It’s been a little over half a year since Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star was released, bringing with it an all-new story, and a style of gameplay never before seen within the series. I had the opportunity to play the PlayStation 4 version and found myself enjoying it quite a bit, but I found myself asking the same question that I asked of most games; what if it was portable?
Now some of you out there may be saying “but it was released on the Vita! You could have just played it then!” And you’re right. But I didn’t do that. Fortunately for me, however, the gods of portable gaming somehow got Fate/EXTELLA onto the Nintendo Switch. There was no way that I was going to pass up an opportunity to play that. And I’m very happy that I didn’t.
Moon (Cell) Light Sonata
Fate/EXTELLA begins not too much longer after its predecessor, Fate/EXTRA, ended. Protagonist Hakuno Kishinami and his Servant Nero Claudius have found themselves the victors of the latest Holy Grail War, and have won themselves the Regalia — a ring that gives one control over the Moon Cell Automaton, and complete control over the digital world known as SE.RA.PH (which both games take place in). With the war over, and no other Master/Servant duos to impede their progress, nothing stood in their way. There shouldn’t be any problems then, right?
Nah, of course there are going to be problems. Although, to be fair, I didn’t expect a big bad registry error to be the thing responsible for mucking things up. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. In order for an individual to truly claim the Moon Cell Automaton and SE.RA.PH for themselves, they first need to properly register the Regalia as theirs. This is where things go wrong. While Kishinami is in the middle of the registration processes — under the guidance of the Servant Archimedes — he encounters an error. A fatal memory error. Literally. When he comes to, he’s found that he doesn’t remember anything at all.
I’m sure that many of you reading through all of that didn’t understand most of it, and I’m here to tell you that that’s A-OK. Fate/EXTRA came out all the way back in 2011 for the PSP, and Marvelous seemed to know that many people playing Fate/EXTELLA will have either forgotten what happened in EXTRA, or will have never played it at all. Fortunately, you don’t need to. Fate/EXTELLA has a handy-dandy in-game guide that covers most of the basics. So, although you may not know all of EXTRA‘s details, you’ll still be able to understand this game’s story. Hooray for foresight!
Hack and Backslash Combat
Honestly, I could sum gameplay up by saying that “it plays almost identically to the Warriors games”, and leave it like that. For most of you, that’s probably all of the information you’ll need. I suppose, however, that details are kind of important when it comes to reviews. So, fine, have it your way.
Those familiar with Koei-Tecmo’s Warriors franchise (Dynasty, Samurai, Hyrule, etc.), will have no trouble jumping into Fate/EXTELLA at all. Gameplay is focused around two things — capturing territories, and plowing down hordes of enemies in the process. We’re going to examine this backwards though, and take a look at combat first. Having been inspired by the Warriors games, much of Fate/EXTELLA will whip you up into a button-mashing frenzy as you attempt to clear out waves of low-level enemies. It’s simple, fast, and fun.
As you level up you’ll gain access to new combos, which I suggest that you check out. While some of these flashier moves aren’t up to snuff with basic button-mashing, a number of these combos end up being much more efficient with clearing out enemy territories. Some moves are also effective against bosses. More abilities, such s transformations and Extella Manuveurs give players a wider number of things to play around with on the battlefield as well.
After whaling on enough weaklings, an Aggressor will eventually spawn. Usually more than one, actually. Aggressors, as many of you can guess, are your real targets. They also, as the name implies, put up more resistance than the sprawling mass of underlings surrounding them. Now initially, Aggressors don’t take too much more effort than normal enemies. They’re only slightly bigger and bulkier, and still aren’t very smart. Things don’t stay that way for too long, though. As you progress through the game, Aggressors with special abilities begin to show up, and in greater number too. That’s quantity and quality — yikes!
Oh, but we haven’t even gotten to the Servants yet. After a level or two, enemy Servants (the “playable characters”, if you will) will begin joining the fray. Servants are on a completely different level than anything else. Since enemy Servants, like you, are Heroic Spirits, they’re capable of doing almost everything that you are — such as combos, counter-attacks, and transformations. In contrast to the somewhat aloof AI that normal enemies possess, Servants are a real menace. Not only are they capable of giving you a run for your money in combat but, when left alone, they’ll tear through your territory, claiming it for their own. Servants add a lot of urgency to levels, and are a great addition to the game overall.
Fighting enemies is important, but all of that combat serves a higher purpose — to fill the Regime Matrix. Fancy as it sounds, all it really boils down to is a territory battle. While fundamentally the same as many Warriors games, some of the finer points of Fate/EXTELLA‘s territory wars work differently. First, there’s the level layout themselves. Most games like this will have you running around sprawling landscapes as you journey to and from each capture-able area — there’s none of that nonsense in Fate/EXTELLA. Rather, each level consists entirely of territories for you to capture. Instead of running through “neutral land”, territories are interlinked by a number of access points. These access points allow you to jump from one territory to another almost instantaneously. This helps the game stand out, but truthfully I do kind of like the freedom to run wherever I’d like in a game like this.
Territories themselves also work differently. Rather than having players claim a certain number of territories in order to win, the game tasks you with completing the “Regime Matrix”, and allocates what are known as “Regime Keys” to territories. Regime Keys are, in essence, a point value system. Each territory is worth a certain number of Regime Keys. The first faction to claim 15 or more completes the Regime Matrix. This helps add a strategic element to territory capturing, and allows for more flexibility. Since all territories are not equal in this game, players can focus less on claiming the most territories, and more on which territories they’d like to capture. So long as you properly strategize you can end battles without dragging them out.
Did you know that Fate/EXTELLA grades you based on your performance at the end of each level? Do you care about that? Well if, like me, you do, then some of that previous strategy goes out the window. Part of your end-level grade is based on how many territories you own. You can only receive an “EX” — the highest grade — if you own all of the territories at the end of the level. This makes things trickier, naturally, but I liked it. The need to go for “low-value” territories, combined with the fact that you’ll have to defend even more territories than usual, really ups the game’s difficulty. This is especially prevalent in the later levels, when enemy attacks are very frequent. Fortunately, the game doesn’t grade you based on time. So long as the entire map is yours by the end of the level, you can take your time!
I’d like to end this section by talking about the port itself for a moment. Excited as I was that Fate/EXTELLA was coming to the Switch, I wasn’t sure how well the port would be handled. I’m sure many of you out there are wondering the same thing. Well, I’m happy to report that there’s nothing to worry about at all. There’s no slowdown in gameplay, the graphics haven’t taken a huge hit, and it’s incredibly easy to see on the Switch’s screen. And did I mention that it’s portable? Talk about a win-win!
Most of Fate/EXTELLA is about fighting, but the game does offer a few things to help you relax your battle-weary soul. …Okay, so it really isn’t all that much, but it’s still worth talking about. The first feature is, as I had mentioned before, an impressive glossary. While all of the Servants possess normal stats and combos, which directly relate to their in-game fighting capabilities, they also each possess a number of additional skills. Interestingly enough, these “useless” stats are posted on the character select screen — unintentionally leading those unaware to believing that they are important when they are, in fact, not.
…At least, not in Fate/EXTELLA. While these “fake” stat readouts may serve as little more than flavor text in the game, they’re actually quite important in the Fate series overall. Since Fate/EXTELLA is largely the kind of game which caters to existing fans of the series, the ability to look at each Servant’s characteristics is a lot of fun. It’s made even more enjoyable by the fact that the game provides definitions to everything. Knowledge is power, after all.
Side-missions are also available for each non-main character in the game. These side-missions provide stories from the unique perspective of the “helper” Servants participating in the latest Holy Grail War, and help to expend gameplay. Unfortunately, side-missions are rather short. Not only do they consist of fewer levels, but they’re also light on the dialogue. Seeing as how characters such as Jeanne d’Arc, Artoria, and Gilgamesh (my personal favorite) are in this game, it’s weird that you don’t get to learn more about them.
Last, but not least, we have outfits! Because every game is better with a wardrobe (that’s a fact). Most of the costumes in the original release of Fate/EXTELLA were DLC, leaving players who didn’t want to pay more money with only one or two extra costumes per character. The Switch version has saved the day, however, adding all previous DLC in for free. Oh, and the character portraits match their outfits. How can you not find that exciting?
Umbral Star, Here You Are
Featuring fast-paced and addictive combat with plenty of replay value and adding in an all new Fate story for fans and newcomers alike to enjoy, Fate/EXTELLA does a great job overall. It’s excellent as far as ports go, too. I had just as much fun, if not more, being able to take the game with me on the go, and the free inclusion of all previous DLC wasn’t a bad deal either. If you’re a fan of the Fate series, are looking for a solid Switch game, or just like Fate/EXTELLA so much that you want to play it again, then picking this up should be a no-brainer.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PS4, Vita, PC ; Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc. ; Developer: Marvelous Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 25, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher