The stars have aligned and so it is finally time for me to write a review for Fate/Grand Order. First of all, Kate is on vacation so I decided to try to fill the holes for the Monday slot. I usually treat myself to one utterly decadent post whenever I have full control of the blog. The second reason is the fact that this summer the English version of the game should be out and I’m sure a good number of people will be looking for reviews. I’m only too happy to accommodate that desire. The last reason is that the second anniversary is also coming up soon. The game initially came out in a rather prototype version so it has changed a lot since it first came out. I will get more into it in the meat of the review but these games are built with a long tail model development model in mind. This means the current game is a little closer to definitive review as one can get with something like a MMORPG that is constantly evolving. This is not the game’s final form but it has enough of its main concepts fleshed out that until a major expansion either sinks or elevates the game to new heights at this point the general rhythms of the game have been established.
As a free to play game you can sink a good deal of time (and amusingly enough money) into the game so it better be good. How has the game shaped up after two years of developments?
Humanity is doomed. The Chaldea Security Organization has discovered that humanity will go extinct in 2016. They planned to send a team of Masters and Servants into the past to prevent this apocalypse but after sabotage, only one magus is left capable of making the trip to the past. After diffusing a time-space anomaly in 2004’s Fuyuki City it is discovered that seven other singularities must be extinguished to save humanity. So the protagonist must work with Servants throughout history in order to ensure humanity can live past 2016.
Type-Moon made its name with Visual Novels but they have always been all too happy to branch out into other mediums. Therefore it only makes sense that they would eventually dip their toes into the lucrative free to play market. The Fate series has proven to be remarkably modular letting it be re-imagined several times to fit everything from anime to novels. It took only the smallest tweaks to create a new version that fit the free to play game mold. In fact, it allowed characters from all the previous Fate series to come together while adding a ton of new Servants. In that regard, it was an amazingly obvious idea to make something like Fate/Grand Order.
There are two main points of appeal for Fate/Grand Order which also happen to be the two main things that are alluring for most Type-Moon titles.
The first is the story. I have played quite a bit of a few free to play games. Terra Battle and Fire Emblem Heroes were the main ones I played and I sampled a bit of Rage of Bahamut. One of the things that stand out about all three games is that the story can only be called serviceable at best. There is mostly the minimum amount of story to move the game forward. Terra Battle and Rage of Bahamut have a decent amount of side lore that can you piece together into the semblance of a greater story but it is very much in the background and only there if you dig for it. The main story is usually very simple almost to the point of being around the plot of something like the original Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy.
Fate/Grand Order, on the other hand, is full-on visual novel levels of text and complexity. It feels like a full story and not just a perfunctory breadcrumb trail because the game needs some sort of narrative. There is also a good deal of side quests and special events that build up the characters and the world. On top of that, there is all the details and lore gained from the flavor text like in the other games I mentioned. The seasonal events often feel like full chapters of the main story. Many of the events are silly but they still have the robustness of a normal plot chapter. The Christmas events have been about Saber Alter being an evil Santa Claus or the Christmas journey of Jeanne d’Arc Alter Santa Lily but still, have full stories. It is above and beyond. In fact, the stories are robust enough that is regularly gets complaints from the fandom that it is stealing resources away from the Tsukihime remake. I can’t say how it stacks up to something like Granblue Fantasy but it is leaps and bounds beyond anything else I have played.
The second real draw is the catalog of characters. If you have played any free to play RPG you will know that the large character selection is usually part of the appeal. They usually get a whole slew of well-known character designers in to create a wide variety of characters in hopes of getting a pretty broad base of appeal. Because of that RPGs based on established properties are extra valuable because they already have characters people will play to get in the game. That is why Fire Emblem Heroes has done so well. Since the Fate characters are so iconic they already have over a dozen hooks without even adding a single new Servant. Saber fandom alone could launch a game so adding in characters from seriees like Fate/Apocrypha and Extra only adds their fandom on top of the already rather fierce general Type-Moon fandom. They have already stated that any official Servant will eventually make their way into the game and so far with only a few exceptions they have kept that promise and it seems all of the stragglers will make their way into the game.
On top of that, there are also a whole bunch of new Servants. In a clever move, most of the new Servants are linked to old popular Servants. They added Darius III who is a classic enemy of Iskandar, Cu Chulainn’s teacher Scáthach, and Knights of the Round Table like Tristan and Agravain. This gives a lot of the new characters a bit of inherited good will. Of course, they also have added new versions of beloved characters as well. At this point, it is an established goal for the game to have a version of Artoria for each class. They also have added some Servants that are totally original like Nikola Tesla, Florence Nightingale, and Kiyohime. This allows some cool new historical characters to get their foot in the door. I’m sure some of them will appear in other main titles. If one or two of the new characters don’t pop up into the next Fate/Extella I will be shocked. It is a super vibrant pool of characters to play. All of the stars from previous games alongside new characters and even some stars from Type-Moon properties. It has numerous hooks on that front and can continually make more.
Beyond those obvious hooks, the hidden third hook is that the game is fairly good at making all the tiers of Servants fairly playable. Obviously, the rarer the character the better their stats but the Grand Order is surprisingly generous to the common Servants. All too often in a game with a gatcha the lower tier characters quickly become nothing more than junk as they become utterly useless as the game goes on. In the worst free to play games the only way to progress is to get the newest rare Servants. Servants like Hans Christian Andersen, Cursed Arm Hassan, and Leonidas are all considered still viable despite only being common rarity. And the ability to use Grails to increase the abilities of lower ranked Servants helps them remain solid team members. Also the game is fairly generous with 4-star Servants. Over half the events will give the player who participates a free gold Servant. While they are not the highest tier 5 stars servants they help round out the Servant pools for players who don’t want to spend huge amounts of money on the game. Some of the better free Servants like Sakata Kintoki (Rider) and Ryougi Shiki (Assassin) even rival or outclass low tier 5 star servants.
On top of that, every time you enter a mission to can add a Servant from people on your friends list to your party. This lets you borrow some heavy hitting Servants from big spenders on your friends list even if you don’t spend any money on the game. All of this means that it is not that hard to get through the game without spending a fortune or being incredibly lucky. It is clear that Type-Moon wants people to experience the story no matter what sort of player they are. Without a doubt, people who spend money will have a much easier time but free players are possible.
Now with all that praise, this might seem like a wonderful game but now it is time to dig into the less stellar parts of the game. The first problem that stands out like a sore thumb is undoubtedly the gatcha. It is somewhat compensated by the fact that the lower tiers are solid but makes no mistake the Fate/Grand Order gatcha is often considered one of the harsher in terms of payouts. The chance of getting a 5-star character is only 1%. On top of that items are mixed in with characters which only adds to the saltiness.
Believe it or not, the gatcha was originally worse because there were no guarantees when making a 10 pull roll so there were long threads of people just posting utter garbage rolls. Since the game started the gatcha was made a little cheaper and some better guarantees were put on 10 rolls but it is still harsh. Also, there are a lot of limited Servants that are only put out for short periods of time in order to promote reckless spending. If you are familiar with such games you know most of the techniques they use to temp money out of people. It can easily sour you on the game when you don’t get the Servant you really want or drain your bank account. Sometimes it does both at the same time. As kind as the free material is the paid portions are utterly unforgiving. If you have any sort of gambling issues or are not good at managing your discretionary income you probably want to stay FAR away from this game.
Beyond that, the mechanics are solid but unimpressive. It is a well-done turn-based RPG. You run a team of six characters through several waves of enemies. Only three Servants will be one any one team at a time with reserve units taking the place of any that die in a wave. If you have ever played an older JRPG or any other free to play turn-based RPG you already have 80% of the gameplay in your head. It is all strategy based with no skill or timing based components. So if you like sitting back and making a plan it provides that challenge but there is no skilled based way to improve your strategies like in Terra Battle or a Paper Mario game. Nothing to write home about but also nothing to complain about either.
Like any free to play game there is a good deal of grind. Expect to do the same missions very often. Farming for experience, items, or stats is sort of the rule of the day. Even the events which are fairly innovative eventually become grinding loops. It can be either a relaxing little diversion or a crippling commitment. It is largely a matter of perspective. Thankfully at this point in the game it can over 8 hours for your stamina meter to refill so you’re not tied to your phone but it can be a little rough at the start. Keep that in mind if this is your first time at the free to play game rodeo.
If you’re reading this in preparation for the English release I will mention that when the game first came out it was in a far rougher version than it is now. A great number of quality of life improvements have been made to the game since its initial release. When the game first came out leveling up and upgrading characters was infinity harder. The quests to get experience were far more stingy and the items needed to upgrade characters to their highest levels were few and far between. People used to make a huge fuss whenever they got a Servant to their max level as even the cheapest servant was often an ordeal to enhance. Now thanks to more place to farm materials, generous events and quests, and just an overall softening of the curve the grind is far kinder.
There are also dozens of little UI tweaks and mechanics upgrades that have made life far easier. Also as the game upgraded the art on Servants with more generic animations to be more distinct and/or flashy. Some of the lower levels characters are still a bit generic but new animations are always being added. I’m not sure how many of these changes will be implemented with the release of the US version but the more the game plays like its current version the better. It was a very rough start. Delight Works has listened to players are is always tweaking the game in accordance with their complaints and requests but it was a long journey.
I’m not going to pretend like Fate/Grand Order is not a mixed bag. It has some of the best parts of Type-Moon properties mixed with some of the worst parts of free to play games. It has the great characters, storytelling, humor, and lore of the universe with some of the more insidious parts of the free to play model. I think it plays better than a lot of other free to play games but there are still some of the traps that can make those games dangerous. Is it worth following. Definitely. If you’re a Fate fan it is as important a part of the series as something like Fate/Apocrypha or Fate/Prototype as it is quickly becoming a huge part of the lore. At the same time I have mentioned on the blog before there are dangers to the free to play model. You don’t become one of the most profitable apps casually. So pay attention to it but know what you’re getting into if you play it anything more than casually.