The Holy Grail War on the Moon Cell is over and you’ve won, but victory is short-lived as a new threat looms on the horizon. This is Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.
Genre(s): Tactical | RPG
Release Date: Jan 2017
Played: Full game.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
I’ll be honest, I had no idea what kind of game Fate/Extella was going to be, but the one thing I did not expect was a Dynasty Warriors-style tactical title, where you focus on liberating zones from your opponents while wreaking havoc among their troops. But you know what, it works. It really does.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Fate/Extella is different from other games and media in the Fate series, taking place not on Earth but in cyberspace, in a constructed reality on the moon controlled by an ancient machine called the Moon Cell. Humans discovered it but it predates them, its role to chronicle Earth’s history, particularly that of humanity.
Your protagonist is the winner of the Holy Grail War in the Moon Cell’s cyberspace. The machine summoned Wizards to its artificial world, granted them Servants and pitted them against each other, the winner earning the Regalia, the symbol of authority over the Moon Cell, which basically means they’re system admins.
Oh also, they’re Wizards but in truth they’re closer to characters in The Matrix, people who can manipulate the forces of this Cyberspace, than they are to the traditional spellcasters of the Fate series.
As with other titles in the Fate series, Fate/Extella doesn’t have one story arc but several of them, like each other but with pointed differences, such as the protagonist and some events, with the arcs building the overall plot through these divergent points of view.
The first arc stars Saber, who looks exactly like the one from Fate/Stay Night but is not Arturia Pendragon but Nero Claudius, a not-so-nice Roman Emperor played here with something of a romantic look.
At its opening our main character wakes up near his Servant without any memory, apparently in reaching the Moon Cell core to receive his prize for winning the war, he came under an attack that left him with amnesia and severely weakened. And to complicate matters further, it soon becomes clear that the character’s been split into three parts: Mind, Soul and Body, because apparently that’s how their cyberspace bodies work, their life uploaded to the Moon Cell and composed of these three elements, the first representing passion, the second instinct and the third merely a vessel for the other two.
As you battle your enemies, a new threat emerges, that of the Umbral Star and its herald, whose mission is to destroy the Moon Cell so the Umbral Star in the real world can find Earth and destroy it.
If any of this is sounding a bit too convoluted even by Type/Moon standards, then don’t worry, because it is.
Fate/Extella does a very poor job of conveying the base elements of its setting, particularly the timeline, which, as you play the game, you realise is crucial. This forces players to look up the included Encyclopaedia AKA Glossary for all the terms, backstory and details to start making sense of things.
The story of Fate/Extella isn’t bad. Once you go through all arcs and understand how it all fits together, it’s a pretty good story, predictable as all hell and sometimes even cheesier of course, particularly anything involving Saber and the Mind, but considering that all Fate stories are essentially romantic ones, it’s something you have to accept. It’s the admission price, dealing with some overwhelming soppiness.
But where it fails is in the narrative. It spends little time setting up the basics to understand the setting as I mentioned, but then it repeats itself across the story arcs, forcing you to listen to the same exposition each time, which grows a bit annoying to be honest. What makes it worse is that sometimes they repeat the dialogues and monologues verbatim.
Characterisation is solid though, as Type/Moon has always been very good with writing compelling characters that mix history with fantasy. Despite the cheesiness, I loved Nero (Saber) the most, because while they do romanticise the life of the emperor somewhat, to make her seem like a more grandiose figure, they do acknowledge the things the character did, with Saber describing herself as a tyrant at one point. But even the murky past feeds into the character’s ideology of seeking greater pleasures and following her passions.
I do want to say that the character of Altera, the character who pretty much drives the central plot, is the weakest of the bunch, her personality almost cookie cutter anime protagonist, with very little depth to her. Typical case of cold character with cute mushy core.
Speaking of characters, one thing fans of the Fate series will love about Fate/Extella is seeing so many characters from the series show up, from both Fate/Stay Night and its prequel Fate/Zero, in all their glory and with their original voice actors. Trust me, if you’ve heard Iskandar or Gilgamesh speaking once, you never forget their voices. Best of all, they often drop lines and hints that reference their source material, such as Rider mentioning the city stage giving her an advantage because of how familiar she is in stalking it.
And as a follow-up I think one of the strengths of Fate/Extella is that you can use those heroes as well, instead of the game locking you to using solely the protagonists. There are “spells” in combat that you can use to switch the main character with a secondary one and each of the other Servants has their own side-story-arc which you can access from the menu, giving you a chance of seeing other stories, some of them alternatives to the main plot, and controlling these wonderful characters. My favourites while playing were “No Name,” the Archer from Fate/Stay Night, his combination of swords and bows plus his Noble Phantasm “Unlimited Blade Works” just filled me with fandom giddiness, and Lu Bu because he’s kicked my butt hundreds of times in Dynasty Warrior and as Berserker he’s unstoppable.
Every character in Fate/Extella plays completely different to each other as they all have different combos, timings to their attacks, strengths and weaknesses, so there’s a bit of a learning curve when you switch between them, but as you level up in combat, the unlockable moves help the weaker characters stand a chance. For example, Caster is pretty slow and her moves tend to push the enemies away, which is terrible for building combos, but her other skills make up for it, giving her powerful AOE.
The only downside I see here is that some characters start out with a wider range of combos than others. For example, Lu Bu starts out with more options than Caster or Archer, who resort to spamming their regular attacks without any moves that combine those with heavier attacks.
But one thing I will give the game is that levelling up is not essential, you can still defeat enemies and clear the game at low levels. I cleared Lu Bu’s story barely levelling a couple of times, because he’s a beast…well, a Berserker.
Speaking of combat, the basic gameplay in Fate/Extella consists of fighting in small zones, held by your enemy’s forces or your own, trying to conquer theirs and defend yours. The point of this is to build up the Regime Matrix. Once filled it summons the area’s boss, another servant to defeat. Each zone has a given value, with higher ranked zones having more Agressors, which are heavier attack units you must defeat to claim the zone. Servants, of course, also count as aggressors—and some of them are hardcore—and often defeating them is the objective in the mission.
Your Servant fights with combinations of light and heavy attacks and combos build up two gauges, the first one allowing you to unleash Extella Maneuvers, fast rushes that deal damage in an area and massive damage to the first enemy you hit with it—and probably the origin of the game’s name. And the second unlocking a “boost” mode that pierces enemy defences and increases your damage by a ton.
While you can equip skills to boost the recovery of these gauges, they are resources you must handle carefully, especially when fighting other Servants, who will trigger their own boost when at low health. You can counter it with your own or wait until theirs runs out, at which point you can use your Extella maneuver for big damage. If you use it during their boost, it’ll deal minimal damage.
You of course have the Noble Phantasm as well, the most powerful attack for the Servants, tied to their own legends. Nero’s is an attack carrying the name of the Golden Villa, Domus Aurea. Iskandar’s Ionioi Hetairoi summons his entire army, every member of which is another Servant, a Heroic Spirit. Gilgamesh takes out Ea, his prized weapon and Archer goes for “Unlimited Blade Works.”
I would have preferred the Noble Phantasm unlock the more you fight, yet another gauge to fill, because I am not a fan of the way you use them in Fate/Extella, where you need to collect three “Phantasm Chips” found in red items boxes spread around the zones. Once you do, you can use the phantasm once and that’s it. I get the decision to go this way, considering how powerful they are. Still, if they unlocked by just playing the game normally I believe it would’ve been much much better.
I really like the visuals, I love how bright and colourful the environments are and how, by cleverly using their skyboxes and backgrounds they make even the smallest of battlefields feel large instead of claustrophobic. Character models are fine, with very fluid animations save for the face, where they’re barely capable of smiling, which isn’t a problem for Fate/Extella as it uses visual novel styled hand-drawn portraits with dialogue to show character emotions. Still, it’s somewhat disconcerting when the stellar voice acting and expressive art contrast with the dead faces.
I enjoyed the soundtrack very much, particularly the themes that play when you fight Servants and those of the last stages, which ramp up the epic feel to eleven. The opening song I’m not a big fan of, but overall the music is solid as is the voice acting of course.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think Fate/Extella’s fusion of Dynasty Warriors-like gameplay and visual novels would work, but I must admit it really does, even when it goes full corny in the conversations to raise companion affinity—which I’ll admit is pretty cool as it has a definite mechanical benefit! Gameplay is really fun and with multiple characters to explore their side-stories and use them in combat, there’s plenty to come back to.
4.5/5 – Amazing!