Warriors style gameplay for fans of the Fate series.
With anime, manga and a raft load of visual novels, the Fate series certainly has plenty of source material to work with when it comes to more traditional video games, with the PSP released Fate/Extra proving the point. Despite the difficulty locating source material in the west, the dungeon crawling Fate/Extra proved to be quite popular over here, at least amongst the limited western fan base. Now, with a release on both PS4 and the Vita, Marvelous are expanding upon the Fate universe with a new game, combining both Musou gameplay and visual novel aspects, called Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.
For those gamers who are only now considering hopping into the Fate universe, Extella will prove difficult to understand without at least some background reading or research, which is something many gamers will not welcome. Knowing that there is something called the Holy Grail Wars, a recurring event in which Masters and their servants battle each other to win control of a computer which can grant them a wish, is only the start of what players will need to know to get the most out of Extella.
As Fate/Extella follows on from Fate/Extra, having played that game already will fill a lot of the gaps in knowledge to enjoy this game. There is very little by way of explanation for newcomers, and the huge number of different terms used to describe the various aspects of the lore feel very overwhelming. The impression is very much that Fate/Extella is a game for the fans.
Things get even more difficult when it comes to the visual novel side of the game. Multiple lengthy cut scenes are used in the game to tell the story and build the characters, but without the previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, much of the narrative will fly over the head of the player. There is some interaction in these parts of the game, a bonding mechanic which will result in improvements for the main gameplay, but otherwise there is very little for a new player to take from the extensive cut scenes. They look great, and are well made, but unless the player is a fan of the Fate universe, much of this will be just an interruption in the Musou gameplay.
For anyone who has played any of the Warriors or other Musou games in the past, the gameplay in Extella will be incredibly familiar. For those who have not, the gameplay is surprisingly simple with the player controlling a character as they beat the hell out of hundreds and hundreds of opponents on a battlefield. The player will regularly rack up knock outs in the thousands as they lay waste to the crowds of enemies that stand in their way.
There is some tactical thought that goes into the wholesale slaughter though. Each “battlefield” is made up of different areas, and it is control of these areas that will lead to overall victory. As the player defeats the mindless grunts in a given area, eventually slightly tougher grunts will appear for the player to defeat, once cleared, the area becomes under the control of the player. This awards the player keys which, once enough have been earned through controlling other areas, will lead to a boss battle. However, the enemy doesn’t just sit and wait for that to happen, and will try to retake areas that have already been cleared in order to earn their own keys. Once they have a set amount of keys, it’s game over.
The hack and slash combat is great fun and fairly mindless, with both weak and strong attacks, combos and a couple of limited-use special attacks that lay waste to whole swathes of enemies. The most important thing though, is that everything runs smoothly. Aside from a couple of slight issues with the camera, the characters are great to control, and even with the huge amount of action occurring on the screen, there was no slow down or particular graphical issues.
Despite this, Fate/Extella suffers from the same big problem that many other Musou games suffer with – repetition. What Extella does, on the Musou side of things, is great, but there is nothing new here that has not been seen before. Characters level up and improve, but this doesn’t lead to anything much new to see, and the missions themselves feel like mostly doing the same thing over and over again. Even outside of the main story, in the Free Mode and Side Stories, the player will find themselves repeating what they have already done, and the gameplay outside of the Musou component does nothing to alleviate the monotony.
Visually, Fate/Extella looks stunning on the little screen of the Vita. It is very colourful and obviously well polished. I would imagine that the PS4 version of the game would not look quite so smooth as the Vita version, but Musou games are more about the gameplay than the looks anyway.
As you may have gathered, I am not a particular fan of the Fate series, and as such Fate/Extella was a bit of a struggle. The cathartic Musou gameplay itself was enjoyable, if repetitive, and the game looked great on the Vita’s small screen. But the story, and the numerous cut scenes, made it feel like the player had walked in half way through a conversation. For fans of the Fate universe, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star will be a Musou flavoured love letter. But for others, those who have not played or followed the Fate series, there are plenty of other Musou games out there that will be easier to follow.