The Heroic Spirit We Deserve
HIGH The fastest-moving Warriors-style game ever made.
LOW It’s also one of the most repetitious.
WTF Apparently every mythic figure of note was really a cute anime girl… Who knew?
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a love story. That’s a strange thing to say about a game whose mechanics were forged in the bloody mold that shaped the likes of Dynasty Warriors, but it’s true — Fate/Extella is a romance through and through, albeit one that involves ancient alien supercomputers on the moon, a virtual reality world, and the reincarnated ghosts of heroes and villains from across time and space. Classic stuff!
As much as it’s a love story between the dramatis personae, the game also serves as a love letter of sorts to the fans of the Fate franchise. For the uninitiated, Fate is the breakout work of Type-MOON, and one of Japan’s early indie success stories. Taking place in a world of magic, Fate‘s various tales center around pairs of “Masters” and “Servants” battling it out over a wish-granting “Holy Grail”.
The Masters are wizards of varying skill, but it’s the Servants that are the real draw — they’re superpowered reincarnations of historical figures from across time and space. Characters ranging from King Arthur to Lu Bu to William Shakespeare have been summoned to do battle, adopting various character classes in the manner of a custom Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
In a twist that captures the extreme anime-ness of the franchise, it just so happens many of these historical figures are reinterpreted as attractive anime boys and girls (mostly girls.) Love stories and duels between magical combatants take on new and deliciously absurd meaning when they involve the Roman Emperor Nero, reimagined as a short, cute blonde waif with a taste for swordplay and a love of translucent clothing.
Fate/Extella is based on 2010’s Fate/Extra, and takes place in that game’s interpretation of the “canon” Fate setting. In an interesting twist, Extella appears to start mere minutes after the ending of Extra, allowing the player and his or her chosen Servant a few moments of triumph after winning the contest that propelled its predecessor.
While the way Extella presumes prior knowledge of relationships and events from Extra may drive some players away, the game capitalizes on that same investment by functioning, narratively, as an extended coda for the series. Characters don’t spend too much time trying to get to know each other — they’ve already met in most cases, and some have even fallen in love. Where most games tend to treat a couple forming as the end of a story, Extella begins just as the couple is beginning to make their life together.
That life, judging by the mechanics, is one of endless, high-speed slaughter.
Where Fate/Extra was a turn-based JRPG in the dungeon-crawling mode of the Persona series, Extella is a one-against-all brawler. It’s like Dynasty Warriors, except strapped to a rocket and sent flying at high speed. The familiar rhythms of Warriors-style combat are present here, but the pace and scale never fails to impress, even by the lofty standards set by Koei Tecmo. Fate/Extella‘s Servants plow through armies like a combine through wheat, and it’s not unusual for a single ten- to twenty-minute level to rack up a body count in the tens of thousands. Extella‘s combat is forever in constant, unrelenting motion, and at times it can feel like any action that doesn’t take down a few dozen minions is a wasted one.
In fact, simply killing masses of enemies in Fate/Extella is so easy that it’s as effortless as breathing. While this makes it the antithesis of a typical Fate narrative where hours are spent investigating the identity and history of a single servant, it does make for a thoroughly breezy take on the Warriors formula — one that recognizes that the depth in this genre isn’t found in the act of killing, but in determining the most efficient way to flow through hordes in pursuit of mission objectives.
These objectives are almost always linked to taking over chunks of territory on any given map, each one divided into various sectors and controlled by an enemy or group. The trick is that getting to fight these bosses requires the player to kill off a certain number of minor enemies while one’s own sectors are being threatened. Capturing sectors fills the player’s “Regime Matrix” to summon a boss Servant, the defeat of whom ends the mission. This seesawing of advantage and the need to keep up momentum informs Fate/Extella’s gameplay beats.
Unfortunately, those beats turn monotonous. Granted, any game built in the template of Dynasty Warriors comes with a certain level of emphasis on rinse-and-repeat button-mashing, but the level of repetition in Fate/Extella threatens to go beyond the pale.
The campaign follows four separate-but-intertwined storylines, each starring a different cast and focusing on a different aspect of the larger narrative arc. On the strength of characterization, particularly pertaining to Fate/Extra fanservice, the game is unimpeachable. Unfortunately, most of this story happens in visual novel-style segments outside of battle.
The battles boil down to the same few mission types across the same handful of environments against the same enemy types. Even the sidestories (one for each of the playable characters beyond the principal quartet) recycle mission objectives from the main story. The only bit of variety is in the abilities and move sets of different characters, and that simply isn’t enough to keep even me — a die-hard fan of Warriors-style games and of the Fate franchise — from getting bored enough to want to look up the cutscenes online to avoid having to play each campaign through to the end.
Fate/Extella is a solidly-built Warriors-style brawler with a unique sense of speed and a sweet, engaging story. It would’ve been more impressive if it took about half as long to finish, though. Its distinctiveness is spread far too thin, battered into oblivion by endless repetition. Fans of Fate seeking a worthy coda to the story of Fate/Extra will find it here, but it’d be best to engage with the game in short bursts, rather than have it wear out its welcome over long sessions.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Marvelous Entertainment and published by XSEED Games. It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game’s rating is T, and contains alcohol references, fantasy violence, language, partial nudity, and suggestive themes. The story features mass bloodless violence against characters and enemies that are explicitly identified as non-human (though some behave and act realistically). Several female characters (some appearing to be underage) are also drawn with revealing outfits (some bordering on complete nudity) and behaving in sexually suggestive ways. Innuendo and risque language are used, with some mild profanity.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game features subtitles in English. The Japanese voice acting is subtitled for most scenes, though combat quotes are not translated.
Remappable Controls: The game does not contain remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the game.