Talk about a split personality!
The Fate series has been around since 2004, entertaining its (mostly Japanese-speaking) fanbase with its unique storyline revolving around people, known as Wizards, summoning important historical figures (with some of whom being re-imagined as cute girls, I guess?), known as Servants, and making them fight one another to the death. Like with many Japanese series back in the early 2000s, Fate originally never strayed outside of Japan. As the years progressed, however, Fate eventually found itself falling in line with the ever-increasing number of previously Japanese-exclusive franchises making their way over to North America and Europe and the rest, as they say, is history (get it??)! Today we’re going to be taking a look at the newest game in the Fate series, Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star. I hope that you’re ready to learn a thing or two!
Fate/EXTELLA‘s storyline picks up pretty much right where the 2011 PlayStation Portable game Fate/Extra left off with protagonist Hakuno Kishinami and their Servant, Nero Claudius, having just barely won the Holy Grail War. Standing completely unopposed, Hakuno and Nero made their way to the moon and into the digital world that rests within it known as SE.RA.PH in order to claim their rightful place as its rulers. A proof of their victory, the two were given the Regalia – a device in the shape of the ring that recognizes its owner as the true ruler of SE.RA.PH. and allows them to take control over the Moon Cell Automaton (which is basically a magical supercomputer that pretty much do anything imaginable). I’m sure that some of you are thinking “but if my character has just been given a ring that literally allows him to do anything, what could possibly go wrong?” Well… a lot, actually!
Before actually being able to make use of the Regalia, you have to go through a registration process – one that I’m assuming has more security checks than than Captcha. So, while Hakuno is entering their name, date of birth, signing up for the weekly newsletter, and tagging 5 friends on Facebook (or possibly none of those things), they are, attacked by a looming figure and black out. After waking up, Hakuno discovers that they have amnesia – whoops! To make things worse, Nero informs Hakuno that a familiar blue-clad, fox-eared Caster has been taking over territories while they were asleep – and things only get weirder from there when a second Hakuno Kishinami arrives on the scene.
So I’m sure that, after reading that, some of you might be a bit confused – and that’s okay. Fate/EXTELLA, portraying itself as a direct sequel to Fate/Extra, expects you to already know the details that have transpired up to this point. While that in and of itself isn’t necessarily that hard to grasp, the Fate series itself is very “what-if”-centric and harbors a lot of alternate universes. So bear with me, and let me explain a few things. Fate/EXTELLA picks up where Fate/Extra left off but, is technically not a direct sequel despite what it may convey; it is actually a spin-off title. What makes things even more confusing is that Fate/Extra, and its companion game Fate/Extra CCC (which was never released outside of Japan) are actually spin-offs of Fate/stay night –the first game in the Fate series. So, to put things in perspective, we’re dealing with a spin-off of a spinoff and to top things off, Fate/EXTELLA also pulls in elements from other spin-offs. It’s confusing, but I can promise you that the game is still playable and enjoyable if you pay attention to what’s going on. Despite not explaining every single detail, Fate/EXTELLA does cover enough of the basics to help keep Fate series newbies out of the dark. Anyway, enough of the history lesson – onward to gameplay mechanics!
While Fate games are, traditionally, turn-based RPGs and visual novels, Fate/EXTELLA takes a leap into unknown territory with a style of gameplay that heavily mimics that found within the Warriors series (Dynasty, Samurai, Hyrule, etc.) and is all about kicking ass and taking… land. And, just in case you were wondering, no you can’t settle things diplomatically – you’ve got no choice but to fight! Of course, with this being a Warriors-inspired game, I’m not talking about one-on-one fights – things usually land more in the “1 vs 1000s plus an occasional boss or two” territory. Fate/EXTELLA‘s combat centers around the player’s ability to make use of killer combos and an array devastating special moves in order to quickly and efficiently defeat hordes of oncoming baddies. I’ve got to praise Fate/EXTELLA here because, despite not being an official Warriors game, it sure felt like one. Combat was always fast-paced and precise, enemy AI and strength were both balanced very well, and I also really appreciated how fluid the controls were. There was an occasional camera issue here and there, but other than that there really wasn’t anything to complain about at all!
Fighting may be the crux of Fate/EXTELLA, but it’s a bit more intricate than “kill enemies, take land, rinse, lather, and repeat”. You’ve got to strategize if you want to come out on top, and Fate/EXTELLA‘s brand of strategy is a bit different from the modeled-after Warriors titles thanks to the level setup. Rather than being comprised of large maps with capture points sprinkled about, each (normal) level within the game is comprised of a number of small interlinked territories that can be taken over. Because of this, strategizing is a bit different; you don’t need to focus nearly as much on travel time when deciding when to start taking over or defending a territory, which ultimately cleans up the decision-making process as a whole.
While Fate/EXTELLA does have you fighting over territories, your end goal for each level technically isn’t technically to own the most territories – it’s to own to own the most Regime Keys (and defeat the boss that subsequently spawns afterward, obviously). Each territory has assigned to it a number, and that number determines how many Regime Keys it’s worth. Because of the way Regime Key value is split up,\ owning a single, specific, territory worth a lot of Regime Keys could literally mean the difference between winning and losing the entire level. Regime Key value doesn’t have a concrete rhyme or reason, and isn’t necessarily dictated by territory size or placement, so making sure that you keep an eye on the map at all times is very important. Getting the feel of it takes some work, but it’s a mechanic that ends up being fun and rewarding once you do!
Do you remember when I said that Fate/EXTELLA was a spin-off of a spin-off of a game that also includes content from other spin-offs? Well I hope so, because that mostly shines through when looking at the character roster. Fate/EXTELLA features a cast of over 15 playable characters and includes Servants from Fate/stay night, Fate/Zero, Fate/Apocrypha, Fate/Grand Order, and a few Fate/EXTELLA debuts as well – that’s a lot of Fate! Fortunately, it isn’t required that you play all of those games to understand the story. Though most of the characters originate from previous Fate titles, there aren’t too many ties to their past – there is more focus on the “here and now”. Fate/EXTELLA‘s character roster may not be the biggest one that I have seen, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good one. Plenty of games today boast large numbers of playable characters but don’t have a lot of variance between them – that isn’t the case this time! Fate/EXTELLA‘s roster is a good example of quality over quantity. Each character has their own unique strengths and weaknesses with no two feeling the same, and that’s always a great thing.
Fate/EXTELLA‘s artwork is somewhere between “good” and “great”, depending on what aspect you’re looking at. Personally, I found the game’s 2D graphics and artwork – character portraits, gallery artwork, etc – to be the most enticing. I’ve always appreciated hand-drawn artwork and Fate/EXTELLA delivered on that front. The 3D graphics were a little less impressive, but definitely a solid “good” overall.
The audio quality also fell into the “good – great limbo”. The music itself nice with a few tunes (such as the game’s title screen piece) sticking out, but nothing was particularly memorable apart from that. The voice acting itself was great and while I’d love to go into it more, I can’t speak Japanese – so I’ll leave it at that!
The Fate series itself is a combination of strange things end up being cohesive, and this game is no exception to that rule. Fate/EXTELLA the took series in a new direction thanks to an dramatic witch in game genres and, if you ask me, it ended up paying off thanks to a solid combat system, good amount of character depth, and surprisingly large amount of story content. My experience with this game has been a great one, and I’d really recommend checking it out, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the Fate series itself.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Marvelous Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: January 17, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP; $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (Vita)
Full disclosure: This review is on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.