I was told by the Electric Light Orchestra song Twilight (An otaku classic thanks to the Daicon IV opening animation) that, “It’s either real or it’s a dream. There’s nothing that is in between.” Fate/Extella LINK clear proves that statement is completely false. Just when you think you could believe in English rock bands you find out that you can’t really trust anyone.
I have seen more and more anime games following the Musou game formula. Overall it is a decent fit for any anime series that has a large cast of mostly combat capable characters. It has a simple framework where you can plug in a huge cast of character without having to worry too much about balancing them like you would in a fighting game. The games generally have a low bar for entry so they can get a wide variety of players although you might turn away hardcore gamers as they often can be rather mindless especially at lower difficulty levels. They are the sort of the game you put out when you want to put out a game but you don’t want to try too hard. They are more work than say an endless runner but hardly the complexity of an original RPG.
As I mentioned in my two part review of the original Fate/Extella while the Fate/Extra games did fairly well the studio making them went under. This was before the days of Grand Order to give a home to any and all Fate Servants so Type-Moon needed a way to capitalize on the overwhelming success of new Servants like Nero and Tamamo. If nothing else Takashi Takeuchi has always been the sort of guy who has been able to ride a popular wave when he finds one. So Type-Moon teamed up with the publisher Marvelous games again and took the story of the odd rock paper scissors based RPG of Fate/Extra and moved it into a Musou game framework.
Fate/Extella did very well so it only made sense to follow up on that success. Fate/Extella LINK basically continues the story of Fate/Extella while improving some rough game play, adding more playable Servants, and introducing two new Servants.
Since it is my duty to talk about everything and anything Type-Moon related I figured I would talk about the value of this game to Fate Fanatics. I’m going to spoil a major plot point about Charlemagne in this review as it lets me talk about a major element of the game. If you just want my overall opinion the game is an improvement but still very much more of the same. The plot is more of an important side story than a true Fate/Extella 2. The game is good but not essential.
After the chaos of the war over the Regalia in Fate/Extella a general peace has returned to the Moon Cell. Nero, Tamamo, and Atilla have a somewhat turbulent alliance under Hakuno Kishinami. Everyone is trying to build up their forces in preparation for battle with the Galactus like Velber who is now on his way to Earth. But all of that preparation comes to an end when a new army attacks the lands of the Moon Cell being built up by Hakuno. These invaders have the ability to Oraclize Servants. This lets them brainwash people in a way that twists their normal values so they fight for this new army but keep their overall personality and skills. The classic hero Charlemagne allies himself with Hakuno to fight these invaders but it is clear he is more closely linked to the enemy then he lets on.
If you are wondering why this game is called Fate/Extella LINK and not Fate/Extella 2 I would argue this game is more a link between Fate/Extella and Fate/Extella 2 (even if the next game is not called that per se) than a full-blown sequel. Everyone is still gearing up for the arrival of the Umbral Star and its remaining heralds and allies. While this comes up several times and is even an important plot point overall it is more flavor and an anchor point between the games than anything else. Major elements that occur in LINK that will undoubtedly play a major role in Fate/Extella 2 but none of them are 100% important. For anime terms, this is not a filler arc but it is an arc you might only skim over during a re-watch. If this was One Piece it definitely is in the realm of Skypiea more than the Warship Island Arc. (I feel bad comparing Fate/Extella LINK to the Skypiea arc but it is the perfect example of the overall weight of the story.)
The most interesting part of the game is how it handles Charlemagne and Charles the Great. Your ally Charlemagne is based on the fantastical folklore around Charles the Great whereas the antagonist of the story is the historical version. Now, this is not the first time that the Fate universe has summoned multiple versions of the same Servant. Artoria, Elizabeth Báthory, Jack the Ripper, and Vlad III are all examples of this. But in all those cases the different version is either alternate snapshots based on their age or different versions of a legend. Charles the Great is an interesting case considering how radially different the actual life of Charlemagne differs from the art that sprang up around him. The game even mentions that normally if someone summoned Charlemagne he would just be a blend of history and folklore. It is an interesting variant that shows the range of what Type-Moon can still do with Servants that keeps the franchise so fresh.
The Fate/Extella games are always VERY variable in how much attention they pay to characters. Say what you will about the Fate/Extra games but they did have a strong emphasis on even the most minor Servants and Masters. Fate/Extella did a great job with the main Servants and some key characters but could easily give the short shrift to others. Does anyone other than super fans remember much about Lu Bu? I remember those annoying maps trying to take down Gawain’s Numeral of the Saint more than his story. Fate/Extella continues this trend.
Obviously, Nero and Tamamo are always active but I would argue, unlike the previous games they don’t really get an arc. They even joke at one point that they seem to be stuck in a bit of a holding pattern character wise. While Atilla is super important in relation to the plot she is off the screen entirely during the bulk of the story. Also many of rest the fan favorite minor characters from the first three games mostly just get a brief hello and then goodbye. When Gilgamesh, Artoria, and Iskandar pretty much only get one big scene and nothing else it says a lot.
In return, all the Servants that are new to the game get much more screen time and consideration. Astolfo, Gilles de Rais, and Scáthach get a nice chunk of screen time and feel very substantial. Interestingly enough Francis Drake and Robin Hood are treated like new characters considering how critical they are for the story. I assume it is the fact that while they were in the Fate/Extra games they were not in the first Fate/Extella game so they are treated like mostly new characters for anyone who only played the Extella games. Karna is also very important for a veteran but I assume that is mostly because he is always so tied to Arjuna who is a new character.
It randomly occurred to me while I was writing this that Hakuno Kishinami also gets a surprisingly small amount of attention as well. Your first reaction might be that they are just the blando self insert character but if you look over the first four games you will see that the main character gets a good amount of story, characterization, and emphasis. The story actually fleshes them out far more than you would first assume. Despite the fact that Fate/Extella LINK is the first time the main character is physically on the map during battles they feel more like a supporting character than they ever had in the past. It does make it feel more like Charlemagne’s side story as opposed to a sequel to Hakuno’s story.
I mentioned in the last game review that Musou games tend to start off a bit rough with their own variation of the formula and usually improve as they refine their unique mechanics. I would say that Fate/Extella LINK thankfully takes that road map to heart. If you want a complete run down of what is different between games the wiki is actually quite detailed in what changed. I’m mostly just going to talk about the new gameplay that stood out the most.
The MOST important change in my humble opinion is the fact that there are so many more maps that have a different gimmick in how you have to complete them. The original game was filled with maps that were just the route “capture enough section of the map to bring out the boss and then kill them” formula. The few variants were sadly copy pasted to the point where they seemed as bog standard as the plain maps. Fate/Extella LINK has more gimmick maps and then wisely mixes up those gimmicks on different maps. It really helps avoid the fatigue that Musou games engender in general.
Beyond that they tweaked a lot of the combat to make is just a bit more snappy, fast paced, a little more varied. They add some new enemies, a few new mechanics like rush attacks, and generally make things like taking over sectors go much faster. No one feature radically changes anything but altogether it generally makes everything feel less grindy even if the overall gameplay model is grindy for anything late game. If your going to be grindy you should avoid putting the grind in your grind. They also added Active Skills but I almost never used them so their utility or lack thereof was mostly lost on me.
There is a multiplayer PvP mode but I did not really have a major interest in it. If it is anything like the multiplayer modes in One Piece: Pirate Warriors it is mostly there so you can grind power-ups for the end game difficulties. I like the game but beating the game on higher difficulties seems a bit of a hamster wheel I don’t have time for or major interest in. I would like to get all the trophies but I can live without them.
Here is the deal: Fate/Extella LINK definitely improves on the Fate/Extella formula. They make some very good changes that overall improve your quality of life. That said the gameplay is still Musou. It is a less bitter Musou but a Musou none the less. The changes don’t really change the overall feel of the game. If you tolerate or like the Musou formula you will be fine but this will not win any converts. The story is fairly straightforward and well executed. I know my roommate was very cautious since Yuuichirou Higashide is the main author but overall he avoids any of the major downfalls that hampered Fate/Apocrypha. That said the story is fairly straightforward so it does not really have the depth of themes and lore that Fate/Extella LINK had either. You will probably be better off knowing the story for Fate/Extella LINK when the full sequel is released but you probably would be able to get up to speed with a quick summary if needed as well. It is definitely a fun game but not a vital one.
Maybe if Charlemagne is added to Grand Order this would make a good catalyst. People have bought odder things for less.