Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star – You Now Have Permission to Pursue Lu Bu

hisui_icon_4040_round It has been looking like a very good year to be a Type-Moon fan. The year started with the First Order special which was a solid treat after Fate/Grand Order finished its first major story arc. Then there was a whole slew of big announcements. Grand Order is getting the Epic of Remnant story line before they start the next major arc of the game. The Fate/Extra Last Encore anime got a much more definitive time frame. On top of that, a Fate/Apocrypha anime was also announced. While it was mentioned last year it is also worth mentioning that there is also a Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya movie this summer. There is also a ton of manga, light novels, and other material in Japan related to Type-Moon coming out. If you live in Japan your wallet is in consonant danger of being empty.

Here in America and Europe, we get less in English. It is far more than nothing mind you. In fact, the fandom has grown to the point where there is a steady stream of official material supplemented by a somewhat random amount of fan translated material. All the Type-Moon anime has been getting simulcast followed with physical releases and Fate/Complete Character Material volume 2 comes out in March. All of that is spectacular but the crown jewel of English releases has to be Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.

Consider this part one of two of my review of the game. This is my first impressions based on a week of playing the game. I will have a follow-up review after I beat the game. While this review should tell you everything you need to know about the mechanics of the game the next part will do more of a deep dive into the story.

While a victor has been declared in the Holy Grail War all is not well within the Moon Cell. It begins when Nero and her Master tries to claim their domain of the digital Tron-like frontier on the moon. But they soon discover that they have a rival as Tamamo no Mae is trying to do the same thing. She also has a Regalia which marks her as a winner of the Holy Grail War alongside her own version of Nero’s Master. As their battle rages on a third Servant appears with her own Regalia and the same Master. What is happening within the Moon Cell that has created three different versions of Hakuno Kishinami?

In 2010, Fate/Extra was released and the next year it received an English release. It opened a very different timeline of the Fate Universe with all of the action taking place within a supercomputer on the moon. It had mostly new Masters and Servants with a few stalwarts of the series. In fact the two main heroines Nero and Tamamo no Mae gained a major fandom. While they are not OG Saber popular they are definitely in the Sakura and Illya tier of beloved. The gameplay was a grindy rock paper scissors RPG which could make the game a chore but the story was a solid Type-Moon narrative so it a scratched the itch for more Fate Universe material in a new medium.

Then came Fate/Extra CCC. While there was a distinct hunger for that game it never got an English release. I’m not sure if it was the lack of sales of the English version of Fate/Extra, the death of the American PSP market, a combination of those two reasons, or some other factor that stopped the game from coming over. What matters is that it did not get localized. That is a shame because it added some new characters, expanded the Fate/Extra universe, and made some major quality of life upgrades from the first game. While there is always a chance that it could get some sort of digital release here it is not anything I would hold my breath waiting for.

When Fate/Extella was announced it was a bit of bit of a surprise but not utterly shocking. Since the release of Fate/Extra CCC Imageepoch had gone out of business and with the original developer of the game gone the line seemed to be in danger. The seeds for a new game were still there. The Fate/Extra CCC Fox Tail manga is still running, the Fate/Extra cast has appeared in other manga and drama CDs, and Fate/Grand Order has kept the Fate/Extra cast in high demand. Theoretically, they could have just integrated their characters into other parts of the franchise but there was already quite a bit of work put into the Extra universe. So it only made sense for Type-Moon to produce a new Fate/Extra game.

This time around Marvelous developed and published Extella as opposed to just publishing the game like they did for the first two entries. They also changed the gameplay from a turn based RPG to Dynasty Warriors styled action game. It is sort of sequel to Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC. It is definitely in line with previous Type-Moon titles where they have to do some major narrative gymnastics to tell a new story while still letting the multiple branches of the previous games still be canonical. But they already to do that with Fate/Extra CCC so it should be no major surprise now.

It is a solid Dynasty Warriors game with a Type-Moon skin but that also means it has most of the problems you usually have with a game in the Dynasty Warriors template. That means waves of minor enemies to slaughter in order to power you up for mid-bosses and bosses, fighting for control points on a map, and grinding maps for harder difficulty levels. There are some rough patches in the gameplay but it is mostly the first iteration of a well-known formula. Like the first game in a FPS series or a fighting game franchise, the first try has some wrinkles that usually get ironed out in later versions. Just compare the first One Piece: Pirate Warriors game to the third. While some games in the mold are definitely better than others if you have played on game in the genre you have a good idea what most of them are going to provide.

My BIGGEST complaint has to be the lack of a lock-on mechanism. For the standard enemies and most opponents, it does not matter especially on the lower difficulty levels. It occasionally makes fighting a boss a bit of a pain but nothing that can’t be strategized around. As the mid bosses and Servants get faster, more powerful, and have more hit points the lack of lock on becomes increasingly obvious.  When they start zipping around you find yourself getting clobbered while you play with the less than generous camera controls. This is not the sort of game where they would patch that in now but it REALLY needs to be an option in the next game.

Beyond that the mechanisms are solid. The characters and enemies feel very fast. If anything at times a lot of Dynasty Warriors games can feel sort of sluggish. It gives some weight to the big attacks but it can make everything else seem heavier and more sluggish than you would like. Here most of the Servants zip along at an almost frenetic speed. It might seem a little intimidating at first but it has a nice feel as you fall into the games grove. It also makes having to run back and forth on the map a bit less painful. That is not to say that having to constantly run back to save territory is never tedious. You sometimes will involuntarily sigh the third time you have to save one section of the map but it makes that less painful than it might have been otherwise.

The character customization is a nice balance between being fairly deep without being overwhelming. You can install power ups to your Servants that can do every from increasing attack, defense, and speed to adding elemental damage and increasing experience gains. I generally found that if you equip at least one item drop power up you will quickly have a fairly robust selection of upgrades. You can also select different items which allow you different sets of support spells as well. These were mostly story locked so you can’t grind as much for new ones.

Story wise this is trying to be a sequel to Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC. Fate/Extra CCC skirted around the multiple paths in the first game problem with two tricks. The first was to make CCC a prequel and the second was to make it that what happens on the Dark Side of the Moon stay on the Dark Side of the Moon (along with Time, Us and Them, and Money.) Extella avoids that and instead embraces using a multiverse in the way that Steel Ball Run did for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. So much like Steel Ball Run, it is definitely the next title in the series with a shared universe but it is much more of a soft sequel than a full continuation. It distinctly acknowledges and draws upon the existence of previous two games but is actually based on a different timeline than anything in the first two games. Actually, a better analogy would be this game is to first two Fate/Extra games as Melty Blood is to Tsukihime and Kagetsu Tohya.

Just in case any readers were unaware this game was supposed to introduce Attila to the Fate Universe. After the demise of Imageepoch, most of the plans and ideas for a games after Fate/Extra CCC were shelved but not thrown away. This meant that Attila was then given a new lease on life for Fate/Grand Order which then became her debut even though Extella was supposed to be where she was unveiled. So while she seems like she was added into Extella via her popularity in Fate/Grand Order that is not the case. It also explains why she is the only Grand/Order character to make it into Extella despite the fact that some of them are just as popular if not more so. If Extella gets its own follow-up I expect that a few faces from Grand Order would actually make their way there.

The story has two distinct feelings. It starts off like as Romance of the Three Kingdoms as all get out. You have Nero being the noble Liu Bei, whereas Tamamo no Mae is definitely the more villainous Cao Cao, which leaves Atilla as Sun Quan. You don’t get more Warriors than that. It is very clear that Type-Moon made a script that catered itself to the structure and expectations of a Warriors game. I do wonder how different the original outline for Extella was when it was probably envisioned as a more standard RPG styled sequel to Fate/Extra. As the game goes on and the “real plot” kicks in it feels much more like the standard Type-Moon story. Sure, there is dimension hopping, aliens, and the Nostradamus prophecies but at this point that is actually much more in line with cannon Fate material than the Three Kingdoms trappings which would usually only be in omake. I think it is also clear that Type-Moon clearly structures their stories around the medium they are being written for and not vice versa.

I will also mention this is 70% the story of Nero, Tamamo no Mae, and Atilla. They get also all the real characterization, story, and chances to shine. Ten percent of the remaining game space goes to Archimedes who is the only character who has not appeared in some previous game. It takes a while to get a real fro for him because he is clearly hiding things but he does at least get some fleshing out. The rest of the cast is mostly color in the remaining ten percent. They have dialog during main missions and little stories with their own little arcs but they are most just a treat for fans of those characters. Thanks to their previous incarnations they all have a very distinct voice alongside long histories but most of that relies entirely on their previous appearances. Someone like Medusa distinctly feels like herself but might feel a bit more hollow to someone who has not seen Fate/Stay Night. Also most of the missions in the side stories is just missions recycled from the main story. It is only the surrounding narrative that is different.

Unsurprisingly good old Artoria actually gets the most detailed side material. So far she is the only side Servant who gets new maps and mission types. And she appears in quite a few other character’s side stories. For a hidden character, she gets a lot more love than most of the secondary characters. I don’t have a problem with any decision to get more Artoria but I know that is hardly a universal sentiment.

I have to give a world of praise to XSEED Games for their work on bringing over Fate\Extella. They really put in the effort to make this feel like a high-profile release. First of all the game comes with a physical instruction manual. It is a small touch. The game has the modern standard electronic manual as well but the psychical book just feels like an extra bit of attention. It has the additional little bits of art that always used to make those books desirable. The case for the Noble Phantasm edition feels sturdy and looks nice. With the little magnetic latch, it distinctly has the prestige of a proper collector’s item. The chachkies included are neat if a bit extraneous. I like the cards and the small wall scroll cloth that come with the box but they are more fun trinkets than anything that is a deal sealer. The actual thing that really makes the special edition worth it is the art book. It is a mini complete material book filled with a good deal of extra lore and artwork. I always find interesting to see how characters like Robin Hood and Florence Nightingale got cut from the game or seeing Saber in Atilla’s outfit.  If you want to avoid spoilers don’t read the book until after you complete the game but no matter when you read it the art book is a treasure trove of information.

The translation seems fairly methodical. Since I don’t read or speak Japanese I will leave the detailed critique to the experts. All too often it is easy to be an armchair translator but that can easily lead to using how much the game sticks to fanon terms as a metric for quality as opposed to actually analyzing what was written and why.  I can tell at least from the translator’s blog that a tremendous amount of effort was placed into keeping as much of the original spirit and flow of Nasu’s script as possible. You might argue about style until the cows come home but the herculean amount of effort is clear.

So the bottom line is the game has been getting mixed for reviews for a reason. Standard gameplay within a very prolific genre with some quirks that make it stand out for better and worse. A very detailed plot especially for the genre but also clearly the plot of the third game in a series with only lip service attempts to catch up anyone jumping in for the first time. A great selection of Servants but an extremely mild protagonist and an even greater reliance on players knowing characters from previous works. All of that combined makes this a Dynasty Warriors game for Type-Moon fans more than a way for Dynasty Warriors to get into Type-Moon material. That is often the case for these Dynasty Warriors game with a franchise skin but if feels doubly so for Extella.

All that said I’m having a great time with the game. I’m thrilled to see that the Fate/Extra series has had new life breathed into it. I always felt that Nero and Tamamo no Mae had so much untapped potential and they have only started to mine that. I played the mediocre battle system of Fate/Extra to get to the juicy story so a serviceable if pedestrian action game system is completely acceptable for what is to me mostly a narrative delivery system. The writing is the strength of the game and what most people who stick with it are going to hang around for. If you hate Dynasty Warriors games this is not going to change your opinion on them. In fact, if you love Type-Moon stories but hate Dynasty Warriors games you probably just want to read a summary of the story or play with these characters in Fate/Grand Order.

If your reading this your almost certainly a Type-Moon fan looking for the opinion from a fellow fan. There are over a dozen reviews of Extella on more traditional game sites that speak to the more general audience. There are even quite a few reviews on more anime friendly sites that won’t have any anime prejudice that is a bit more prevalent elsewhere. For the type of people who would read this, I say there is a simple metric for your choice: What are your feelings on repetitive Warriors games? If you love those games but wish there was a Type-Moon version then you will be in heaven. If you can tolerate it then you probably speed through the game on an easier difficulty setting and just soak in the story. If you hate the formula then your walking into hell. The reward is great but the suffering will be so much more.

If you know yourself then it will be clear if you need this new addition to the story of The Holy Grail War of the Moon Cell.

As I said this is the first half of my complete review. When I finish the game a link to my in-depth analysis will go here.


3 thoughts on “Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star – You Now Have Permission to Pursue Lu Bu

  1. Dan (@metalcaveman) says:

    You can click the right stick to lock-on to servants and aggressors, it’s a bit finicky, but it’s there, don’t know about the Vita version though. :P

    That art book sounds awesome, but import costs are a bit too much for me right now, and Amazon Mexico doesn’t seem to have it in stock, I’m keeping an eye out just in case it pops up, definitively sounds like something worth having. :P

      • reversethieves says:

        Thanks! I can’t believe I missed that. I feel mega silly now. But that is very good to know. It really helps with the hard difficulty levels. I wish the lock on was better but at least I can use it now.

        You lock on in the Vita version by pressing the screen. It is a bit clunky but the lock on is clunky in general.

        – Alain

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