While Tsukihime maybe have been the title that put Type-Moon on the otaku radar it is Fate/Stay Night that solidified their names in Otaku circles. The concept of legendary heroes summoned by powerful wizards in a secret war for a fantastic prize in the modern age is a powerful and wonderfully reusable idea. The original visual novel spawned a sequel visual novel, a prequel novel series, several fighting games, several anime and manga adaptations, and more merchandise than you can shake a Golden Sword of the Victorious at. Anyone who has played the Fate/Stay Night visual novel will see the clear table top RPG elements that influenced the game. So the next logical step in the Fate franchise is take the visual novel and fuse it with the table top RPG and get their child, the video game RPG. Fate/Extra is set in an alternate universe than the main Fate/Stay Night world. It takes the premise and some of the structure of the visual novel and combines it with the game play of a Persona style Japanese RPG with its own unique spin on both.
In Fate/Extra you are allowed to make several choices that majorly effect the story including if you are male or female, which legendary hero you choose as your partner, and who you choose as your main ally and/or romantic interest. For this review I chose to play as a male protagonist, with Saber as my champion, and the Egyptian alchemist as my ally. In this post I will go over all the basic game review points and my musings on the path itself. I plan to do at least 2 more posts looking at the Archer and Caster paths, the female protagonist, the Rin path, and how much you get out of replaying the game a second and third time.
The Holy Grail War has started once again but it is no longer is it 7 magi and 7 warriors. Next Sunday AD a mysterious supercomputer was found on the moon that has recorded all of human history. Many people are chosen to upload their avatars on this strange machine that is a mixture of magical and technological. There they fight for their lives in order for one of them to gain to power of a true wish. The player is one of the 128 participants that made it to the first round of this digital battle for the grail.
After you play through the rather lengthy prologue you get to choose your Servant and get to the brass tacks of fighting in the Holy Grail War. Unlike the Fate/Stay Night battles are more of a structured tournament than a free for all battle royal. In Fate/Extra you are assigned a fellow participant to fight each week until there is only one person left standing. There are three main parts to the game. The first parts is the most visual novel like part of the game. You run around the digital school talking to people in hopes of discovering who your opponent is, what their powers are, and how best to fight them. The more information you get the easier your fight in the coliseum will be. You also use this time to upgrade your Servant’s stats and buy items.
There is the dungeon crawling section where most of the combat takes place. Every week you have to get 2 key cards to qualify for the weekly battle while fighting various digital creatures. The combat is a rock-paper-scissors system where you program your Servant to use a 6 long combination of attacks, blocks, and breaks against an enemy that does the same. At first you can only see on of the six moves your enemy is using but as you fight more of the type of enemy you begin to see more and more of their repertoire automatically. This means unless you are an incredibly good guesser you will often get your bum handed to you the few dozen or so times to meet a new enemy. After a few battles you can guess at what type of patterns any enemy uses as well as the game just showing you more of their patterns as well. You and your servant can also cast spells or use items which are often a great boon.
At the end of the week you will fight your fellow Master in the arena. While the combat system is the same as in the dungeons these battles against the Servants are boss battles. Of course like any boss character have tons of health and a wide variety of special moves as well as any spells their Master’s might cast. The only way to really have a decent chance in the battles is to do the full research on your opponents. Even with a full contingent of research you usually only get 1 to 3 of your opponents moves so realistically anything less than that is foolish. I suppose with some luck and major spell casting you could make it through but most of the time if you follow the plot and take your time you should be able to do all the research every week without any major game play gymnastics.
The combat system is definitely unusual. It is not the standard Attack, Magic, Item, Flee combination although there are elements of that. This unusual design leads to a strange variation of the normal difficulty curve for enemies. When you first meet a new monster in any section they are incredibly tough. But if you fight enough of them they become complete push overs. So learning the general form of the enemies attacks as soon as possible is usually in your best interest. I have a feeling that it will be a very divisive system to most people. You will either think it a very clever way to approach battles or an extreme annoyance you have to work around. I felt the system was functional but at times annoying. It sometimes just feels like a game of chance more than strategy. If you see it as a game of remembering patterns and choosing wisely you will enjoy it. If you see it as nothing more than a very fancy game of Jan-ken-pon you have a greater chance of being annoyed. But it never got in the way of the story which was the most important part for me.
For my first play through I chose Saber. They bill her as the game’s easy mode and from what I have seen of the other two servants this is no joke. She starts out as a powerhouse that easily mows down most enemies with a high attack power. She also has a good defense to help you weather many a beating when you are learning enemy patterns. She also has an auto-resurrect spell which can be a godsend in boss battles. Also once you have her Nobel Phantasm (her most powerful spell) she can easily tear through bosses like they were tissue paper. I would go into her personality but I already wrote a whole article on that. She is fun in her hedonistic and pompous manner. She does a good job in making you enjoy a historical character you might not usually have a good deal of fondness for otherwise.
The biggest turning point in the game other than which servant you choose is who you ally yourself with in the 4th week. You can either choose to save Rani or Rin. Saving one means you develop a relationship with one and have to fight the other. This also changes your fights completely for two weeks of the seven weeks and changes some of the details of the game as well from that point forward. I chose Rani with my first play through. She is a very Rei Ayanami like character. Rani is an artificial human who learns what it is to have feelings though her interactions with the player. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the wizards of Atlus through her but sadly that was not meant to be. She is a strong character and she has a good character arc though the game when she is your partner.
While I have already touched on it through out the post there are some major nudges and winks to any long time Type-Moon fans. There are the obvious shout outs like Arc or Aoko and Touko Aozaki. There are also many subtler jokes like the fact that Lancer is Rin’s servant and the fact that the student’s think that Taiga is having an affair with a certain student she often visits at home. The last Boss is even a pretty big in-joke if you catch it. They even mention a certain cross dressing king of England. I could easily do a whole article just explaining all the sly little Easter eggs. They are not enough to alienate anyone just coming in to the Nasuverse but they are rich rewards for the old fans.
Overall I am unsurprisingly going to give this game a solid thumbs up. A great story with competent game play. It is fun take of the Fate universe that takes the solid premise of the Holy Grail War and creates something that works well on a handheld game platform. The story and dialog are very clearly written by Nasu Kinoko. There is even a manga exchange scene although it is distinctly P-13 so we do not get any long seafood metaphors. It has the feel of the original premise but adds a new series of concepts to make it feel fresher than just a RPG rehash of Fate/Stay Night. It really has me excited for what they are doing do with Fate/Apocrypha now that project has been restarted.
A few quick spoiler thoughts. I mention that this paragraph is full of spoilers just in case anyone is really bothered by them. The first is the decoy protagonist in the prolog. I was definitely a bit thrown off by playing as a character who dies in the preliminaries. It seems like a just an artistic way to start the game and a bit of a tip of the fate to Rin’s prologue in Fate/Stay Night. But by the end of the game the significance of the prologue is even more profound. Also Twice H. Pieceman is a bit of odd last boss. He reminds me of a great deal of Zeromus in Fantasy Fantasy IV. He comes off as this last boss that pops out of nowhere as the true villain. While Pieceman does not totally come out of nowhere he is nowhere nearly as well established as Leo. He is not totally jarring but it is worth mentioning.
There is one reason for any Type-Moon fan to play through Rani’s path and that is during the 4th week you go up against a very unusual Berserker named Arcueid Brunestud. Anyone who has played Tsukihime will instantly recognize the Princess of the True Ancestors. She is definitely a fun the bonus even if most of her dialog is grunts and screams. As I understand she is far harder than the Lancer you would fight on Rin’s path.
It was a little heart breaking to have to fight Rin as well. As a beloved character from Fate/Stay Night it is a bit of a twist of the knife for anyone who is familiar with the original game. I would say the same thing for Lancer but Lancers historically get the short end of the stick in ever Fate game so I am used to that by now. Lancer was one of the hardest bosses I had to fight as his Nobel Phantasm is on of the few attacks that you resisted with luck and I had never raised that stat. I would have to do some major grinding if it were not for Saber’s incredible spell set.
Once again I want to thank Aksys Games for working on this title. They did a super job with the game and clearly put a great deal of effort into it. If you have not already gone out and picked up the game then I suggest you make haste to the store and get a copy. With smaller titles like this it every sale that really counts. Plus I really want to play a legitimate version of Fate/Extra CCC and they are only going to pick up that license if this does well. Don’t you want to learn who the Strange Tail Girl is or see Archer’s totally bad ass new outfit?