A Link To The Future

HIGH Refined systems, upgraded graphics, and the same sense of speed.

LOW Perfunctory multiplayer and poorer performance on Switch.

WTF What future Fate games will be colonized by Fate/Grand Order?

When it comes to a genre as steeped in convention (or hidebound, if one’s feeling uncharitable) as Dynasty Warriors-like brawlers, any games that buck expectations are things to be lauded.

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star was one such. It delivered a blazing-fast take on the familiar mechanics of mass slaughter couched in the unique setting of Fate/Extra where heroes and villains from across history and myth fight for dominance over a virtual world constructed by an omnipotent alien supercomputer buried in the center of the moon.

This increasingly-popular Fate franchise, with its tales of mage “Masters”, their superpowered “Servants”, and “Holy Grail Wars” over wish-granting MacGuffins, has merited a sequel in the form of Fate/Extella Link for the PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, courtesy of Marvelous.

Reprising their role as the protagonist of both Fate/Extra and Fate/Extella, players pick up shortly after the events of Extella, having conquered the virtual world of SERAPH and about to take the first steps towards remaking it in their image. As tends to happen in sequels, this hard-earned peace doesn’t last, and a new threat emerges to conveniently provide a plausible reason for all 16 Servants from the first game to return and fight each other (as well as the 11 new Servants) all over again.

Centered around a new character based on Frankish king Charlemagne, the narrative is substantially thinner than the three parallel paths of the original and feels more like a side-story than a full sequel, though it picks up right after the “True Ending” of Extella. This might be a problem in a more traditional title, but to its credit, the writing, restructuring and streamlining of the main campaign shows an understanding of the structure best suited to gameplay in Extella‘s style.

Whereas Extella‘s story mode locked players into three linear campaigns played in sequence and without much choice of characters, Extella Link prefers to go broad, branching each mission into several more, each representing various options chosen at the player’s discretion.

Following the prologue, for example, players can opt to attack one of three possible target locations, encountering different enemy Servants and challenges for each branch. Every variation can be revisited at will (without consequence) to grind for rewards or to explore different lines of dialogue for each pre- and post-battle cutscene. Better still, each mission typically surfaces a challenge objective — to, say, intercept an enemy messenger before it can summon reinforcements, or mount a deep strike to attack an enemy boss. Players can choose any character for any stage, letting Fate/Extella Link emphasize the kind of variety that is the spice of a Warriors-inspired life.

And if variety is the spice of that life, a surprising level of depth is its staple. Where Fate/Extella tended towards a level of monotony uncommon even among Warriors games, new features in Fate/Extella Link add much-needed flair to the otherwise-solid foundational mechanics.

As before, players will control a Servant as they chop their way through endless hordes of weak enemies in an attempt to control territory nodes on a mission map. Each node is guarded by a number of stronger enemies or mini-bosses, and the emphasis is on churning through them as quickly as possible to clear each node and move to the next. Enemy forces do the same, and even on easier difficulty levels will make steady progress if left unchecked. Like the best Warriors-style games, Extella Link is about challenging players to efficiently juggle a number of simultaneous hotspots, addressing successive crises in the most efficient way possible.

A few tweaks to Extella Link‘s combat help make that task less repetitive than before. The old “Extella Maneuver” system has been jettisoned in favor of a new system involving the “Moon Drive”, which allows players to temporarily enter a supercharged mode during which they move even faster and hit harder. Kills scored while in Moon Drive go towards charging up the Servant’s ultimate move — the cinematic, screen-clearing “Noble Phantasm”. The change not only adds a lightly tactical flavoring but also allows the Noble Phantasm to be unleashed multiple times per stage, without the annoying scavenger hunt previously required.

More new wrinkles are added by “Active Skills”, which are on-demand power attacks unique to each Servant and unlocked as they level up, ranging from a single strong rush attack to more tactically-complex healing, buffing, or enemy-restricting techniques. Some Active Skills even have special “class affinity” attributes, and hitting a strong enemy with one can trigger a team-up attack, allowing a Servant and their designated support character to unleash a powerful combo that locks the enemy in place or tosses them into the air for further juggling.

Between Active Skills and the Moon Drive tweaks, the moment-to-moment action in Fate/Extella Link feels refreshed, but the out-of-combat metagame hasn’t been ignored either. A new “Home Base” area allows players to walk around, conversing with their Servants and customizing their costumes and skills. Earned money can also be used to rapidly upgrade newly-unlocked Servants, saving time on the level grin. “Mystic Code” equipment can be crafted to unlock spells for use on the battlefield.

There’s even multiplayer! A king of the hill-style mode is made for easy access, with the full roster and perk selection unlocked for players who want to come to the table fully equipped. Unfortunately, I was unable to test the mode with any live players during my time, and bot matches weren’t interesting enough to give me much hope for Extella Link as the next big e-sport. It is a decent addition, though, if ultimately inconsequential.

More consequential, though, may be a player’s choice of platform. I was able to test both the Nintendo Switch and PS4 versions of the game, and Fate/Extella Link performed significantly better on Sony’s console. The Switch is no slouch, but its framerate is noticeably less smooth, particularly in handheld mode. It’s never unplayable, but big crowds and hectic battles can drop the framerate to a level that clearly shows the hardware struggling to keep up. Players with motion sensitivity or who feel strongly about having the best performance possible would be best served by keeping their Switches docked, or perhaps selecting a different platform if the option is available. Those who don’t mind a bit of technical hiccuping will find that the game is still structurally well-suited to a portable gaming lifestyle.

Though it doesn’t break the mold (and in some ways steps back a bit in terms of narrative scope) Fate/Extella Link is the ideal sequel, holding tight to what worked best about Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star and building on that foundation with a set of well-thought-out additions and changes. Fans of the previous entry and the Fate franchise should give it a look.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Marvelous and published by XSEED Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch, and tested on PS4. Approximately 21 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and testing the multiplayer mode. The game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains descriptors for Fantasy Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes. Characters in the story use some light profanity, and many female characters have revealing character designs.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is reflected in text and visual interface elements. Voiced dialog is in Japanese with English subtitles. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are fully remappable.  

Josh Tolentino
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