speaking for the controller, which I played the majority of the game with, the responsiveness is good and the layout is very simple. The keyboard method takes a lot of getting used to, though that could entirely be personal bias as I’ve never enjoyed playing action games with a keyboard and mouse. The main problem with the controls happens with the lock-on and the camera.
While you can lock onto Servants, you can’t lock on to anything else. This unfortunately makes it very difficult to aim yourself at these targets. Your character moves very fast, and your attacks often propel you a considerable distance. It’s very easy to slide right past a target. Most Aggressors you will lock into a stun state as you hit them, carrying them with you so long as you get that first strike. Others don’t stun after one hit, and so what often happens is you will find yourself curving around them after the first hit, as your character wants to keep moving but the Aggressor doesn’t.
This problem with lock-on is compounded with the issues with the camera. The camera moves very slowly, to put it simply. It may take several seconds to twist the camera around 180 degrees to get that Aggressor you passed back in view. Other times, the camera will get shoved against a wall with you, making it impossible to know what’s going on. Thankfully here, like in most Musou games, you are an absolute beast on the battlefield, so being pushed into a corner doesn’t last for long.
Outside combat, you’ll be able to equip your Servants with chips that will modify their stats and abilities. These slots are made available as you increase your “bond” with them. Bond can be increased either by completing randomly generated side missions or, in the case of the three main Servants, by choosing the correct option within select dialogue sections. As well as chips, you’ll be finding recipes to make “Code Casts,” which equip your Servant with up to four abilities they can use within battle.
Beyond the main campaigns are side stories and free battles. Side Stories put you in control of one of the other Servants, playing throughout their own versions of the story. Free battles let you select any Servant to play in any map of your choosing.
Graphically the game feels dated. The PC version allows for some alterations to the quality to be made, and I highly recommend turning on black outlines to remove many of the jaggies on the character models. Characters are very stiff, turning around like they have a pole up their ass rather than doing so in a natural way. You’ll find the characters rarely move while they speak, at most idly shifting back and forth, and maybe making a change in posture between sentences. It’s going to be the mouths that doing the expressing, and they don’t do it very well. Think Family Guy animation.
As with most games with this graphical quality, there is a silver lining. Any modern PC set up will be able to run this game smoothly, no problem. After all, this is a game that came out first on the Vita, and now comes out on the Switch, two platforms that aren’t as strong as their PS4 and PC counterparts. Character designs are at least interesting, though sometimes groan-inducing (of course this character’s mega form has her in a bikini and heavy plate mail greaves).
The voice acting is hard to critique, as it is often the case with Japanese voice acting. The differences in expression and speech patterns makes it difficult for a non-Japanese speaker to pick up on any subtleties within the acting. Regardless, there’s at least voice acting throughout, each character being fully voiced and every bit of dialogue having those voices to go with it. The only exception is the Master, and that’s most likely because the main character’s gender can be switched whenever you’re in the settings menu.
Musically the game does a great job. There are a few tracks within its library that do a great job of getting the player pumped for the action or emotion of the accompanying scene. Elizabeth’s and Gilgamesh’s themes are a couple of my favorites. In a feature I wish Western games would adopt, tracks can be unlocked and listened to within a separate menu in the game. Along with these tracks you can listen to character voice clips, view their animations, and their models.
There’s no doubt that Fate/Extella surprised me with its premise, but after the initial surprise, I actually did enjoy it, and made me interested in finding out more about the universe it’s made. The dialogue was unfortunately exhausting, with the endless exposition and long winded explanations of something as simple as giving someone a loaf of bread. Whoever their writer was, he must have been charging by the word. Others have said that they felt the story was amazing and rich, so take my opinion on the matter with a grain of salt. If you’re a big Fate fan, then perhaps this writing is on par with the other entries, in your opinion, and you’ll enjoy it just fine.
Gameplay delivers what the Musou genre promises, which is an oddly relaxing hack ‘n’ slash. The only stress comes from having to maintain control of sectors, and even that is minor. This game pairs well with listening to a podcast or watching Netflix on another screen, assuming you’re doing so while playing through a side story and not the main campaign. It is, however, hindered by a limited lock-on system and a camera that feels archaic.
Fate/Extella has depth of content, though not depth of complexity. There’s really not much in the way of hidden tech or carefully researched strategies to use. Playing the game on Very Hard might warrant tackling challenges with more planning, but any challenge can be overcome simply by grinding out (or buying) your levels. This game is cathartic, not offering up a grand experience, but rather something to enjoy for its simplicity.
Overall, there’s a lot of hours of gameplay to be had with this title. The total campaign time clocked in at around 21-22 hours, and I put in another five just for doing side missions and unlocking secret characters. If the DLC on the PC is going to be like how it was on the PS4/Vita, then expect a lot of new costumes, though not any new maps, campaigns, or characters. If you’re a big fan of Musou games, well you’re not lacking for content elsewhere, though PC is somewhat dry in this genre so Fate/Extella would make for a good addition. If you’re a big fan of the Fate series, then you’ll likely find a lot of enjoyment with this title. The genre is simple enough that newcomers will be able to play through, just for the story, without any hiccups. For everyone else, maybe wait for a sale.