It seemed like Fate/Hollow Ataraxia was in an eternal limbo where is was fairly close to being translated but at the same time became a running joke that it would never be finished in some sort of Zeno’s Paradox. It seemed the closer it was to be done the longer it took between updates. The original game came out on October, 28th 2005. In the mean time on April 12, 2012, 6 years and 5 months later, Mahou Tsukai no Yoru was released. It quickly became an odd race to see which of the two would come out first. In the beginning it seemed like Witch on the Holy Night would easily cross the finish line before its predecessor. But then Mahou Tsukai no Yoru crashed into the same wall that Fate/Hollow Ataraxia had hit and both of them were in limbo. Then the cold war was finally broken.
If you have even seen a stalled fan work you will quickly realize that threats, pleas, well wishes, and indifference either do nothing or actually actively block progress. Threats and insults just usually make the people behind the project wonder why they started such an undertaking for an ungrateful audience. Pleas often just become regarded as passive aggressive threats rather quickly. Well wishes often start off as encouraging but often become a weight around the teams neck as time goes on. Indifference is usually the greatest killer of stalled projects as they give permission to whoever is working on the project to finally let it go.
There are usually only three things that revitalize such a project. The first is new blood. A new addition to the team can sometimes stir things up. The only problem is new people can easily throw off a team dynamic permanently killing the project and often such projects are not quick to take on new people anyway. The second is new inspiration. Sometimes the people involved will just get a second wind and finish off a project.The problem with that is that while there are 1001 events that can trigger such a renaissance the muse is fickle and such events are extremely rare and unpredictable. It turns out the most common thing that spurns these projects to be finished, in my humble opinion, is wounded pride. I have seen dozens of projects that seem like they will never move forward that spring to life when someone else looks like they might beat the original team. An official license or a rival group has completed thousands of projects that an ocean of cheers and jeers have not budged.
Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is no exception to the rule. It seemed that someone leaked a working copy with Google Translations as place holders in the unfinished parts. A few month later the full real translation was complete. Forget about love or hate. It seems that spite is one of the most powerful forces of the planet.
But with that sordid affair in the past we are mostly here to answer the real questions. How is Fate/Hollow Ataraxia as a follow-up to Fate/Stay Night? How do Caren, Bazett, and Avenger stack up to the original cast? Is there enough Saber?
The answer to the last question is always no.
It would have seemed that the 5th Holy Grail War would be the end to Heaven’s Feel related problems in Fuyuki City but one day Shiro and friends feel the Grail’s call again. Shiro soon learns that he is trapped in a twilight existence existing between dream and reality. People who should be dead are alive, a grail that should just be a sad chapter in history is up for grabs again, and time itself has truly become an illusion. No matter what progress he seems to make Fuyuki City and this phony Holy Grail War continues on in a four-day time loop. All that is clear that the previously unseen Irish brawling magus, pale priestess, and incongruous new Servant have something to do with this false tranquility.
The million dollar question with this game is, “Is Fate/Hollow Ataraxia a proper sequel to Fate/Stay Night?” The answer to that will also answer the question, “What do you want in a follow-up to Fate/Stay Night?” Your answers to those questions show how much you will be enjoying Fate/Hollow Ataraxia.
The thing is Fate/Hollow Ataraxia expands the universe of Fate/Stay Night but it is hard to call it a full-fledged sequel. Much like the muddy twilight world of Fate/Hollow Ataraxia the game exists in a limbo between being a total side story and a full new chapter in the saga. There is a totally new plot line with new characters and events that would influence any later Fate/Stay Night stories but at the same time all of that action is only about 1/5th of the story. The other 4/5ths of the game is filling in holes, expanding back stories, raising C list characters firmly to the B list (I’m look at Kaede Makidera), and just hanging out with beloved characters from the first game.
There is a reason Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is labeled as “fun disc.”
If you found your self jamming down hard on the space bar during cooking scenes in the first game then your going to have a bad time. Lets put it this way, there is more time devoted to Lancer’s part-time jobs and fishing at the pier than we spend with Caren in total. Caren is a key figure in the game. While we see much more of Bazett and Avenger they still get less screen time than Saber or Sakura. Rin spends half the game in England and we see more of her. So the plot is solid but there is not much of it. The majority of the game is Taiga’s box of unwanted persimmons, trips to Waku Waku Splash, conversations about food, and Rider’s reading habits among other minor minutia. There are some great fights and a mystery to solve but they are a smaller piece of the pie.
Much like Kagetsu Tohya this game goes out of it way to be a continuation of all the possible main endings of its predecessor and takes pains to avoid making any of those the definitively cannon ending. At the same time it is not totally inconsequential as Bazett and Caren have become fairly permanent residents of Fuyuki City by the end. Theoretically you could shuffle the new additions off-screen, or totally ignore they existed, but it would be a purposeful exclusion. Beyond that everything else is pretty much questionably part of canon. When the Servants like Caster and Lancer are talking about their back stories it is fairly certain that can be considered 100% part of the official lore but everything else sits in “it was all a dream” territory. There is no official path that would lead to everyone in the game being alive and it is heavily implied some of them are only alive in this strange time loop that has formed over the course of the story. Then again Nasu has gone on the record to state that it is probably best not too think about it too much.
Lets put it this way, you could probably take the main plot of Fate/Hollow Ataraxia and adapt it into a decent length movie and not really have to cut anything vital. The majority of what you would be cutting would just be the extraneous material. It is often funny, character building, or eye-opening material but it is often inconsequential to the main story. It could have easily been placed in supplemental material or spin offs.
The gameplay reflects this change in narrative prerogative. Instead of the being the standard Choose Your Own Adventure formatted visual novel Fate/Hollow Ataraxia revolves around a map of Fuyuki City with a clock that displays the date and time. There are various characters displayed on the map. Choosing who talk to will play a little snippet of standard combo of text and pictures you would get in a Type-Moon story. When the fourth day ends (or Shiro is killed) time loops back to the first day and the story marches forward. Certain characters only appear in certain places at certain times and seeing the same character in the same spot at a different time does not necessarily trigger the same scene. As you progress certain conversations will open up new options. Eventually by collecting the correct flags you can finally get to the bottom of the looping time line and free everyone from the Groundhog’s Day phenomenon.
It is more elegant way of doing what they did in Kagetsu Tohya. The map makes your choices a little easier to see and the flag make your progress far more tangible. It was easy to wonder what you wanted to do next in Kagetsu Tohya but it is fairly easy to get a general idea of what you needed to do in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia.
It also means that overall Fate/Hollow Ataraxia feels more like a short story collection than a grand narrative. Even with the branching story Fate/Stay Night mostly felt like three separate stories that all tied together to tell a greater story. This feels more like a patchwork set of tales with Bazett’s story being the framing device. The fact that certain parts of the story seem to be set after each of the three paths only gives the story a more dream like quality. It is hardly the first time Type-Moon has done something like this. Melty Blood is supposedly set after the non-existent Satsuki Yumizuka route. Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is no exception.
Mechanics aside the most interesting part of the game is probably the new characters introduced. I have always been curious to finally get to see the “real” Caren, Bazett, and Avenger. Before Fate/Hollow Ataraxia was translated the only way for anyone who does not speak Japanese to experience those characters was through supplemental material. The problem is almost all that media is comedic in nature. So all I knew was the hyper stylized versions of their characters. There were some minor write ups of their characters in wikis and fan pages but not much beyond that. While the general idea of Bazett and Avenger’s characters are hardly that hard to figure out I did feel like Caren always felt like a bundle of contradictions when people talked about her.
What little I knew of Bazett always made her seem like my sort of character. A strong no-nonsense woman who can kick a good deal of butt but still has a bit of vulnerability that makes her more than just a personality free robot. The fact that she always wears a smart suit only makes her even more lovable. The funny thing is in general Bazett seems like a machine when you first meet her. The stereotypical sexless character that just happens to have a feminine appearance. They make a big deal about her “Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat” mentality in a series that constantly has characters talking about food and eating. Her very cut and dry philosophy makes her seem like she bland woman with a machine mind and a machine heart. But as her story progresses we see there is more to her under the hood and that she merely keeps this from other people. At the same time it is clear that she is not just secretly a soppy chauvinist stereotype of girl underneath. She is merely a person who happens to be a woman.
Caren on the other hand is a strange bizarro version of her father. She is a fascinating mixture of being exactly like her father in some ways but often being his exact opposite in other times. In the end Kirei was a child who grew up bathed in love but became a loveless monster with a honeyed tongue. Caren on the other hand was raised without love but became a generous soul despite her venom tipped tongue. They both give off unnatural air that makes them both alluring and yet off-putting. Gilgamesh and Lancer are clearly not fans of being her servant much like they were never the besties with Kotomine but for completely different reasons. By having the exact opposite way of handling them she oddly enough engenders the same reaction. She is clearly an odd duck. That is never in question. But she is a compelling odd ball.
The main problem is overall you don’t really see that much of her. She mostly wanders around as the ghostly presence that you know is the key to the mystery but you can’t really talk to her until the last fourth of the game. They throw a bunch of scenes into the game with her then but even then she does not get that much screen time. I think she might get as much screen time as Sella and Leysritt. I mean I love Sella and Leysritt. I’m sad they were not in the orignal game as the initial plans had them be there but I think Caren should get more screen time then Illya’s maids.
Much like Caren we see that Avenger is not playing with a full deck. At first he seems like a remorseless psychopath but as the game goes on it clearly has a deeper fondness for Bazett no matter what he says to her. Much like Caren his initial impression hides his real motivations. The more you see of him the more you unearth the real Avenger.
But this is not all about the new characters. Most of the game is spent with Shiro interacting with the original cast. Saber and Rin got most of their character arcs and back story laid out in the first game so their scenes are almost solely fan service, comedy, and a bit of tenderness. We get a bit more on Rin’s life in England and her rivalry with Luvia but overall Tohsaka is Tohsaka no matter where she is. Sakura is the heroine who probably gets the most growth. Her main running story is about how she has taken over the Archery club with Ayako’s guidance. She really makes a transition from the timid bitter girl to someone much stronger over the course of the game. It is probably the most character growth of anyone in the game. It is not all serious business Sakura all the time. The Japunika Assassination Diary affair shows that better than anything else.
All the Servants and Masters who get killed in the original game really getting some focus in the game. Lancer, especially with his connection to Bazett, get a real focus on his back story as well as how he would live his life had the survived the Holy Grail war. Caster and Souichirou Kuzuki get almost as much examination. Considering that they often die so quickly in anything but Unlimited Blade Works they probably needed the most filling in. If anything they probably get the most explanation of why they were they way they were. After that Rider might come on third in terms of screen time but she still gets far more examination than she ever did in Fate/Stay Night. Seeing her in casual clothing is worth the price of admission. All the character growth and back story are just bonuses. Archer, Assassin, and Gilgamesh get mostly nods but they either already had full character arcs or personal examinations.
Other than that it was a little surprising to see who got to come up from being background characters to actually supporting characters. Kaede Makidera, Kane Himuro, and Yukika Saegusa go from characters who barely got their own sprites to being everywhere and anywhere. I would say they are mainly in the new Unlimited Blade Works anime just because of this game. Sella and Leysritt actually appear beyond their brief cameos in the original game. Part of me wonders how much of their scenes where things that were written when they were still crucial parts of Illya’s canceled path. It does make me a little sad with were denied to loveliness that would have been more Leysritt.
There are a few new minor characters who were off handily mentioned like Otoko, Reikan and Minori are upgraded to characters with dialog, even if it is not that much, since so many other characters got a bump up.
The other thing worth mentioning is almost all the sex scenes are in the Eclipse section as bonus material (for some reason Caren’s scene is in the main game). So if you want to skip all that awkwardness it is kindly in its own little porn dungeon.
Along with the main game there are three little silly extras that come with the game. The first is the Illya’s Castle mini game. If you watched all of Carnival Phantasm you will remember that game got its own special. Its pretty fun and surprisingly meaty for a throw away extra. It would not stand by itself as its own game but it is a fun bonus.
There is also a Hanafuda game with the ladies of the Tiger Dojo. I still have not finished that but it would require me to sit down and learn to play a sort of complicated Japanese card game. It is hardly the minor college course that is learning mahjong but it is a chuck of time none the less.
You can also unlock production pictures at the Tohsaka shrine and wallpapers throughout the game. If nothing else you get to see Saber in a miko’s outfit thanks to the Tohsaka shrine section. Miko Saber is another Saber I have to add to the list of various Sabers.
The Vita version also threw in a tower defense game called Capsule Servant. Now that looks like a game that if you just threw a LITTLE more content on it could be its own title in of itself. As is stands it is an amazing addition to a game that was already filled with content. I can’t wait to find a way to play that myself.
I enjoyed the heck out of my time with Fate/Hollow Ataraxia. I finally got to see Bazett, figured out who Caren is even if that means understanding she is an enigma, and got to catch up with everyone from Fate/Stay Night while learning a bit more about each of them. It is pretty much exactly what I wanted. I could have done with a little more Bazett and Caren but I am not going to complain. But I am an easy sell when it comes to this. No one should be surprised that I loved this.
For anyone else reading this to determine if they want to play the game the answer is more complex. The actually meaty story while entertaining it is more a side dish to the fan service and silliness. It has the most nutrients but it is the smallest part of the meal. Anyone going in expecting a grand narrative with some small breaks for effect is going to either be bored or mad about half way through the game. After the third conversation about ghost stories, the archery club, or eating you might be ready to throw in the towel. Fun always takes precedent over structure here.
Knowing that I think you can figure out what your reaction to Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is.